Teachers and students alike gathered at the annual Fall English Colloquium last Wednesday in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. Christopher Varlack, a lecturer in the English department, gave a speech entitled “Towards a Trans-Atlantic Approach: Modernist Psychodrama and Wasteland Critique in Literature of the Harlem Renaissance and World War I.”
Varlack explained how he became the keynote speaker at this fall’s colloquium. “Faculty in the English department can volunteer to present research at the colloquium,” said Varlack. “Ideally, we would like to have a speaker each semester. Professor Jody Shipka, an associate professor in the department, is the organizer of the colloquium and solicits volunteers.”
Varlack’s speech, which featured audio and video clips as well, explored the controversial issues seen in pre-war, post-war and post-slavery periods. “Much of my recent work has centered on the Harlem Renaissance as the central period of cultural explosion within the African-American community,” said Varlack. He was especially interested in offensive black humor, including “the era of blackface minstrelsy where white actors would use burnt cork makeup or grease paint in a mocking imitation of black skin,” said Varlack.
Attendees even participated in the presentation when Varlack had the group take turns reading aloud from handouts he prepared. The works discussed included pieces by Langston Hughes and Robert Walser, and explored “the manifestation of an internal and external push to discomfort through script or pseudo-scripts,” according to Varlack.
During the questions-and-answers session after the lecture, Varlack answered more questions about his research. “I have also done extensive work on the slave narratives and am moving toward more comparative work of the Harlem Renaissance and more recent black renaissance movements,” said Varlack. “Overall, however, my research focuses on American literature in general with an emphasis on race and gender.”
“The presentation covered relatively recent work about a year and a half in the making,” according to Varlack. Though attendance was sparse, the English department and entire UMBC community should be excited for more of Varlack’s future work, and future colloquiums to share and celebrate the work of our faculty and professors.