John R. Leo

John R. Leo

 

John R. Leo, Professor of English and Director of Comparative Literature Studies at the University of Rhode Island, was the first Director of URI’s new Film Media major (2006-2009). He received his B.A. from Yale and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University. His research grants and fellowships include an NEH Summer Seminar award at UCLA on television theory and most recently the biennial Hugh Le May Fellowship from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa (2010). At URI his teaching and research areas focus on comparative literature, cultural studies, postmodernity, film and visual cultures, queer theory and gender studies; publications in these areas have appeared in journals such as SubStance, Contemporary Literature and South Atlantic Quarterly. In addition to the board of the Rhode Island International Film Festival, Prof. Leo serves an advisory editor or reader or factotum for The Americanist (ASC, Warsaw University), Brief (UMCS), and EJAS. Along with Prof. Marek Paryż (Warsaw) he has co-edited Projecting Words, Writing Images: Intersections of the Textual and the Visual in American Cultural Practices (2011) and with William Boelhower Working Sites: Texts, Territories and Cultural Capital in American Cultures (2004).

 

If a gift is an excess that keeps giving, then one doubly named is “Fulbright”-“UMCS.” The nonstop flow began in 1998 with an offer to be Poland’s very first Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies / Literature and reappointment as Senior Scholar 1999-2000. It was a propitious matching:  I went native with an exuberance and independent openness sustained by smartly inquisitive students and some of the most supportive, generous, and imaginative colleagues-cum-friends I have experienced and still do. With each immersion into Polish spaces and places I was learning wholly new reciprocities opening  up daily life —practicing my Polish with pensioners on any number of trains, at the shops or “sklepy,” or in my immediate neighborhood pubs  (and learning some very special slang!;  tutoring a Lublin theater group in American pronunciation of Gombrowicz translations  prior to their American tour;  exploring the National Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Warsaw and a small art gallery on Lublin’s Krakowskie Przedmeście (where I  purchased some haunting works  on paper,  e.g. Skórczewski;  enjoying many evenings the treasures of home and local cooking; giving lectures on film, “punk aesthetics” or the 19th – century photographic sublime all over Poland (but also in Venice, Padua, Utrecht, Amsterdam, and Minsk); collaborating on curriculum development to meet the Bologna crediting processes, discussing MA theses and serving on a dozen defenses or working closely with PhD candidates; celebrating the “pagan” summer solstice in Lublin’s Stary Miasto and hearing uniquely Polish + Ukrainian + flolksy-jazzy-rock music; biking everywhere on a graciously loaned bike, e.g. to have collegial  picnics at a lake;  driving with a collection of colleagues—past folk art shrines on country roads—to off the beaten path gems such as Zamość, or to hidden, undeveloped pristine lakes to swim and BBQ kielbasa and chicken, or to another country village to catch a riveting “pagan” Grotowski-style “performance”). We all helped with the planning of the Fulbright Commission’s 40th birthday festival of seminars, performances, and exhibitions. Several of us wrote a proposal and succeeded in getting funding for Poland’s first GLBT international conference, an event repeated successfully for several years and which had a dramatic impact on gender studies or topics in several universities. Two of my many take aways (continuing) from Poland to RI was the development of new URI permanent courses, “Film and the Cold War” and “Advanced Topics in International Film.” My largest take away from my time at UMCS and what it still enables is the magnanimity of being and being among planetary citizens.

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