By Alyssa Tremblay
Publishing a book is no small feat, even in the best of circumstances.
For Dr. Dana Dragunoiu – and most of the world, for that matter – the spring of 2019 was certainly not the best of circumstances.
“During the first days of the pandemic, I was feverishly grading essays for my winter-term courses and preparing to teach a summer course,” recalls Dragunoiu, a Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Carleton University.
Dragunoiu remembers it being a difficult time, as winter-term courses quickly pivoted to online teaching and people’s lives were in disarray.
Still, it was during this tough moment that she received some great news: her second book Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Moral Acts had been accepted for publication by Northwestern University Press.
The book tells the story of the interaction of ethics and aesthetics in the works of one of the most celebrated literary stylists of the twentieth century: Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov.
However, there was a problem.
“As I mulled over this news, I realized that there was no time in my days, over the next four months, to prepare the manuscript for production,” Dragunoiu explains. “With my kids suddenly at home due to the pandemic, with my own winter-term courses to bring to completion, and a summer course to prepare and teach online, it felt like my book would be another casualty of the pandemic.”
At the advice of a colleague, Dragunoiu applied for an emergency grant through a new initiative: the FASS COVID-19 Research Assistantship Awards.
In the first year of the pandemic, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences created a series of small, short-term awards designed to help faculty members – like Dragunoiu – whose research was hindered due to increased demands for childcare, home-schooling, or eldercare.
Shortly after applying, Dragunoiu received an email informing her she had been awarded funding and could now hire a research assistant to help her meet the publication deadline.
“The problem that seemed hopelessly impossible to solve had suddenly become a manageable problem.”Prof. Dana Dragunoiu, Department of English Language and Literature
“The problem that seemed hopelessly impossible to solve had suddenly become a manageable problem.”
Dragunoiu was the recipient of one of 58 FASS COVID-19 Research Assistantship Awards distributed over two rounds, funding a wide range of exciting research and student opportunities.
The awards were later followed up with a series of talks by faculty and research assistants, discussing their various projects and the students’ experiences.
A unique thing about this particular funding initiative is that the support was two-fold, explains Carol Payne, FASS Associate Dean, Research and International.
“In addition to supporting our faculty, the COVID-19 Research Assistantship Awards provided needed employment to our students who were also experiencing the constraints posed by the pandemic,” she says.
In Dragunoiu’s case, the award money went towards hiring English Ph.D. Candidate Simon Turner as a research assistant.
She was already familiar with Turner’s research on aesthetic experimentation across media, having acted as an examiner for their Master’s Research Project on modernist novelist and public intellectual E.M. Forster.
Dragunoiu – who describes Turner’s thesis as “exceptionally good, deeply researched, finely argued, and scrupulously referenced” – knew they would be a fantastic person to help revise her book manuscript.
So, she scheduled a masked outdoor meeting with Turner on a sunny morning on a park bench.
“From that moment forward, my life became manageable,” Dragunoiu says. “While Simon prepared my book for production, I could focus on my summer teaching, continue mentoring my students, and deal with my children marooned at home.”
Those preparations included double-checking quotes, converting the manuscript to Northwestern’s house style, and even suggesting stylistic improvements.
According to Payne, helping to foster mutually beneficial partnerships between professors and students was exactly the hope behind the creation of the FASS COVID-19 Research Assistantship Awards.
“I was happy to see that the funds both helped Professor Dragunoiu meet her publication deadline and helped Simon develop important editorial skills,” she says.
The publication in question indeed met its deadline and Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Moral Acts was published in September 2021.
A year later, the book was awarded the "Brian Boyd Prize for Best Second Book on Nabokov" by the International Vladimir Nabokov Society.
A Nabokov scholar, Dragunoiu describes herself as part of a very large community of people who are drawn to Nabokov’s writing and says she feels lucky to have found enough to say about his writing to fill two monographs.
She describes the “happy story” of her book making it to publication as not an exceptional tale, but one characteristic of FASS’ supportive academic community.
“Ever since I arrived at Carleton in 2007, I have met with similar situations where problems get solved because of a general and pervasive goodwill,” she says. “People pull together and help each other out.”
Click here to learn more about another project funded through a FASS COVID-19 Research Assistantship Award.
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