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Group unearths 19th-century ghost stories for fall meeting

The Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers Study Group will discuss ghost stories at its fall meeting, Oct. 2 at Flora Rose House.

The group of graduate students and faculty works on a new topic or theme for its meetings, held each semester on a different campus. This is the group's first meeting at Cornell; about 40 members are expected to attend. Study group members will also tour the exhibition "Known to Everyone, Liked By All: The Business of Being Mark Twain," in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Kroch Library.

Its members work to locate and recover "literature from the 19th century and encourage discussion of it," said fall meeting co-organizer Shirley Samuels, a professor of English and American studies, and chair of the Department of History of Art.

Some of the works they find and bring to the group results in publications and new editions, she said. The themes of past meetings have included drama, different aspects of poetry, African-American women's literature and writings from after the Civil War.

"The group was central to the recovery of a great amount of 19th-century women's fiction, drama and poetry," said co-organizer Jonathan Senchyne, a Ph.D. candidate in English.

In addition to recovering and studying obscure texts, the group also reads essays and other contemporary criticism related to the subjects at hand.

"What's been most stimulating about this group is its ability to make the area new every year, in finding new material to read and new authors to discuss; and also new theoretical constructions of race, ethnicity, class and material culture that make the material come alive," Samuels said.

The reading list for this meeting was assembled by Dana Luciano, Ph.D. '99, an associate professor at Georgetown University, and Renée Bergland of Simmons College.

"To narrow down our proposed theme, we've decided to focus on tales that intertwine the appearance of ghosts with illicit, homoerotic or otherwise queer sexual desire," Luciano and Bergland said in a letter to the group.

Luciano will also give a public lecture on spirit photography, Oct. 1 at 4:30 p.m. in the A.D. White House, to close the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies conference "Family Ties: Rethinking the Politics of Kinship."

Luciano's talk, "Touching, Clinging, Haunting, Worlding: On the Spirit Photograph," is the second annual alumni lecture sponsored by the Nineteenth-Century American Reading Group, composed of Cornell graduate students. She is the author of "Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America," which won the 2007 Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book, and earned Luciano a Distinguished Research Achievement Award from Georgetown in 2009.

Information on the fall meeting of the Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers Study Group is available at http://www.arts.cornell.edu/ARG/ARG/Fall_2010_19CAWWRG.html or e-mail Senchyne at jws65@cornell.edu or Samuels at shirley.samuels@cornell.edu.

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John Carberry