Dear Committee Members – Julie Schumacher

The basic premise of Dear Committee Members is a simple one: middle-aged academic writes Letters of Recommendation – for his students and for his colleagues. However, Jason Fitger, Professor of Creative Writing and English, Payne University does not write straight, sincere letters, oh no.

I assume Kentrell is behind this request; no sane person would nominate a man whose only recent publications consist of personal genealogical material and who wears visible sock garters in class – all he lacks is a white tin basin to resemble a nineteenth-century barber.

But if you want me to endorse his nomination in order to keep him quiet and away from your office (you will find him as persistent and maddening as a fly), you may excerpt the following sentences and affix my name to them: “Professor Franklin Kentrell has a singular mind and a unique approach to the discipline. He is sui generis. The Davidson Chair has never seen his like before.”

Fitger has several problems. Firstly, his student, Darren Browles, whom he believes is brilliant, is trying to finish a novel called Accountant in a Bordello, a retelling of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, set in a 1960s brothel just outside Las Vegas. Browles has lost his funding and without it is unable to complete the book. A number of the letters Fitger writes are in support of Browles, attempting to get him funding or a publisher.

Which brings us to problem number two – his ex-lovers. His ex-wife, Janet, is good friends with Eleanor Acton, Director of the Bentham Literary Residency Programme; his ex-lover, Carole Samarkind, who dumped him after he sent a ‘reply all’ email to everyone on campus, is the Associate Director of Student Services, and Janet herself is an academic in the university’s law school. Consequently, Fitger has to send letters of recommendation to all of them and we see him attempting to make amends for his misdemeanours.

Thirdly, the building the English department is housed in is being ‘remodelled’:

Yesterday afternoon during my Muticultural American Literature class, I watched a wrecking ball swinging like a hypnotist’s watch just past the window…those of us who remain as castaways here in Willard Hall risk not only deafness but mutation: as of next week we have been instructed to keep our windows tightly closed due to “particulate matter” – but my office window (here’s the amusing part, Ted) no longer shuts. One theory here: the deanery is annoyed with our requests for parity and, weary of waiting for us to retire, has decided to kill us.

And finally, Fitger’s spending so much time writing letters of recommendation that he hasn’t published a work of his own in six years, during which time, his previous novels have fallen out of print.

Dear Committee Members is an amusing look at one academic’s life as he attempts to iron out problems in his professional and personal spheres, some of which he seems to have spent his entire life creating. Schumacher weaves the details of Fitger’s issues neatly into the letters, the seemingly flippant tone she provides him with allowing this to appear natural. This will be a funny book even if you know nothing about academia but if you do have any insight into university life from a work point of view, its pointed insights are hilarious.


Thanks to the Friday Project for the review copy.

In the Media: 12th October 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought-provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

This week, I’m starting with prizes as there seems to be a fair few announcements at the moment. The Man Booker Prize jury will announce its winner on Tuesday. In The Guardian, the shortlisted authors revealed the inspiration behind their books. (Karen Joy Fowler’s contains a spoiler if you you’ve managed to avoid the reveal so far.) The Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist contained four books by women. I’ve only read one so far, but H Is for Hawk is one of the best books I’ve read this year. But the prize that’s got me most excited is The Green Carnation Prize which celebrates LGBT literature. (You can see the longlist in the photograph above.) Eight women on a longlist of thirteen and the two I’ve already read (Thirst by Kerry Hudson and In Search of Solace by Emily Mackie) are two of my books of the year. Expect reviews of more of the books on list before the shortlist is revealed on the 6th of November.

Elsewhere, Lena Dunham continues to be everywhere. She’s guest editor of this week’s Stylist magazine in which she interviews herself while Ashley C. Ford interviews her for Buzzfeed. She’s also written for Pen & Ink about her tattoo. (If you’re interested in Pen & Ink: An Illustrated Collection of Unusual, Deeply Human Stories Behind People’s Tattoos, there’s a great piece on Brainpickings.) In other corners of the internet, people were defending Dunham against the backlash around her book and criticisms of self-indulgence; first, Heather Havrilesky in the Los Angeles Review of Books and second, Sloane Crosley in the New York Times.

Often just as unpopular, Caitlin Moran is in Time talking about Teen Girls, Sex and Pretending to be Courtney Love and in the Radio Times talking about the filming of her co-written sitcom ‘Raised by Wolves’. If her feminism doesn’t interest you, perhaps her piece lamenting the loss of birds in her garden in this weekend’s The Times will. (Paywalled)

Leading feminist writer, Roxane Gay has been prolific again this week. She’s in The Guardian writing about why celebrity feminists should be a gateway to feminism, not its all; on VQR Online talking about The Price of Black Ambition, and in Dissent with a Theses on the the Feminist Novel.

Other notable articles are:

And the interviews:

If you’d like some fiction to read (or listen to):

And the lists:

And the four best things I’ve read this week: