Okay, I’ve just spent…

Okay, I've just spent umpteen hours trying to sort through backlogged e-mail and am now feeling slightly less tense, and as if things are getting back under control. It's clear that I'm not going to get any writing done today, but at least being here in the cafe is helping me focus. The next thing to do is go through the mess of job listings I downloaded, sort them by application date, and figure out which ones have to go out this week. I'm still waiting for Katie to get back to me with her thoughts on my job letter and c.v. -- hopefully she'll have time to do that today. I plan to revise it one more time tomorrow morning, and then spend the rest of the day printing and mailing.

On the off-chance that any of the academics among you might want to throw in some thoughts on this, here's a copy of my draft. I know it's insanely long, but I can't figure out what to cut. I'm fretting lots about this, especially since last year, my letter/cv elicited no interest in interviews at all. Feedback would be good. But don't say anything too harsh about it, please -- I'm feeling tired and fragile today, and might just cry.

I'm sure that statement inspires confidence in my abilities as a professor. :-/

You can also download my C.V., if interested.

[search committee address]

October 27, 2004

Dear Committee:

I am applying for the position of __________ as advertised in the MLA job list. I will receive my Ph.D. in English Literature / Creative Writing from the University of Utah in December 2004. I have been awarded a Steffenson-Cannon Fellowship in the Humanities, a Neff Fellowship in English, the Scowcroft Prize in Fiction, and have published fiction in a variety of venues, including two forthcoming books from HarperCollins: Bodies in Motion (my dissertation collection, to be published July 2005) and The Arrangement (a connected novel, to be published July 2006).

My dissertation project combines my theoretical interest in post-colonial criticism with my literary/historical interests in South Asian and diaspora literature and culture. Bodies in Motion traces a family line from America back to Sri Lanka through four generations, to 1947, the year the British left, and then comes forward again to America through a different, related family line. In the process, the stories examine post-colonial and feminist concerns, particularly focusing on the difficult intersections of individual desire and social/familial duty. My primary academic interest is in post-colonial theory, though I am also strongly interested in Asian-American lit., modern American lit., queer theory, and the intersection of all of these structures with magical realist and fabulist narrative structures.

The strong literary and critical focus of my Ph.D. coursework and comprehensive exams, coupled with my creative dissertation (the novel), has prepared me to teach both creative writing workshops (fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction) and literature courses dealing with a variety of historical periods and theoretical approaches. The year I spent as an adjunct professor at the University of Utah before beginning my Ph.D. has also given me extensive experience with undergraduate composition and business/tech writing classes, including web design projects. In addition to my teaching at Utah (composition, business writing, intermediate creative writing), I have taught composition at two other institutions, and taught a variety of creative writing regional workshops from the beginner to advanced levels; I have recently received a one-semester appointment as a visiting professor in the Vermont College low-residency M.F.A. program, teaching fiction. While my primary interest is in teaching fiction, I would be particularly interested in developing new courses in Asian-American literature, the epic, creative non-fiction, publishing, media studies, magical realism, or speculative literature, and I would enjoy the opportunity to teach upper-level and/or graduate courses.

I would be pleased to submit a detailed statement of my teaching philosophy upon request; generally, I favor an intensive-writing approach, where the students prepare many short pieces and frequently collaborate and critique each others work; I find that the process of critiquing often teaches them as much, or more, as their original drafts do. I emphasize the value of revision, and I prefer to focus on larger structural issues earlier in the semester, saving the fine-tuning for later in the course. Overall, I strive for a transparent pedagogical approach; I find that the clearer I can be about my goals for an individual assignment, the more likely the students are to understand and achieve those goals. I am particularly interested in a multicultural, non-sexist approach.

My experience as a founding member and subsequent interim co-chair of the University of Utah Humanities Graduate Conference Committee has given me an opportunity to work closely with administrators, professors, and other graduate students to develop and produce an annual international interdisciplinary conference, supervising all aspects from fund-raising to materials design to academic paper selection and conference presentation. I am currently serving on the board of DesiLit (www.desilit.org), a new organization building support for South Asian and diaspora writers; we are planning Kriti, a three-day South Asian and diaspora literature festival in Chicago, for the fall of 2005. I am deeply committed to projects which bring literature to the broader reading public, and which offer writers the opportunity to further develop their work in the company of their peers. I would enjoy the opportunity to be involved in departmental committee service and program development.

Finally, I have professional editorial experience as the editor-in-chief for the Hugo-nominated online magazine, Strange Horizons. In the four years I served as editor-in-chief, I oversaw all aspects of publication, including fundraising, committee work, and weekly editing, both online and in print. As the founder of the magazine, in September 2000, I raised an initial $15,000 from individual donations, and the same amount each successive year, while supervising a staff of thirty-plus volunteers, serving an audience of over 5000 readers. My academic interests in speculative fiction and research involve currently serving as a referee for the journal Foundation; I also served as a juror for the 2002 Tiptree Award, given to works which expand our cultural concepts of gender. And since January 2004, I have served as Director of the Speculative Literature Foundation, an organization which works to promote literary quality in speculative fiction, through the use of grants, awards, and service programs.

[Chicago-specific paragraph:] Please note that I currently live in Chicago; my partner is a tenure-track professor in mathematics at the University of Illinois. I am planning on attending MLA, but would certainly be available for an in-person interview in Chicago if that would be more convenient.

Letters of recommendation are available upon request. Thank you for your time and attention; I look forward to hearing from you.


Mary Anne Mohanraj

5 thoughts on “Okay, I’ve just spent…”

  1. Mary Anne,

    (1) With the book contracts, you’re a shoo-in this year.

    (2) Do you know about the job hunting advice and first-person diaries at http://www.chronicle.com? They can be a bit depressing, but for me it was useful to watch others going through the same process.

    (3) The letter is terrific. I’m biased towards concision, though, so I’d leave out the info about the fellowships in para 1 (they’ll see it on your c.v. anyway) and concentrate on the big big thing: the two-book contract. Similarly, could you summarize instead of spell out the teaching experience (“I’ve had x years of teaching experience across a range of institutions and setting, and have had uniformly positive course evaluations, included here [or available upon request]…”; they’ll see the specifics about which institutions, which courses, how long, on the c.v.). Ditto administrative experience: the big impressive thing is raising all that money and supervising that many people, and you don’t want people to stop reading before they get to that.

    Of course, this is just my opinion, coming from a different field. Your advisers will know what works best in your field.

    I went through all this last year, so feel free to contact me with specific questions. And good luck! I’m certain you’re going to find something this year.


  2. I trust you not to cry over this, because it’s meant in the best of intents:

    -second (heartily) the comment about being concise. It feels like a resume in paragraph form.

    -reads entirely like a mail-bomb. Can you customize for Chicago-area jobs at least? Why are you a good fit for a particular job? How excited would you be to be at that place? That kind of thing.

  3. Mary Anne,

    A few thoughts.

    1. I second that it seems a bit lengthy. In part I think this may be the large number of complex sentence constructions (see how often you use ; for example – more than I would usually expect in a cover letter.

    2. I agree that something specific about why you fit a particular position could be a good thing – for one it shows specific care and attention. Watch out, however, that you do not then specifically cite something later in the letter that is in contrast to their specific goals (i.e. say the position was to “teach non-fiction” if you say you want to do that, cite your past editing experience, but than later on cite a strong desire to teach fiction it wouldn’t look too good).

    This is a technical point, but does your letter specifically mention that your CV is enclosed? Should you also provide or offer any alternative route to your cv (if say the letter and cv were seperated – i.e. a personal website with cv for example).

    It also occurs to me that some of your past experience is not mentioned in the cover letter – however I see the arguments for/against it. I.E. – editing of Aqua & Wet, starting CleanSheets before Strange Horizons etc.

    As well, what is the convention in letters these days when mentioning a website? Do you/should you include the link in a parethentical note?

    I agree that your 2 book deal, plus degree, plus other expierence should land you something good. Should you mention the Vermont position? (or did that fall thru?)

    Good luck and hopefully I’ll catch up with you at a writing in caf sometime later this week.


  4. Looking at the CV, I find the same problem as the cover letter – the good stuff gets mixed in with other stuff. Some ideas to play with (or ignore)

    -center your name and address
    -move the book publication sooner
    -summarize the teaching experience (and philosophy) – the workshops can get less space and be put towards the end of the section even though that’s not chronologically correct
    -de-emphasize the erotica connections when possible. Unless it’s for a job where that would be tied in.
    -remove the “related coursework”, unless there’s something so unique or such a special professor, wouldn’t it be assumed you studied these?, or at least put it later
    -if you make the cv more than one page – put the best stuff on the first page anyway. smaller fonts or margins should fix this.

    -add something up top about your teaching philosophy – but ONLY for those jobs where that will be a good match. barring that, emphasize that you have worked with diverse students in diverse settings (low-residency, intensives, undergrads, amateurs…)
    -move the scholarships off the first page unless they carry immediate name recognition
    -get rid of the lectures/presentations unless you’re more of an academic than a creative writer (expressed poorly, but you know what I mean).

    What I’m thinking is, as an employer I want to know first about your credentials, second about your teaching skills, third about what kind of prestige you’ll bring to a department.

  5. I think that the letter could be shortened, but the content included in a personal statement about teaching, writing, scholarly activity, etc, which could be tailored to the individual job as needed. A long cover letter does not help much (at least in mathematics.)

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