Lars Engle Archives - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

Lars Engle

Dylan, Shakespeare, Decadence! Some recent faculty publications

Scholarly publishing tends to move slowly, with articles and books following many years of research and writing. It is especially exciting, then, that even as the pandemic has brought new challenges for this work, Department of English and Creative Writing faculty have seen a prolific year. In this spring 2022 issue of our newsletter, we highlight three books recently published by esteemed university presses. We reached out to their authors — Professors Denisoff, Engle and Latham — for comment on what motivated them to produce these works.

Eco-politics through a decadent lens

man in a white shirt with arms folded across his chest standing in a formal Italian gardenDennis Denisoff, McFarlin Professor of English, published his most recent monograph, Decadent Ecology in British Literature and Art, 1860-1910, this year with Cambridge University Press. While focused on the British Decadent movement of the Victorian and early-Modernist periods, this project is highly engaged with our current moment of environmental precarity, showing how contemporary attitudes to nature and the environment were shaped by this earlier era.

It is this interlacing of present with past, combined with his keen interest in environmental humanities, that drew Denisoff to the project: “In light of recent works engaging apocalyptic climate change, I’m especially interested in nineteenth-century literary renderings of the growing awareness that, far from humans being ‘stewards’ of nature and managing the environment, the biosphere is itself acting in what it senses to be its own best interests, with no discernible concern for what humans in particular think.” Denisoff’s book is capacious and innovative in its methodology, drawing on art history, queer studies, feminist theory and ecocriticism as it shows the mutually influential relationship of art and science in a tumultuous and formative period.

The classroom has been an animating force in Denisoff’s research and writing, and he credits his students with challenging him to explore new ideas and approaches in his scholarship: “Students ask the most fundamental and, so often, the most difficult questions. Their willingness to engage a new set of inquiries, to read current theoretical works in the field and to learn to cull useful insights and then work to prove the extrapolations did more to change my own research questions than anything else.”

Ideas and inspiration in early modern Europe

close-up photo of a man wearing glasses and a white shirtLars Engle, Chapman Professor of English, delves even more deeply into the past in Shakespeare and Montaigne, which was published last December by Edinburgh University Press. This essay collection, which Engle co-edited with Patrick Gray at Durham University and William M. Hamlin at Washington State University, looks at Shakespeare alongside the French philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne, who was three decades older than Shakespeare, and whose publications were circulating around Europe both before and while the playwright pursued his storied career.

Engle noted that the collection emerged from a Shakespeare Association seminar he and Hamlin chaired six years ago involving participation by both the field’s most prominent and exciting up-and-coming scholars: “The book has chapters by many distinguished Shakespeareans and Montaignians and also by promising younger scholars, and features really nice paratexts: a brilliant preface by Colin Burrow, insightful afterwords by George Hoffman and Katharine Eisaman Maus, and generous blurbs from Stephen Greenblatt and Emma Smith.” Engle, who wrote the book’s introduction and a chapter titled “Montaigne’s Shakespeare: The Tempest as Test-Case,” said that his contributions to the volume “investigate why Shakespeareans want to believe that Shakespeare read Montaigne, to suggest why Shakespeare may have read the particular essays by Montaigne Shakespeareans most often sensed in Shakespeare’s works and finally to discuss whether Shakespeare is thinking actively about Montaigne in The Tempest.”

A contemporary bard’s “sprawling reach”

man in a plum-colored shirt and grey blazer gesturing upwards with this right armWith the imminent opening of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa’s Arts District, the publication of The World of Bob Dylan in spring 2021 by Cambridge University Press is especially timely. Sean Latham, Walter Professor of English and director of the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies, edited this collection of 27 essays by a renowned group of rock and pop critics and music scholars.

The book offers a comprehensive exploration of Dylan — songwriter, artist, filmmaker and Nobel Laureate — considering his transformative global effect on literature, pop culture, music, and politics. Even as his editorial work on this project was intensively international, Latham’s inspiration for editing this book was local: “I was astonished when the Dylan Archive arrived here in Tulsa and fortunate to be one of the first dig into these materials and then help organize the decades of research and scholarship that will grow from this expansive collection. This book gave me an opportunity to work with people around the world to offer students, fans and scholars alike a peek into the archive and an opportunity to better understand the sprawling reach and enduring influence of Dylan’s music, art and life.”

Indeed, an especially exciting feature of this collection is its use of never before accessed materials from the Dylan Archive, which promises to continue to provide the world with new information about Dylan’s life, work and ongoing influence.


A lifetime of learning: From ministry to medicine to Milton

Glenn Craig, M.D., is well acquainted with the choices one must make upon retiring, but how he has chosen to spend his golden years might differ from what commonly follows a lifetime of satisfying and impactful employment. After having served for nearly 30 years as a physician, Craig is now pursuing a Ph.D. in The University of Tulsa’s Department of English and Creative Writing.

headshot of a man outdoors wearing a blue sweater and a tweed flat cap
Glenn Craig

Prior to enrolling, Craig had been living in New Zealand for two years, while working as a physician. “As retirement drew nearer, I kept asking myself ‘what’s next?’” said Craig. It was a phone conversation in October 2020 with Chapman Professor of English Lars Engle that inspired him to embark on doctoral studies.

While for some it might seem a bit odd to shift from science to literary studies, Craig has had a lifelong interest in both fields. “I’m a proponent of science and humanities alike,” he said; “I find enjoyment in studying both.”

Craig’s transformation from medical man into full-time graduate student is not his first major life/career transition. Prior to enrolling in the Medical College of Ohio at the University of Toledo (from which he received his medical degree in 1991), Craig attended the San Francisco Theological Seminary, where he gained a master’s in divinity in 1974 and a doctorate in ministry in 1979. For the next 10 years, Craig worked as a minister for the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Milton and personal freedom

Now at TU, once he has completed the required coursework, Craig intends to focus his dissertation on the early modern English poet John Milton, best known today as the author of the epic Paradise Lost. Craig’s fascination with Milton is longstanding. In fact, he traces the roots of it to his undergraduate days at Carleton University in Minnesota, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1970.

“Milton was a Puritan and a protestant thinker, as well as a political activist,” remarked Craig, who is intrigued, in particular, by Milton’s political and social writings. “He called for the execution of King Charles I in Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, in which he argued the people’s right to execute a guilty sovereign and boldly called for Charles’ execution, which Parliament carried out in January 1649.”

Craig is also drawn to Milton’s thinking on divorce and free will, matters that continue to pique the interest of many 21st-century scholars. As he considers the specific topic for his dissertation, Craig finds himself drawn to understanding Milton’s writings within the context of the present. “Milton was engaged in one of the most important theological debates at the time — free will,” said Craig, “and it’s the personal freedom aspect that I want to explore for my dissertation.”

A welcoming academic home

Craig’s experience thus far in his new academic home has proven to be a refreshing change of pace. “Everyone’s been very welcoming,” noted Craig, “Most importantly, I haven’t experienced age discrimination. It’s a great environment for those wanting to pursue academia later in life.  TU has been very responsive and accommodating, as have all my professors and fellow students.”

Have you considered returning to academia to pursue your passion for English language and literature? If so, a graduate degree in English at TU awaits!

TU alumna heralded for award-winning literary translations

Blonde woman smiling
Jennifer Croft

When Olga Tokarczuk’s 2014 historical novel The Books of Jacob finally hit the United States earlier this month, hers was not the only name on the cover: University of Tulsa alumna Jennifer Croft (BA ’01) appeared right alongside. Croft, who completed a double major in English and Russian Studies, translated the Nobel Prize winner’s 900-plus page epic from its original Polish into English. Croft also translated Tokarczuk’s 2007 novel Flights, which won Tokarczuk and Croft the Man Booker International Prize in 2018.

Book cover titled "The Books of Jacob"
Credit for both Tokarczuk and Croft

Recently, Croft and her prowess as a translator were the subject of a profile piece in The New York Times. In “Shining a Spotlight on the Art of Translation,” Tokarczuk notes that Croft “explains the author’s intention, not just the words standing in a row one by one. There is also a lot of empathy here, the ability to enter the whole idiolect of the writer.”

According to Croft, The Books of Jacob “[is] Olga’s, but also it has all of these elements that are mine, these stylistic elements and these decisions that I made.” Indeed, Tokarczuk has supported Croft’s efforts to have translators receive credit alongside authors, and Riverhead – The Books of Jacob’s U.S. publisher – plans to pay Croft royalties (a rare feat for translators).

Translation by immersion

Croft is credited with generating a movement in the literary community for translators to receive more credit. Her open letter with Mark Haddon has, according to The New York Times, generated over two thousand signatures from famous authors and translators, including such notables as Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman. Croft’s actions have had not only positive effects for her but have also made waves in informing people just how much art and effort go into translating fiction.

Earlier this month, for instance, Croft published an essay entitled “The Order of Things: Jennifer Croft on Translating Olga Tokarczuk,” in which she wrote about her process of translating:

Whenever I translate, I first immerse myself in the original as though taking a dip in a lovely cove, far from the eyes of anyone, where the water’s always warm. (I hope it does not undermine all that I have said so far to confess that in life I am not a good swimmer, and that I have never gone swimming in a cove.) By immersing myself, I can feel weightless as the body of the work suspends me — my preoccupations, much of my subjectivity, which merely acts as a filter — and I can allow the images generated by the words of the original to wash over me, feel them all around me, form them afresh in my cleared head.

Translating, Croft makes clear, is a creative process as much as it is a technical undertaking.

A distinguished career

Clear glass trophy displayed on a table outside

After graduating from TU, Croft went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in literary translation from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in comparative literary studies from Northwestern University. Along with Russian, Croft has also developed a high level of proficiency in Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish. In fact, Croft has translated several books from Spanish into English and has written her own memoir in Spanish — Serpientes y Escaleras (entitled Homesick in the English version), which won her The William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in 2020.

book on a gray couch
Croft’s memoir, “Homesick”

Croft’s talent and industry have resulted in numerous awards from various organizations, including Fulbright, PEN, Tin House, MacDowell and the National Endowment for the Arts. Croft also was honored with the inaugural Michael Henry Heim Prize for translation. Her works have been featured in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Guardian, Los Angeles Review of Books and other publications, and Croft has been interviewed by, among others, National Public Radio, the New York Public Radio and The Paris Review.

Recollecting Croft’s undergraduate days, former mentor and current Applied Associate Professor of Russian Elena Doshlygina remarked, “she started her training in translation with me, and together with one more student, we undertook the translation of a memoir book from Russian into English. Dr. Lars Engle guided her on finessing her voice in English, I taught her Russian language, and legendary poet and TU professor Yevgeny Yevtushenko introduced her to the world of Russian literature.”

With several translations and a novel in the queue, it’s one project after the next for this linguistic and literary expert. First and foremost, however, Croft is eager to spark a lasting change within the publishing community whereby the hard work of translators will be duly acknowledged and celebrated.

Languages provide many pathways for personal and professional accomplishment. If learning a new language sounds enriching to you, Kendall College of Arts and Science’s Language and Literature programs has all you need to get started!

Forum: Literature, literary studies & mental health and addiction

Curated by Michala Beesley (Class of 2022)

Literature does more than provide a source of entertainment; it allows us to process our thoughts and connect with the ideas and lives of others. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have experienced mental health challenges and studies around the world have shown an increase in various forms of addiction. At the same time, there has been a marked expansion in the public awareness and discussion of these often conjoined issues.

As an English and creative writing student, I am struck by the myriad ways literature across the ages has represented mental health (Ophelia!) and addiction (Malcolm Lowry!), as well as how literary studies empowers us to consider, discuss and write about these fascinating topics. Through creative writing, for example, we are able to unpack deep and heavy thoughts and reflect on our lives – how they are and how we dearly wish them to be. Meanwhile, I have found that literature and literary studies afford dynamic opportunities to counter conventional social stigmas associated with depression, anxiety and a host of other mental health “problems.” At its best, the study of literature even helps us to create safer, more inclusive communities within which to share difficult personal experiences.

For this forum, I invited five people associated with the Department of English and Creative Writing — an undergraduate student, a Ph.D. student, a post-doctoral fellow and two professors — to answer this question: What light do literature and literary studies shine on mental health and addiction? I thank each of the contributors for their thoughtful, generous responses. I trust you will be moved and inspired by their insights.

woman with long dark hair wearing a grey jacket and standing outdoorsAbby Rush

Abby Rush is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold. She studies creative writing at The University of Tulsa and loves to write and perform poetry in her spare time.  

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so OCD” in relation to their organized tendencies, or their affinity for cleaning? Popular culture has heavily influenced the inaccurate use of this word. We hear it on TV, among friends, and in many other spaces. Casual and innocuous as it may seem, the use of this term can be harmful when it is used in the wrong context.

OCD refers to a condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder, which affects many people in a myriad of ways. By using it casually in conversations not having to do with the condition, people risk diminishing the experience of individuals with OCD. Many of us are guilty of misusing the term, but it isn’t too late to begin utilizing better alternatives to explain our habits without undermining the real impacts of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Being more attuned to the language we use opens up space for better representation and collective understanding.

Contemporary novelist John Green explores obsessive-compulsive disorder and mental illness in general in Turtles All the Way Down. The main character, Aza, illuminates some of the realities of grief, OCD, and anxiety through her own life experiences in the novel. Literature like this helps teach the importance of acknowledging mental health conditions and creating safer spaces for people with them.


man with short grey hair, glasses and a blue jacketLars Engle

Lars Engle, the Ida M. Chapman Professor of English, has taught at TU since 1988. He is the author of Shakespearean Pragmatism and many articles and chapters, co-author of Studying Shakespeare’s Contemporaries, co-editor of English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology and co-editor of Shakespeare and Montaigne, which comes out in December from Edinburgh University Press.

I’ll answer this with an anecdote. I occasionally teach an upper-level English course entitled Middle English Literature. Sometime in the early 1990s, I decided to assign the entirety of The Book of Margery Kempe, the early 15th-century autobiography of a woman from Norwich who began, after the difficult birth of her first child when she was about 20, to experience visitations, at first from the Devil and then from Christ.

Usually, this text appears in English courses only in relatively brief excerpts — often Margery’s narrative of how Christ appears to Margery and releases her from his prior instruction to her to fast entirely on Fridays. Christ tells her that he has given her this instruction in order to allow her to get permission to take a vow of chastity from her husband, something he’s offered her if she’ll pay his debts before her pilgrimage to Jerusalem, eat with him on Fridays, and keep up the appearance of wifehood.

On the Jerusalem pilgrimage, Margery’s eccentricities expand. She cries out and weeps loudly in church when the Host is raised, she sees white objects fluttering and smells delicious smells and hears beautiful sounds when she thinks about Christ, which she does whenever she sees a handsome man. The beating of a horse makes her howl because she sees Jesus being scourged on the way to Calvary. Some witnesses wish she were dead; others honor the intensity of her piety.

Our class discussed what would happen to Margery in late 20th-century America. Most thought she would be put on anti-psychotic drugs, or confined in a mental hospital. But like Margery’s contemporaries, the class was unsure how to categorize her experiences, and in general how to deal with undignified or disruptive religious self-expression.

I had an older student in the course, whom I will call Cordelia. Cordelia worked at TU, and after the course was over we exchanged friendly greetings whenever we saw each other, which wasn’t that often.  Seven or eight years later, I ran into her outside the Student Union and she said (I paraphrase):

“Lars, you remember that course where we read Margery Kempe? I wanted to tell you something about it. Margery got me thinking about how differently intense religious experience can make people act.  I had a sister I was estranged from. She had been born again as an evangelical Christian, and she had strongly-expressed opinions about my way of living that offended me, and we weren’t speaking. But something about reading Margery made me reach out to her again, and we had several good conversations, even loving ones. I understood her state of mind better, and she appreciated my trying to do that.

“She was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. I think my reading that book was the reason that we recovered our relationship before she died. And I think that recovery in turn has helped me deal better with her loss. So do be aware that what happens in your courses can have unexpected consequences!”


woman wearing glasses, a bandana around her hair and a black jacketLaura Thomas

Laura Thomas received her Ph.D. from the Department of English Language and Literature in 2019. She is currently a 2021-22 post-doctoral fellow in the department.

Depression, sadness, madness – all words that are associated with mental illness. And if we throw hysteria in the mix, it becomes riddled with gendered connotations. Also, quite often drug addiction and mental illness are conflated – which came first? The addiction or the madness?

The real issue lies in the artistic glamour of madness. I believe this is where the problems understanding and approaching mental illness and addiction originated. Artistic and literary glamorization of mental illness and addiction can be beautiful and mystical, and this is the attraction, especially for many people who have never really witnessed or lived with addiction or depression.

I am reminded of the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind wherein the protagonist is a handsome madman and mathematics genius. The title of this movie alone reveals the romanticization of a mind gone awry – in this case, the cause is schizophrenia. My father was also the “madman in the studio,” producing painting after painting and then in his “off time” solving complex mathematical equations. But life with him wasn’t necessarily “beautiful.” Instead, it was exhausting and frightening trying to decipher his mood from day to day.

To this end, I feel if one does not live with addiction or mental illness (or both), or has not lived with someone who is afflicted, then literature and its attendant studies may not adequately teach us how to approach the illness or the individual. It seems that many successful writers, some of whom committed suicide (Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace) are posthumously burdened with the mystery and madness that borders on the beautiful, and this is not a true reflection of addiction or mental illness.


woman with short hair, large gold earrings and a blue jacketLaurel Taylor

Laurel Taylor is a Ph.D. candidate in English. Her research interests include modern and contemporary literature, disability studies and queer theory.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” wrote Joan Didion. AA members assert similarly that rehearsing “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” keeps them alive. So, too, many of us turn to literature when our lives feel fragmented and disoriented, finding therein tools for restoring narrative order and discovering our own redemptive arc. Yet, my proximity to addiction and mental illness, including as a doctoral student studying addiction history and literature, has taught me that recovery narratives are not always benign. As Parker Palmer writes, “the human soul does not want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed.”

Thus, in my dissertation, I focus on recalcitrant texts like Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood and William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, which summon us to relinquish our narrative expectations and moralizing impulses, nourishing, instead, our capacity to pay close attention, practice empathy, and hold space for the hard feelings and contradictions that characterize embodied experience. As life in the midst of a global pandemic and in anticipation of environmental crisis demonstrates, the stories we have told ourselves will not always, in the same forms, sustain us. Literature faithful to the varied and complex experiences of addiction and mental illness has much to model for us by way of navigating these disorienting times not with attempts to recover the status quo, but with an openness to new narrative forms and new modes of being human.


man with short dark hair, glasses and a blue patterned shirtDon James McLaughlin

Don James McLaughlin is an assistant professor of English specializing in 19th-century American literature, the medical humanities, queer health, disability studies and the history of emotions. His current research focuses especially on Fitz-Greene Halleck, Walt Whitman, Sarah Orne Jewett and literary representations of psychological debate. 

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James includes a close reading of Leaves of Grass. James is talking about “the gospel of healthy-mindedness,” a life-orientation characterized by unflagging optimism. “The supreme contemporary example…is of course Walt Whitman.” James first praises this quality: “The only sentiments [Whitman] allowed himself to express were of the expansive order;…a passionate and mystic ontological emotion suffuses his words…persuading the reader that…all things are divinely good.” Still, James proceeds by confessing skepticism: “[H]is gospel has a touch of bravado…and this diminishes its effect.” To say Whitman has “a touch of bravado” is like saying the sun is a touch bright. But Whitman’s bravado itself belongs to a cycle of dawns and twilights, and the accuracy of James’s evaluation deserves examination.

From here, James “turn[s] towards those persons who cannot so swiftly throw off the burden of the consciousness of evil, but are congenitally fated to suffer from its presence.” He proposes that religions such as Buddhism and Christianity accommodate this dilemma through rituals of “deliverance.” Interestingly, James cites his own experience of panic disorder, noting that “the fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not clung to scripture-texts…I think I should have grown really insane.”

The psychologist became best-known as a pragmatist. In an often-cited diary entry, James determines, “I will go a step further with my will, not only act with it, but…believe in my individual reality and creative power. My belief… can’t be optimistic—but I will posit life (the real, the good) in the self-governing resistance of the ego to the world.” One of the most striking details of James’s career is how he was open about mental health struggles, while also insisting on this inextinguishable creative power of the human spirit.

Whitman was an optimist. Peruse “Song of Myself,” and there will be no doubt. However, Whitman also believed in being honest about the diverse emotions he knew well. Following his time volunteering in Washington’s hospitals for injured soldiers during the Civil War, Whitman reported symptoms suggestive of post-traumatic stress disorder. He wrote pieces for The New York Times encouraging Americans to recognize the psychological needs of veterans. As my students observed recently, friendships formed in the hospitals brought Whitman both fulfillment and heartache. “The Dresser” concludes by describing how the memories continued to visit him:

Thus in silence, in dream’s projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and the wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night—some are so young;
Some suffer so much—I recall the experience sweet and sad

James and Whitman were distinct visionaries. Nonetheless, this similarity warrants consideration. Like James, the strength of Whitman’s voice coincided with a determination to prioritize the psychological wellbeing of himself and his neighbors. James’s assessment of Whitman’s message assumes new meaning when we explore the poet’s corpus as a whole: “The only sentiments he allowed himself to express were of the expansive order.”