Playing with Words — My wife, Nancy, always starts her day by working the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. A few days ago, she mentioned to me that President Bill Clinton created that day’s puzzle. I asked her if there was any particular reason that the New York Times published a puzzle by President Clinton, and she informed me that it was part of the paper’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of featuring crosswords.
Nancy is much better at working crossword puzzles than I am, but I still appreciate the pleasure that comes from playing with words. Many years ago, I tried my hand at creating my own crossword puzzles. They all focused on authors. I even had one of them published in a newspaper called In These Times. My published puzzle focused on the American writer Theodore Dreiser. I enjoyed the process of trying to come up with actual words or phrases that interconnected with the other words I wanted to include in the puzzle. I ended up scanning the dictionary trying to find words that ended with odd combinations of letters. Why would this be fun? I don’t know why, but I had fun doing it.
Of course, wordplay involves much more than crossword puzzles. Two of our colleagues have delved into the ways in which authors and poets engage in word play in their publications. Ralf Thiede is doing research on how Dr. Seuss’s creation of words reflects a deep understanding of the inner workings of language and the development of children’s language skills. Sarah Minslow is interested in how Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll used wordplay to make fun of authority figures.
As I see it, taking pleasure in playing with words is one of the ways in which humans celebrate the amazing malleability of language.
Hearing Voices — In our teaching and scholarship, we often refer to a writer’s voice, but in the case of Maya Socolovsky’s Trauma in Literature class (Engl 4050) her students literally experienced the voice of an author. On the last day of class, Maya Skyped in one of the authors covered in the class during the semester–Himilce Novas, author of Princess Papaya. She talked with the students for over an hour, asking them questions, encouraging them to speak about their own creative writing process, and answering questions about her novel that they studied. As Maya told me, “It was a great opportunity to have the author’s input on a difficult and understudied novel.”
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of our department. Here is the latest news:
Jen Munroe recently posted a new blog titled “Depending on the Season” on the Recipes Project website. Here is the link to her latest blog post: http://recipes.hypotheses.org/9303
Maya Socolovsky presented a paper titled “Resisting the Call to Hate (Again): Borderland Ethics and the Polity of Belonging in 21st Century Chicano Picture Books” at MIT, as part of the 2017 Society for Multi Ethnic Literatures of the United States (MELUS) annual conference.
Quirky Quiz Question — Margaret Farrer was the first New York Times crossword editor. Does anybody know the name of the paper’s current crossword editor?
Last week’s answer: Carlo Collodi
Does anybody know who wrote Pinocchio?