The work of writing: Bojan Louis announced as inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence

January 9, 2019

Combining the artistic space of a traditional residency with the teaching and professionalization of an academic fellowship, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University is proud to announce the Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence: a new, yearlong, full-time, benefits-eligible position presented in partnership with ASU’s Department of English and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ humanities division.

The inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence is Bojan Louis, an indigenous writer and Arizona native who graduated from the MFA program in 2009 with a focus in fiction. Picture of Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence Bojan Louis Bojan Louis (2009 MFA in fiction) is the inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence. Photo by Sara Sams Download Full Image

As a writer, educator and community organizer, Louis is uniquely qualified to serve as the center’s first fellow-in-residence. Widely published in multiple genres, Louis’ debut collection of poems, "Currents," received the American Book Award in 2018. Louis also has diverse and comprehensive experience in the classroom, having taught across the Valley since 2012. Throughout, Louis has given back to the community through extensive volunteer and organizing work, playing foundational roles in journals like Waxwing and RED INK while connecting and advocating for indigenous writers in the state of Arizona and the national field. 

While the position has some analogues and other points of reference in the academic and creative writing fields — the Stegner fellowship at Stanford University for one — the Piper fellow-in-residence is unique in spirit and design, reflecting and embodying the values of outreach, inclusion, public service and social embeddedness that distinguish ASU and its creative writing program.

Over the course of a year, the Piper fellow-in-residence will teach one creative writing course a semester to undergraduate students through the Department of English and present talks, readings and other programs for the public through the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Candidates for the fellowship are drawn exclusively from alumni of ASU’s MFA in creative writing program. 

“The English Department is delighted to welcome Bojan Louis as the inaugural Piper fellow-in-residence,” said Department Chair Krista Ratcliffe. “His teaching will support our creative writing students interested in writing poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.”

Louis’ class, “The Narrative and Poetic Forms of Work and Apprenticeship” is a multi-genre creative writing and English literature undergraduate class exploring the narratives, themes and poetics of what it means to work. In modern society, Louis explains, it’s easy to forget the people who build and design the products and experiences we enjoy.

“So the texts I had in mind are these people who are involved in work and have sort of vainglorious dreams of becoming something more, or not. Maybe they don’t want to, or maybe they’re just stuck. The poetic stuff is getting into the language of work and how we use terminology and words, (and) how they affect not just the person working with them but the audience or people they’re directed at. So through this I want my students to then become apprentices of taking apart these stories to sort of write their own.”

As a nontraditional student from a working-class background — Louis spent years working as a general contractor and electrician before entering the MFA program at the age of 26 and continued with the profession throughout graduate school and his own teaching — he hopes the class will create a haven for people who may not feel comfortable in academic spaces. 

“There’s such a disconnect between this working class and intellectualism,” Louis said. “Especially with this sort of presidency, this divide has gotten really big. Sometimes we throw all of these terms around in the academy like equity and unity and diversity and intersectionality, and at some point it stops meaning anything once you get outside of the academic circle.”

While Louis is still thinking about his programs, he’s already figuring out ways to empower young people, particularly those who come from community colleges or are otherwise nontraditional students. 

“How do we create conversations with people who might feel invisible?” he asked. “And before that, how do we get to students who are interested in community college and don’t know what to do? A lot of this comes with self-reflection, so giving them a moment or a workshop where they can self-reflect, so it’s not me telling them what to do or being all motivational, but asking them who they are and what they see.”

Louis is also thinking about a translation project with the Navajo Nation as a way to continue and advance his work with Native American communities. 

Whatever they end up being, Louis’ programs will be developed organically as the fellowship unfolds, as Louis and the center assess various community needs.

“His initiatives are by purpose designed to be new to the world,” explained Alberto Ríos, a Regents’ Professor of English who directs the Piper Center. “They’re going to, I hope, startle us in the obviousness of how good they are — they’ve been right in front of us all this time, and now we get to act on them. It’s rare today to be able to get the wherewithal to do something that isn’t already being done. They’re going to take some thinking through.”

Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is excited about the new fellowship's possibilities.

“I believe that the best future for the humanities involves working to ensure that the field better resembles and resonates with the students attending universities like ASU — students who represent the future of the United States,” he said. “They deserve a humanities that attends to them — and talented writers like Bojan Louis are creating exactly that.”

Jake Friedman

Public Engagement Coordinator, Seize the Moment


Protecting U.S. elections against attack: What does biology have to do with it?

January 9, 2019

Most of us think of cybersecurity and biology as distinct areas of study. To better understand how we might apply principles of immunology to developing safeguards against cyberattacks, researchers are looking to ways in which the immune system of humans and other mammals naturally combats pathogens.

In the first “Dialogues in Complexity” lecture at Arizona State University, national experts will present their insights related to this emerging field of study. “Protecting Against Bad Actors: From Election Security to Immunology” will explore how “bad actors” — whether they be pathogens or hackers — contribute to the disruptive forces in U.S. elections and our immune systems. Dialogues in Complexity, Protecting Against Bad Actors event flyer "Dialogues in Complexity, Protecting Against Bad Actors: From Election Security to Immunology” will be held Jan. 16 from 3-5:30 p.m. and will feature researchers prominent in the fields of cybersecurity and immunology. Download Full Image

At the Jan. 16 event, J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan will discuss cybersecurity and U.S. elections and Andrea Graham of Princeton University will discuss mammalian immunology. The event will take place from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at the Biodesign Institute Auditorium and is free and open to the public.

“The problem that the immune system solves for the body is roughly the same problem we would like cybersecurity systems to solve,” said Stephanie Forrest, director of the Biodesign Center for Biocomputing, Security and Society. Forrest is also a professor of computer science at the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. Forrest and her team focus on the interconnectedness of biological systems and cybersecurity.

“Over the years, computer security has discovered willy-nilly many of the same ideas we see in biological systems,” Forrest said. “So the question is: Where do the parallels exist today, and how might we think about those parallels more deeply to understand new ideas for cybersecurity?”

“There should be general principles that govern what kinds of threats emerge and what kind of defenses evolve to protect against those threats. We need to ask ourselves: Are there general principles that govern malicious behaviors in systems? How do we defend against them?”

The lecture series is a result of a partnership between Forrest, Graham, Simon A. Levin and Ann Kinzig. Levin is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor at Princeton University, and the namesake of ASU’s Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center. Ann Kinzig is a senior sustainability scientist with ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and a professor in the School of Life Sciences.

Cybersecurity and U.S. elections

Halderman will describe how cyberattacks on U.S. voting infrastructure threaten the integrity of elections and stand to undermine confidence in democratic processes. He will also discuss recent efforts to defend against disruptions to U.S. voting, touching specifically on the cyberattacks that occurred in the 2016 presidential election and Congress’s decision to provide $380 million in funding to develop safeguards in the voting process.

Halderman has spearheaded numerous projects aimed at staving off cyberattacks that could threaten the voting process. After the 2016 election, he served as an adviser on recount initiatives in three states, and he testified in 2017 to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee regarding cybersecurity threats to the election process.

“Alex Halderman is one of very few people, especially in academia, who is deeply skilled and knowledgeable in technical cybersecurity issues and knowledgeable and interested in policy,” said Forrest. "His talk will highlight security issues related to our current election practices and offer suggestions for how they may be addressed."

Mammalian immunology systems

Graham will discuss mammalian immunology systems and the complex dynamics of host-parasite transmission. Graham specifically studies the driving forces of heterogeneity in hosts, parasites and disease, and with her research, she addresses how natural selection has changed host defense and parasite transmission.

“Graham’s talk will give an overview of both the promise and perils of mammalian immune defense systems,” Forrest said.

The main goal of the event is to expose the public to the important connections between biological and cyber defenses.

“I want the audience to see these topics in the same space, and to reinforce our public interest in securing our democracies,” Forrest said. In addition to the public event, a small group of researchers will convene to discuss “what is known about how biological systems defend themselves and the many cybersecurity methods that have been devised to protect computational systems,” according to Levin.

“We hope to identify commonalities, differences, gaps and outstanding questions, ultimately producing a unified understanding of how complex systems defend themselves against a variety of threats and perturbations,” he said.

ASU students or staff are urged to attend. RSVPs are encouraged as space is limited.

Gabrielle Hirneise

Assistant science writer , Biodesign Institute