Ha Jin: The liberating powers of English

Guest blog by Samrat Upadhyay, author and faculty member in the IU Bloomington Department of English:

In the 1990s, Croatian-American writer Josip Novakovich asked me whether I’d read any Ha Jin. I replied I hadn’t.

“Read him. He’s really good,” Novakovich said.

At that time, Novakovich was editing an anthology titled “Stories in the Stepmother Tongue,” featuring non-native users of English who had nonetheless chosen the language for their literary imagination. I also fell into that category, although by my late 20s, English had gradually become my first language — the language of my profession and my literary passion — even as Nepali was, and is, my mother tongue.

Ha Jin

Ha Jin. Photo courtesy of the IU Arts and Humanities Council.

When the anthology arrived, I read Ha Jin’s story, “Saboteur,” and I was blown away. “Saboteur” tells the story of a recently married man who, after unfairly being imprisoned for sabotage, devises a scheme for revenge and, ironically, ends up as a saboteur.

The story was brutal in its unwavering gaze at the repressive Communist rule in post-Cultural Revolution China. Ha Jin’s spare style further accentuated the impotent rage that the protagonist feels at those who’ve wronged him.

But there was also something else: The English I was reading was new, sculpted carefully, and using expressions that, while occasionally sounding slightly off-kilter, carved images with startling clarity. I was more used to the labyrinthine sentences and penetrating interiority championed by many South Asian writers like Salman Rushdie, Vikram Chandra, and Arundhati Roy.

Ha Jin’s prose was, at times, painfully staccato and abrupt and matter-of-fact and drama-less. It enthralled me. It was a prose style well suited to his subject matter, for it stressed the helplessness and repressed emotions of those who live under authoritarian regimes.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Ha Jin was at the forefront of writers who were creating game-changing fiction in English despite not having grown up with it. “Stories in the Stepmother Tongue,” published in 2000, showcases stalwarts such as Bharati Mukherjee, Edwidge Danticat, Nahid Rachlin, Julia Alvarez — writers who have changed our notions about who can play, and play damn well, in the schoolyard of the English language that for so long had been traditionally occupied by native speakers.

Sure, giants such as Joseph Conrad from Poland and Vladimir Nabokov from Russia had already paved the way earlier, but it was writers like Ha Jin who demonstrated the enormous elasticity of the English language by stretching its geographical boundaries to non-Western countries.

Read more…

‘Sincerely Yours’ exhibit highlights the art of stationery found in University Archives’ collection

Post by IU Newsroom intern Laura Ellsworth:

In an age of hastily sent texts and emails, letter writing is a lost art. Gone are the days of beautifully handwritten letters and the equally beautiful stationery on which they were composed. But the latter caught the eye of University Archives Director Dina Kellams during her time working for IU Libraries.

Currently on display at the archives is a labor of love titled “Sincerely Yours: Stationery Voices From the Archives,” curated by Kellams herself. The exhibit features unique stationery that Kellams discovered over the years. She often pondered an exhibit of notable stationery when searching the archives, and she made that thought a reality when “Sincerely Yours” opened in November.

Letter depicting Seminary Square campus.

Letter depicting Seminary Square campus — courtesy of University Archives.

Having grown up as a child of the 1980s, Kellams has fond memories of exciting stationery — “The more colorful and interesting the stationery, the better,” she said in her exhibit notes.

“This was the kind of stuff I did as a kid, so I hope it brings a kind of nostalgia,” Kellams said. “It’s a dying art.”

Included in the exhibit are letters to vendors, requests for records from concerned students, and even a letter from a detective agency. What sets these letters apart from others in the archives is the design of the stationery on which they were composed.

One letter features colorful artwork of a beach scene that stretches down the length of the paper. Another shows an illustration of Seminary Square campus that is hardly historically accurate: The illustration depicts a concrete sidewalk that was never there.

“It was an opportunity to sell their institution,” Kellams said of the decorative stationery that took an artistic license depicting IU, which at the time was not the broad-reaching university it is today.

In addition to the letters themselves, Kellams curated background information to provide context about who the author and recipients of the letter were.

“I wanted to focus on the stationery itself, but in many instances we needed to know more about the people themselves,” she said.

One of the stories included for context is that of IU alumnus Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, who was an IU faculty member from 1908 to 1913 and again from 1930 to 1953. In 1913, she married bee farmer John Hendricks and moved to Honeyhill Farm in Wyoming. University Archives has a collection of letters from Hendricks’ family available for research, one of which is on display in “Sincerely Yours.” This collection sparked its own correspondence between Kellams and the current tenants of Honeyhill Farm.

Letter with colorful beach imagery.

Letter from Indiana Beach — courtesy of University Archives.

A young beekeeper at Honeyhill, which is no longer owned by the Hendricks family, contacted Kellams with the help of her grandfather, hoping to find out more about the previous owners of the farm. The elementary school student was doing a report on the book “Letters From Honeyhill,” a compilation of letters written by Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, and was interested in what resources IU had to offer about Hendricks and her life.

Kellams was happy to use the archive resources to help the current tenants connect to the farm’s past, including using her research know-how to connect them to Hendricks’ descendants. Though the focus of this particular project was the content of the letters, the “story in the letterhead” is what makes the sources Kellams has on display unique.

“Sincerely Yours” will be on display until March 10. It will be followed by an exhibit on the Electoral College from the library’s modern political papers archivist, Kate Cruikshank. Cruikshank’s exhibit will feature papers from Indiana native and former senator Birch Bayh.

The exhibit can be viewed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In addition to pointing out the rarity of some sources, such as those on display in “Sincerely Yours,” University Archives strives to support research by encouraging use of its collections. This year, the first primary sources immersion program for IU instructors of all disciplines will be hosted by University Archives, the IU Libraries Department of Teaching and Learning and the Lilly Library. Those accepted to the program will receive a $2,000 instructional development grant and participate in a three-day program to engage with the resources available in the the campus special collection repositories. Interested instructors can find more information online.

‘China Remixed’ student blogger looks forward to Gene Yang’s upcoming talk 

Guest blog by IU graduate student Bridget Albert from SPEA’s arts administration program:

On Feb. 23, award-winning graphic novelist and comic book artist Gene Yang will be visiting Indiana University as part of IU’s inaugural Global Arts and Humanities Festival, “China Remixed.” As an arts administration student, I have partnered with the IU Arts and Humanities Council to attend a few of the many events taking places during the “China Remixed” festivities and write about my experiences to provide a student perspective.

In the comic book world, Yang is well known for rebooting the Superman series for DC Comics with his work “The New Super-Man.” His groundbreaking graphic novel, “American Born Chinese” (2006), features the trials and tribulations of adolescent Jin Wang as he navigates his dual identities as a Chinese-American.

Gene Yang

Gene Yang — Photo courtesy of the IU Arts and Humanities Council

Not only is Yang a prominent figure in both the world of comics and graphic novels, he is also a 2016 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. According to the MacArthur Fellowship website, Yang’s “work for young adults demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people.”

To better understand Yang’s work in anticipation of his visit, the IU Arts and Humanities Council has sponsored a reading group tackling some of his comics, as well as his graphic novels “American Born Chinese” and “Boxers and Saints.” The group is led by IU Bloomington professors Ellen Wu, Aaron Stalnaker, De Witt Kilgore and John Walsh, as well as the Rev. Patrick Hyde, associate pastor and campus minister at the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington. The last of these discussions will take place Feb. 21 to discuss Yang’s work in comics.

While I will be attending the presentation as a newer fan of Yang’s work, I am interested in attending to hear more about his take on issues of diversity in comics and graphic novels as well as what U.S.-Chinese identity means to him. Diversifying the realm of graphic novels and comics is an incredibly important endeavor to undertake.

The entire premise of his series “The New Super-Man” is that a teenager in Shanghai inherits the famous superhero’s powers. It is crucial to examine the ways in which Yang provides new stories and faces to the canon of the storied Superman narrative. By featuring a Chinese reboot of the Superman series, Yang is inviting broader audiences that may recognize themselves in a way they previously did not. Asian representation in comics or graphic novels has been scarce, particularly in terms of lead characters or superheroes.

Yang helps bring to light new voices and representations in his comics by moving beyond merely representing diversity and directly into giving agency to new perspectives and identities we desperately need in current media. Yang’s ability to re-conceptualize the identity of Superman as Chinese is the type of Asian representation in media that we consumers must demand of our comics in order to continue seeing newer and more inclusive character portrayals. We have Yang to thank for bringing those characters to the next generation of comic fans, and for that I am thrilled to see what Yang is up to next in his career. I can’t wait to hear more about him during his presentation.

Join me and the Arts and Humanities Council as we check out Yang’s presentation at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre on at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23. This event is free, but ticketed. Tickets are available through the Buskirk-Chumley box office.

IU professor gives thoughts on ‘China Remixed’ collaboration with Taipei National University of the Arts students

Guest blog by IU associate professor and director of contemporary dance Elizabeth Shea:

Next week, 22 dance majors from Taipei National University of the Arts will arrive on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus for a week of cultural exchange. IU’s very own contemporary dance majors, housed in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance, will welcome these talented young artists into their daily lives for an action-packed week of joint master classes, lectures, performances and dance-making. Junior and senior BFA dance majors will serve as “docents,” guiding the visitors around campus, sharing meals and making sure their time here is comfortable.

Focus Dance Company from Taipei National University of the Arts

Focus Dance Company from Taipei National University of the Arts.

The excitement is starting to build as we watch the Taiwanese students dance on video; they are exquisite movers! In addition to their expertise in contemporary dance, they study and beautifully perform traditional dances of Taiwan, and this juxtaposition of moving forward while embracing the past is a lesson for our own field of American modern dance.

Interactions will be plentiful, with each day beginning with two joint technique classes. Director Mei-rong Yang will teach our students, our faculty will teach their students, and there will be no shortage of new movement experiences. In a phone conversation, Director Yang indicated her dancers are particularly excited to study tango, while our majors are especially interested in learning traditional Taiwanese dances.

A very special opportunity for learning and exchange will take place each afternoon for two hours, as both groups work together to create a collaborative dance piece. I am so very excited to watch how the students interact, and to see how worlds collide, with new techniques and ways of moving informing and shaping all the dancers.

Performers from Focus Dance Company

Focus Dance Company members at a previous performance.

The creative process in particular provides fertile ground for communication. Choreographers and performers alike speak to audiences through thinking bodies, engaging participants’ senses with information translated through movement. There is a distinct privilege of immediacy and intimacy in this work, with each unique translational relationship contributing to the dance experience. Indeed, I cannot imagine a better vehicle than the language of dance to facilitate empathy and understanding and broaden the perspectives of all who are fortunate enough to participate and witness the power of movement.

This exciting week of movement exchange will culminate with a joint performance at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24. Focus Dance Company and Indiana University Contemporary Dance Theatre will each present works in their repertory, as well as the collaborative work created by the students during the course of the exchange. It looks to be an absolutely thrilling evening of talent and culture on display, and I know our university and Bloomington audiences will be awed by the commitment and skill of these young artists.

Ten years ago I had the opportunity to travel to China. I remember getting off the plane and taking in all the amazing sights, sounds and smells of a place unknown to me. I truly felt I was halfway around the world. It’s my great wish that our guests from Taipei will experience the same sense of wonderment, and I hope, as it was for me, that this will be a life-changing experience.

African American Dance Company’s annual workshop features classes, events, performance

Post by IU Newsroom intern Laura Ellsworth:

Dancers stretching at a barre

Participants at the 18th African American Dance Company workshop. Photo courtesy of the African American Arts Institute.

Indiana University’s African American Dance Company will present its 19th Annual Dance Workshop on March 3 and 4 in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center at IU Bloomington.

The workshop exposes participants to dance and music from the perspective of the African American and African Diaspora through master dance classes, panel discussions and enlightening dialogues. The workshop will include dance classes exploring West Indian/Jamaican, Afro-Cuban and West African styles, vogue and contemporary modern dance.

“The dance workshop gives anyone a great opportunity to learn various dance forms and techniques that are not usually offered in the area of central Indiana,” said Iris Rosa, director of the African American Dance Company and a professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies. “It is also about connecting, establishing new relationships and forging collaborations in the dance discipline with other dancers, teachers and performers.”

This year’s workshop features seven distinguished guest artists:

  • Alfred Baker, founding director of the West Indian Folk Dance Company, who has performed and taught Afro-Caribbean dance forms internationally.
  • Yaa Bekyore, dance instructor at the Dagara Music Center in Ghana, who toured for 10 years with Ghana’s Saakumu Dance Troupe.
  • Rogelio Kindelan-Nordet, former professor of folkloric percussion at Centro Nacional de Superacion de la Ensenanza Artistica, Pablo Milanes Foundation and Centro Nacional de Escuelas de Arte en Cuba.
  • Milagros Ramirez, lead dancer and general artistic director and choreographer for the Ballet Foklorico de Orient Cuba for 18 years.
  • Clifton Robinson, artistic staff musical director for Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, a prominent African and African American dance company.
  • Cesar Valentino, instructor and choreographer at Alvin Ailey Extension in New York City, who has toured and taught vogue dance and history internationally.
  • Sheila Ward, a professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Exercise Science at Norfolk State University and co-director of Eleone Dance Theatre in Philadelphia.

A reception and chat with the artists, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 7 p.m. March 3 in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. The dance workshop’s guest artists will lead a dialogue with the audience about their personal performing and teaching experiences, as well as answer questions.

Last year, the dance workshop introduced a scholarship program for high school and middle school students. The program offers these students the opportunity to participate in classes, visit campus and interact with IU students and faculty.

Participants at the 18th AADC workshop.

Participants at the 18th African American Dance Company workshop. Photo courtesy of the African American Arts Institute.

“With support of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, we are bringing young, talented dancers from the Midwest onto our campus for a rich experience offered by our esteemed guest artists,” said Charles Sykes, executive director of the African American Arts Institute.

Among the workshop weekend’s free events this year is “Vogue: Underground to Viral,” a lecture demonstration on Vogue dance, history and culture led by renowned Vogue artist Cesar Valentino. The event will be held at 7 p.m. March 2 in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Grand Hall and is co-presented by the LGBTQ+ Culture Center.

The 19th Annual Dance Showcase, featuring performances by the workshop participants and guest artists, is also free and open to the public and will be presented at 7 p.m. March 4 at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Grand Hall.

Class registration and scholarship information is available through the African American Arts Institute’s website. The full registration fee for classes is $130 for both March 3 and 4. The cost for March 3 only is $55 and March 4 only is $70. Single class fees are $25. The workshop is co-sponsored by the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, The Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, and the African American Arts Institute.

A different kind of artistry: Orchestrating sustainability with the theatre department

Post by IU Newsroom intern Laura Ellsworth:

The IU Bloomington Office of Sustainability has 30 programs on the docket to support its conservation goals for 2020, and one IU student, with the help of a university grant, is doing her part to make these goals a reality.

Olivia Ranseen in front of a tree

Olivia Ranseen is a Sustainability Scholar.

Olivia Ranseen, a 2020 Sustainability Scholar and environmental management major, got involved in associate professor Paul Brunner’s sustainability project, “The Waste Stream in Theatrical Production and a Vision for the Future,” last year. This project combined Ranseen’s interest in theater with her passion for environmental responsibility.

“I think climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, and I want to devote my life to solving, or rather mitigating, environmental issues,” she said.

Ranseen has taken a running start with this goal. During the 2015-16 academic year, she went backstage with Brunner and conducted an environmental audit on the entire theater program at IU. This study culminated in recommendations for IU Theatre and helped to implement carbon dioxide and occupancy sensors in Ruth Halls Theatre and Wells-Metz Theatre, which help regulate temperature based on occupancy.

In April, Ranseen and Brunner received a grant for $3,000 from IU’s Office of Sustainability for a case study on the upcoming production of “The Duchess of Malfi,” studying how individual productions can be more sustainable. The show will be live at the Well-Metz Theatre Feb. 3 and 4 and Feb. 7-11.

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‘China Remixed’ weekly speaker series launches Feb. 15

The Indiana University Bloomington Arts and Humanities Council will kick off a weekly speaker series Feb. 15 as part of the 2017 Global Arts and Humanities Festival, “China Remixed: Arts and Humanities in Contemporary Chinese Culture.”

The festival speaker series brings world-renowned scholars and journalists to campus for discussions of contemporary political, social and cultural issues. All talks are free and open to the public, with a reception following each talk.

Events in the series will take place at 6 p.m. in the Global and International Studies Building Auditorium, unless otherwise noted below. Details for each talk can be found on the China Remixed website.

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Dance Theatre of Harlem brings ‘Power on Pointe’ to IU Auditorium

The groundbreaking dance company Dance Theatre of Harlem will bring its take on classical ballet to Bloomington at 8 p.m. Jan. 28.

dance theatre of harlem

Anthony Savoy and Stephanie Williams. Photo by Mathew Murphy

Dance Theatre of Harlem encompasses a performing ensemble, an arts education center and Dancing Through Barriers, a national and international education and community outreach program. Each component of Dance Theatre of Harlem carries a solid commitment toward enriching the lives of young people and adults around the world through the arts.

Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook founded Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969, shortly after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Mitchell was inspired to start a school that would offer children, especially those in his native Harlem, the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts.

Now in its fourth decade, Dance Theatre of Harlem has grown into a multicultural dance institution with a legacy of providing opportunities for creative expression and artistic excellence. It has brought innovative forms of artistic expression to audiences in New York City, across the country and around the world.

“We at IU Auditorium are so pleased to present Dance Theatre of Harlem,” said IU Auditorium Director Doug Booher. “Not only are they singularly spectacular artists, we are inspired by their dedication to enriching communities and celebrating diversity through dance.”

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‘Quilts of Southwest China’ showcases tradition, community, identity at Mathers Museum

A groundbreaking international exhibition at Indiana University’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures explores the cultural heritage of China through traditional quilts and other textiles.

“Quilts of Southwest China,” organized by a consortium of Chinese and American museums including the Mathers Museum, opens Jan. 21 and will feature 24 quilts.

chinese quilt

A bedcover from the Guangxi Province is one of the quilts that will be on display. Photo courtesy of the Mathers Museum

“’Quilts of Southwest China’ is a beautiful exhibition,” said Jason Jackson, director of the Mathers Museum. “It is visually rich, but also rich in culture and rich in significance for our museum. The textiles on exhibition are eye-popping expressions of culture and creativity, and the diversity of peoples in southwest China is also a surprise to many American exhibition-goers. Additionally, it is exciting for our museum to publically share some of the ongoing work that we have been pursuing with our Chinese and American museum partners.”

Some ethnic groups in southwest China have a longstanding practice of creating bedcovers and other household items made of patchwork and applique, and the works displayed in the exhibition reflect this tradition. While ceremonial and aristocratic Chinese textiles have a long history of being collected and documented, researchers have only recently turned their focus to everyday objects, like patchwork bedcoverings.

The binational consortium worked together to document and research the textiles — art forms dating back over 3,000 years, but obscure outside certain ethnic minority communities in China. “Quilts of Southwest China” brings awareness about ethnic groups and textile traditions of southwest China. It also highlights the importance of documenting and researching traditional arts, as the research and collecting done for this exhibition provides some of the first documentation of the making and use of these textiles. 

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Straight No Chaser returns to IU Auditorium with seasonal songs and a new album

Straight No Chaser

Straight No Chaser’s “I’ll Have Another…World Tour” will make a stop at IU Auditorium on Dec. 14. The a cappella group features, from left, Seggie Isho, Mike Luginbill, Walter Chase, Dave Roberts, Charlie Mechling, Tyler Trepp, Steve Morgan, Randy Stine, Jerome Collins and Don Nottingham. Photo by Nick DuPlessis.

Straight No Chaser will be home for the holidays.

On Dec. 14, the group will return to Indiana University Auditorium and the campus where it all began 20 years ago.

“Being from here originally, I love playing at the auditorium,” said Charlie Mechling, one of the founding members. “It’s just such a great venue. It’s always a lot of fun, and it’s always a full house.”

Over the years, seasonal performances by Straight No Chaser have become a tradition in Bloomington, just like the lights around courthouse square and the giant candles that adorn the Indiana Memorial Union.

The latest visit by the a cappella ensemble is part of the “I’ll Have Another…World Tour” in support of the “I’ll Have Another…Christmas Album,” which dropped in October.

The new album is their sixth full-length album for Atlantic Records, and the third one devoted to holiday music. Among its 15 tracks are the hymn “Joy to the World,” familiar carols such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” as well as Mariah Carey’s more recent offering “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Back to Bloomington

The album’s creation marked another homecoming for Straight No Chaser, with recording sessions taking place in Bloomington over the summer.

At that time, Mechling sat down for a conversation — and a few nostalgic glances back.

With the work on the album spanning nearly a month, he found himself sifting through old photos and articles about Straight No Chaser’s start here at Indiana University. “I haven’t been here for this long since college,” he said. Read more…