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At Writing Award Event, Tilton
Touts Benefits of Collaboration
November 15, 1999

It's easy to do things all by yourself if you have some help. Robert S. Tilton might not accept that faux Yogi-ism as the real thing, but he might agree that it helps illustrate a point he made to students, faculty and community members at the 10th Annual Nonfiction Prize Program, held in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center - that collaboration on academic projects can be a good thing.

Tilton, assistant professor of English, "collaborated" with Yogi Berra - the former New York Yankees catcher and famous phrasologist - for his talk, just as he collaborated with William M.S. Rasmussen, a Virginia historian on a recent book about the personal life of George Washington. That book is George Washington: Man Behind the Myth.

Tilton might have stumped Yogi with the title of his talk: "I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said! Yogi Berra, Interdisciplinarity, and the Joys of Collaboration." But he used Yogi and the Washington book to share his belief that there are "many possibilities for interesting and useful interdisciplinary projects."

"You may find a collaborator of great common sense like I did," he said. "You might find new avenues and sources for your own research."

In an interview, Tilton said his research work is not solely literary, noting his interest in such other fields as history and sociology.

"In the sciences, collaboration is common, but in the humanities it's often looked on as difficult to do," he said.

But, Tilton said, as Yogi taught us: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Not to mention that, "you can observe a lot by watching."

He said that after the Washington book was published, several senior faculty colleagues asked: "How much of the book did you write?" That question betrayed their suspicions of collaboration, he said, adding that he assured them he wrote the book, calling on Rasmussen's expertise as an art historian.

Tilton spoke after writing awards were presented to freshmen and graduate students at the University - or to high school students who took English 105 or 109 at the 70 or so Connecticut high schools that offer those courses through a co-op program with UConn. The awards are given by the Department of English and the Connecticut Writing Project, with support from the Aetna Foundation and the state Department of Higher Education.

Lynn Bloom, professor of English and Aetna Chair of Writing at the University, said the awards represent the collaboration of teachers throughout the UConn writing programs, including the regional campuses and the high schools that take part in the co-op program.

"Every year the entries reflect the diversity of writing at the University," Bloom said. "Some is critical writing, some is personal, but the level of intellectual sophistication of the student writers is high."

The freshman writing prizes were presented by Thomas Recchio, director of freshman English. They went to:

Aetna Award Honorable Mentions: Sarah Elizabeth Downs, Coginchaug Regional High School; Eva Doherty, Stonington High School; and Lindsay Kent, Farmington High School.

Aetna Award Third Place: Fay Smoleh of the West Hartford campus.

Aetna Award Second Place: Sophia Macris, Stonington High School.

The Ratcliffe Hicks Prize, a first place award for writing excellence, went to John Bean Jr., of the Avery Point campus, for his essay, "A Personal Discussion of Same-Sex Marriage."

Bloom presented awards to winners of the Aetna Graduate Critical Essay Prizes:

Third Place: Matthew J. Cella, "Seeking the Straka: An Investigation of 'Hybridity' in Ann Stephens' Malaeska"; and Joanne M. Cordón, "A Governess and a Wife: Angel-in-the-Household in Training in Jane Eyre."

Second Place: Laurie Ciccarelli, "Modern Indian Voices: Sherman Alexie as Revisionist Storyteller."

First Place: Ellen O'Brien, "Every Man Who is Hanged Leaves a Poem: Criminals and Poets in Victorian Street Ballads."

The Kathleen Gibson McPeek Graduate Critical Essay Award: Valerie M. Smith, "Narrating Culture: Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Edith Wharton's Travel Narratives."

The Aetna Creative Nonfiction Award: Jennifer Spinner, "In Search of Our Past."

As he congratulated the winners, Tilton borrowed from Yogi: "I want to thank everyone who made this evening necessary."

Ken Ross