| Do Good, Feel Good |

English professor Gina Barreca

Elevating English Majors

By Lisa Stiepock
Photo by Peter Morenus

Book Cover Art: Fast Funny Women, 15 Essays of Flash NonFiction, Edited by Gina Barreca

English professor Gina Barreca, dubbed the “feminist humor maven” by Ms. Magazine has kept us laughing through 10 books from “I Used to Be Snow White But I Drifted” to “If You Lean In, Will Men just Look Down Your Blouse?” Her latest, though, invites others to the party. “It’s like that children’s book ‘Stone Soup,’” she says of the “little of this, little of that” approach she took to editing “Fast Funny Women: 75 Essays of Flash Fiction.”

For the compilation Barreca brought together 75 writers including Jane Smiley, Mimi Pond, Fay Weldon, Marge Piercy, and Judy Sheindlin aka Judge Judy — and 35 UConn students, alums, and staffers. “I thought, ‘I want emerging writers, I want students, who might not have their voices heard, alongside these foundational writers,’” says Barreca. English major Nicole Catarino ’22 (CLAS) is one of those students. She also helped Barreca put the book together. “She said, ‘We’re making a book and I want you in it,’” says Catarino, “which was massive for me. It’s such an honor to be side by side with these women. My confidence has skyrocketed.”

It’s not surprising that Barreca would find a pandemic project like this. “Making comedy, making a story, has always been my way to cope,” she says. And she is known for gathering people. Pre-Covid, friends, students, and former students were always stopping by Barreca’s office, which she describes as “a cross between a piñata, a toy store, and an Italian deli. Everybody comes, we eat, we talk.” Even more than humor, perhaps, this is Barreca’s brand — bringing people together to support one another in a community, as she says, “based on letters, on a love of words.”

“Dartmouth may have Gina’s papers. The Friars Club may have Gina’s photo. Thankfully, UConn has Gina’s living legacy of students and alumni,” is how Laura Rossi Totten ’91 (CLAS), another English major, puts it.

Handlettered phrase, 'Do Good, Feel Good'

We are all in need of a little happiness and a little inspiration lately, so we’ve devoted this issue of the magazine to stories of just a few of the many UConn faculty, staff, students, and alumni who spend their days doing good in the world, making it a better place for all of us.

“I hold the singular honor/distinction of being Gina Barreca’s very first mentee,” says Rossi, “the two of us started at UConn at the exact same time 34 years ago. I can still picture us side by side in her former office on the third floor of the Arjona Building where, as a wide-eyed freshman in Storrs, I was calling publishers and magazines for her bestseller “They Used To Call Me Snow White.” It’s this experience that directly launched my New York City career at Viking Books and led eventually to getting Gina on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and having my own business.”

Forget comedy. Forget English. Do the math. That’s 34 years of helping countless students and alumni, as Oprah would say, become their best selves. “I’ve been here for more of my adult life than I haven’t,” says Barreca. “I stay in touch with these now thousands of adult students.”

Those students are now professors, publicists, CEOs, authors, and lawyers in cities and towns across America. And they aren’t all women or, as Barreca puts it, “Sometimes the muse is male.” It was yet another former English student, Dave LeGere ’06 (CLAS), who pitched the idea for “Fast Funny Women” to Barreca and it is Woodhall Press, the company he co-founded, that will publish the book in early March.

“All of us are united,” says Rossi, “by the friendship and encouragement of The Career Whisperer Gina Barreca.”

Join Gina and other alums and authors for a special "Fast Funny Women" book club event on March 18.

UConn Contributors:

Jianna Heuer ’05 (CLAS) English and Psychology majors, Making a Girl

Nyanka J

Nyanka J. ’15 (CLAS) English major, ’17 MPA, Smiling with No Teeth

Caitlin O’Donnell ’10 (CLAS) English major, How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Michelle Carter

Michelle P. Carter ’10 (CLAS) English major, Ace AF

Dawn Lundy Martin

Dawn Lundy Martin ’91 (CLAS) English major, How to Remove a Lost Tampon

Lauren Saalmuller

Lauren Saalmuller ’12 (CLAS) English major, Gambling for Tampons

Monique Heller

Monique Heller ’89 (CLAS) Design and Resource Management major, ’97 MBA International Marketing, Obituary

Suzanne Staubach

Suzanne Staubach, managed the independent bookstore, the UConn Coop, until it closed in 2016 and was a vital part of the literary life on campus, The Hayfield: A Gardener’s Tale

Kristina Reardon ’13 MA, ’19 Ph.D. Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, “This is a Green Pear”

Ali Oshinskie

Ali Oshinskie ’17 (CLAS) English major, The Blender

Erica Buehler

Erica Buelher ’17 (CLAS) English major, Stranger Roommates

Lisa Nic an Bhreithimh

Lisa Nic An Bhreithimh, taught Irish and was a Fulbright scholar 2012-’13, My First Date . . . with a Girl

Niamh Emerson

Niamh Emerson ’06 (CLAS) English and Journalism majors, Coming to Am-er-ic-a

Jennifer Rizzo

Jennifer (Few) Rizzo ’10 (CLAS), ’11 (ED), Better with Age

Kristen Mongillo

Kristen Mongillo ’17 (CLAS) English major, Anti-Social Media

Laura Rossi

Laura Rossi ’91 (CLAS) English major, The Podcast Diaries

Katharine Capshaw

Katharine Capshaw English professor and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Fred the Aviator

Maggie Mitchell

Maggie Mitchell ’95 MA, ’04 Ph.D. in English, Vanilla

Jennifer Sager

Jennifer Sager ’04 (CLAS) English and Political Science majors, Weighing In

Mollie Kervick

Mollie Kervick Ph.D. candidate in Irish Studies, Falling in Love Is Fattening

Cynthia Luo

Cynthia Luo ’12 (CLAS) Linguistics/Philosophy and English majors, No Belly

Lisa Douglas

Lisa Douglas ’12 (CLAS, SFA) English and Theatre Studies majors, Free Chance at Happiness

kerri brown

Kerri Brown ’11 (CLAS) English major, For Now

Lydia Snapper

Lydia Snapper ’16 (CLAS) English major, Fame Adjacent

Anna Aldrich

Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS) English, Journalism, and Political Science majors, Personal Statement

Amanda Smallhorn

Amanda Smallhorn ’10 (CLAS) English major, What Does That Word Mean?

Nicole Catarino

Nicole Catarino ’22 (CLAS) English major, Manipulating Man Spreading

Joan Sidney

Joan Seliger Sidney, ’77 Ph.D. in Education, I Married a Mathematician

Brenda Murphy

Brenda Murphy English professor emeritus, The Nearby

Kristen Dolce

Kristina Dolce ’10 (CLAS) English major, ’15 MA English, Girl School Rules

Jessica Lubka

Jessie Lubka ’17 (CLAS) Communication major, My Perpetual Fear of Water

Laurie Cella

Laurie Cella ’07 Ph.D. in American Literature, Chaos Theory

Emily Heiden

Emily Heiden ’05 (CLAS) English major, Reasons Why I’m Giving Up Dating Online

Krisela Karaja

Krisela Karaja ’14 (CLAS), English and Spanish Literature majors, Waste Not

Kate Luongo

Kate Luongo ’21 (CLAS) English major, I Apologize for What I Said When I Was Hungry

Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of English Literature, The Miserable Snapshot Theory of LIfe


  1. Thank you UConn MAGAZINE / UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and for this incredible feature in print and online about Gina Barreca, her new book FAST FUNNY WOMEN, her upcoming Fast Funny UConn Women event on March 18 (registration required) and her living legacy at The University of Connecticut. 💙 Gina Barreca is a gift to so many (including lucky me!) and she keeps on giving and giving. Read the feature, buy the book, and join Team Gina — you will learn, laugh, and love UCONN even more!

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