Month: May 2021

Grad Landings: Arpita Mandal to Mount Holyoke College

Arpita Mandal ’21 (CLAS, Ph.D) has accepted a one-year visiting lecture position at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She will be teaching twentieth and twenty-first century transnational literature. In addition, we’d like to congratulate Arpita’s committee: major advisor Eleni Coundouriotis, as well as associate advisors Bhakti Shringarpure and Patrick Hogan.

Congratulations, Arpita!

Graduate Student Anna Ziering wins Scholar Award from P.E.O. Sisterhood

Anna Ziering, an English Ph.D. student and 2021-2022 UCHI Dissertation Research Scholar, was chosen as one of the 100 doctoral students in the USA and Canada to receive a $20,000 Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

This award was established in 1991 to provide substantial merit-based awards for women who are pursuing a doctoral-level degree at an accredited college or university. Women are chosen based on their high level of academic achievement and their potential for having a positive impact on society. The P.E.O. Sisterhood, founded at Iowa Wesleyan College in 1869, is a philanthropic educational organization dedicated to supporting higher education for women.

Congratulations, Anna!

In Memoriam, Spring 2021

by Emily Graham ’22 (CLAS)

In this issue of the newsletter, we honor three members of the UConn English community who have passed during this year. While they might not be with us in person, their insight and passion for literature and writing has left a lasting impression.

 

Gabriella Schlesinger, 84, passed away in early 2021, survived by her children, Eva and David. A longtime English faculty member at the Avery Point campus, Gabriella was a dedicated teacher of First-Year Writing and literature for generations of students, and established the Schlesinger Family Scholarship for Avery Point students in need of financial assistance. Committed to social justice and community involvement, Gaby was a member of the League of Women Voters and the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, among others. We are devastated by the loss of Gabriella, and we send our thoughts to her family.

The obituary for Gabriella Schlesinger is available from The Day of New London.

 

Bill Curtin, 94, passed away in late March of 2021, survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren. A member of the UConn English department from 1969 to 1991, Bill was a scholar of Willa Cather and her fiction, and a founding member of The Connecticut Writing Project. Outside of teaching, he was a devout member and leader of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Storrs, as well as a funny man who loved to entertain his friends and family. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Bill and send our condolences to his family.

The obituary for Bill Curtin is available from the Willimantic Chronicle. 

 

James Scully, 83, passed away last December at his home in Vermont, survived by his wife and two children. In addition to his time with the English department from 1964 to 1992, James was a celebrated poet, activist and translator, who had many of his works published in various volumes and collections; Santiago Poems (1975) was the first book published by Curbstone Press, a former publishing company in Willimantic. After living in San Francisco after his retirement, he chose to return to the East Coast where he lived in the company of his closest friends and family. We miss James greatly and send our deepest sympathies to his family.

The obituary for James Scully is available from the San Francisco Chronicle:

 

Finding Signs of Life: An Interview with Fred Roden

by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)

In his musical, Company, Stephen Sondheim describes Manhattan as “A city of strangers. Some come to stare, some to stay, and every day, some go away…” Professor Fred Roden, who lives in Manhattan and teaches at the UConn Stamford campus, found himself “landlocked” when the pandemic swept through and closed the theaters, coffee shops, and other spaces of communion. Many of his neighbors went away. Roden stayed. He stared at the architecture of Columbia University’s campus. He stared at the monuments in the parks. But mostly, he stared at the flowers that were beginning to blossom in the pots, in the gardens, and even in the cemeteries. Life persisted everywhere, and nature continued as nature does. Equipped with his phone’s camera, he began documenting this budding process daily. The collection of these photos resulted in a small, self-published book filled with hope and promise: A Floral Journal of the Plague Year: Saving Graces.

Image of cherry blossoms

AM: When did you decide to begin working on this project?

FR: What I really would say is that some of the most important things that give us meaning aren’t planned. One of my heroes, Viktor Frankl, the psychoanalyst who was a Holocaust survivor, wrote that man’s search for meaning focuses so much on this idea of how we respond to the circumstances that life may hand us. Frankl was responding to the existentialists, who thought that you had to become engaged in order to find meaning, and Frankl’s belief was that there’s inherent meaning: life is going to pitch you plenty of things that you’re going to have to reckon with in some way.

 

Being grounded to my feet in a neighborhood that was maybe at 50% capacity, I was walking every day. Walking was a form of meditation for me. I can’t say that walking made up for taking the train to Connecticut and seeing my students and my colleagues and the great folks on campus, but it was contemplative. What I felt most connected to on these walks was the natural world. Our timing with the pandemic shutdown of late March was very appropriate in so far as a “winter thought.” So, the message there for me was really this sense that at this moment, when in March 2020 the New York city area was being called an epicenter, and there was a sudden and acute loss of human life, the fact that the natural world was undergoing its natural cycle of renewal, whether it was the first crocuses coming up or hints of buds on otherwise bare branches, it gave me hope. I needed a kind of visual version of a journal so that I might reflect on how this was sustaining me. I could, with no technical or aesthetic training whatsoever, simply whip out my iPhone and take a picture of something that made me feel good; it was as simple as that. It became something to look forward to.

Image of flower from Roden's book

AM: You mention in the introduction to the book that you were inspired by the Romantic notion of “The Beautiful.” When you were taking the photos and trying to capture this sense of The Beautiful as it is, did you edit the photos at all, or did you leave them just as you had taken them?

FR: I really wanted to let things be as they were. I didn’t edit the photos with respect to cropping or changing the color or light or anything like that. I wanted to leave them be. And I actually felt a little ambivalent that the particular technical program had to fit them into the frame when I uploaded them, but that was the best that I could do as a person who doesn’t use a lot of technology. It was incredibly important for me to have things as they were. I’m laughing internally about this because it doesn’t exactly correspond to how I might live my life otherwise. When I stopped going to hair salons, I kept coloring my hair at home every two weeks because I didn’t want to have my gray hair showing. And when I couldn’t go to have a haircut, I cut my own hair. So, I’m aware of that question of modification; there’s a little bit of irony here.

 

I occasionally teach a course on Oscar Wilde. In some ways, he would say that the world of art is greater than the world of nature, and that art shouldn’t be simply imitating nature. Art stands in its own space. The very fact that I’m privileging things as they are, rather than as I might help them to be, is a little bit anti-Wildean, or going against the “art for art’s sake” movement. I guess I’m just drawn to the authenticity of beauty where we find it, including in brokenness.

Image of flower from Roden's book

AM: How else has the present moment found its way into the literature you teach? How does the work you teach in turn inform the present moment?

FR: In this particular semester, it was very much the case that I was concerned for my students to be reading Holocaust literature: literature that was traumatic to read in normal circumstances.

I was very concerned that we had enough spaces to process these sorts of things. At the same time, in literature, there are themes like renewal, exile, loss, and new beginnings that recur throughout. They give us an opportunity for not simply connecting with our particular experiences, but for deeper feelings of meaning. These degrees of identification can be, on the one hand, escapist: we’re able to move into the realm of art so that we get a little break from the world of life, but we also can find meaning in so far as knowing that others have struggled.

 

At the time of 9/11, I was teaching the medieval literature course. We’d just been reading Beowulf, and it occurred to me that in these catastrophic events in civilization, we’re drawn very much to these stories of people that give us insight into personal or individual feelings, but we somehow need the kind of collective experience. So, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened at the end of August last year, I walked over there. I spent a lot of time in the ancient galleries because I was drawn to the fact that not only did these objects endure, but that the civilizations and the experiences of people living in those particular times and places were in fact traumatic. Their worlds were often upside down. It brought me some sense of comfort in knowing that we may feel that our world is turned upside down now, but so, too, have other human beings. It’s the gift of literature to know that even if the circumstances are so greatly different from our own, there can be resonances of human feeling across time and place.

Image of flower from Roden's book

AM: Now that spring is returning, have you continued working on this project, or is there something else in store?

FR: Like a lot of people in the Northeast, I’m probably destined to become a snowbird one day; Florida is probably in my future. There has always been the sense for me, probably starting around October, where at a very primal level I start feeling the sense that once the autumn and the winter comes, the reptilian part of my brain is saying, “Spring is never coming. The sun is going down, and it’s not coming back.” There is beauty in winter, but that’s not where I find life. And now as we’re back at this time, with the little buds pushing up again, I’ve taken photos of snowdrops. I’ve taken photos of crocuses and various things I’m beginning to see on my walks again. I don’t imagine that this will necessarily turn into another photo book. It’s again triggering in me that same feeling of hope with a hesitancy, with a slowness, with a moment of saying, “Stop. Wait. Pay attention and see what this is communicating to you now.” So, I guess it never ends, but this project was from a particular time and purpose. Knowing that change is possible and that things aren’t set in stone has been the single most important source for spontaneity, creativity, and freedom in my life.

 

Frederick Roden is Professor of English at UConn, where he coordinates for the department at Stamford and is affiliated with Judaic Studies and WGSS. He is the author of two books on religion and modern culture, editor of guides to Oscar Wilde studies, and has edited volumes on queer Jewish and Christian themes, as well as a translation of an 1896 sexological work.  Roden has also written a commentary to the medieval theologian Julian of Norwich.

Remote Reporting: An Interview with Ali Oshinskie

by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)

As an undergraduate English major, Ali Oshinskie started her own podcast, Professors are People Too, to teach herself the fundamentals of radio journalism. It was in this process of interviewing faculty members, crafting narratives, and sharing experiences that she decided to pursue a career in journalism. She graduated from UConn in 2017, and currently works with Connecticut Public Radio and Report for America as a reporter for the Naugatuck River Valley region.

 

Alex Mika: In 2016, you started a podcast, Professors Are People Too. What inspired you to create this project?

Ali Oshinskie: I started that podcast because I had applied for an internship at Connecticut Public Radio, and I didn’t get it. I was really disappointed. And then I thought, “In the real world, not everything is going to be taught to me. So, I’m going to try to teach myself.” I wanted to make a podcast, so I came up with this idea based on something that I really enjoyed as a student: going to office hours and understanding more about what I was learning by talking directly with the professor. I figured out how to use a recorder and a mic, used the student radio station WHUS, and taught myself through YouTube videos. I also had a really great support network. When I got into radio, I got that internship the second time I applied. That was where I started really loving journalism.

 

AM: How did your experiences as an English major prepare you for journalism?

AO: I think as an English major, you’re taught a lot about how to make an argument. And as a journalist, you’re taught how to understand arguments and juxtapose them with facts. You need to create a path of truth in all the noise. I built on what I learned in the major by doing a bunch of internships, fellowships, and independent freelance work. And now, I’m a reporter.

 

AM: Recently, you began working for Report for America. How did you discover this opportunity? 

AO: I had heard about it around the time that Trump got elected. There had been this push to have more active reporting in smaller, rural, ignored communities. They started with a couple of reporters in West Virginia, and then they kept growing. I initially thought it would be out of reach for me, and I didn’t think I was qualified enough. Through doing fellowships and internships, I became more experienced. Meanwhile, they grew to a point where there were positions in Connecticut.

I’m from Connecticut: I went to college here and have lived here most of my life. I feel strongly about reporting on the community I’m from. It’s a different sense of purpose for me, because I don’t think I fully understand my community and I don’t think I ever really will. There are so many stereotypes and ideas about Connecticut, and what I love about my job is that every day, those stereotypes are challenged. This experience has helped me, and hopefully, others, understand more about the state.

 

AM: How does the program work?

AO: Report for America funds reporter positions at newsrooms around the country. They provide half the initial funding necessary for the positions. In subsequent years, they provide some of the funding, while the newsroom takes on more of the cost until they can hire me fully. They also offer a lot of training opportunities. Their mission is really to get journalists into communities where journalism and local accountability has been waning over the last 15 years. I’m really grateful for it as a young reporter because the bar is really high to get entry level jobs.

 

AM: How has COVID affected the way you practice journalism?

AO: It’ll be no surprise to say that it’s made it harder. On the good side, a lot of municipal meetings are online now. There was a governor’s executive order to put all meetings and materials online, and that has increased access so much for folks who couldn’t take off work, get childcare, and leave the house for four hours to go and wait for the public comment period. It has made democracy much more equitable in that regard. I cover a region, so I can be in four different Zoom meetings a day without having to drive to all those places. That said, I can’t wait to get out there a little bit more and cover events in person and really be in the community. I like talking to people, and that’s a lot of what journalism is about. It’s tough being in my bedroom twenty hours a day working, eating, sleeping.

 

AM: What have been some of the ways in which you’ve adapted to this new working-from-home environment?

AO: One of my saving graces from this past winter has been going on walks with friends in the morning. My days as a journalist are busier in the evenings and afternoons, so I can take the mornings a little easier. I’m a social person, so getting out of the house for walks has been really helpful.

I’m also slowly getting better at estimating how much time something’s going to take. As a young professional, you don’t always have that nine-to-five mentality, so it’s particularly hard to protect against burnout in this scenario. Right now, it often feels like I’m never fully working, but I’m also never fully not working. It’s really important to have something you do that makes you feel good and isn’t related to your productivity or your economic market value. I like gardening and seeing my friends, and when I was right out of college, I would do a lot of babysitting because I loved kids. You just have to remind yourself that your value goes beyond your role and your job.

Image of Ali OshinskieAli Oshinskie is the Naugatuck River Valley reporter with Connecticut Public Radio and Report for America. Her work has appeared on NPR, Marketplace, and The Hartford Courant. After graduating UConn with an English degree in 2017, she worked her way through a patchwork of internships and fellowships until she landed her dream job (although she does not dream of labor). Ali has tried to live a balanced life during this pandemic by going on bike rides, growing vegetables, and taking morning walks with friends.

Cross-Country Graduate School: An Interview with Alyse O’Hara

by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)

When she received her letter of acceptance from UConn’s PhD program in the early spring of
2020, Alyse O’Hara was ready to move across the country to begin the next chapter of her
academic journey. As spring turned to summer and summer looked to fall, however, it became
increasingly clear that she would be spending her first year at UConn in Texas.

New Beginnings

O’Hara began her undergraduate career in the sciences. When she was introduced to early
modern British literature, particularly the work of John Donne, however, she was drawn in and
switched majors. After completing her Master’s degree in Texas in 2018, O’Hara taught a first-
year writing course for two years. “I kind of knew all along that I wanted to go back to school,”
O’Hara recalls. “I wanted to get my PhD and teach the British literature that I love so much. So,
when I got into UConn, it was kind of a clear decision for me. The faculty that we have are great,
and I have family in New York, so I’d be only two and a half hours away from my parents.”

Maintaining a Sense of Community

O’Hara currently plans on moving up this summer. “I’d really like to be on campus,” she says. “I
miss the sense of community. I was hoping to move over the winter break, but I realized pretty
quickly that it was just not enough time and the pandemic wasn’t over.” In the meantime, O’Hara
and her cohort—many of whom are in a similar situation—have developed strategies for getting
to know one another remotely.

One member of the group came up with the idea to create a WhatsApp chat. “We could all vent
to each other and go through the process of starting school together, and that made a huge
difference. No question was too stupid for that group. You could just say, ‘I’m experiencing this,
is anybody else?’ I don’t know that we would have had that if we didn’t need it during this time.
So, I almost feel like we’re more connected because of it than we otherwise would have been.”

Maintaining a Sense of Space and Time

Since her living space also became her working space and her learning space, O’Hara knew
that she would have to create both physical and personal boundaries. One decision that she
found to be useful was to divide up her apartment into various areas: “I set up a space for
myself in my apartment to have a place for my work life, and made it separate from the spaces
that I enjoy my time, because I wouldn’t be going outside as much.” She found that she was
able to focus much better when in her working space, and found it easier to leave that working
mindset at the end of the day.

Although online education was an adjustment for O’Hara, she soon came to realize that it was
the time between classes that would require the most adaptation. “I’m not really good at
defending my time,” O’Hara confesses. “I will just read and read and read and read and read. I
tried a little bit more regimented, but time management—especially doing my own work as a
student—has been a little bit harder. You keep doing your work until you feel like you have to go
to sleep, and then wake up the next day and do the same thing. That side of it has been a little
bit harder to adjust to than the physical classroom space becoming virtual. That weird sense of
timelessness is maybe the hardest part of being a student right now.”

Teaching through a Screen

Although teaching entirely online is a daunting task, O’Hara had “gotten [her] feet wet” in the
spring, when she had to switch her in-person classes to an online format. In the absence of
face-to-face interaction, she tries to be available for her students by responding to their emails
as quickly as possible, keeping virtual office hours, and, with the introduction of an optional
synchronous portion of her class in the spring, encouraging her students to attend and turn their
cameras on. By seeing one another and engaging in interactions, O’Hara hopes to create a
sense of connection. She remarks, “I miss that in-classroom experience where you get
immediate feedback. You can see the light bulbs turning on when you’re teaching something,
and you don’t get that with the screen. So, It’s tough, but I think having little things, like sending
a silly email with gifs of dancing animals goes a long way. They probably think their instructor is
cheesy, but hopefully it makes things feel more human and a little less distant.”

Cathartic Literature

For those people like O’Hara, who will “read and read and read and read and read,” she highly
recommends Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. “I read it before,” she says, “but when the
pandemic hit, I reread it because it’s this really great post-apocalyptic novel.” This timely novel is
set in a period when the Georgia flu sweeps across the world. O’Hara recalls: “It was a
comforting read because there’s this traveling troupe that puts on Shakespeare plays. In the
aftermath of a pandemic, they found a way to keep art and literature alive.”

Image of Alyse O'HaraAlyse O’Hara is a Ph.D. student specializing in early modern British literature. She spent her first
year attending classes and teaching virtually from West Texas, and she looks forward to
relocating to Connecticut over the summer.

Starting at the Close: An Interview with Peter Carcia

by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)

Balancing school in Storrs and work in Hartford, Peter Carcia had plenty on his plate at the start of 2020. After being accepted as a program assistant in the English department, Carcia breathed a sigh of relief; school and work could now be completed in the same place. A week before he was set to start in the office, the campus was shut down and Carcia, like many of us, found himself studying and working in the same place: home.

 

AM: How did you hear about the program assistant position? What inspired you to apply for it?

PC: Well, I came back as a student before this all started. I was working in Hartford as a contract IT guy, and I wanted to find a position here on campus. The job was in Hartford at the time, but I was also working remotely, so there were a lot of logistical pieces at play. I found the program assistant position, went for it, and Melanie [Hepburn] gave me a chance. Everything was coming together in a nice, pretty box and surely enough, about two weeks after I’d gotten the offer, and about a week before I was set to start, everything shut down. There were a lot of questions in the air about how everything was going to come together. At that time, there was still the idea that this would be a two-week thing, and I began my training remotely.

 

AM: When you found out that your position would be a remote one, did the job change at all in terms of responsibilities as the department adapted to this online format?

PC: The job description has shifted in many ways. When I had my interviews with Melanie, it was meant to be a front desk job where I was going to use some of my IT experience and help people out. My main responsibility was to be a kind of liaison, so that when people walked in and were looking for different rooms or were looking for specific professors, I was supposed to be the point person. That was a very key part of the role, as it was described to me. Once the position became remote, it became more about completing back end administrative tasks and helping adjust to the new normal.

 

AM: How is the work-school balance for you?

PC: It’s been good. I came back to study communication, and the department has been great about the transition to an online format. They’ve gotten asynchronous courses set up with a more open-ended schedule in mind. It’s good to be able to take care of the shifts during the day, and then flip the switch at five o’clock and start on my schoolwork. It’s been nice to have the flexibility to build a schedule that works best for me.

 

AM: Are you working in the office now?

PC: Just Tuesdays and Thursdays for now. I’m actually moving into my own place in June, so it’s good to finally get into that rhythm and jump to the next challenge. I think that once I move in, I’ll probably work here full-time if all goes well in terms of guidance and regulations. We’ve got a lot to prepare for, like the return to in-person classes, and a few new faculty members are coming so we’ll need to get them all set up and ready. It’ll be exciting to be back full-time in an office environment.

 

AM: What’s it like holding down the fort in Austin?

PC: It’s interesting, because I’m so used to the university, but the Austin building itself was a whole new environment for me. I had one stats class upstairs, but otherwise, the Austin building was just kind of an enigma. It’s almost like going through ancestry.com and recognizing a completely new faction of your family. Melanie and I frequently joke about my job interview, when I used the word “deliverables” throughout the whole thing, which comes more from my engineering background, and it’s a term that isn’t very often used in the humanities. I’ve been learning a lot more about a field that I wasn’t exposed to very much in the past, and it’s unlocked a piece of this university’s wisdom that I had never seen before.

 

AM: Even though the building has been mostly empty during this time, have any moments there stood out to you?

PC: You know, there was this one situation where there was a synchronous course that was meeting in the building, probably had a lab alongside it, and one day, I think they were having an exam. I was distributing mail when I saw a student that came out in tears and was in distress. The professor came out, as well, and checked on the student and made sure he was okay, following all the protocols for such a situation. I went over to the student, and we started talking. I told him my backstory of being here as an undergrad and recognizing pretty late in the game that I was in a program that I didn’t want to be in and all the anxiety that came with it. My experiences here have been a very roundabout story, so taking the things that I had learned the hard way and sharing them with the next generation of students here was really a full circle moment.

 

Image of Peter CarciaPeter Carcia is the Program Assistant for the Department of English. He is currently pursuing a degree in Communication at the UConn after previously being an undergraduate from 2014 to 2018.

A Retrospective Interview with Alex Mika

by Peter Carcia, Program Assistant, Department of English

Image of Alex MikaAlex Mika (CLAS ‘21) is a senior English major and student worker for the English department. He has recently released a chapbook called Alex and the Dinosaur Prints and will be continuing his education in the MA program at UConn, focusing on early modern drama, dramatic literature, and adaptations. He enjoys writing poetry and plays, making music, and futilely trying to train his cat to do tricks.

 

PC: What was your day-to-day campus life like before COVID?

AM: It was usually the case that I would leave my dorm in the morning and I wouldn’t come back until the evening unless I didn’t have any classes that day. The Austin building became my second home in Spring 2020: all of my classes were located there, and it was then that I discovered the second floor lounge. I would just stay there and study in between classes; they really should have charged me rent. It was also during that semester that I was able to get something I had been coveting since I came to UConn: one of the library carrels. I got my key in early or mid-February, and in the midterm madness I didn’t get to move my books and research materials into there until the end of the month. I got about two weeks’ use of it before everything was shut down. I was heartbroken.

 

PC: Has living in an apartment nearby and having that proximity to campus helped you to stay in that academic mindset? Was it different with everything the way it is?

AM: Definitely. I think being close to campus and even being able to go for a walk on campus, has definitely made the adjustment a bit easier because I still have that feeling, “I’m at the university, it’s time to get that work done.” It’s an adjustment, but luckily, I’m in a position where the work that I do can be completed almost anywhere. I don’t have any labs, and most of the work that I do is independent. So, from a logistical standpoint, it hasn’t been too difficult.

 

PC: For your student worker position interview, one of the things that stood out to us was your creative work, like your book that’s now out there. Did you feel like the time at home amplified that creative outlet, or was there just a shift in how you wanted to create things?

AM: It’s been an interesting experience for me in that regard. On the one hand, it made me appreciate the creative process a lot more. Like you mentioned, I ended up turning a project in my nature writing class with Professor Pelizzon into a chapbook. I don’t think I would have approached that project if I hadn’t gone home in Spring 2020. Having that summer also gave me the time to focus on learning about topics that I didn’t have as much time to explore during school. I’m the kind of person where I start a lot of things and I work on three or four projects at a time, but I think this experience definitely changed some of the ways in which I work. It allowed me to focus on one thing before moving on to the next. This last year has really been about going one day at a time, and I’ve incorporated that into my creative process.

 

PC: When you talk to other students, what kind of things do you typically hear about how they’re able to piece everything together and get through this scenario?

AM: One thing that I’ve been seeing a lot of is the attempt to maintain a collaborative atmosphere. I think a lot of us were really missing that. Some friends of mine started a writing group. Instead of having in-person workshops, we’ve been setting up weekly prompts for each other and we’ll have a Zoom or Google Meet call to talk about the pieces that we wrote. We’ll share interesting things we’ve read, films we’ve seen, or just talk and decompress together after a long day. I also know some folks who have been organizing informal book clubs, poetry readings, art nights, any kinds of ways to maintain communication and meaningful connections.

 

PC: In the scenario that you’ve been presented with as a senior, what lessons do you think you’re going to take with you as you go forward?

AM: There’s this song by Billy Joel called “Vienna.” One of the verses goes, “Slow down, you crazy child. Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while. It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two (ooh-ooh). When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?” It’s one of those songs that I would always play and think, “Wow, that’s so true, you’re so right, Billy,” and then the song would finish and I would go back to work. Now, I appreciate that song so much more. A few days after I got home for spring break last year, I got sick and was stuck in bed for a couple weeks. I couldn’t really get up. It was literally a full stop. I picked up this book by David Sedaris that I bought and just never got to read until that point. I read it, and it was such a great experience because I picked up this thing that I had been neglecting and I discovered one of my favorite authors that day.

This whole COVID era also made me appreciate communication so much more. For me, some of the greatest moments at UConn were office hours visits with professors. That was something that I missed, and I had to adjust the ways in which I was going about communicating with them. And, as a student worker writing articles for the newsletter this year, I had the opportunity to talk to new faculty and retiring faculty and faculty at the regional campuses, which was a really wonderful experience. I got to meet people who genuinely love talking about their work and sharing discoveries they’ve made, and their passion was really infectious. The interviews just felt like conversations, and I’ve taken a lot of what was said during them to heart.

Looking Back and Looking Forward: An Interview with Kate Luongo

by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)

Long before she began working on her Honors thesis—a middle grade fiction novel—and even before she began reading middle grade fiction, Kate Luongo ’21 (CLAS) knew she wanted to be a writer. Now, as she prepares to don her cap and gown, Luongo looks back on completing her degree in a pandemic and shares what she has in store. We wish her the best of luck with all her endeavors!

 

AM: What was the switch to online classes like in spring 2020?

KL: I’d say the biggest change was moving back home and suddenly living with my sister and my mom again. My mom would be working, my sister would be in her graduate classes, and sometimes there would be internet connection issues. It was kind of a crazy situation. We’d have three different classes and calls going on at the same time. Managing school work in all the uncertainty was tough, too. It took some adjustment.

 

AM: Did you discover any strategies that helped to make that adjustment?

KL: I think it definitely helped once I got into a routine. I made set times for different classes, including the classes that were more asynchronous. Finding my own study spaces in the house worked for me, as well, and having my dog there was nice.

 

AM: How did this switch affect your English classes? How did they adapt to this online format?

KL: I definitely missed the in-person English classes; they were typically smaller and discussion-based. It’s a lot about getting to know your class and just hearing everybody’s ideas. That was one of the most interesting parts, so I definitely missed that a lot. Some of my classes have been really great with doing online and recreating that intimate atmosphere. I’ve had classes where I really feel like I still got to know all the other students and we had great conversations over Zoom.

I think the synchronous meetings definitely helped the most. In the advanced study class, my professor broke us up into two smaller groups. In larger Zoom calls, it can be harder to get into a conversation when you have twenty other faces on the screen. In some of my classes, we formed group chats and things like that, which helps kind of create that sense of community.

 

AM: Have you picked up any hobbies or passion projects? How have you separated school and not-school time?

KL: I think it’s an interesting semester, because my passion project is related to my thesis. So, in that sense, I’m getting to do what I love for school. I also enjoy songwriting, writing poems, creative fiction, anything that comes to mind. Writing really is my creative outlet to sort of escape pandemic life.

 

AM: What is the topic of your thesis?

KL: My thesis is a middle grade fiction novel which follows the main character, Sophie, who is at a point in life where everything seems to be changing. She is trying so hard to be able to control things and stop things from changing, but through starting a new sport, figure skating, and meeting some new friends, she begins to adjust her mindset about change and comes to learn that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I took a creative writing class for children and young adults last semester, and one of our assignments was to write a novel. This was something that I’ve been playing around with for a while, but it gave me that opportunity to pursue it more. Some parts of the novel are taken from my own experiences; they gave me a place to start and explore.

 

AM: How far along are you?

KL: It’s coming together. I have a rough draft of the whole novel, and my project for the summer is going to be working on revisions. I’ll also start writing to publishers and starting that process.

 

AM: Over the last few months, you’ve been living in Washington, D.C. How did that opportunity come about?

KL: One of my closest friends since kindergarten and I were both doing classes from home remotely, and we realized that this could be a great opportunity to get to live together. It was something we talked about in a fantasy kind of way like, Oh, wouldn’t that be fun? But suddenly, we found ourselves in a position where we both could do classes from anywhere. My friend goes to Georgetown, and she really wanted to come back to the city. I also had a big interest in living in D.C. and seeing a new area.

It’s definitely not where I thought I would be ending my time at UConn. At the same time, with all the challenges that COVID-19 brought, it also brought some unexpected adventures and this is definitely one of them. I feel really fortunate that I got to live with a friend during this time and see some different things. I love going out for walks, exploring the city, and making the most of the situation.

 

AM: Do you see yourself possibly coming back and living in D.C. some day?

KL: Potentially. I think it’s a great city. I’m also in the mindset of exploring new places for now, and then we’ll see where I end up.

 

AM: Speaking of new places, you’re going to be going off to study in London soon!

KL: Yeah! I’m very excited to be pursuing my master’s in library and information studies at the University College of London. I think a big part of why I chose that program is not only because of the school, and it is an excellent program, but also because of the location. I’m really excited to get to travel. I was supposed to study abroad during college but unfortunately, COVID-19 put a hold to that. So, this is my opportunity to really get to travel and explore some new places.

 

Image of Kate LuongoKate Luongo is a senior English major at UConn. She has a concentration in creative writing and
a minor in WGSS. She is also a student worker for the English Department and a writer for The
Daily Campus. Next year Kate will be receiving her MA in Library and Information Studies at
The University College London. She hopes to be a children’s librarian as well as a writer for
children and YA fiction.