University English professors across the nation are teaching their students out of a new book co-edited by a University of Houston-Victoria dean.
Jeffrey R. Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts and Sciences and co-editor of “Fiction’s Present: Situating Contemporary Narrative Innovation,” is pleased that UHV is receiving recognition and that students will be exposed to the concepts in the book, a collection of writings examining the current state of contemporary fiction.
“Working on this book with (author, critic and publisher) R.M. Berry was a wonderful experience,” Di Leo said. “It becomes doubly-rewarding knowing that students will be exploring the interrelations between contemporary fiction and philosophy by using it in their classes this spring.”
Lance Olsen, an English professor at the University of Utah, is using the book. Students in his “Studies in Criticism and Theory” and “Narrative Theory and Practice” spring semester courses will be studying it. Olsen also wrote a chapter in “Fiction’s Present.”
“The fact that professors are using this book for their courses is another example of how UHV is receiving national recognition,” UHV President Tim Hudson said. “Whether it’s Dean Di Leo’s book, the American Book Review or the Society for Critical Exchange, other universities can’t help but take note of what’s happening here.”
Berry, the other editor of “Fiction’s Present,” voiced his own excitement about the attention the book is getting.
“The book tries to answer a couple of questions,” said Berry, who also is chairman of the English department at Florida State University. “It asks how the writing or reading of fiction in the present is different than it was in the past. It also raises the question about exactly what it means to ask somebody what fiction is like in the present. It’s a resource for people who want to enter the discussion about what fiction is today.”
“Fiction’s Present,” published in November by the State University of New York Press, combines 19 chapters of creative and critical responses from novelists, critics and theorists. Contributors include:
- Joseph McElroy, an author of nine novels;
- Samuel Delany, an author who teaches at Temple University;
- Brian Evenson, an author of eight books of fiction and the director of the Literary Arts Program at Brown University;
- Raymond Federman, whose latest novel, “Return of Manure,” was published in both English and French; and
- The late Ronald Sukenick, an award-winning author, and former publisher and founder of the American Book Review, a bi-monthly literary review edited and published at UHV.
Di Leo, American Book Review editor and publisher, and Berry, an associate editor of the literary review, wrote the preface and introduction for “Fiction’s Present.” David Felts, American Book Review assistant editor and UHV graduate student, prepared the book’s index.
The book was born out of a conversation Di Leo and Berry had years ago in Chicago regarding the lack of philosophical discussions about novels today.
“I’m not sure why this lack of discussion has happened,” Berry said. “Fiction today seems to be a marketable or profitable activity in a way that can confuse people. It’s easy for them to feel that authors should be celebrities.”
The most popular books today are not necessarily the best novels, he said, and some recent fiction gems have been overlooked, such as Steve Tomasula’s novel “Vas” and the book “Michael Martone” by Michael Martone. Novels in the past that have become important without receiving much publicity are Gilbert Sorrentino’s “Mulligan Stew” and Djuna Barnes’s “Nightwood.”
Di Leo has published five books in addition to “Fiction’s Present.” He also is the author of more than 50 articles.
Berry is the former publisher of Fiction Collective Two, an independent publishing concern; and the author of many critical essays and “Frank,” a novel released in 2005 that revisions “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley’s 19th-century British novel.