Author Archives: benjamins

Things to do (be)for(e) Convocation

Here are several things you should do or at least be vaguely aware of in preparation of Convocation, coming up on June 9.

Buy your robe. Remember how everyone has to be dressed exactly the same  at ceremonies meant to recognize achievements of original intellectual thought? If you’ve forgotten, here is your reminder: pick up your graduation robe so you can share your achievement in the anonymity only physique-obscuring, nondescript garments can provide. You can find robes at the bookstore–not the Seminary Coop, but Barnes and Noble at Ellis and 58th, where they will likely sell teddy bears wearing scale models of the very robe you are about to buy.  Go there, make sure to ask for the Graduate Student robe and they’ll give the correct size based on your height.

Log into Cmore and make sure all your personal information is correct. What could be more embarrassing than the dean mispronouncing your name in front of an auditorium full of people? The dean mispronouncing your name because it was misspelled on your diploma! There is decidedly no way to stop the first thing from happening, but the second is entirely within your power to prevent. Make sure you check your personal information on your cmore account and proofread all the essential logistics.

Look ahead and make travel and lodging arrangements beforehand. If you have far away loved ones visiting, make sure they’ve found a place to stay (and remember, convocation is the 9th, but the parent’s reception is June 8th). Hyde park hotels get flooded and booked way ahead of time whenever there is a conference or convocation.

Grades. Here are important upcoming dates for turning in your grades, and a few other deadlines:

Raphael Torch Memorial Service Core Fellowship, due May 18.

MAPH Postgraduate Research Fellowship, due May 18.

Thesis due May 21.

Last quarter grades due on May 25.

Thesis grades due May 30.

All grades due: June 1.

MAPH Internship: Chicago Humanities Festival

The MAPH summer internship opportunity at the Chicago Humanities Festival provides each student with the following: working experience in the country’s leading public humanities organization, access to world-renowned humanities scholars, interaction with Chicago’s top cultural institutions, and a mentored team environment in which to build varied skills for future employment.

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MAPH Internships: Center for Civic Reflection

 The Center for Civic Reflection

The Center for Civic Reflection is the leading partner and resource for civic groups and organizations nationwide who seek to build reflective discussion into the way they do their work. Established at Valparaiso University in 1998, and with a Chicago office since 2008, the Center’s expansive partner list includes national service agencies (such as AmeriCorps and Campus Compact), cultural organizations (such as Illinois Humanities Council and Chicago Cultural Alliance), palliative and hospice care teams, universities and more. Among the resources that CCR offers are an extensive electronic resource library; an online forum in which facilitators share their experiences; expert training in facilita­tion; individual consultation with Center staff; and anthologies of readings that inspire rich discussion about civic engagement.

The director of CCR, Adam Davis, got his PhD, in Social Thought, from the U of C. The work that CCR does models a way for us to bring the humanities to the wider world, demonstrating the very real influence the humanities can have outside of the academy.

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MAPH Internships: The Smart Museum


Originally endowed by Alfred and David Smart (publishers of Esquire and Cornet, among other magazines), the Smart Museum of Art first opened to the public in 1974. Since then it has housed an ever-expanding permanent collection and hosted a variety of special exhibitions, as well as educational outreach programs and public events. With a focus on research and teaching, the Smart is dedicated to artistic education–within the University community, but also extending beyond into the wider public.


Continue reading for a description of the internship…

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Genie Williamson (MAPH 06) and the Return of “The Baffler!”

Jeff McMahon (MAPH '02) and Genie Williamson (MAPH '06) at the "Making Writing Work" Panel in January

After a two-year break, The Baffler is returning this March. First published in 1988 by Thomas Frank and Keith White, The Baffler is a magazine of  criticism, culture, and politics focused on “blunting the cutting-edge.” Suspended and relaunched various times since its inception, The Baffler will be back with issue no. 19 early this month, released out of MIT, in print and with online content. I got a chance to sit down and talk with MAPH alum and the publication’s Associate Editor Genie Williamson in January. Despite her frantic in advance of The Baffler’s revival, Genie managed to pay us a visit at GradUCon and shared her insights about the publication–and her own career path–on the “Making Writing Work” panel discussion.

An Illinois native, Genie accumulated a lot of writing experience in Chicago before leaving. She reviewed music for New City and You Are Chicago, which she describes as roughly “the blog equivalents of the day.” Though she initially began these reviews “almost just to get the free cover for the shows,” the writing experience eventually allowed her to move onto a more established freelance position at Time Out Chicago.

Along with other panelists, Genie expressed the importance of individual initiative, of finding a focus or specialized topic for your writing, and of networking (she got started the gig at Time Out Chicago through  a friend). While freelancing, Genie had an office job at an international real-estate conglomerate, which she held for four years. According to Genie, it’s important that writers don’t turn their noses up at jobs that take the pressure off financially. As she put it, for young writers it can be useful to find jobs that “don’t take up a lot of mental space”.

Genie also offered practical advice on how writers can go about finding a focus, a tip echoed by nearly every writer on the GradUCon panel. “Writers should not be afraid to work on spec,” she said, adding that it can be better the write a story first and then search for a publication with a readership that fits.

Congrats to Genie and the staff of The Baffler. Be sure to check out the newest issue in print and online early this March. If enough current students and alumni are interested, Genie said it might be possible to arrange a MAPH discount.


Rafael Torch

As some of you may already be aware,  Rafael Torch–award-winning writer, teacher, and MAPH alum–passed away on December 12 at the age of 36, following a courageous four year battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Torch attended the University of Chicago as a MAPH student from 2004-2005, during which time he earned numerous acclaims for his writing, including the Illinois Arts Council Literary Award. A writer of uncommon inspiration and intensity, his MAPH thesis, a memoir entitled The Garcia Boy, is an immense four hundred fifty pages, and chronicles the experiences of two families through three generations, following them as  they join together from divergent origins.

Torch was also a committed and passionate educator. While teaching at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, The Latin School of Chicago, and The Meadows School in Las Vegas, NV, Rafael influenced hundreds of minds, challenging his students to rise to their greatest potential. As evidenced by some of his writing in Contrary Magazine, his students had a profound impact on his life and he cared for them deeply.

Torch’s writings have appeared  in many journals including Crab Orchard Review, Antioch Review, the North American review, as well as other on and offline publications. The Winter 2012 issue of Contrary Magazine is dedicated to Torch, who documented his four year battle with cancer in the journal. Contrary editor and MAPH’s Writing Advisor, Jeff McMahon, recalls his friend:


When I learned in December of Rafael Torch’s death, I sent his obituary to friends and colleagues with a simple note at the top: “I don’t have words yet.”

And I still don’t.

When I put together a tribute at Contrary, the literary magazine where Rafael published his last writings, I borrowed a poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay—”Dirge Without Music”—to avoid writing a dirge of my own, so empty was I of music.

And I know why.

Nothing I write could approach the power of Rafael Torch’s own words, in his final months of life, as he illuminated the way, for all of us, to the doorway through which we all must eventually pass.

No tribute penned by the living could speak as eloquently, as clearly, as truly.

We could describe Rafael’s death as “tragic”—a bright soul and brilliant talent taken from us—or “untimely”—he was 36, with a new wife and a new baby—but what impoverished substitutes those words are for the vast, bottomless feeling we encounter in the stories and posts Rafael wrote himself.

I’ll just add one paragraph you won’t find in any published journals. It’s from Rafael’s last email to me. His subject line was “News.”

Rafael Torch:

“so. friend. the fat lady has sung. i’m in the process of telling my friends and family that we’ve entered the absurd and very, very weird part of cancer treatment — getting ready to die. i want to start the conversation because i want it to all be rational as possible even in the radically irrational face of death. i’m a vet now. been four years since i’ve begun fighting. i’m a different man than i was four years ago when they told me i had cancer. i’m afraid, yes, most definitely, but not afraid of the things i’ll lose. lately i’m trying to wrap my head around the end. wrap my mind around the nothing. wrapping my faith around the very primal notion that there is just, quite simply nothing. wrap consciousness around the void. and so lately, i’ve learned that’s a fool’s game, too. ha! funny, funny, funny thing life is, jeff. enjoy it, man, because we really only have this one, as we are now. it’s forever, as much as nothingness or faith’s promise is forever.”


Because education played an integral role in Rafael’s life, preferred form of remembrance may be directed to a scholarship fund for his 4-month-old son, Rocco James Torch. Rocco’s scholarship fund is set up through The First Midwest Bank. Checks to be made payable to Rocco James Torch and mailed to:

First Midwest Bank
FBO Rocco James Torch
220 W Main Street
Morris, IL 60450



Writings available to read at


Poetry by Kiki Petrosino, Lunch on Us

In anticipation of tomorrow’s guest, poet and MAPH/University of Iowa alum Kiki Petrosino, here is an incredible poem from her book, Fort Red Border, published by Sarabande Books.

Mustang Bagel

Even at my favorite coffeeshop downtown, Redford
is a hard man to feed. This morning, he picks
at his Grilled Asiago Mastercrust with a slow, disdainful frown.
Could they spare the fromage on this so-called “treat?”
He takes a sip of hazelnut coffee, then winces delicately
into the neck of his sweater vest. I bite powerfully
through my Cinnamon Frenchroll: Well, if you really don’t think
you got enough—”fromage”—you should just go back up there
& tell the girl. I start on Redford’s coffee while he looks glumly
at the metal napkin dispenser. Just then, the electric chime
above the door sounds. A man sweeps in & rests
his guitar case on one of the slim       café chairs.
His dark hair is arranged in a series of perpetually
break wavefronts. A small muscle jumps in his jaw
as he orders a Cinnamon Frenchroll, toasted, with cream cheese.
I lean foward, jabbing Redford with my plastic coffee wand.
Check out that guy over there I say. Intense.
Redford shrugs. I think he’s Irish I say, watching the man bite
into his bagel. The instrument case hovers on the chair edge.
He could have a guitar in there, or else—a sword from the Crusades.
I press my tongue into the square-shaped hole in the lid
of my coffee cup. Listen Redford says. If we’re going to be together
you have to take this. He pushes a small velvet box across the table.
What are you doing? I ask, but Redford doesn’t answer.
He just looks down at the table, one hand pressed
to each of his temples. In the box is a square of chocolate
like the top of a signet ring, smooth, but edged
in something bright. It’s smoked salt from Wales, Redford says.
Handmade in limited quantities. I turn the little box
in my hands. The salt sparkles like an arctic church.
I have to blink against it all.


You can read a brief biography of Kiki at The Poetry Foundation, and find more of her poems online at La Petite Zine.

Remember of course to RSVP, either to me or AJ ( ,, for tomorrow’s lunch with Kiki, happening in Anscombe Lounge at 11:30. Free lunch food, atypically good and informative company….how can you not go?

Kiki’s reading is open to the public, 4:30 pm at Classics 110.