English professor Nora Foster Stovel has always had a passion for women’s writing—from her PhD dissertation on British author Margaret Drabble in 1983, to her book on the writings of one of Canada’s best-known authors, Margaret Laurence, in 2008.
Now, the accomplished scholar and 27-year veteran of the Department of English and Film Studies has her sights set on completing a groundbreaking monograph on another of Canada’s most renowned women writers, Carol Shields.
When it is published, “Sparkling Subversion”: Carol Shields’ Vision and Voice will be the only work of its kind to address the full spectrum of Shields’ writing. “The focus is always on her novels: The Stone Diaries, for example, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Governor General’s Award,” says Foster Stovel. “But she also wrote poetry, plays, short stories, essays and biographies. Her work in all those areas influenced and informed her best novels, and contributed to making them very successful.”
The monograph, which began as a SSHRC-funded project, received a major boost earlier this year when Foster Stovel was granted a 2012 McCalla Research Professorship. The McCalla is awarded by the university to professors who successfully combine teaching, learning and research, and provides teaching release for one term to allow recipients to concentrate on research and creative projects.
“The McCalla is going to help me enormously to make significant progress with the monograph,” comments Foster Stovel. “It’s a wonderful opportunity just to have the time to write, and to have some funding for archival research and also for dissemination of my research at conferences.”
Combining her past and current scholarship, Foster Stovel has developed a new graduate course, to be offered in the winter term, on the role of autobiography in the writings of Laurence and Shields. “There are some really interesting overlaps between fiction and non-fiction in both their cases,” she says. “They are both great artists who write in very interesting ways about Canada and about women in particular. That appeals to graduate students.”
The opportunity to further integrate her teaching and research appeals to Foster Stovel. “We’re not always lucky enough to be able to teach in our area of research, and I know that it’s very stimulating—especially to have a graduate seminar in the area that we’re researching,” she says. “I really enjoy the dialogue with students, and I find that it helps me to develop my own ideas.”
Foster Stovel also wants to involve graduate students in their own original research projects. For example, she plans to encourage students to pursue research at the Alberta Archives, examining and editing memoirs by Alberta women, and even to research their personal family histories.
“I think these projects—especially if the students focus on their own family backgrounds—could make them realize that they’re part of our history, too,” she explains. “It isn’t all just in published books.”
She hopes to pave the way for her students to mentor the next generation of scholars. Starting this fall, Foster Stovel will begin discussions with high-school teachers about developing educational programs that would connect her students with Edmonton high-school students to research Alberta women’s archives.
Department of English & Film Studies