Pandemic Publishing Celebration: Honoring MUN Faculty Writers and Editors


The Pandemic Publishing Celebration is a brand new event created by Memorial’s English Department to honor some of the University’s resident writers and editors. This two-part event, hosted by Dr. Jamie Skidmore, was designed to launch several books written and edited by Memorial English faculty members published in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first part of the event took place on October 21st at Suncor Energy Hall and featured readings from two new books launched by MUNL English teachers: Cold water oil: offshore oil crops and The American Western in Canadian Literature.

cold water oil

Dr Fiona Polack and Dr Danine Farquharson, Associate Professors of English at Memorial, began the evening with readings from their co-edited collection of essays titled Cold water oil: offshore oil crops.

In addition to being an associate professor of English at Memorial, Dr. Polack is also an academic editor at Memorial University Press. His research and publications are primarily in the areas of energy and environmental humanities, island studies, and settler studies. His publications include after the oil (2016), which she co-wrote, and an edited collection titled Tracing Ocher: Changing Perspectives on the Beothuk (2018). Dr. Polack is also the leader of the Insight Project of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada “Oil Rigs and Islands”.

(Photo credit: Memorial University via

Dr Danine Farquharson’s research interests are primarily based on representations of masculinity and violence in contemporary Irish literature and film, as explored in the book she co-edited titled Shadows of the Gunmen: Violence and Culture in Modern Ireland (2008). More recently, however, she has developed a deep interest in energy humanities research alongside Dr. Polack. She is also co-founder of Social Sciences and Humanities Ocean Research and Education (SSHORE).

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Drs. Polack and Farquharson cold water oil delves into their common area of ​​interest in the humanities of energy. The essay examines the cultural and ecological impacts of offshore oil extraction in the northern oceans, exploring this complex topic from different angles. The collection includes essays written by many researchers around the world, including the work of Dr. Polack and Dr. Farquharson. Unlike most publications that deal with the subject of offshore oil extraction, this collection features essays that span many disciplines and present the often clinically treated subject from a more artistic and literary perspective.

Dr. Farquharson began by reading an excerpt from Sue Jane Taylor’s ‘Art and the Offshore’ chapter, which features artistic visual representations of the oil industry. Dr Polack then read the final chapter of the book, “Raw, dense, and loud” by Amy Donovan, which includes a beautifully written yet tragic story told from the perspective of a whale suffering from the effects of pollution. These very different readings indicated the unique and versatile views of the collection.

The American Western in Canadian Literature

Next, Dr. Joel Deshaye, Associate Professor of Canadian Literature at Memorial, took the stage to read excerpts from his new book, The American Western in Canadian Literature.

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Dr. Deshaye’s academic interests focus on Canadian fiction, poetry, and film, particularly as they relate to themes of metaphor, celebrity, and gender. His work is recognized nationally and internationally, appearing in journals such as Canadian literature, The Commonwealth Journal of Literatureand the Newspaper in English. Dr. Deshaye’s previous publications include The metaphor of celebrity: Canadian poetry and the public, 1955-1980 (2013).

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The American Western in Canadian Literature examines how the tradition of American westerns shaped an equivalent in Canadian literature. The book traces the evolution of American and Canadian westerns over the past century. It serves as a comprehensive guide to the Western genre that pushes traditional boundaries and covers a wide variety of topics, including a discussion of how Indigenous authors have responded to the genre and how the genre continues to evolve in light of current problems like the currency climate. Dr. Deshaye revealed that he did not initially foresee this project to have a wide reach and that his book took ten years to write.

Dr. Deshaye chose to read the conclusion of his book, “Mining the Western in the Twenty-First Century.” The conclusion touches on the relationship between the study, or “mining,” of the Western genre and contemporary issues such as climate change. The final chapter highlights several parallels between studies of Canadian westerns and energy humanities. Dr. Deshaye made an interesting connection between himself and the Drs by choosing to read this part of his book. The works of Polack and Farquharson.

scratch the river

Dr. Michelle Porter, another of Memorial’s associate English teachers who recently published a book, was unfortunately unable to attend the celebratory event as planned. The author previously published a non-fiction book, approach to fire (2020), and a book of poetry titled Requests (2019).

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His new memoirs scratch the rivercenters on her search for her older brother, weaving together the voices of her family members and the land around them “to tell a story about love, survival and hope”. scratch the river combines elements of the oral tradition of Dr. Porter’s Métis ancestors with studies of river morphology and news reports based on her brother’s struggles in a group home in Alberta. Porter’s work describes an “unexpected emotional journey that led to acceptance, understanding, and ultimately reconciliation.”

A word from the authors

Dr. Skidmore preceded each of the readings with a few questions for the authors.

To start, he asked Drs. Polack and Farquharson how two English teachers decided to write about the oil industry.

Dr. Polack responded that the inspiration for the book came from an offshore oil conference she and Dr. Farquharson held in 2016. She also explained that energy issues are not just a scientific concern; they require attention from a broader perspective, especially from an artistic and cultural point of view.

Dr Skidmore then asked Dr Polack why she chose to focus her writing on offshore oil disasters in her chapter of cold water oil“Meeting the Non-Human in the North Atlantic Oil Disasters.”

She replied that her interest in this topic stems from the fact that oil disasters are an under-discussed issue. She hopes to draw attention to this aspect of the oil industry, which often remains invisible, to upend some of the mistaken assumptions surrounding such disasters.

Turning to Dr. Farquharson, Dr. Skidmore asked him to shed light on how our society is manipulated to support the oil industry.

She replied that—as the cold water oil the project says – not everyone buys into such manipulations. Unfortunately, as she explained, the commercialization efforts of an industry as wealthy as the oil industry are difficult to combat. It is often a question of who has the funding to influence public opinion.

Pandemic publication interview
(Photo credit: Memorial University English Department via Facebook)

During the introduction The American Western in Canadian LiteratureDr. Skidmore has linked this book to cold water oil by asking Dr. Deshaye to comment on the relationship between the cowboy archetype and the oil industry.

Dr. Deshaye explained that nostalgia stemming from Western images is heavily used as a marketing technique in the oil industry. The idea of ​​“uncharted territory” is widely explored and applies to oil exploration for marketing purposes.

(Photo credit: Memorial University English Department via Facebook)

Dr. Deshaye also answered Dr. Skidmore’s question about how our society can correct colonial misconceptions about Indigenous cultures. Dr. Deshaye clarified that the role of non-Aboriginal writers is not to impose their views on the subject on their audience, but rather to recognize and amplify the perspective of Aboriginal writers. He cited the example of starting a conversation about how some Indigenous writers have reinvented the Western genre to illustrate this idea.

Later that evening, I had the chance to speak with the three authors myself. Taking inspiration from the title of the book launch event, I asked them how the COVID-19 pandemic had affected their research and the publishing process for their respective books.

Predictably, they each alluded to certain research and publishing challenges the pandemic has presented. For example, the publishing process for their books has experienced frequent delays. Dr. Deshaye also expressed the added challenge of balancing work and family life as a parent as the pandemic has suspended childcare.

However, the impact of the pandemic has not been entirely negative for the author and publishers. Dr Deshaye described the pandemic as a “mixed bag” because, despite its many inconveniences, it also gave him extra time to work on his project. Likewise, the editors of cold water oil could take literary inspiration from the pandemic, as the uncertain times allowed them to see their subject in a new light. The introduction to cold water oil emphasizes the urgency of studying the energy humanities by discussing the pandemic and its impact on the energy industry.

Dr. Farquharson also thanked those who contributed to their work and said they were grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers on their project.

cold water oil, The American Western in Canadian Literatureand scratch the river are now available.

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Pandemic Publications Part II

Part two of the pandemic release celebration is scheduled for Thursday, November 17 at 7 p.m. at Suncor Energy Hall at MUNL’s School of Music.

This part of the event is scheduled to feature readings from Dr. John Geck’s Representations of beer in the Middle Ages: beer culture and medievalism; Dr. Robert Ormsby Shakespeare and tourism; and the two new publications of Dr. Nancy Pedri: A Concise Dictionary of Comics and Discover visual worlds.

The event is free and everyone is welcome.

Keep an eye on the Department of English webpage for more upcoming events.


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