Western Carolina University English professor Mimi Fenton recently became president of the Milton Society of America, an organization with hundreds of members from around the world committed to furthering scholarship on and promoting the exchange of ideas about English poet John Milton.
“It is a tremendous honor to serve in this role,” said Fenton, who was elected to the organization’s executive committee five years ago and served as vice president for two years before accepting the presidency. “My hope is to make genuine contributions that will have a positive impact on the future of the society and what it stands for, and how it aims to contribute to students and scholars both within and outside of the academy.”
A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Fenton discovered her passion for Milton early in her academic career after reading Milton’s most celebrated work, the epic poem “Paradise Lost.”
“I was thrilled by Milton’s audacity in taking on the ‘big questions’ so boldly,” said Fenton, who studied under renowned Milton scholar John T. Shawcross. “Asking why we must die, and what constitutes evil, goodness, love, perfection.”
As a Milton scholar, Fenton authored “Milton’s Places of Hope: Spiritual and Political Connections of Hope with Land,” which earned her a nomination for the society’s Holly Hanford Award in 2006 as well as considerable acclaim. Paul Stevens of the University of Toronto called it “a fascinating and often strikingly original work of associative thinking.” This spring, “Their Maker’s Image: New Essays on John Milton,” a collection of essays she co-edited, will be published by American University Presses, and she is co-editing another collection titled “Ruin and Repair: Milton, Poetics, and History,” for Duquesne University Press.
Fenton said some of the initiatives in which she hopes the MSA will become more involved, such as supporting more literary projects and preservation of important literary sites, including Milton’s cottage near London, were inspired by Milton himself.
“I hope to institute a long-term strategic plan, which will involve the organization in more civic and charity activities because Milton was so committed to literacy for the populace, freedom of the press, and liberty in general within a commonwealth or republic,” said Fenton.
That mission is in addition to Fenton’s duties leading executive committee meetings, organizing the Open Milton session at the Modern Language Association annual conference, presiding over the Milton Society’s annual banquet and awards ceremony, overseeing the society’s business matters and developing a proposal to grow the society’s membership.
“My goal is to enroll more graduate students so that we can build the treasury so that, in addition to the present awards for scholarship we offer, we can, in the future, offer scholarships and fellowships to younger scholars,” she said.
MSA secretary Ken Hiltner said Fenton is proving to be a dynamic president.
“She is not only spearheading a major membership drive, but is looking ahead to coming years by laying the groundwork for a variety of exciting projects,” said Hiltner.
Brian Gastle, head of WCU’s Department of English, praised Fenton’s achievements and her commitment to MSA.
“Fenton’s leadership role in the MSA – an organization of no little prestige, and significant membership – speaks to the recognition she has received from her peers for her scholarly accomplishments,” said Gastle. “Having won virtually every teaching award for which she is eligible at WCU, Dr. Fenton is committed both to students and to scholarly excellence.”