The 2020 symposium was originally to be directed by Prof. Pauline Uchmanowicz on the topic of the graphic novel. After her untimely death in the summer of 2019, the graduate committee decided to honor Prof. Uchmanowicz’s memory by dedicating the Symposium to her scholarship and creative interests. Prof. Uchmanowicz contributed significantly to the intellectual life of graduate studies at New Paltz, offering courses on graphic fiction, contemporary poetry, poetry workshops, and composition theory. She directed the 2003 graduate symposium (with Helen Vendler as the keynote) and also served as Composition Director, mentoring the careers of many Teaching Assistants at New Paltz. The three panels at the 2020 Symposium, organized by Professors Matthew Newcomb, Fiona Paton, and Sarah Wyman, each focused on different dimensions of Prof. Uchmanowicz’s remarkable career of teaching and scholarship. As Prof. Uchmanowicz would have wanted, the panels provided a showcase of our students’ outstanding talents as scholars and teachers.
The thirty-second annual Graduate Symposium was also hosted virtually for the first time. Due to county and state restrictions related to the pandemic, all in-person gatherings on campus were changed to virtual events. This allowed for a robust participation from members of the campus and wider community, with dozens of participants joining in from the region. Timothy Smajda and Nicole Short began the symposium with presentations on “Composition Pedagogy,” the panel organized by Prof. Newcomb. In “It’s Not What We’re Writing About; It’s How We’re Writing About It,” Smajda drew on his experiences in the composition classroom to observe the importance of framing assignments and writing prompts through inclusive rhetoric. Short revisited an essay she wrote as an undergraduate for The Chronicle of Higher Education in “Digital Digs: Technology as an Ambient Condition in the Composition Classroom” to reassess the pitfalls and opportunities provided by technology in the composition classroom. These virtual slideshow presentations did not translate well to publication and therefore are not a part of this volume.
The papers from the two following panels, “Race and Transnational Poetics,” organized by Prof. Sarah Wyman, and “Gender and Gendered Poetics,” assembled by Prof. Fiona Paton, are included in the current volume. These essays touch on a range of topics, from the nineteenth-century African-American author Charles Chesnutt to the “maternity poems” of Sylvia Plath.
The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Hillary Chute of Northeastern University, who shared work from her groundbreaking study of graphic narrative genres. In monographs such as Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (Columbia, 2010) and Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere (Harper-Collins, 2017), Prof. Chute has made the argument for both scholarly and general audiences of graphic fiction’s unique history and power as a genre. Her talk focused on representations of mental illness in comics and graphic fiction: “Graphic Medicine: Comics and Psychic States.” Centering on authors such as Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half) and Justin Green, one of the seminal figures of autobiographical comics, Prof. Chute analyzed how this form of fiction can be therapeutic, even healing for both graphic artists and their readers.