York in the World: Two professors share their expertise abroad

York creative writing Professor Patricia Keeney and her husband, theatre Professor Don Rubin, had a busy December and January. In December, they gave a series of lectures on Canadian literature and theatre at Poland’s Pomeranian University (in the Gdansk area) and in January they gave lectures and readings in India.

The Polish lectures came as a result of an invitation by Shakespeare scholar Andrzej Zurowsky, who lectured at York last year while promoting his latest book, a study of the 19th-century Polish classical actress Helena Modjewska. While at York, Zurowsky observed a number of classes in both theatre studies and English.

Right: Patricia Keeney

“I realized that Polish students know huge amounts about British and American literature and theatre but almost nothing about Canadian equivalents," said Zurowsky. "These two professors [Keeney and Rubin] had much to offer our students and I couldn’t wait to formally invite them.”

Keeney lectured on Canadian poetry and fiction with a special emphasis on women’s literature, while Rubin lectured on post-colonial drama and theatre using Canadian and African examples.

“I direct a course on Women in Literature at York,” said Keeney, "and was able to draw on certain material I use there including some of my own writing. The responses were enthusiastic. A lot of eastern European universities are still studying English as philology, the history and development of the language. They were excited about dealing with real ideas from a living literary tradition. The dialogue continues vigorously over e-mail.”

Left: Keeney, second from right, with students from Poland’s Pomeranian University

Rubin added that there are very few courses on post-colonial literature offered in eastern Europe that actually deal with the literature. “Most are theoretical courses that connect more to political science or social science. To look at these issues through a living frame coming out of both Canada and Africa gives a new focus to the work. In a sense, the frame is so old-fashioned – literature as literature – that it is almost avant-garde again.”

Right: Don Rubin

As if three weeks of teaching in Poland weren’t enough, the couple went from Poland on to India where they presented papers at an international conference on theatre criticism. Sponsored by the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC), of which both Keeney and Rubin are members, the conference was held at Patel University in the state of Gujarat and drew more than a hundred scholars and critics from across India, Asia and other parts of the world.

“It’s hugely expensive for Indian scholars to travel, so this was a unique opportunity to get a range of Indian viewpoints in a relatively short period of time,” said Keeney. “I was also able to read from my own poetry, translated into Hindi, for graduate students and have particularly enlightening discussions on the whole area of translation, especially concerning female symbology, an interest I continue to develop in both my creative and scholarly work.”

Left: Rubin delivers a presentatioin at the International Association of Theatre Critics conference  held at India’s Patel University

Rubin also attended a series of meetings of the IATC executive committee on which he sits as a representative of Canada. He is working with IATC on a multi-volume book project dealing with a history of theatre criticism.