Paying Tribute to Departing Faculty and Welcoming a New Colleague

Paying Tribute to Departing Faculty and Welcoming a New Colleague

This year, the English department at Wagner College has experienced some major changes. It is with a heaviness of heart that we announce the retirement of Dr. Peter Sharpe, the departure of Dr. Erica Johnson as she takes a position as department chair at Pace University, and the departure of Dr. Eloïse Brezault as she takes a tenure-track position at St. Lawrence University. But it is with some excitement that we welcome a new colleague, Dr. Alison Arant, who will join us as a visiting assistant professor specializing in southern women writers and African-American literature. We’d like to pay tribute here to the three colleagues we are losing and introduce a new member of the Wagner community.

Dr. Peter Sharpe’s contributions to our department, to Wagner, to scholarship, and, most importantly, to all those students who were lucky enough to have him as a professor have been much valued and treasured, and we will miss him. Dr. Sharpe came to Wagner in 1994. He was originally hired to establish journalism at Wagner, and the many students who have profited from his efforts there and who have gone on to careers in journalism are on-going proof of the success of his endeavors. He also anchored the American literature section of our department offerings with courses in 19th, 20th, and contemporary American literature, as well as innovative new courses on southern women writers and African American literature, introducing students to difficult and challenging writers like Faulkner and James, Melville and Whitman and, even better, helping them to love these writers as he did.  His courses on poetry, taught with demanding attention to detail and technique, were always filled early. To take a course with Dr. Sharpe was to learn not just to love literature, but also to be disciplined, precise, analytical and attentive to nuance. A learned man, he in turn taught his students in the fullest sense of what it means to be genuinely educated. A poet himself, Dr. Sharpe continued to write and publish his poems over his years at Wagner. His volume of poetry, Lost Goods and Stray Beasts, was a publication of his collected poems. He also contributed to scholarship with essays on Yeats, Faulkner and Native American literature and published a seminal study of metaphor, titled The Ground of Our Beseeching, in 2004. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Massachusetts, with study at Oxford and Michigan, and a Ph.D. from NYU, Dr Sharpe wore his learning lightly and delivered even his criticisms with wit.  We will miss his intelligence, his insight, and his dry humor (especially at Faculty Meetings).  It is with affection and respect that we wish him well.

Also much admired by her students and colleagues, Dr. Erica Johnson taught at Wagner from 2005 to 2012. A prolific scholar on British modernism, Caribbean literature, and postcolonial theory, she has presented papers at national and international conferences and published three books, including Home, Maison, Casa: The Politics of Location in Works by Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, and Erminia Dell’Oro (2003) and Caribbean Ghostwriting (2009). Most recently she co-edited The Female Face of Shame (with Patricia Moran, 2013). This collection explores how the metaphorical relationship of sexuality, gender, and the human body to the emotion of shame is addressed and even challenged by twentieth- century literature across nations and cultures. Erica’s scholarly interests have inspired both her colleagues and her students. She started the comparative literature minor in the English department (together with former Wagner English professor Dr. Chris Hogarth) and is a strong advocate of the study of languages and literature other than English. Convinced that the understanding of literature is crucial to the understanding of politics (and vice versa), she  introduced freshmen in her learning community to the intersection of world literature and political philosophy (together with her colleague in the Government and Politics Department at Wagner, Pat Moynagh). In addition, Dr. Johnson provided administrative leadership on both the college and departmental levels, serving as director of the honors program from 2007 to 2010 and chair of the English department from  2010 to 2012. She will be much missed by both students and colleagues, who wish her well. Fortunately, Pace University is so close to Wagner that she will not be moving away, but remaining in her home within the nascent capital city of world literature, Brooklyn, NY.

Dr. Eloïse Brezault was a member of the English department for only one year as a visiting professor of comparative literature, starting in 2012. During that brief time, she made a profound impact on the department and on the students, exposing them to the richness of film studies, post-colonial literature, and theory, especially the literature of Francophone Africa. Even more impressive, she accomplished all this while simultaneously raising a new-born son. A native of France, she received her Ph.D. from the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, and has been teaching in New York since 2007. A prolific and engaged scholar, she translated a novel Changes by the Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aido from English to French in 2008 while serving as an assistant editor to the important French academic journal of literary criticism, Nouvelle Études Francophones. She hence published a collection of interviews she conducted with various African writers, entitled Mémoires d’encrier, Afrique: Paroles d’ecrivains in 2010, and just this spring, she published a study of the Congolese writer Emmanuel Dongola’s Johnny Mad Dog that explores the figure of the child soldier in post-colonial Africa, entitled Johnny Chien Méchant d’Emmanuel Dongala. To the department, she brought not only her technological savvy and worldly perspective, but also a love of film and popular culture as well as her gracious charm and warm laughter. We wish her and her family well as they embark on a new life in upstate New York.

Dr. Alison Arant, who usually goes by Ali, is originally from Omaha, Nebraska and comes to us by way of the University of South Carolina where she received her Ph.D. last year. Her dissertation “That Rotten Richness”: Old Maids and Reproductive Anxiety in U.S. Southern Fiction,1923-1946 analyzes representations of women in literature and what the mythology of southern belles and old maids symbolized for regional southern identity within American culture. She has published one scholarly article on Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Conner and has another forthcoming on Richard Wright. While at South Carolina, she taught a range of courses, including courses on college writing, women authors, and American literary history as well as some courses on more focused themes such as “Progress, Race, and Regionalism in American Literature.” A big fan of the blues, in her spare time she also has begun learning to play the banjo. We know that she will be an energetic member of the department this year and look forward to working with her.