Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Things Dan Lehman Carried: Matt Tullis Reflects on the Professor Who Moved Him

By Matt Tullis, Associate Professor, Journalism and Digital Media

When I think about Dan Lehman, my mind immediately jumps to Tim O’Brien. O’Brien’s writing has shaped me as a writer more than just about anyone else. I have read his words over and over and over again and I have, in many ways, sought to copy O’Brien’s style. He is a simple writer, one who values content and thought over the writing itself (the result being amazing writing, in my opinion). My first tattoo — “Stories can save us.” in typewriter font on my left forearm — is part of a sentence from O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and that sentence will also likely be a postscript on my memoir, should it ever be published.

Why do I think of O’Brien when I think of Dan? Because it was Dan who introduced me to O’Brien’s writing. The first thing I ever read of O’Brien’s was In the Lake of the Woods, a novel about a Vietnam veteran turned politician who thinks he has managed to distance himself from his own presence at the My Lai massacre. We read this in English 427 American Literature, which Dan taught in Fall 1997. It was the first semester of my senior year at Ashland University. I had taken other American Literature courses (two others, actually, in the preceding two semesters), but hadn’t fallen in love with anything we read. Judging from the C+ I got in English 426 in Spring 1997, I’m guessing I didn’t take it too seriously either. I was, for about two-and-a-half or maybe even three years, not a serious student. (Dan knows this as well, because he was my academic adviser and I had to retake English 101, which I failed as a freshman. I ultimately took the class with him as a junior. I got an A.) 

But then I read In the Lake of the Woods, and Dan led discussions in the classroom and, for the first time in my life, I felt like I was starting to get it. I had always, for the most part, understood writing, or so I thought. I had been writing since I was in the third grade. I had also been reading since before that, but in this class, the first semester of my final year as an undergraduate, I finally understood what it meant to really, truly read, to interact with the words on the page, and I was able to get there because of Dan. I read that book so closely, and started making theories as to what really happened, and then going back in the text to find proof that my theory was right. I had never done that before, and it was exhilarating. Indeed, I still do that type of research now as a reporter whenever I am working on something large that requires significant book or archival research. It never gets old. 

The next semester, my final semester, was one that would ultimately set the course my life would take. I took English 302 Writers Workshop Fiction/Nonfiction with Joe Mackall, and for the first time, started writing about surviving childhood cancer, which, quite frankly, I was still pretty much in the process of doing, having been diagnosed at the age of 15. One of the reasons I started writing about it was because that same semester, I took Dan’s class, English 325B Major Writers: Nonfiction Narrative, and we read more O’Brien. In this course, we read O’Brien’s memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and his biographical novel The Things They Carried. For the first time in my life, I read work that really, truly spoke to me. Sure, as a cancer survivor, I hadn’t fought in an actual war. But the emotions, the ideas, they were all there. Later in life, I would even start using war as a metaphor for how my disease was treated. In Dan’s class, we were all encouraged to explore those ideas, to see how the fiction and the nonfiction interacted, to see which had more resonance. For me, while I love The Things They Carried, a book I have read at least five times, the memoir, the account that wasn’t fictionalized, has always seemed more “true,” because it was, well, factual. The people O’Brien was writing about were real people with real emotions and feelings and consequences.

Taking Dan’s classes at the time I had just started seriously considering my illness and my survival was critical. Perhaps it was just luck that the two coincided, but I’ve never thought about my writing about cancer without simultaneously thinking about O’Brien and what he did with his experience on the page. 

I still have the first issue of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, the journal that Dan and Joe were planning during my senior year, and published in the Fall 1999 semester. I remember opening it up the first time, and seeing before the editor’s note, which was titled “Facts that matter,” a quote from O’Brien, from The Things They Carried

“Somebody tells you a story, let’s say, and afterward you ask, ‘Is it true?’ And if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer.”

I was excited when I read that, because we had spent time talking about that very idea in Dan’s class earlier in the year. And I remember being excited that the discussions we had in that class were now more concrete, solidified in this journal. And then that journal, over time, went on to become one of the most respected journals in the country, a journal devoted entirely to the genre I have spent my life writing: nonfiction.

Because of all of these reasons, I am sad that students won’t have the chance to take Dan’s classes anymore. But at the same time, I am heartened, perhaps selfishly so, that I still get to work with him on River Teeth. I’ve been helping Dan and Joe find great pieces of literary journalism that should be reprinted in the journal, and they’ve been gracious enough to give me the title Associate Editor in the masthead, something that made me giddy the first time I saw it. This work is just one more thing in my life that would have never happened had I not taken those classes with Dan during my senior year, and for that, I am forever thankful.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Maggie Andrews is Career Services Intern of the Month

By Jessica Reagan

Maggie Andrews is a sophomore majoring in creative writing, public relations & strategic communication with a minor in Spanish. This past summer she interned with Jones’ Potato Chip Company as their communications and marketing intern. During her internship, Maggie established communication channels between the Jones' Potato Chip Company and Ashland University which ultimately led to product availability in the Eagles' Nest dining facility and sport concessions. In addition, Maggie worked with vendors for Jones’ throughout the state of Ohio as well as multiple local businesses and stores. She was able to utilize her strong social media skills to develop a social media guide for their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Maggie composed a portfolio of communication strategies, as well as job descriptions for the company, which the company plans to use for future interns and full- time professionals. While this list is not exhaustive of all the amazing things Maggie created and completed for Jones’ it is clear that her work was incredibly valued and appreciated!

One of Maggie’s highlights was writing an article for the Manufacturing Coalition Newsletter about the Jones' Company. According to Maggie, “This internship helped prepare me for my future career by giving me an inside look into the business side of communications and marketing. It was a hands-on experience and the company really gave me freedom to explore different aspects of the position. I'm a creative writing major, as well as a PR major, so it was nice when the company made sure to give me writing projects on top of communication/marketing projects. I was able to gain experience for both of my majors during the internship. I will be able to take this experience with me to my future career”.

Here is some wise advice from Maggie about her experience, “Always challenge yourself in your classes. I received my internship opportunity through the success of a class project. . . Everything I learned from my internship, I will carry with me in all my future career endeavors.”

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fleming Gives NPR Radio Interview for Novel

Professor of English Dr. Deborah Fleming was interviewed on Thursday, Jan. 21, by Prairie Miller on Arts Express, a production of WBAI, a National Public Radio station broadcast in New York City and San Francisco, about her novel Without Leave. The interview is archived on the WBAI web site.

Listen to it here:


Monday, January 18, 2016

Alumnus Pays Tribute to Dr. Gary Levine

By Spencer Dolezal, class of 2014

I met Dr. Gary Levine during my junior year at Ashland University. He was teaching a course on English Grammar and Usage, and he had a reputation of being a tough professor. Shuddering at his syllabus, I was intimidated by him on our first day of class. It wasn’t a long process for me to understand and respect his teaching style. He commanded the classroom in a unique and, more importantly, genuine way. He was among the first people in the classroom to admit that certain grammar rules were confusing, that certain sentences were tough to break down, that he could easily make a grammar error if he wasn’t careful. In a later composition course, he would wade with us through essays that we sometimes struggled to understand. He wouldn’t leave us behind, but he wouldn’t simply give us the answers without making us think. He knew we had the tools to figure it out, and he helped us along the way. He built trust with his students not by having all the answers, but more simply by making it known that he did not. He was not perfect, and he was the first to admit it. I rarely left one of his classes without feeling altogether more empowered, more humbled, and with a stronger desire to work harder at being a better student, a better reader, and a better writer.

I believe that some of the brilliance of Dr. Levine’s teaching was lost to many of his students, but I think I understood a lot of it, and it helped me to respect him deeply. He gave us feedback for the first drafts of our first papers in that composition class, and at first it felt brutal. Someone asked what he thought the grades were like for the drafts.

“There isn’t a grade higher than a C in this bunch,” he said with a slight smirk on his face. He knew what reaction was coming. A mixture of despair, disappointment, fury, and pain wrote its way across many of our faces. He let out a short laugh and said, “Guys, a C is good.” He left it at that.

I worked hard in his classes for two reasons. I love English, and Dr. Levine would not put up with anything less than my best. The frustrating part here, and probably the part that can be so easily misunderstood, is that my best, our best, was sometimes only “good” for him. I learned to value the distinction between what is passable work, what is good work, and what is my best work. It has been transformational for me. To be humbled as a writer in this way leaves me an immense amount of space for growth. That space is what drives me. That space is what has kept me writing since graduation and what will keep me writing. Few people have ownership over building that space, but Gary Levine is without a shadow of a doubt one of them. That is a gift that is worth more than almost anything to me. To look back at my time with Dr. Levine drives me to write and read and pass on my love of both of those to everyone I know. I have him, among a few select others, to thank for that desire. Without his leadership, without his honesty, without his criticism, and without his meaningful exhortation and encouragement, I certainly would be a different person. I struggle to believe that that version of me would be better than I am now.

Now that he has passed away, I have spent some time thinking about my interactions with Dr. Levine. I have thought about the humor he injected into his lessons, how quick witted he was. I have thought about the wisdom and knowledge he passed on to me in the classroom and out of the classroom. I have thought about his sobering encouragement to “find the classroom that is best suited for my teaching abilities,” to keep reading, to keep writing. I have thought about his words of exhortation written to me in a final email in my last semester as his student, about the articles he sent to me about my favorite authors after I had graduated, about the slightly awkward yet always enjoyable conversations we had passing each other across campus.

Of all the memories I’ve had swirling in my brain since his passing, one has continued to come to the forefront of my mind this whole time. It is from the classroom. We were discussing the effect that people have on the world around them. Dr. Levine brought up the film It’s a Wonderful Life. As he explained the plot, how George Bailey’s wish to have never been born opens his eyes to how much positive change he has brought to the world, Dr. Levine’s eyes began to water. He told us he had to stop thinking about it or he would break down in front of us. His near-loss of composure in this moment exposed his ingenuousness in a new way. He was no longer just a tough professor. In that moment he admitted his desire to do more in the lives around him than to simply teach, and that is what he did.

This memory that keeps coming back to me is so important because it is as if it plays out the fantasy of George Bailey’s life right before my eyes. I was able to get in touch with Dr. Levine before he passed, and I told him most of these things. I was able to let him know that my life was changed for having known him. I count myself lucky enough to have received a simple response from him because it gave me the peace of knowing that he heard my sincere appreciation. The beauty of Dr. Levine’s passing, the tiny silver lining, is that he was flooded with messages like mine from his students and colleagues sending him prayers and well wishes, telling him they believed in him, telling him they were changed because of him. He was able to experience the result of his efforts, to see how he changed the world around him.

To put it simply, I am a better person for having known Gary Levine. The most wonderful part is that I am not the only one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Adventures of a Freshman ILA Major

By Corinne Spisz

As an Integrated Language Arts Education
(ILA) major, life at Ashland University involves a lot of writing. I am constantly writing drafts, re-reading and editing. I know now to think, always, about transition sentences, a strong, solid thesis statement, and the need for imagery. Looking over my papers from the beginning of the semester to the end, I am amazed at how far I have come as a writer, especially in poetry. I may only be a freshman but the skills I learned in the fall semester are preparing me for my upper-level courses and for my future profession as an English teacher. The English department at AU is extraordinary. My professors have explained each topic well and I feel comfortable teaching those skills already. Yet, there are things I wish I knew before beginning my first semester. 

I wish I knew that there would be times when I would be able to write four pages in an hour, and others days that I would have to take a walk around campus, to clear my mind over a draft paper I was working on. I wanted to know that writing a sonnet would be a lot more difficult than it sounds, but not entirely impossible. Or, that someone would have told me the department takes trips to Cleveland to see plays like King Lear performed at the Hanna Theatre; and you and other students will be able to sit with professors after the show and discuss it over dinner. Or even, that my creative writing prose section class would go to Pizza Hut at the end of the semester. I would have desired to know that observations for the education classes are fun, but at the same time, the observations are difficult because I cannot interact with the students yet. I would have wanted to know how amazing the professors at Ashland University are. That they are able to catch your mistakes and talk you through how to fix them. How each class is enjoyable to go to all because these professors are dedicated to their students. Unlike at larger universities, I am not on my own during this journey; I have professors who care. Lastly, I wish I knew how fun this ILA major is. Everyday I wake up excited for my classes, ready to see what I learn that day. When you study what you love, everyday is welcomed with excitement and one day closer to accomplishing your dreams. 

Deciding to major in Integrated Language Arts Education and attending Ashland University was the best decision I have made. My first semester was full of fun, growth and challenges. I cannot wait to see what the next seven semesters hold.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Student Spotlight: Megan Richwine, English and Political Science Double Major

Q: You're an English major. What drew you to the subject?

A: Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read. During the summers I read a book a day and I read anything I could get my hands on. It grew into more than just a hobby and soon I started writing short stories. Entering into college, I knew I had to go into the opposite of Math and Science. I had dreams of becoming a newscaster, but quickly realized the shoe didn't fit. I stumbled upon the English major by looking at the courses I would have to take: Studies in Shakespeare, Russian Novel, Victorian Period, etc. They all were classes I would take just for fun and even though I didn't know what I would do with an English major at the time, I didn't want to take any other classes. God pointed me in the right direction and to this day it is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Q: What have been some of your favorite classes in the major so far and why?

A: Two classes come to mind: Russian Novel and Contemporary American Studies Seminar. I took Russian Novel the spring semester of my sophomore year. We read War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov. I enjoyed both books tremendously. In fact, War and Peace has become one of my favorite books. Contemporary American Studies Seminar was interesting because we read non-fiction such as Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. It was a great discussion class and the topic was easy to relate to and talk about.

Q: How does your English major complement your major in Political Science?

A: Political Science and English work well together because they both offer a chance to write. My Political Science major helps me develop my critical thinking as well as my critical writing. Many classes that I have taken for Political Science have been discussion-based classes that encourage, well, discussion among students. Pairing this with English was a great decision because English helps to strengthen my writing (and reading) while Political Science strengthens my reasoning and my critical thinking. Political Science and English complement each another because they challenge me in different areas. This being said, I use my critical thinking that I've gained from Political Science and apply it to some of my English classes. Likewise, I use my "improved" writing in English and apply it for projects or papers that pertain to my Political Science major.

Q: What else do you do on campus and in your spare time?

A: Since I am a commuter, I don't spend as much time as I would like on campus. I am involved with the Ashbrook Scholar Program as well as the Honors Program. I work at the AU Box office selling tickets to performances and I also intern for the MFA Program. I interned with the MFA summer residency this past summer and spent two weeks with graduate students, professors, and authors. I was responsible for runs to the airport to pick up and drop up authors and professors as well as helping to organize daily craft talks. During this semester I have been helping with odds and ends like filing and sending perspective students information about the program. Next semester I will be president of a Turning Point USA chapter which we will be launching come January! This organization encourages college kids to exercise their right to vote and become more educated about the issues facing our country. I was a columnist for this organization and recently went to CPAC this past February to help promote Turning Point USA. I'm very excited about bringing this chapter to campus and spending some more time with fellow students. In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family and reading books that are not for school. My "go-to" stress reliever is sitting by the fire eating apples with caramel. I also collect books and my collection has grown close to 700. I like to go antiquing and collect small dishes that I find in antique stores and garage sales.

Q: Could you recommend some books, whether they're old favorites or recent discoveries?

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Host by Stephanie Meyer
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Matched by Ally Condie
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

...And many, many more!