Parroting Art

Fordham English Professor Christopher GoGwilt in Central Park with a pair of starlings (Photo by Tom Stoelker. This photo and the accompanying story--also by Tom Stoelker--originally appeared in Fordham News on January 17, 2018)

Fordham English Professor Christopher GoGwilt in Central Park with a pair of starlings (Photo by Tom Stoelker. This photo and the accompanying story--also by Tom Stoelker--originally appeared in Fordham News on January 17, 2018)

A new book of essays published by Fordham University Press titled Mocking Bird Technologies: The Poetics of Parroting, Mimicry, and Other Starling Tropes, examines the role that starlings, parrots, and other mockingbirds play in literature, both as motifs and as metaphors. Fordham Professor of English Christopher GoGwilt, Ph.D., edited the book with Melanie D. Holm, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Are you a bird watcher?

I wouldn’t style myself a bird-watcher, but I am fascinated—actually I’m a bit obsessed—with one particular bird: the starling.

What intrigues you about them?

They’re pretty much the common birds that you see all around the city, iridescent with speckles. But they’re not natural to the Americas. In the late nineteenth century, a man called Eugene Schieffelin took it as his project to populate the United States with all the birds in Shakespeare. In the early 1890s he released two flocks of European starlings in Central Park and now you find them all across North America. Starlings, like parrots, can be trained to talk; but in the wild they imitate whatever sounds are going on in the environment and use the bits and pieces of what they hear to make up parts of their song.

Like the sounds of the city?

You may think you’re hearing the squeaking wheel of a cab, but it might well be a starling in a tree or on a lamppost.

How did the book come about? 

Professor Holm and I put together a seminar on the topic of bird mimicry for the American Comparative Literature Association. Many of the people who have essays in this volume were part of that seminar. One of the fun discoveries for me was how deep and wide the historical scope of the pairing of parrot and starling is in literature.

Besides being a trope, how else do the parrot and starling relate to literature?

The person who has written the coda for this book, Sarah Kay (professor of French literature at New York University) focuses on medieval lyric and is an expert on troubadour poets. She’s written about two sides of troubadour poetry – the parrot’s way and the nightingale’s way. The parrot evokes parody, imitation, plagiarism, while the nightingale is associated with lyric originality. Kay argues that the troubadours made use of both mimicry and originality.

The troubadour is a rather Eurocentric figure. Is mimicry universal in art?

Our pairing of parrot and starling opens the whole question of bird mimicry to an even broader comparative and global perspective, reaching back to Sanskrit and Chinese literature. The Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber(one of China’s four great original novels) features a parrot and a starling (or crested mynah). As with other traditions, birds are associated with the making of poetry, but also with the quoting of poetry, the parroting of poetry. In Sanskrit traditions, going back even further historically, you have parrots and starlings often linked together, and that’s the template for the book.

If everything is parroted, where’s the art? Is anything original?

Art usually requires both original creation and copying — like the starling, stealing bits from elsewhere.

Wouldn’t modernism represent a total break from tradition?

No, modernist art just returns to the terms of ancient questions about originality— explicitly so in the canonical American and British modernists, like Pound, Eliot, and Joyce. The break may create fragments, but they are still fragments of tradition. A collage, or mocking bird, technology.

Creative Writing Hosts 4th Annual Golden Gloves Literary Competition & Literary Fair

On Monday, December 4th, Fordham's eight creative writing classes participated in the 4th annual Golden Gloves Competition & Literary Fair. The classes competed at Fordham Lincoln Center for three prizes: Ram d'Or: Best in Show, Best Experiment, and Audience Award. Representatives from each class presented short, five minute selections of original work for judge Joseph O. Legaspi, Fulbright and NYFA fellow and acclaimed poet.

Before the competition, creative writing students enjoyed dinner and had the opportunity to learn about student publications from both campuses at the literary fair. Staff from Ampersand, Bricolage, HerCampus, The Observer, and the paper participated.

This year's Golden Gloves literary competition featured the following classes: The Long Poem (Prof. Chris Brandt), Publishing: Theory & Practice (Prof. Stacey D’Erasmo), My House But Not My House: Surrealism and the Imagination (Erica Ehrenberg), First Flint (Prof. Sarah Gambito), A Writer in New York (Prof. Sarah Gambito), Fiction Boot Camp (Prof. Jennifer Gilmore), Writing for Teens in an Adult World (Prof. Jennifer Gilmore), Flawless/Formation/Freedom: Writing About Race, Gender & Popular Culture (Prof. Scott Poulson-Bryant).

After each class presented original work, judge Joseph O. Legaspi deliberated on the winners of Ram d'Or and Best Experiment, while Fordham’s 2017-2018 Writer at Risk in Resident Kanchana Ugbabe addressed the audience and read from her short story collection, Soulmates, which explores being an insider and an outsider in both Indian and Nigerian cultures.

It was the first ever sweep for the prizes. The Ram d'Or went to Professor Sarah Gambito’s First Flint class, and the Best Experiment went to Professor Sarah Gambito's A Writer in New York class. Audience members casted their votes from their smartphones at the end of evening, and voted to award the final prize of the evening, the Audience Award, to Professor Sarah Gambito’s First Flint class.

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Lauer Scholarship


In her 42 years of teaching at Fordham, Professor Kristin Lauer fostered the varied aspirations of her legions of devoted students--from dancers to those in law and law enforcement, from social workers to professional writers--by sharing her passionate belief in the great usefulness to life of writing well and studying the examples of great writers.

This scholarship will annually draw attention to a student who has embraced the major with a demonstrated sense of direction and purpose. She might have an internship where her music reviews are already appearing on-line.  He might be volunteering as a tutor of English at a local school and have begun work toward a teaching degree.  She may have written an account of her experience working in a hospital, or a lab, or aan animal preserve on her way to applying for a Fulbright or other prestigious fellowship. In putting a spotlight on examples like these (drawn from actual students), this prize will inspire majors and potential majors to connect their work in the classroom and the library with their ambitions in the world beyond.

Honoring Kris’s inspiring legacy, this scholarship looks to the future by recognizing and supporting students who see the English major as integral to a directed and meaningful life.


In honor of Professor Kristin O. Lauer's legacy, an anonymous donor will double all gifts, up to $100,000! For every $1 given, this generous donor will contribute $2 to the campaign! To donate,  please go to

Call for Submissions: 2018 Creative Writing Prizes

The Creative Writing Program is now accepting Fordham student submissions to the 2018 Creative Writing Prizes. Applications will be accepted until February 7, 2018. Click on the titles of prizes to access the online submission manager. 



Academy of American Poets Prize
Eligibility: Any Fordham student
Guidelines: Submit up to 5 pages of poetry (1 poem per page). Include year at Fordham and campus affiliation (Lincoln Center or Rose Hill). The author’s name should NOT appear anywhere in the manuscript.
Prize: 1 prize of $100

Bernice Kilduff White & John J. White Creative Writing Prize
Eligibility: Rose Hill senior undergraduate students
Guidelines: Submit up to (but no more than) 1500 words of text (fiction, non-fiction or poetry). Please identify the genre you are submitting. The author’s name should NOT appear anywhere in the manuscript.
Prize: 1 prize Cash Amount to be determined.

Margaret Lamb/Writing to the Right-Hand Margin Prizes
Eligibility: Any Fordham student
Guidelines: Submit up to (but no more than) 1500 words of text (fiction or non-fiction). Please identify the genre you are submitting. Include year at Fordham and campus affiliation (Lincoln Center or Rose Hill). The author’s name should NOT appear anywhere in the manuscript.
Prize: 1 prize of $100

The Reid Family Prize
Eligibility: Any Fordham student
Prize: 1 prize of $500

Fordham Graduate Film Group Screens Suspiria


In a packed screening room on October 30, the Fordham Graduate Film Group watched Dario Argento's visceral, balletic horror masterpiece, Suspiria (1977). The group, formed in 2014 and currently led by Elizabeth Light and Caitlin Cawley, convenes once per semester to screen a critically relevant film.

This semester, Suspiria was a huge hit – attendees reveled in Argento's vivid mise-en-scene, ominous soundtrack, and surreal fairy-tale of an American dancer in a labyrinthine boarding-school run by murderous witches. A long and lively discussion then touched on the intersections of horror and fairy-tale, Argento's “three mothers” film sequence, Deleuzian sensory effects, disability and historical space, and sensory motifs throughout the film.

Fordham Film Group's primary goal is to provide a space for such viewings and conversations, incorporating current film studies and critical theory while also giving grad students the opportunity to socialize, theorize, and build community. Past screenings have included Portrait of Jason, Let the Right One In, and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. The Film Group is funded annually by the English department and supported by two invaluable faculty mentors, Moshe Gold and Shonni Enelow. The group's cross-disciplinary, bi-annual gathering is open to all graduate students with an interest in cinema. The Film Group's next screening will be in Spring 2018. Stay tuned! For more information, please email Liz Light ( (Poster image: Matt Ryan)

Remembering Frank Kerins, Longtime English Faculty Member


Frank Kerins, GSAS ’74, ’81, a native New Yorker who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Fordham and then shared his talents with the community as a professor of English literature, died on Nov. 8. He was 70.

Kerins began teaching at Fordham as an adjunct instructor immediately upon graduation. In 1998, he joined the faculty full time as a clinical assistant professor, a position he held until 2009, when he became a lecturer of English. He retired in 2016.

In 2003, when he was honored with the University’s Bene Merenti award, Kerins was lauded as the “embodiment of the ideal scholar drawn in Chaucer’s Clerk (from The Canterbury Tales).”

“Frank is erudite yet modest, a master of his field reluctant to display his learning but eager to share it, a teacher whose gifts come not from a desire to press student minds into a pre-cast mold but rather from an insatiable curiosity about literature and the world it reflects,” the citation read.

“To the English department, he brought a remarkable teaching presence, the full value of which has emerged only over the years. His encyclopedic knowledge of the Renaissance and Early Modern literature has become a resource for colleagues that renders the Internet superfluous.”

Mark Caldwell, Ph.D., professor of English, who was Kerins’ doctoral mentor and longtime friend, noted that he was also stellar in his role as the English department’s liaison to students on athletic scholarships—sympathetic to the challenges they faced, yet uncompromising in demanding their best work.

Research was not a requirement of his position, said Caldwell, but he nonetheless shared his vast knowledge in papers such as “The Deification of Corley in ‘Two Gallants,’” (2009), and “'Sounding Strangely in My Ears:' Foregrounded Words and Joyce’s Revision of ‘The Sisters,’” (2008), both published in Joyce Studies Annual.

Kerins is survived by his wife Loraine Kerins, his brother, John, and his sister, Mary.

This story was originally published in Fordham News, and was written by Patrick Verel. 

Irish Literature Students Spend an Evening Immersed in Joyce


Three students from Professor Keri Walsh’s “Texts and Contexts: Modern Irish Literature” course were among the lucky few invited to participate in the dress rehearsal for this year’s production of The Dead, 1904, an immersive theater adaptation of James Joyce’s “The Dead.”


“The Dead,” the concluding story in Joyce’s 1914 collection Dubliners, is one of the most beloved and resonant works in Irish literature. It is set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Dublin, at the end of the Christmas season. In it a couple—Gabriel and Gretta Conroy—arrive at the home of their aunts for an evening of merriment and melancholy. They dine, dance, hear music, and give toasts. All of those assembled---with the exception of one intoxicated guest named Freddy Malins and one full of political passion named Molly Ivors--try their best to suppress their differences in the name of harmony and “Irish hospitality.” At the immersive production, Computer science majors Zainab Shaikh and Chenelle Simpson, and Environmental Science major Lauren Beglin were seated at the head table alongside the actors. They were served a holiday feast inspired by the one in the story, and they were drawn into the events detailed by Joyce. The performance took place at the American Irish Historical Society on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a townhouse that evoked the period in which the story is set.

As the evening neared its end, the audience was invited up one flight of stairs to witness the climax of the story: Gabriel and Gretta’s confrontation in which she remembers a lost love of her youth. This scene, staged in a darkened room with only a bed in it, allowed Lauren Beglin to reconsider the opinion she had formed of the story’s protagonist. She commented that, “In my initial reading of 'The Dead,' I did not have a very high opinion of Gabriel, especially in his treatment of Gretta in the final scene of the story. Seeing this scene brought to life, however, completely changed my view of him. Instead of a whiny man who could not bear the idea of his wife having a life before him, the actor's performance recast him as a heartbroken man who loved his wife with all his heart and soul, but would never be able to truly express that to her because of her past, and would never be able to live up to her idea of love. It was a scene that humanized a character I formerly hated and completely changed my experience of 'The Dead.' " Chenelle Simpson found that the production helped her to draw new connections between Irish writers. She realized that the characters of Gabriel and Gretta might be based not only on Joyce’s own life, but also on the experiences of one of his important precursors: “The last scene enabled me to acknowledge the relationship between James Joyce and William Butler Yeats,” said Simpson. “The story reminded me of Maude Gonne who also suffered a loss [that of her child], and how Yeats, like Gabriel, was unable to receive her ideal affection. Yeats, being such an inspiration at this time and being only seventeen years older than Joyce, could possibly have influenced the characterization of Gabriel.” Zainab Shaikh found herself impressed by the feats of acting required in immersive theater: “one of the major lessons I learned was about the art of being in character but also connecting with your audience….How can they keep us feeling comfortable? Do we communicate on the basis that it's 1904 or 2017? They gracefully responded to all of our interactions and wove them into a great production. Their hospitality truly immersed me into Joyce's world, their humor allowed me to loosen up and the intimacy of the vast set (as paradoxical as that sounds) allowed for one on one interactions that seem to be missing from many theatrical shows.”

This year marks the second holiday season in which Dot Dot Productions, in collaboration with The Irish Repertory Theatre and The American Irish Historical Society, will be staging Joyce’s story. "The Dead," 1904 runs from November 18th to January 7th. It is directed by Ciarán O’Reilly and adapted by Paul Muldoon and Jean Hanff Korelitz.

check out more information about the event here.