Monday, October 31, 2016

A Tribute to Dr. Stratton

By Diana Popa, class of 2011, English and Spanish major

Grammar and Usage was the first class I took that counted towards my English major, and I had the privilege of having Dr. Stratton as my instructor. In truth, my first impression of him was a little bit cryptic. He spent the whole class period talking in analogies, many of which involved blue and red Chinese vases. I took copious notes, furiously scribbling down all manner of Chinese vase-related things, trying to decode some kind of message. I’m relieved to report that I eventually decoded most of what he was saying in that first class period—at least I think so.

Indeed, Dr. Stratton taught me many things both inside and outside of the classroom. He taught me how to properly diagram a sentence. He gave me my first book on literary theory. He told me it was to address the “theory mongers” I would face in graduate school. Beyond that, he even included an essay inside the text on his perceptions of my writing style. I distinctly remember feeling confused. I recall saying something along the lines of, “But Dr. Stratton, I thought I was supposed to write the essays?” And he merely replied, “Oh, is that so?” He could be quietly subversive in that way.

Upon taking his Modern Poetry class, I sat there wondering if he would remember me from his previous class two years prior. He called off all the names on the roster in standard form, but when he got to my name he stopped and gasped, exclaiming, “Popa, I nearly fell out of my chair with excitement when I realized you’d be in my class!” I was caught off guard, but couldn’t help smiling. That was Dr. Stratton: alternately joyful, then serious.

On one memorable occasion, I sought out his advice on an advising-related issue that neither my adviser nor I could solve. I walked into his office, a completely distraught mess. In contrast, he was calm, entirely calm. He helped me sort through a problem that if left unsolved would have meant graduating with one degree instead of two. Instead of solving the problem for me, he raised critical questions that pointed me in the right direction. Without him, I honestly do not know if I would have graduated with two degrees in May of 2011.

Though Dr. Stratton was never my official academic adviser, he was perhaps my most sought-out adviser. There was something about his calm, and at times, enigmatic demeanor that drew me to him. His office of books on the verge of tottering from their shelves was as surprisingly comforting as he was.

Ultimately, Dr. Stratton was the kind of man who saw things in people that they perhaps did not always see in themselves. He was also a big part of why Ashland University’s English department felt like home to me. One thing I know is certain; I will always remember him and his blue, and his red, and perhaps even yellow, Chinese vases.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why Study English at AU?

Why Study English At AU?

By María Cardona, Creative Writing major

As I start my senior year here at Ashland University, I can’t help but think of my time here and all the great memories that I’ll always treasure. I’ve made great friends, I’ve grown, and changed, and matured and I owe a lot of that to the English Department. I’ll be honest—in my first years here I wasn’t as involved with my Department as I should have been, but I finally began to click with it my junior year and I found a home.

Walking into Bixler on freshman year made me nervous and excited. I remember my first English Comp class with Dr. Brown and how stressed I was about having to write papers for the next four years. Soon enough though, my worries were put to rest. I didn’t feel intimidated by my professor; I actually felt encouraged to reach out for help. When the semester was up I felt super-prepared not only to write essays but to really think critically and voice my opinions in paper, and eventually, in class.

While outside of class I’ve become a bit of a chatterbox, I was never one to raise my hand and say what I think. I always felt like my answers and opinions would be judged, like I wasn’t as smart as the other students, or just scared or intimidated by teachers and classmates. One of the greatest things I owe to this lovely department is that I’ve found the courage to use my voice and speak up in and out of class.

It took until my sophomore year but when I took Postcolonial Literature with Dr. Mondal, I started to feel more comfortable with expressing my ideas – even if I knew they might be controversial. Eventually, I went back to Dr. Brown in Modern Novel my junior year and the days when I didn’t raise my hand and spoke up in class were few. However, if it hadn’t been for the support of my professors I know I wouldn’t have made it that far.

It started off with paper conferences when I’d meet with Dr. Mondal, first for English Comp II and later for Postcolonial Literature, and share ideas I wanted to put down on paper but was shy to still express in class. Then I’d find myself talking in the halls with them or dropping by their offices to talk about a class reading or my opinions on a novel or play (just ask Dr. Waterman!)

With each passing class, I felt more and more comfortable and continued to fall in love with the English program at AU. I love Dr. Weaver’s jokes in class – how he always tries to modernize Greek Literature for us and forces us to really think about the intentions behind a character’s actions. I love Dr. Flemings’ passion for poetry – especially her love for Yeats, which led me to studying abroad in Ireland this semester!

I love how I can simply drop by Dr. Donatini’s office to say hello and how comfortable I am talking to her about actual English department stuff or books, or life in general. I love walking into Dr. Waterman’s office and joking or venting but I also love how her classes and book choices give me headaches with how deep we get into discussing them. I love that the books, essays and plays I’ve read in my classes have made me passionate about so many causes and have allowed me to find a voice. I love Dr. Brown’s open-mindedness, her encouraging nature and the amazing directions she takes in both reading discussions and paper ideas.

I love Dr. Mondal’s world views and how she takes us outside our American world and shows us other realities. I also love how she really motivates us to analyze texts down to periods and commas because it all has intent. I love Dr. Mackall’s lightheartedness in class but also his advice and encouragement to pursue ideas and go far with them. I love Dr. Grady’s energy, her passion and drive and her ability to make us think outside the box.

I am beyond thankful to my department for their encouragement, support, hard work, dedication – and most of all, for sharing their brilliant minds with us. While I have not been blessed with the opportunity to have a class with each professor in the department, I’ve met many of them and they are superb human beings and even better professors. I no longer get nervous upon entering Bixler because when I cross that threshold I am home. Come study English at AU, because you will not only leave with a great degree, but also a great understanding shaped by great minds.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dr. Deborah Fleming, Professor of English, to Give Reading

Dr. Deborah Fleming, Professor of English, will be giving a reading of poetry from her new collection titled, “Into a New Country,” on Monday, Oct. 10, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Ronk Lecture Hall of the Schar College of Education building on the AU campus. The event is free and open to the public and refreshments will be served.  

This book, which is her second collection of poetry, was published earlier this year by Cherry Grove Press.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

With a Twinkle in His Eye: John Stratton, Educator

By Becky (Myher) Schaaf, class of 2004, English major

I had the pleasure of having Dr. Stratton as my professor in a class that he co-taught with his wife, Dorothy. It was an Honors course called "The Harlem Renaissance." As an English major, I flew through so many novels throughout my time at AU, so I know the books that remain with me and come to mind most often must've resulted from courses that were particularly meaningful. This was one of them.

I remember how fascinated I was with the dynamics of a husband and wife co-teaching a course. It was entertaining to see their love expressed through annoyance and amusement, irritation and agreement, frustration and acquiescence as they each shared their respective opinions. Perhaps it was so interesting to me as a young, unmarried person to see two such different people sharing their passion for a course and for life and yet holding their ground in the areas most important to them.

I have shelved memories, both in physical and mental form, of works such as The Big Sea, The Blacker the Berry, and Passing. I often return to these texts, both literally and figuratively, as I have always found literature the best way of processing the happenings in our world. After reading works full of so much beauty and pain, how can we ever not have some sort of basic understanding of the hearts of our fellow humans? (Sometimes, I think world problems could be solved by those who read deeply and enter a world so far beyond our own.)

I remember, in particular, a wonderful conversation about African American churches and a fellow student, blond and fair-skinned, who shared how much she loved attending these services because of the passion and emotion she felt when she was there, and "after all, if I'm passionate about the Word when I'm there, isn't that a great place to be!?" Dr. Stratton always helped facilitate these sorts of discussions, pushing his students far past their boundaries to a place of being able to sit with some new discomfort and consider it for awhile.

During class discussions, I found myself disagreeing with Dr. Stratton most of the time (likely to his amusement!), but his responses, though calm and collected, always pushed me to find my true feelings on a topic rather than skating on the surface. He always had a twinkle in his eye when engaged in disagreeing with or challenging a student, and as I reflect on that now, I believe he must've gotten particular enjoyment either from being just a little bit difficult or from watching his students muck through our own value systems and come out with some clarity. Perhaps a little of both. 

After graduation, I enjoyed seeing Dr. Stratton (and Dorothy) on walks around our neighborhood, stopping by to smell their roses, and exchanging stories of my children and their grandchildren. On a regular basis, I find myself being thankful for my varied experiences at Ashland University, and much of my gratitude goes to professors like Dr. Stratton who were always challenging, engaging, thoughtful, funny, and kind. I will truly miss him and all he represents to me, the university, Ashland and the world.