“Conversations on a Homecoming” by Pat Hanrahan

“Those who go feel not the pain of parting,
it’s those who stay behind that suffer.”

When I heard this Longfellow quotation on a recent episode of “Inspector Lewis,” and not from Sergeant Hathaway, either, I sat up and took notice as something stirred.


I had lived and worked in London in the sixties, although I’m nearly over it now. America beckoned and I transferred happily. Notice I said “transferred.”
I never actually emigrated and had it in the back of my mind that someday…….more than 40 years later, I’m still here, temporarily. Everyone else emigrated, but not me. As I said, I transferred.

Recently, I went to Lincoln Center to see two plays under the aegis of DruidMurphy. Much to my chagrin, I was singularly unprepared. These plays were about emigration, about leaving and staying behind. Imagine a knife being plunged repeatedly into tender flesh and then being twisted slowly. I know! Not nice. Imagine a theatre full of people squirming on the edges of their seats. And I’ve often wondered about this thing referred to as bated breath. Now I know.


The Druid Theatre Company from Galway, in the West of Ireland, is world famous in the theatre world for their interpretations of Irish playwrights. It is led by Garry Hynes, the only woman to win a Tony for Best Director (“The Beauty Queen of Leenane”). Now they have taken the plays of the often overlooked Irishman, Tom Murphy, and beaten me over the head with them.

Years ago, the unoccupied office next door to me had its door closed for a few days and while we knew there was someone in there, we never saw or heard the person. A mystery man? Maybe. Eventually, we were told it had been Mr. Murphy, working on changes to a play being produced in NYC. He needed peace and quiet. (Don’t we all?)

Mind you, I don’t think there will be much peace and quiet for me having seen these two plays, especially “Conversations on a Homecoming.” I’m in turmoil ever since. I thought emigration was about those who left. According to Longfellow and now Mr. Murphy, it seems it’s more about those who stayed behind. They’re the heroes, as they didn’t leave. Where does that leave the rest of us?


A couple of years ago I brought my two oldest grandchildren back to my hometown in Ireland. We walked up one side of the Main Street and down the other, stopping only for ice-cream. Much to my surprise and disappointment. I knew no one, and worse still, no one knew me. Colin, then 5, asked me if I was from here. The only answer I could think of was “I used to be.”

Both plays were greeted with rousing ovations, but after the curtain calls the audiences sat, unwilling or unable to get out of their seats. One night I turned to the stranger on my left, who was dabbing her eyes. She looked Irish, shrugged her shoulders, and tried to smile. She even offered me a tissue.

Another night I spoke to a couple on the train heading downtown, one Irish and the other Asian. We had the Playbill in common and we yakked all the way to Penn Station. I don’t recall what we said. We just needed to talk to someone. Anyone.
So, maybe I am an emigrant, after all. I must tell my family, but they probably suspected that all along.


Pat Hanrahan passed away Saturday. He was a gifted fiction writer, a voracious reader, a dedicated professor who cared deeply about his classes and his craft, a Manchester United fan (for nobody’s perfect), and a true friend. The piece above was one he wrote in 2012. To hear his mellifluous reading of his own work, click on the 20:00 mark of the video below.


Pat loved being Irish and loved telling stories, which is like saying someone loves the ocean and the sea. So who better to share Pat memories than Dave Hannigan, who knew Pat as a teacher and a fellow Irishman (though as he explains, there are all types of Irishmen from Ireland):

“In the summer of 2013, Gene Hammond suggested myself and Pat Hanrahan meet for lunch ahead of his first semester at Stony Brook. I’m guessing the thinking was our shared nationality and my own relative newness to the program might prove mutually beneficial. Gene is a knowledgeable man but his grasp of Irish geo-political reality was weak. Pat is from Tipperary. I am from Cork. Think the Hatfields and the McCoys with a bit more violence and a lot more bitterness.

“But here’s why we hit it off.

“There is a sign on the road as you drive over the border into Pat’s home county. It reads: ‘Tipperary – The Home of Hurling’. The great Irish stick-based game that dates back to ancient times, hurling is a sport with a history and a mythology and it is one of the last uniquely Irish things we have. Within minutes of our first meeting, Pat had blasphemed, declaring his primary sporting interest to be the Manchester United soccer team, not the Tipperary hurlers. This would be the equivalent of somebody growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium eschewing the Bronx Bombers and developing a passion for the Green Bay Packers.

“Once he told me that, we were friends. Of course, there was much more to him than that. He was wonderful, entertaining and gossipy company. He had a sense of mischief and, to use an Irish word he would surely approve of, a bit of divilment about him too. He threw himself into the teaching, the latest chapter in a diverse career into which he seemed to have packed several different lives. He took the failure of every portfolio personally. I often wonder if the students that passed through his classes appreciated just how much he cared about their fate.

“As I write this, I can see a couple of things on my shelves that he loaned me the last time we met. An anthology of new Irish short stories and an Irish art-house film from 15 years ago, a typically eclectic Pat parcel. In the all too brief time I knew him, he was my own personal library. No sooner had I read a review of a new Irish publication than he had it in my mail slot for me to borrow.

A while back, one of the books went missing. We denounced every colleague who had access to the office, traducing reputations and, even wondering, for a spell, whether it was a light-fingered student who made off with Joseph O’Connor’s ‘The Thrill of it All.’ Turned out the book had been taken in error by Gene Hammond and all our slandering had been in vain. The next time Pat texted me to say there was a new publication waiting for me in my slot, he added, ‘As long as The Book Thief doesn’t get there first.’

“Ar Dheis go raibh a hanam. Ni Bheith a leitheid ann aris.

(May he be sitting to the left of his God tonight. We won’t see his like again.)”

15 Minutes With A Plagiarist, 13 Student Thoughts

Earlier this month, an email circulated regarding someone posting flyers in the writing department offering “writing services” for hire.
The most conspicuous feature on the flyer is the giant “A+” that takes up the bottom third of the page, demonstrating audience awareness: it’s a bottom-line world and for students the bottom line is grades. The next biggest font is the phone number listed. A number without a name attached to it these days isn’t your mother’s number-without-a-name-attached-to-it. It’s how business – public, private, illicit – gets done.
What caught my eye and ire, though, were the multiple, unabashed solicitations for paper-writing customers. “We also offer paper writing services!” the page shrieks a third of the way down. “Paper Writing – All Subjects,” coos the right mid-page. The last line’s oxymoronic “Call for tutoring or to have your paper written for you today!” manages to insult both for its doublethink and for such indoctrination being self-imposed. Tutoring is teaching someone hungry how to fish. Writing their paper for them is giving them counterfeit bills to buy a single, stale, fast-food fish filet.


Someone from the college called the number listed. The person who answered said all she does it tutor and edit, not write papers. She said she understood the concern the ads caused and would remove all the flyers as well as the “ghost writing” ad from her service’s Facebook page (later I discovered the Facebook page is still up, and there’s a Twitter page and various advertisements online, too).

I teach at a second college. When I left the campus Monday, I noticed the same flyers from Stony Brook were on the bulletin boards at this college, as well. Continue reading 15 Minutes With A Plagiarist, 13 Student Thoughts

Google Documents (as of early 2015) for Teaching Writing, Part 2

by Shyam Sharma

In part one of this piece, Shyam Sharma talked about the set-up and function of Google Docs, and how it impacts teaching writing, professor feedback, and student agency. Here in part two, he looks at its workshop application, reader response, opportunities for collaboration, and reasons for caution. 



Google Docs helps to make writing a more social activity. Students can more easily access, comment on, and discuss one another’s writing. On the single, virtual copy of their work that they can now have, both they and their peers (as well as the instructor) can insert comments or directly suggest changes to the text. By the way, I don’t allow students (or anyone outside class) to use “edit” mode on peers’ writing; I too turn on the suggest/tracking feature when reading at all times.

Workshop: The most striking instance of collaboration and engagement using GD when I engage students in writing workshops. Continue reading Google Documents (as of early 2015) for Teaching Writing, Part 2

Google Documents (as of early 2015) for Teaching Writing – Part 1

by Shyam Sharmagdocs

I was more impressed when Steve Jobs said that he didn’t let his kids use the iPad than when he called it “magical” while launching it. So, as I share these teaching tips about effectively using Google Docs in this post, I hope that I don’t sound like I have my own type of “technomagicology.” In fact, this post is a follow up to a series of posts that Chris Petty and I wrote on this blog last year, cautioning writing teachers against the pitfalls of requiring students to share (increasingly publicly) the product and process of writing. I’ve split the post into two parts and used sections and subsections for easier reading/skimming. Continue reading Google Documents (as of early 2015) for Teaching Writing – Part 1

Understanding Grammar as Fractal: Rhetorical effects and cultural implications, by MaryAnn Duffy


In science, the fractal is a relatively new discovery. The term comes from its Latin root, fractus, which means “to break” and alludes to the jagged, irregular-shaped edge. It is the term Benoit Mandelbrot, a linguist and mathematician, used in his 1982 book The Fractal Geometry of Nature to define the seemingly random shapes in nature that Euclidean-based geometry could not explain.

Euclidian geometry deals with more smoothly-shaped lines that produce circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. However, the edges produced by nature are not quite so tidy. Edges in nature —coastlines, shapes of leaves, a cauliflower—have extremely complex shapes and are difficult to measure. Measuring and mapping them for any patterns or consistency seemed to be a futile attempt at measuring nature’s randomness. Until Mandelbrot revealed the opposite. Many shapes in nature are actually recursive patterns. They start on the micro level and grow so as to render a self-same macro shape.


The edge of a coastline, as seen from an aerial view, is the same shape as any smaller part of that coastline’s whole. The cauliflower’s bloom is iterative self-same shapes. The silhouette of a tree, it turns out, mirrors its forest’s canopy. Given these fractal systems found all around us, it seems nature is not so random after all.



Continue reading Understanding Grammar as Fractal: Rhetorical effects and cultural implications, by MaryAnn Duffy

My “GWID” conundrums

by Shyam SharmaNew Student Convocation Saturday, August 31, 2013.

When I taught the graduate-level writing in the disciplines (or “GWID,” as I call it) course last spring, which had a lot of nonnative English speaking (NNES) students, I faced a lot of conundrums. How much time should I allocate to help students with basic writing skills in an advanced writing course like that? Especially when NNES students seek help with their “language,” should I insist that they instead learn how to situate their writing at the advanced level and in their specialized research/scholarship? Should I challenge them to focus on higher-order issues in their writing even when they tell me that their advisors recommended/required the class to help them “fix” what are essentially lower-order concerns? Am I missing something because I am looking at things from my own discipline’s/profession’s perspective and failing to appreciate other points of view as much as mine? Continue reading My “GWID” conundrums

A Reflection on Student Conferences and Teaching, by Marilyn Zucker


For the past week, I’ve had students come in for conferences, talking one-on-one with them about their research essays. As they arrive at my office, I hand them the draft I’ve commented on. I ask them to sit in the chair outside the door, read over the paper and comments—it’s been a week since they’ve seen their own papers; often they’ve forgotten what they’ve written—then come into the office for a chat. As we talk, I get a sense of their intelligences at work, as they try to make sense of the points I’m making regarding their essays. This usually happens twice a semester, and generally gives students guidance to revising what will become a successful analysis or research essay.

But yesterday, the last day of conferences for this term, I suddenly became more aware of the students as people. An odd thing to say? Maybe. And yes, they’re always “people,” but this time I could feel the “who-ness” of each of them: boys with scruffy new beards signifying their youthful masculinity; girls with interesting eye makeup, shoulder-sweeping earrings, and most with very long hair; some students with disheveled clothes that look like they’ve not been washed in a week, and others with a tidy sense of fashion; some easy with chatting and others reticent, unsmiling and slightly remote; and many with Stony Brook regalia – the red sweatshirt, the black sweatpants, the backpack. I see each of them walk into my office, drop their things, take a seat in the nearby chair, and settle their presence into engagement with me. And we talk.
Several are grateful for the guidance I offer, like suggesting ways to contextualize their topics, as they argue for better education for the poor, for media to cease displaying objectified women, for autistic children to experience theatre programs, for preferring arranged marriage to “love marriage.” I hear them explain what they mean in a particular sentence, what they think an unexplained quote says, or how they might better structure their conclusion by converting it from a summary of what they’ve already written to a real conclusion, i.e. “This is what I conclude from what I’ve just said.” We talk about the sources they’ve used to learn about their topics, and several students realize that the general audience websites they’ve used for information haven’t really supplied them with thoughtful commentary or credible conclusions to add sufficient complexity and depth to their own thinking.
And here is Beverly, a Long Islander in her 20s who works full-time and attends school part-time. When she tells me she is only person in her whole family ever to attend college, I ask if her family is supportive of her efforts to get an education.
“Oh yes,” she says. “They are so proud of me. But they really don’t understand what college means to me.” Continue reading A Reflection on Student Conferences and Teaching, by Marilyn Zucker

I Could Never Teach Writing, by Susan Scarf Merrell

"...I don’t teach writing, even though that’s what my course is called. I teach reading. I teach writers how to read so that they can write better.”
“…I don’t teach writing, even though that’s what my course is called. I teach reading. I teach writers how to read so that they can write better.”

“I could never teach writing,” a literary novelist of my acquaintance said emphatically over dinner the other night.

His reading to our MFA students had run long, and each of the book buyers waiting to meet him had asked additional questions, worshipfully eager to extend their time in his presence. It was very late, and the restaurant was deserted, and I thought, He’s my guest and I’m tired. Do I want to get into this fight? We had just received our salads. I was already tucking in, but he lingered before picking up his fork, fingers stroking the tines, as if what he had to communicate was far more important than food. “It takes too much from you. It destroys your ability to do your own work.” He glared at the busboy, who was already hovering, ready to move our meal along. “None of my friends who teach in MFA programs ever produce.”

I hear this a lot. Continue reading I Could Never Teach Writing, by Susan Scarf Merrell

Round One, by Joseph Labriola

"...in the madness of jazz there is beauty, and an order of sorts, and within this newly birthed form you follow its dancing, jiggling beat to the most effective outcomes for the greatest number of participants."
“…in the madness of jazz there is beauty, and an order of sorts, and within this newly birthed form you follow its dancing, jiggling beat to the most effective outcomes for the greatest number of participants.”

Syllabus drafting, lesson planning, in-class activity organizing, homework plotting— you can spend every heavy blink of your groggy mornings and stretching yawn of your delirious late nights scratching your brain to try and perfect the perfect college class. No matter how much of your already limited time’s spent fine-tuning vital course components, no amount of preparation will ever truly prepare you for that moment you step up in front of a class of ten or twenty or a hundred students, for that moment when all the lights are shining on you, and you’re the star of the show.

Lights, students, and…teach!

This might seem like no problem to anyone with dreams of becoming a movie-star-turned-professor. I have no desire to teach for the egotistic sake of casting myself as the lead role in Writing 102: The First Lecture. What I do desire, however, is the admittedly selfish benefit of feeling good through what I teach—feeling good knowing that the lessons and methods that I’m relating to my students are improving their academic lives, and by extension, their professional and personal lives. Continue reading Round One, by Joseph Labriola

The Effect of Foreign And Native Speakers In The Classroom


One day after class last year two of my students, Sangmin Jeong and Eunjoo Lee, told me they wanted access to opportunities to improve their fluency as English speakers. The classroom was a space they developed their academic voice; they wanted to learn American slang, vernacular, and culture, to enrich their college experience. A few weeks later we’d created a group that met weekly to address these desires: Foreign And Native Speakers (FANS).
We hoped the group would be split evenly among native English speakers and non-native speakers (NNS), since a group of all NNS wouldn’t have the collective fluency in the English language or American culture that had birthed FANS in the first place. Fortunately, the group has maintained a good balance as its grown. Continue reading The Effect of Foreign And Native Speakers In The Classroom