Five Questions with English professor Dr. Erin Wunker
9/4/2013 3:18:06 PM
Mount Allison English professor Dr. Erin WunkerDr. Erin Wunker is an assistant professor of English. Her areas of research are in gender, contemporary Canadian poetry and poetics, and critical theory. She is also a board member for Canadian Women in Literary Arts (CWILA), supporting equitable critical culture in Canada and co-author of the academic blog Why does it matter?. Find her on Twitter @erinwunker

1. You describe yourself as a nomadic scholar. What’s your academic path been to come to this title?

I grew up living in both Canada and the U.S., crossing borders on a regular basis. I’m from Ottawa originally and my parents ran a lodge in Northern Ontario in the summers (think of the movie Dirty Dancing without all the dancing). We moved to a plantation house in Northern Carolina when I was 12. It was a very rural setting. I read, a lot.

I did my undergrad at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and then ventured back to Canada for my master’s and PhD (McGill and University of Calgary). I’ve worked mainly in academics since then, also travelling across Canada on several occasions.

2.What can students expect in your classes at Mount Allison this year?

I love teaching and I’m really excited to be at Mount Allison this year because of all the unique opportunities there are on this campus. For one of my senior classes (Canadian Literature from Beginnings to 1914: Forging a “New” Northern Nation), I’ve been working with Elizabeth Miller in the library to make use of the Davidson Collection of Canadiana, an amazing resource of rare books, available right here on campus. We’ll be going through the collection and students will actually be able to see texts from early explorers and settlers. Elizabeth has been wonderful in helping me organize this — it’s really an experience that could only happen at Mount Allison.

I’ll also be looking to challenge my students to think about ways and perspectives works are presented from — one assignment will see them rewriting text from a different gender perspective.

3.You bring a lot of your class work to the online realm. Why do you think this is important?

People, especially students, are turning to the web more and more for information. Instead of ‘fighting the battle’ against Wikipedia, I think we need to start making sure the information is relevant. It was recently reported that Wikipedia had almost no fully developed scholarly entries on women writers and scholars — that’s terrible. This is a battle we’ve also been fighting in the mainstream media through The Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA), which seeks to report numbers on gender disparity in the world of publishing. While primarily academic, we also looked as traditional media such as The National Post and The Walrus. In the past couple of years we’ve seen some significant improvements in the number of women being represented in publishing.

One project I plan to have in class will see students properly researching and developing submissions to Wikipedia. It’s a great way for them to make a meaningful contribution outside their class work.

4. You have several research projects ongoing including two books. Can you share some details?

The first is a collection of essays from a conference held on campus last year — Public Poetics: Critical Issues in Canadian Poetry. It includes works from presenters and participants originally presented at the conference, as well as original poems. It’s a nice collection that really shows the connections between the arts and academic communities in Sackville. I am working on this project with conference co-organizers Dr. Bart Vautour, Dr. Travis Mason, and Dr. Christl Verduyn.

The second is my own book — Collapsible Commons. I am writing about artists across Canada who are working to produce something good in today’s world full of so many ‘dooms day’ moments. I have interviewed several indigenous artists in particular who are working to produce positive work out of collapse. One project that sticks out for me is one being done around protests against the Keystone pipeline — the artist is collecting original poems and prose and posting them along the route of the pipeline.

It’s my first book and it’s really interesting to be writing about contemporary artists you can talk with, and get called out on, for your interpretation of their work.

5. And some details on your research-related blogs?

My latest project is a collaboration with Bart Vautour (who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Canadian Studies and is now teaching in the Department of English), is a blog called Why Does It Matter?  It is a series of guest posts articulating various aspects of the import of diverse Humanities scholarship. Our guest writers (academics in the humanities from across Canada) fill in the ‘It’ as part of their submissions, gender studies, public libraries, and so on.

Another blog I am involved with is Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe, which is all about the realities women working in the Canadian University system face. It ranges from how tenure works to family life and has contributors from universities across the country.