Friday, August 14, 2015

Professor Deborah Fleming Discusses Research and Creative Activity

By Hilary Donatini
Professor Deborah Fleming agreed to answer some questions about her active program of research and creative activity here at AU.

Q: In addition to teaching and service, you maintain an active writing and research program. Could you discuss some of your recent presentations and publications?
A: Recent presentations include "W. B. Yeats and Ecocriticism" at two conferences and fiction readings in Columbus and Mansfield.

Q: Describe your works in progress. 
A: My current work in progress is my third poetry collection.  My first collection, "Morning, Winter Solstice," was influenced by James Wright and focused on nature poetry of two local bioregions; my second, primarily influenced by W. B. Yeats, treats the themes of love, art, death, and war and uses many landscapes.  About half the poems are formalist.  

The third, influenced by Robinson Jeffers, uses landscapes as far apart as Alaska and Nepal and explores the issue of how the greatest ecological disaster in history--climate change--is related to our myth-making.  I am also working on my third novel about three rural women from different generations.

Q: What do you value most about writing?
A: What I most value about writing is the chance to use language to and metaphor to explore ideas.  

Q: How does your research and creative activity complement your work in the classroom?
A: Research and creative activity are not separate from the classroom because I teach works by the writers who are the subjects of my research; when I teach creative writing I can draw on my own experience to help students with the challenges of writing and revision.

Q: You have taught at Ashland for over twenty years. How has your research and creative activity developed over the course of your career? 
A: I had one scholarly book in press when I came here and have finished the second as well as scholarly essays and two edited collections.  I still have one article on Yeats that I want to finish.  My primary interest was always Yeats.  

I always wrote poetry but in the last twenty years I have written more of it and begun to write fiction and nonfiction seriously.  Recently I also wrote a screenplay.  Scholarly work inspires and enhances the creative work and is by far the most difficult type of writing I do because of the time research requires and the tremendous amount of organization.  

Among the creative genre, fiction is the hardest because of the difficulty of avoiding sentimentality and cliche. Although no writing is easy, I find poetry presents fewer challenges because I have been writing poetry so many more years.  Not every writer would have the same experience.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Student Intern Shares Experience at MFA Residency

By Andrew Clough, Creative Writing and English major

Ashland University offers a pretty hefty list of
undergraduate majors and minors. This list extends even further when you take into consideration the masters programs that are offered as well. One of these programs is the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This  is a very fun and interesting program for which I had the pleasure to be an intern. As an intern I got to drive students, faculty, and visiting writers to and from the airport, as well as shuttle them around the town. This left plenty of time for some great conversation. Anything from writing techniques and stylistic choices to the joys of everyday life as a muse, and even a certain love of cheesy poofs, was discussed in the many trips. This alone was an incredible experience. On top of the personal conversations with published writers and faculty alike, there was also the experience of sitting in on seminars for writing improvement, visiting writer and faculty readings, and thesis defenses of graduating students.

It was a refreshing experience to be surrounded by a group of writers with a passion for the creative aspects of English. As an undergrad life can get pretty busy and certain activities like pleasure reading and writing can get pushed aside in order to accommodate the vast amounts of homework and activities that go on during the school year and during the summer. Forty-hour work weeks take time and energy away from these creative endeavors, but the creativity and passion surrounding the MFA students and faculty was a great variation to the typical routines of the summer. Meal time conversations with everyone in the program revealed that they too were looking for a change of pace and to pursue the passion of writing. While the seminars and conversations were a great experience and the visiting readers were spectacular, I particularly enjoyed the faculty readings. I loved hearing them read their own personal writings and getting to see a different side to the professors that I usually only see in a classroom environment. It was great fun and I recommend to all people interested in English and Creative Writing looking into applying as an intern or eventually enrolling personally into the MFA program, it was great fun and helped to improve my own thought process and writing technique.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Student Spotlight: Danielle Wright, Integrated Language Arts Major

Q: You're an Integrated Language Arts major. What drew you to ILA?

A: My junior year of high school, we were reading The Scarlet Letter. We were only a little bit through the book and I was doing the readings but I wasn't truly getting the deeper meaning. Then my teacher explained how all the things actually represented something else.
I had missed all the allusions, metaphors, and symbolism. I had never known a book could hold that much depth and craftsmanship. It was an "ah-ha" moment and all of literature sort of opened up to me and I said to myself, "If I could give that moment to even one kid, how amazing would that be?" To be the person who takes the words on the page and decodes them for others became my passion and purpose in life.

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

A: My favorite class is easily the Shakespeare class with Dr. Weaver. There are really two reasons why this class stands apart from all the rest for me. First, before that class, my entire experience with Shakespeare consisted of flying through Hamlet my senior year of high school. I felt like an embarrassment to English nerds everywhere for not having read more of his works so getting to read half a dozen of his plays and have them explaimed at a college level was like a rite of passage for me. The second reason is because Dr. Weaver is an even bigger book nerd than I am and I love it. You get used to the funny looks people give you when you start crying or laughing or ranting because of a book. Most people don't invest themselves that fully into what they read. Dr. Weaver does and it was refreshing in a semester of mostly core courses to get that passion for the material that I strive for.

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

A: I am an Ashbrook Scholar and I work around eight hours a week in the Center as an intern. I never meant to enjoy political science courses but the philosophy side of it is extremely interesting to me. I have also been on Student Senate for three years now and am about to start my year as the Senior Class President. I like feeling like I am making a difference on our campus and helping my fellow students. Any spare time I get between all of this and mountains of English homework is spent with my friends or watching outrageous amounts of Netflix.

Q: How are you spending your summer?

A: This summer, I got a great experience to work with a local company called Abilities in Action. Their purpose is all about helping to place people with special needs into a job that is right for them and allow people who would normally be over looked to earn a living on their own. Over the summer they have a youth program where kids 16-18 get placed in a job for one month. My role as a job coach is to transport the kids to the job site and basically make sure they are doing what they should and help explain things to them if there is a task they don't understand. I am currently with a boy and a girl doing all the weeding at a KOA campsite and it has been a real eye-opening experience. Im hoping I can use what I learn at this job and apply it in my teaching career.

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

A: When people ask me what my favorite book is, I tell them to think of all the boring books they read in high school and my favorite is probably in there. I love the classics like Pride and Prejudice, The Giver, and Fahrenheit 451. My favorite is definitely Wuthering Heights. It's a tragic love story that's so twisted and dark that I couldn't put it down. As for modern books, my taste is very sporadic. I really love John Green. Even though he writes for tweens, his characters are what really draw you in to the piece. I also enjoy Stephen King novels for the same reason. His story lines are dark and exaggerated and even grotesque at times but he makes me fall in love with his characters until I have to know what happens to them.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Director of the MFA Program Looks Forward to Residency

By Hilary Donatini

Professor Stephen Haven, Director of Ashland's MFA, agreed to answer some questions about the approaching residency—two weeks of intensive creative activity on AU's campus.

HD: What would you like to highlight about the upcoming residency? What would you like to share about particular visiting writers or faculty?

SH: For the first time since the start of the MFA Program in 2007 we have visiting writers in three rather than in only two genres. The novelist, short story writer (and poet) Patricia Henley will present a reading from her fiction on Sunday July 19 and a Craft Seminar on Monday July 20 (all MFA Summer Residency readings take place at 7:00 PM, with Craft Seminars every weekday afternoon at 1:00 PM). Then the celebrated poet, Patricia Smith, as fully known for her poetry performances as for the high quality of her writing, will read on Wednesday July 22 and present a Craft Seminar on Thursday July 23. Finally the novelist, short story writer, and memoirist Lee Martin will read from his nonfiction on Monday July 27 and present a Craft Seminar on Tuesday July 28. Patricia Smith and Patricia Henley have both been National Book Award finalists. Lee Martin has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

HD: Which events are open to the public?

SH: All 7:00 PM readings and all 1:00 PM Craft Seminars are open to the public. The only MFA Summer Residency events closed to the public are the small-group three-hour weekday-morning student workshops and graduating-student thesis defense sessions, usually held in the later afternoons.

HD: What else would you like to share about the MFA program?

SH: During the MFA Residency there are many wonderful readings and craft seminars by writers other than our three main visiting writers. There is a reading every Sunday and weekday nights at 7:00 PM and a Craft Seminar every weekday and Sunday afternoon, from Sunday July 19 through the final afternoon session, Friday July 31 (no evening reading on July 31). Some full-time Ashland University professors will be reading from their creative work, as well as Ashland University Honored Visiting faculty members who regularly teach in the MFA Program. There will also be three visiting editors who are also writers presenting readings and jointly taking part in a panel discussion on the digital age and the future of publishing, Saturday July 25, 10:00-12:00. 

Honored Visiting faculty members and Ashland University MFA students come to campus for the two-week residency from about 25 different states. Students study online during the fall and spring semesters and take part in three Summer Residencies--one at the beginning of their two years in the program, one mid-way through the program, and one campus residency after completing their second year in the program, as students are preparing to graduate.

The full schedule of the 2015 Summer Residency events can be found here:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Renee (Fannin) Beck Featured in Alumni Video

Check out this video featuring Renee (Fannin) Beck, class of 2013, Integrated Language arts major:

Renee wrote an "Alumni Spotlight" post for this blog in 2013:

We are so proud of you, Renee!

Monday, June 29, 2015

One Rice Season in Taiwan as an Exchange Professor

By Dan Lehman, Professor of English

When I arrived in Taiwan, accompanied by my wife Barbara, to teach American Literature and composition at Providence University in Taichung, the rice paddies were bare, dark, and flooded. We have seen one crop grow a brilliant green, age to yellow, be shorn, and the stubble burned for a new crop in the flooded fields. Overall, it has been a wonderful experience that we will always treasure, and it's now time to go home. 

Dan and Barbara Lehman in a Taipei, Taiwan, city park not long after arriving in February.
Reflections on teaching: Taiwanese students are almost unfailingly sweet and polite. Any grouchy old-timers who bemoan the lack of respect for professors among modern-day students should definitely go to Taiwan. In fact, I found my students too polite and respectful for the most part and worked hard for a semester to encourage them to think and write critically and to speak up in class. Initially, they simply craved my telling them exactly what they needed to know so they could be sure to give me exactly what I wanted. As one said: “In the China way, we are not requested to explore or to create—just to receive.” By the end, at least some had discovered that their own ideas and research were worth sharing and could write a five-page essay instead of four-paragraph essays by rote on trivial topics.

About 10 percent of the students in my classes were on exchange from the People’s Republic of China, which added depth and diversity. On the whole, the PRC students tended to have better English and a bit more confidence in class, perhaps because they were the sorts of students willing to risk a foreign exchange. One student, who shall remain nameless (hey, the Chinese hackers get into more systems than you think), turned in an honest and somewhat devastating critique of her government’s policies on childbirth (generally one child per family, which in extreme cases can prompt families to discard infant females) that, though I did not prompt the topic, exemplified the sort of critical inquiry that I was encouraging. I couldn’t help noticing that she wrote it by hand rather than using a computer to generate it. Another female student from the PRC told me that her parents gave her the English name “Talent” in direct defiance of the Chinese proverb: “A woman without talent is therefore virtuous.” She proved to be my best student in either class. Her parents not only celebrated their female child, but provided a way for her to study in a democracy—certainly a memory for me to cherish.

Dan and his composition students at Providence University. Also pictured are Barbara Lehman and Dan's daughter and granddaughter.
My American Literature class had 64 students and thus much less opportunity for this sort of exchange, in that it had to be mostly lecture during the three-hour weekly class on topics from Huck Finn to American postmodernism. The saving grace was that the students remained fascinated by American literature and culture, particularly by frank discussions of the blemishes in our past: slavery, the racism of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and the like. I scrupulously avoided Chinese or Taiwanese politics in both classes, but was willing to answer questions about the U.S., so long as they knew that mine was only one opinion. Their interest in all things American seemed unquenchable. In fact a professor at a major university in Taipei reported last week in a Taipei Times op-ed piece that he polled his students on whether they would rather re-unify with China, form an independent Taiwan, or become the 51st American state. By a landslide they chose the latter option, he said. Intriguing! Barbara and I will always remember the island’s young students who find themselves in a land of uncertain future: in many ways cut off from the world by power and circumstance, but so hopeful for what their island might be and become.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

River Teeth Conference 2015

by Hilary Donatini

From May 29-31 nearly eighty writers gathered on Ashland's campus to discuss the craft of creative nonfiction. The fourth annual River Teeth Nonfiction Conference featured readings and craft talks by some of the most exciting writers working in this burgeoning genre. I attended "A Conversation with Cheryl Strayed," which is available to view on the "Conference Archives" page along with numerous other gems from previous River Teeth conferences. 

A Conversation with Cheryl Strayed
I was struck by how practical the session was for any kind of writer, including someone like me who writes in scholarly rather than creative forms—although I try to be creatively analytical, if such a thing is possible! Our very own Joe Mackall focused much of the conversation on some passages from her best-selling book Wild, but Strayed's discussion of her revision process and evolution of the manuscript spoke to me as an academic writer. Strayed was so eloquent and wise that I found myself jotting down whole sentences to contemplate and absorb. 

The session left me with a sense of pride that our campus drew this caliber of speaker (Strayed has read her work at Ashland before, so seeing her again was a treat) and audience as well as possibility—for myself as a writer and for everyone struggling to make sense of the world through words on a page. 

Join us for the River Teeth Conference 2016!