Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Alumni Spotlight: Erica Brindley

By Erica Brindley, English and Creative Writing major

When I went to college at Ashland University, magic happened. I somehow wound up in the English 101 class of Dr. Joe Mackall. His first assignment? A personal narrative about whatever we wanted. So on a hot August night in my dorm room, I sat down and wrote about attending a KISS and Aerosmith concert–about how the grass felt on the lawn that night, cool yet sticky. About how I somehow felt a kinship with people I didn’t know, and people I’d never really know, and how I felt more comfortable in decades prior to my time than in my own time. I wrote about the chains that bounced off my hip as I climbed the hill of Germain Amphitheatre in Columbus, Ohio, and how I held the callused hands of a boy who kept me at skin’s length even though I wanted more than anything to be a part of him.

I turned in the paper. The next class, Joe kept me after. The humid air had crept in through the windows and the sweaty plastic of the desk stuck against my forearms. I felt like I was suffocating. “What’s your major?” he asked.

“Undecided…but leaning toward education?” I half-asked. Was there a right answer?

“No. Creative writing. You have something here,” Joe said. Apparently there was. When I left Miller Hall that day, two weeks into my college career, I felt like I had direction for the first time. The flowers were brighter and the sky was bluer, and I felt like Joe had uncovered a part of me that I didn’t even know existed, like he had peeled back my own calluses and exposed a raw, undeveloped part of me.

As with any “new skin,” this part of me was sensitive. I babied it, wouldn’t fully walk on it right away. It was an odd sensation, having someone believe that what I had to say was worth something, that my insights meant something. That my story was one that people might want to hear.

I spent many nights at the computer, my chair tilted back on two legs, trying to find my reality. Reality. It felt so foreign then. It felt like a thing of value.

All through college, I pecked away at my keyboard. When I couldn’t write, I turned on Metallica, turned off the lights, and hung upside down on my futon. I tried.

Four quick years later, I was getting ready to graduate when Joe asked me, “What do you think about grad school?”

I shrugged. After a barrage of questions from my mother about what the hell I was going to do with a Creative Writing degree, I decided that grad school would only be a waste of money.

“University of North Carolina at Wilmington. You should apply. A friend of mine, Philip Gerard, is down there. You’ll learn a lot from him,” Joe said.

So I applied. I got accepted. I didn’t respond until they started calling me and asking me what I was going to do. I decided I wouldn’t take it without a teaching assistantship, and the next day, I got the assistantship. So in August of 2007, I moved to North Carolina with a fire in my hands to write. I had managed to keep the skin that Joe revealed open–vulnerable, yet livable–everything that a writer should be. Because if a writer is not vulnerable, are they really a writer?

The truth was that Philip Gerard was wonderful. I felt comfortable with him much like I felt comfortable with Joe. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2010 with an MFA.

That same year, I was hired at Foundation Software (a company out of Cleveland that writes/supports construction accounting software) to do all their writing and to act as a creative source for marketing campaigns, headlines, etc. September 2013 will mark my third anniversary with the company. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Alumni Spotlight: Seth Snow

Seth Snow graduated as an Integrated Language Arts major in 2007. He applied for a job as a seventh-grade teacher and was hired to teach a “great books curriculum.” He proceeded to teach his seventh-graders Ray Bradbury’s story “The Veldt.” Some of the administrators felt this was too difficult for these students, but when one of them, while visiting Seth’s class, asked a student who had been pointed out to Seth as hopeless case gave a very intelligent account of the story, he found that this criticism would not stand up. As the class went forward, a number of parents began reporting to him that they had never seen their children interested in reading, but they were now reading without being made to do so.

In the process of discussing “The Veldt,” Seth had occasion to refer to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and presented a passage from that play for the class to talk about. They did so and got so excited that they asked for another passage to discuss. Having done this, they asked whether they could read the whole play. Seth said that that probably would not be possible during class time. Then they asked whether they could meet after school to talk about it. Seth said that would depend on the interest. He passed around a sheet, and seventy-five students signed up to meet after school to talk about Shakespeare. However, his career there was cut short when he was let go.

In 2008, Seth was hired by Danville High School in Danville, OH, a small town of about 1,000 people. He brought the same commitment to teaching at a high level that he had shown in his previous job, but here this approach met with more favor. He has regularly taught texts like The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, Julius Caesar, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Antigone along with poems of Keats, Frost, Dickinson, and Tennyson. He teaches all of these texts at a high level, taking, for example, three months to do The Odyssey. This approach has paid off for him as witnessed by the fact that, when I visited him once for a discussion of The Odyssey, I found that his students knew this text far better than mine did.

Seth has sent students to Brigham Young University, Dennison University, and Kenyon College. The BYU student was returned a paper in her freshman English class with this comment on it. “Wow. In 30 minutes, you put together a well-written and insightful analysis paper. No sweat. You got this. Major in English. It’s a good idea.”

He has also sent a student to Kenyon College where he is now a senior majoring in philosophy. This student wrote the following to Seth during his freshman year: "The critical examination skills that I learned in your class are invaluable. I know now not only how to look at a problem but how to look around and through it. This is all while taking into account the bits of information that I know and realizing that there is some guesswork involved. Using that process while implementing basic logic for the guesswork, I have been able to grasp different subjects and topics quickly, followed by developing my understanding of them even faster if I have basic instruction."

These comments show why Seth is so highly regarded by both students and parents. One parent, for example, asked whether he would still be there in five years to teach her younger daughter. If not, she was thinking she might have to make other arrangements for her education.

All these things show the incredible impact one of Ashland University’s graduates has had on the school and on the community where he is working. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Alumni Spotlight: Tom Sweo, Tech/Game Writer

Tom Sweo writes, "Since graduating in May of 2012, I've been working two jobs. The first is a full-time job with the 3E Company in Canton, Ohio, doing technical support and quality assurance. Recently I've been doing technical writing as part of a team overhauling the training manuals that we send out to clients around the world working to standardize Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for their specific needs and country regulations. These sheets cover important safety and environmental information that is often required by national and international government organizations, such as OSHA or the EPA in the United States.  My courses in grammar and usage and my work experience in tech support for Ashland University were good preparation for this position.

My second job involves tele-commuting with On the Lamb Games in Palm Coast, Florida. I connected with this game company while on vacation in Orlando last summer and have been writing rules (crunch) and fictional stories (fluff) for their games since September. "Crunch," or the game rules, gives the game substance. "Fluff" is the historical background to the game-- the game universe.  On the Lamb's first major release since I joined is coming up in two weeks, when we release a grid-based (like a chess board) tactical game called Endless: Fantasy Tactics. The other release we're working on is a historical parody game called Brushfire, which mimics Earth's history up until the late 19th century but features animals instead of humans (similar to the Redwall series by late author Brian Jacques).  The creative writing and literature classes I took at Ashland have helped me work with Matthew Whitehouse, our lead writer, to create short stories in the style of mid-nineteenth century authors.  Another part of my job with On the Lamb is traveling to nearby gaming trade shows and teaching people our games; my teaching and presentation experience from my ILA work comes in handy here."

While the language arts skills Tom got from his classes have been important to his success, he notes that his extracurriculars and outside interests at Ashland were helpful too.  In addition to his work experience with Ashland's IT support, he learned of the job at 3E through his brothers in the TKE fraternity.  His work with On the Lamb allows him to follow his long-held passion for creative writing and gaming.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

AU Low-Residency Program Ranked in Poets & Writers MFA Index

From the Ashland MFA blog: "The annual MFA issue of Poets & Writers is out, and Ashland University's MFA program is listed among the 26 low-residency programs featured.

Of the 47 low-residency MFA programs currently available in the United States (Association of Writers and Writing Programs), AU ranks second in job placement, fourth in fellowship placement, and 11th in selectivity.  While the program did not place in a six-year popularity survey, it placed 19th in the popularity survey for 2011." 

Read more here

English Course Offerings for Spring 2014

English 217: British Literature
Dr. Hilary Donatini
MWF 10:00-10:50
Humanities Core

This is a twelve-week, three-credit hybrid course. Contact Professor Donatini for details.

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the famous British sense of humor? Get ready to laugh and raise the occasional eyebrow over some silly, sophisticated, and satirical texts. This section of English 217 will explore humor and wit in British literature in a range of works from Shakespeare to the present day. Texts will include the following: William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I; W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance; and Zadie Smith, White Teeth, in addition to selected comical poems and short stories.
Assignments: Two essays, two exams, quizzes, a presentation, class participation, as well as online discussion posts and participation.

English 303: Writer’s Workshop Screenwriting
Dr. Maura Grady
TTh 3:05-4:20 PM
Elective for the Creative Writing major and minor

This course familiarizes students with various approaches and techniques for writing feature film screenplays. Focus will be on dramatic structure, character, and dialogue, with the goal of producing a screenplay sample, a presentation treatment of the film, and shorter analytical assignments.  May be repeated once for credit.
Required text: Duncan, Genre Screenwriting: How to Write Popular Screenplays that Sell

English 304: The Short Story
Dr. David FitzSimmons
Humanities Core; Creative Writing elective

An intensive study of the short story, with particular attention paid to the narrative construction of representative short stories. Text(s) will draw from a variety of Anglophone authors. Although the course is primarily a study of the writings of others, students may have some opportunity to compose their own short fiction as part of the examination and interrogation of the short story genre. Course texts will include one or more short story anthologies. Written papers will be requisite in this 300-level course.
Probable Text: The Longman Anthology of Short Fiction: Stories and Authors in Context. Ed. Dana Gioia and R. S. Gwynn.
On Reserve: The Captive Imagination : A Casebook on The Yellow Wallpaper. Ed. Catherine Golden. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1992.

English 308: The Poem  
Dr. Deborah Fleming
TTh 9:25-10:40
Humanities Core; English Major and Minor elective; Creative Writing Major and Minor elective

Required Text: Ferguson, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, shorter fifth edition
Catalogue Description: An extensive analysis of poetic form on the basis of metrical, structural, and thematic elements. Discussion of representative poems from various literary periods.  Analysis of both open and closed poetic forms.
Course Objectives: The course objectives are to enable students to learn how to read and to write about poetry, to enhance their critical thinking ability by discussing the meaning of poetry, and to refine their analytical writing ability by writing about poetry. We will discuss poetry from throughout the periods of literature in English.     
Instructional Approach: The regular class format will be lecture and discussion.
Assignments: Two Midterm Exams, 15% each (30%); Paper One, 5-6 pages, 15%, an explication of the meaning of a poem, its imagery, and its figurative language ; Paper Two, 4-6 pages, 20%, an in-depth discussion of a poem, its imagery, its figurative language, and its metrical structure; Comprehensive Final Exam, 20%; Class Participation, 15%

English 309: African American Literature
Mr. Jay Robinson
MWF 12:00-12:50
Humanities Core and elective in Integrated Language Arts and the English and Creative Writing minors

We will read texts from a variety of genres. These texts focus on the experiences of African Americans in the contemporary urban environment of the middle to late 20th and early 21st centuries. Our critical analysis in a discussion/seminar format will examine how these works portray the lives and cultural practices of African Americans in such a context and how these texts comment on significant issues such as racial identity and race relations.

English 310: Literature for Adolescents
Dr. David FitzSimmons
Spring 2014
Integrated Language Arts requirement

Beginning with Jay Hosler’s highly publicized graphic novel Clan Apis (New York Times, NPR, Discover Magazine), we will examine a variety of young adult texts, always asking how they work (or, of course, how they don’t work!). Such rhetorical analyses will cover the genres of graphic novels, traditional novels, short stories, and poetry. We will underpin all our literary endeavors with Peter Rabinowitz’s theoretical text Before Reading. Individual papers will accompany in-class studies.

Course Texts: cummings, e. e. Selected Poems; Faulkner, William. Collected Stories; Hosler, Jay. Clan Apis; Johnson, Angela. A Cool Moonlight; Rabinowitz, Peter J. Before Reading; Silverstein, Shel. A Light in the Attic.

English 314: Gender Across Borders
Dr. Sharleen Mondal
MWF 11:00-11:50
Humanities Core; elective in Integrated Language Arts and the English and Creative Writing minors

In this section of ENG 314, we will explore the theme of crossing the borders which divide people by class, race, gender, sexuality, and religion.  Through exploring writing from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by authors from England, the U.S., and India, we will expand our understanding of how diverse writers tried to understand the norms which governed their societies and alternatives to those norms.  Assigned texts will likely include Sarah Grand's The Tenor and the Boy, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein's "Sultana's Dream," E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.
Assignments: Regular classroom participation in class discussion, short in-class presentations, regular reading quizzes, short literary analysis papers, and two longer literary arguments incorporating multiple sources.

English 315: German Literature in Translation
Dr. Maura Grady
TTh 1:40-2:55
Humanities Core and Border Crossings (GPS)

Through the reading of literary texts in English translation this course provides an overview of the literature and culture of the German-speaking countries during the period of what we usually call “modernism” and a little bit beyond.

Texts will be selected from the following: T. Fontane, Effi Briest; A. Schnitzler, Fräulein Else; T. Mann, Death in Venice (& possibly Tonio Kröger); F. Kafka, The Trial; G. Grass, The Tin Drum; H. Hesse, Steppenwolf; M. Frisch, Homo Faber; and H. Böll, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

English 324: The Modern Novel
Dr. Linda Joyce Brown
MWF 12:00-12:50

Humanities Core; elective for English major and minor and the Creative Writing major and minor.

This section of English 324 focuses on novels of modern multicultural America. We will read four or five novels that all engage (in different ways) with the question of what it means to “belong”—to a nation, to a culture, to a place.
Texts are likely to include some of the following: Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (1925); Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952); John Okada, No-No Boy (1956); Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker (1995); Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002); and Diana Abu-Jaber, Crescent (2003).

English 325 N: Major Writers Seminar: Jane Austen
Dr. Russell Weaver
MWF 1:00-1:50
Meets Requirement for the English Major

This course will cover Austen’s five greatest novels:  Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion.
Assignments: Take-home exams on Pride and Prejudice and Emma; presentations on Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility/Persuasion.

English 370: Russian Novel
Dr. Russell Weaver
MWF 2:00-2:50
Humanities Core and English Elective

In this course, we will be studying arguably the two greatest novels of all time, Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I certainly know of no novels, apart from Moby-Dick, perhaps, that can stand with them. I will ask you to read 300 pages of War and Peace over Christmas break so that you will not have so many pages during the semester.
Texts: Tolstoy, War and Peace (Norton Critical Edition); Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (Norton Critical Edition)
Assignments: Two take-home exams and two presentations.

English 371:  Literature and Film                                                                                
Dr. Gary Levine
MWF 11-11:50
Aesthetics Core (Note this is NOT Humanities Core).

An intensive examination of film with particular stress on visual narrative as it compares and contrasts to written literary narrative.  The course focuses on a close reading of both classic and contemporary motion pictures, with particular attention paid to shot composition, editing techniques, lighting, sound, and other technical elements of film, including casting and art direction.  Students will consider how these elements create a visual narrative that can be studied as an artistic and cultural expression. Each student will complete two extended essays (8-10 pages) due at the midterm and final examination periods of the course.  Students also will be required to complete 1-2 page response papers on the assigned date for each film/book combination. We will study 4-5 novels and their adaptations.  I’m a big fan of Alexander Payne and the Coen Brothers; I also like to include some of the up and coming women directors such as Lone Sherfig (An Education) or Deborah Granik (Winter’s Bone).  Note that while this is a core course open to all AU students, it will be taught at a fairly rigorous level to accommodate those students seriously interested in film; those looking just to satisfy a core requirement, while welcome, are strongly encouraged to use the S/U option.

English 411: Victorian Secrets
Dr. Sharleen Mondal
MWF 1:00-1:50
Meets upper-level requirements for English majors and minors, Creative Writing, and Integrated Language Arts

In this section of ENG 411, we will examine Victorian novels which have in common a narrative built around a provocative secret.  From detective fiction to imperial adventure to tales of wives with more than just one husband, the notion of the well-kept secret was central to some of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century.  We will investigate how these secrets--and the tales woven around them--enabled Victorian writers to work through some of the most pressing social issues of the period, including gender and marriage law, racial and class hierarchies, and British imperial power.  In addition to several shorter pieces, assigned texts will likely include some of the following texts: Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, Rudyard Kipling's Kim, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four, Sarah Grand's The Tenor and the Boy, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret.
Assignments: Short literary analysis papers, regular classroom participation in class discussion and occasionally leading discussion, regular reading quizzes, and two longer literary arguments incorporating multiple sources.

English 417: English Grammar and Usage
Dr. Deborah Fleming
TTH 12:15-1:30
ILA requirement; English major elective; Middle Childhood Generalist Endorsement requirement; English Language Arts Concentration major elective; English Minor elective

Required Text: Koln, Understanding English Grammar sixth or current ed.      
Instructional Format: Regular class format will be lecture, workshop, discussion.
Course Objectives: This course provides students with knowledge of grammar, syntax, and mechanics and fulfills NCATE requirements for teachers of English and Language Arts.  We will also study ways to use the vocabulary of grammar in the teaching of writing.
Assignments and Grades: Two midterm exams; final examination given at our scheduled final exam time; homework, quizzes, class participation; paper, five to seven pages

English 428: American Literature IV
Dr. Dan Lehman
Monday nights: 6:30-9:10
Meets upper-level requirements for English majors and minors, Creative Writing, Integrated Language Arts

English 428 aims to provide students with an in-depth understanding of major themes of American literature since the end of World War II. Against the backdrop of contemporary literary theory, the course offers an in-depth look at a rich variety of recent American literature: experimental novels, neo-realism, literary journalism/creative nonfiction, and contemporary American poetry. A recent offering of the course featured writing by Joan Didion, John Hersey, Paul Auster, Tim O'Brien, Toni Morrison, John Berryman, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, Kate Braverman, and others. Texts for Spring 2014 are likely to change substantially, but will feature a similarly savory potpourri. The course is a seminar and features in-depth reading, spirited conversation, and deeply analytical writing.