A sports connection enables literary philanthropy
During a faculty/staff appreciation night at an ASU football game in 2018, esteemed Jane Austen scholar and avid sports fan Regents Professor Devoney Looser was on the field with two other faculty members. ASU alum, Michael Elliott (MA English 1972), spotted her on the jumbotron and asked ASU Athletics for a meeting with her. While watching and cheering on the Sun Devils, Looser and Elliott discussed their passion for literature and writing. During his master’s program, Elliott had collaborated with Professor Marvin Fisher on an essay, which became his first (and only) publication, “Pudd'nhead Wilson: Half a Dog Is Worse than None” which appeared in one of the nation’s most prestigious literary journals The Southern Review in 1972.
The ongoing connection between Looser and Elliott over love of sports and literature led to Elliott’s generous donation to ASU English. Elliott, being a huge sports fan, has been a significant donor to ASU Athletics and this is his first gift on the academic side.
Elliott’s goal for donating to the Department of English was to make it more possible for faculty and graduate students to undertake research together, as he was grateful to have done with Fisher. His other wish: to honor Marvin Fisher by dubbing it The Marvin Fisher Scholarship,an annual $10,000 award meant torecognize graduate student excellence in research/creative work and teaching. So far, three students have been awarded the competitive scholarship.
Scott Caddy received the inaugural scholarship in 2020. Caddy graduated in May 2021, with a PhD in English (literature). His dissertation, chaired by Looser, was entitled the Significance of Literary Outliers in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction. Besides being a teaching assistant, Caddy held several student leadership positions during his program, where he collaborated closely with faculty, including for the Long 19th-Century Colloquium and ASU Book Traces.
The 2021-22 scholarship went to Rachel Reeher, an MFA student in creative writing and current poetry editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her stories examine the concept of the ideal woman, from social constructs of religion, beauty and society’s expectations. The Marvin Fisher Scholarship helped fund her writing for a year so she could focus on her novel.
“I was able to avoid taking on additional jobs in order to support my cost of living in the Phoenix area,” Reeher says. “It was truly a life-changing scholarship, and I wouldn’t be as far into the novel project as I am without that support.”
Her book is about a young girl who is caretaker for her mother (an unwell actress whose practices become dangerous), and her sister who is starving herself. The book explores themes of trauma, disordered eating, societal constructs of beauty and thinness, and how the body becomes a means of escape and control.
“I write toward a grief that so often language can’t touch,” states Reeher, “but what I’ve found through my own creative work is that language is power—power to reconstruct, reclaim, and redistribute agency in ways we may not see in our lived experience.” As a teacher, Reeher invites exploration, encourages mistakes, and instills freedom for discussion and creativity. The writing classroom “is one of the richest places to cultivate an understanding and a relationship with what we, as writers, are capable of transforming through our reverence for language and for each other.”
Mohammed Iddrisu was selected from a pool of excellent candidates to receive the 2022-23 scholarship, which will support his research—transnational rhetorics and identity formation grounded in lived experiences across national borders. He will travel to sites of historical, communal, and rhetorical reference, especially Ghana. He has worked closely with Associate Professor Christina Saidy and three fellow students on teacher-research in first-year classrooms. He is also collaborating with Professor Elenore Long on a concept he calls “stranger advocates” —research focusing on “contestations over language and citizenship in Ghana and the role of stranger advocates who use their situated knowledge and rhetorical prowess to challenge linguistic hegemony against ethnic and Indigenous minority groups in Ghana.”
Iddrisu’s dissertation project will theorize how African Americans are co-constructing themselves as transnational subjects in relation to Ghana after 400 years since the first ship carrying African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia.
Inspired by his professors’ dedication, Iddrisu considers it an honor to sustain and practice that legacy. “I am inspired by a certain hope that my teaching can potentially keep my students’ dreams alive and inch them closer to those dreams, despite the challenges of schooling,” said Iddrisu.
He recently submitted a manuscript to Intermezzo, a special series affiliated with Enculturation, A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture, that publishes long essays as ebooks. He received feedback and is collaborating on the edits with Long.
That ASU football game may or may not have been a nail biter, but it was serendipitous; and gratitude is evident in the Marvin Fisher Scholarship recipients. Clearly, Michael Elliott made a “touchdown” with his donation and creation of the Marvin Fisher Scholarship, which will continue to promote collaboration, creativity, and important scholarship to the field of English studies.
Image 1: Sun Devils give a forks up at an ASU football game. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU.
Image 2: ASU directory photo of Scott Caddy.
Image 3: Courtesy photo of Rachel Reeher.
Image 4: Courtesy photo of Mohammed Iddrisu