Monday, July 21, 2014

MFA Residency in Full Swing

Students and faculty from near and far have descended on Ashland for the annual MFA summer residency. Craft seminars and readings are free and open to the public. Check out the complete schedule and come join us!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Jason Dutton

By Jason Dutton, class of 2005, Creative Writing and Political Science major; AU MFA 2012

I work for the federal government. I always start there when people ask about my job, because it sounds very cool. I work for the Defense Logistics Agency as a customer account specialist, which means I provide customer service for the military. But if you’d told me nine years ago that I would be doing this job, I’m not sure I’d be thrilled. I would have preferred to hear that I would make a living writing books.

Nine years ago, I would have recently earned my BA in creative writing and political science from Ashland University. I chose Ashland because it was one of two universities in Ohio with a creative writing program, and after I met with Dr. Joe Mackall when I toured AU, he became another major reason I enrolled. Joe was my advisor for four years, as well as my thesis advisor when I returned to AU in 2010 for the graduate creative writing program, and I now consider him a dear friend. Joe was honest and direct with me from the beginning, and three things became very clear to me: Joe cared about my education, he cared about my development as a person, and he believed the former was very important to the latter.

That sort of thinking is what I value most about my time in the AU English department. I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of papers and listened to a lot of lectures, but my education with Joe and with others often seemed more like a conversation. My teachers clearly believed study wasn’t just important to attain a degree, but because reading the work of others and learning to effectively communicate were skills that would serve me well regardless of the direction my life took. I remember being especially impressed a few days after I’d written a column for the Collegian about how so many of us students never really stop to think about why and what we’re learning. After reading my column, Dr. Dan Lehman took time out of his class to explain why what he was teaching us was worthwhile. My education and my opinion never felt more valued and important than they did in that classroom.

So if you’d told me nine years ago that I would be working for the military, having applied for the job because I needed one, I wouldn’t be pleased. But then you’d explain to me that it’s a great and important job, one that provides good pay and benefits, one that I couldn’t have gotten without my degree, and you’d have my attention. And when you told me that my college education enabled me to be a valued employee, one that communicates well and seeks to understand others and still strives to learn every day, then I would be as grateful and happy to have attended AU as I am right now. Especially when I use my spare time to write those books.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

More Employment News

Lindsay Cameron (class of 2014) has accepted a faculty position at Notre Dame - Cathedral High School in Chardon, Ohio. She will teach English, journalism, and yearbook. 

Meg Collier (class of 2014) will be heading overseas in the fall to teach English at LycĂ©e Condorcet in Saint-Quentin, France through TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France), sponsored by the French government.

Congratulations and best of luck to these graduates!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recent Graduates Land Teaching Jobs

Two graduates of Ashland's Integrated Language Arts program have landed full-time teaching jobs at Ohio high schools. Amanda Eakin (class of 2012) will join the staff at Chippewa High School in Doylestown. David Mohn (class of 2014) will be teaching for Medina City Schools. Congratulations! We look forward to hearing about Amanda and David's journeys as educators. 

If you are an alumnus of the AU English department and want to share good news, write to department chair Hilary Donatini at

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

MFA Student Reflects on the River Teeth Conference

By Cindie Ulreich, MFA Student

On Friday, May 30th, I made my way to Ashland, Ohio, to once again attend the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference. RTNC brings in a nice mix of speakers—from seasoned writers, to current and past faculty members of the MFA program, to professionals in the field. Combine that with the varied levels of those of us in attendance and the results can be serendipitous. At one lunch, I found myself sitting at a table of graduate students. We eagerly compared notes on our thesis writing adventures. We shared our woes and our triumphs as we discussed grappling with subject matter, length of chapters, naming concerns and other topics—some that would be addressed over the course of the weekend. The next day, I found myself near someone that wrote an essay I loved and I got to ask her about it. This is part of the fun in attending a smaller conference like RTNC.

The conference began Friday night with a dinner and keynote address by Philip Gerard. You can learn more about him and all of the other speakers on the River Teeth website ( Saturday was broken down into five talks, three meals and a reading at the end of the night by Brenda Miller. I was anticipating Miller’s talk because she authored one of my favorite craft books Tell it Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction. She read several essays to end our first full conference day.

Sunday brought us three more talks, three more meals, a closing session, and book signing. It was another full day which left my head spinning, yet it was just the right amount of information. The subject matter of the talks varied, and the speakers had much to tell us. I found myself taking quite a few notes throughout and even came up with ten spoken moments that gave me pause:

1.     When keynote speaker Philip Gerard said, “Words are already trying to find my fingers.”
2.     Jill Christman told us “know where you’re standing to tell the story. It becomes your pivot point.”
3.     Ana Maria Spagna’s craft exercise utilizing reflection and action.
4.     Sarah Wells, when asked about what to include in cover letters accompanying journal submissions, said “less is more.”
5.     The moment when Dan Lehman explained the way we lose a bit of control, when we begin naming names in nonfiction narrative.
6.     When Kate Hopper told us using irony, metaphor and juxtaposition helps the reader make sense of things without telling them implicitly.
7.     During the Literary Citizenship & Networking talk, we were given many useful social media tips—something writers need to think about as they begin marketing themselves.
8.     Brenda Miller said “the thinking mind is not the same as the creative mind,” then had us get out paper for a craft exercise.
9.     Moments later, when she told us 100% of her current work is coming from writing prompts and exercises.
10. Philip Gerard, when asked during the closing session how he chooses work, said he “won’t do anything unless it’s interesting.”

    Additionally, I jotted down quite a few book titles throughout the talks. Here are a few I’m going to add to my already full bookshelf:
The Patron Saint of Dreams and Cape Fear Rising by Philip Gerard
Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood by Kate Hopper
The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World by Brenda Miller & Holly J. Hughes
Potluck: Community on the Edge of Wilderness and Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus: A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey by Ana Maria Spagna

As I made the four-hour drive home on Sunday night, I was buzzing with feelings of possibility. Those two days spent with like-minded folks brought joy into my heart. I was reassured, after talking to other thesis students, that our experiences and feelings were normal as we prepared to defend what we’d worked on for so long. Additionally, I was already thinking ahead to my next project, thanks to a writing prompt one of the speakers provided. I could feel the beginnings of an essay forming, words bouncing around my head.

That’s what happens when I attend the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference. This little gathering at the end of May has become the thing I do to energize myself after a long school year. You might even call it my reward after another busy academic year has come to an end. May is always a time of revitalization for me. This conference comes at the right time and I was counting on it to excite me. Once again, it did just that.

Cindie Ulreich is a student in Ashland’s MFA program and plans to defend her master’s thesis this summer. She hails from Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University, where she has worked, played and studied for over 20 years. Cindie lives on a farm with her husband Ed, a small herd of beef cattle and a menagerie of dogs, cats, and a chicken named Mrs. Clucky.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

River Teeth Essay Selected for Best American Essays

Riverteeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative, founded by Dr. Dan Lehman and Dr. Joe Mackall of the Ashland English Department and still housed here, has had an essay selected for Best American Essays 2014. This is the second year in a row that an essay from River Teeth has been selected for Best American Essays. Chris Offutt's essay "Someone Else" has received this honor. Read more about it!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

English Major Wins Prize for Best Honors Capstone Project

English major Naomi Eberly's Honors Capstone Project, “Manning the Empire: The Pedagogical Function of Sherlock Holmes and Phileas Fogg in the Late Victorian Period,” was recognized at the Honors Program Cording Ceremony with the Howard O. Rowe Scholarship for best Honors Capstone project.  According to Dr. Chris Swanson, Director of the Honors Program, "The award is given to the student whose Honors Capstone Project is considered to be the best among his or her peers."

Eberly wrote the following reflection on her experience with the project.

As a member of the Honors Program, I knew two things: 1) I had to do a Capstone Project and 2) I wanted to love my topic so much that a year of studying and writing about it would not dampen my enthusiasm for it.  When looking at past projects, examples from past English majors were sorely lacking, so I drew on my previous English classes for inspiration.  The three most influential classes on my project were Literature & Film, the Victorian Period, and Women’s Literature.  My film class introduced me to the show Sherlock, which sparked an obsession with Sherlock Holmes that involved an entire summer of reading Holmes’ stories and watching numerous film and television incarnations of the great detective.  The Victorian Literature class introduced me to Dr. Sharleen Mondal, who taught me how to craft well-written scholarly arguments and that the social issues surrounding texts are important to consider when working with literature.  The syllabus initially included a Holmes novel, which proved to me that it was possible to look at Holmes critically.  Finally, Women’s Literature emphasized taking an intersectional approach to novels by looking at how race, gender, and class work together within a narrative, in order to fully understand the world the novels were published in.

I decided to compare two of my favorite literary characters: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.  I began by wanting to look at why these characters were popular when they were written, as well as continued to intrigue readers (and viewers of films and television shows).

Combing through databases and requesting dozens of books from the library that dealt with my characters was only a start for this paper.  Scholarly articles, post-colonial theory, author biographies, you name it; if it referenced the Victorian period, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne, cultural studies, or detectives, I tried to read it.  I got to work closely with Dr. Mondal, who graciously let me borrow numerous books and pointed me in the direction of other sources.  As I read, I met with her biweekly to talk about common themes throughout the sources and how they connected with Holmes and Fogg.  These meetings were work, but we managed to have fun with the material as well.  After several months, we organized common themes and began to chart out how to approach the writing.  The fifty to 100 page limit was daunting, but by breaking it down into chapters that had several points to argue, it suddenly became a very reasonable range to aim for. 
Entitled “Manning the Empire: The Pedagogical Function of Sherlock Holmes and Phileas Fogg in the Late Victorian Period,” my project argued that Holmes and Fogg taught readers lessons about the British Empire as it faced crises at home as well as in colonial possessions abroad.  I examined how Holmes and Fogg fashioned themselves as unique in England and how that allowed them to “protect” the Empire through detection and travel, respectively.  My second chapter looked at how women in the stories supported the colonial masculinity advocated by Holmes and Fogg.  My final (and favorite) chapter examined Dr. Watson and Passepartout and how their role as the sidekicks also supports colonial masculinity.

The defense was not as terrifying as I had imagined.  By the time I finally presented my project, I understood my topic, my argument, and how it fit within current scholarship.  This doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous, but once I started I knew it had all come together.  Even the questions afterwards were not as daunting as I had imagined them to be.  I’m so glad I had the chance to spend a year with one of my favorite professors and some of my favorite books.  And yes, I still adore my topic!