English Professor Authors New Book

English Professor Catherine Romagnolo poses with her book

Dr. Catherine Romagnolo, chair and associate professor of English, has always been interested in beginnings and endings. As a scholar of contemporary American women’s fiction, she noticed that female writers had a unique approach to these critical parts of a work. 

“Where and how one begins raises questions about who has of power, voice, and authority,” explains Romagnolo. “Women writers often emphasize beginnings as a way to stake claim to particular types of authority and authorship.”

After presenting an essay on the subject at an academic conference, some of the other scholars in attendance encouraged Romagnolo to continue writing and researching the topic. With the support of her mentors, Romagnolo began the process of writing “Opening Acts: Narrative Beginnings in Twentieth-Century Feminist Fiction.”

“At first I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be a book, and I wouldn’t have made the shift from publishing articles to tackling a book if it weren’t for the encouragement by mentors,” asserts Romagnolo.

Romagnolo uses a diverse cast of twentieth-century female authors such as Edith Wharton, Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, and Amy Tan to showcase the authority of beginnings and how social identity plays a role in the strategic use and critical interpretation of these beginnings. 

On her selected novelists: “These were the writers who had always interested me when I was reading and teaching, and who also happened to say to me that beginnings are important when I was reading their books—the idea of beginnings are so important to them. There were many others who I could have written about, but I chose some of the ones that I thought really emphasized the topic.”

They are a group who play a crucial role in disrupting the reinscription of hierarchically gendered and racialized conceptions of authorship and agency. These writers use beginnings as a point of power to disrupt conventional structures of authority and undermine the historical master narratives of issues such as marriage, motherhood, U.S. nationhood, race, and citizenship. 

“The cast of writers was intentional, as each has a different place in the culture and history of the United States, and each has a different take on beginnings based on her own identity,” outlines Romagnolo. “During the early twentieth century you have these moments where women are just starting to find their voices in writing, politics, society, and marriage. They are coming into their own and are becoming empowered. Many seize on beginnings to express that empowerment.”

This topic was something that Romagnolo found a need for within the study of feminist literature. A gap existed in the knowledge of the two broad audiences for the book—the feminist scholars of literature and the narrative theorists who studied the structures and form of novels. With her book, Romagnolo plans to straddle the two groups. 

“Both sides were missing something,” notes Romagnolo. “The feminist side did not look at the form and structure of how a book is put together nearly enough, and the narrative theorists did not look at the themes, identity, and ideology enough.” 

After an extensive process of revision, Romagnolo was able to find an appropriate home for Opening Acts at the University of Nebraska Press. The press sent the manuscript to external readers, who immediately expressed their love for it. More revisions followed, but nothing nearly as severe as the previous process.

Following publication, Romagnolo says that she hopes her work will bring the fields of narrative theory and feminist studies together.

She started working on a project related to experimental form and ideology in narrative, and a creative writing piece she calls a fictionalized memoir. 

“It’s more like a novel than anything else I have written, and is really fun and rewarding to work on. I don’t know which direction to take—I think I have to step back and assess what my interests are—and I want to revel in this success before beginning again,” confirms Romagnolo.