Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: Dan Ditlevson

By Dan Ditlevson, class of 2013, English major
Dan in front of the colossal statue of Yongchuan’s patron goddess
Working as an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor for the Chongqing University of Arts & Sciences has been a fulfilling opportunity in helping college-age students improve their foreign language skills in a personalized and relevant application. Additionally, living as an expatriate in Yongchuan, Chongqing, China, I have been receiving invaluable working and cultural experiences, which have been strengthening my adaptability and engagement within the professional and social sphere.
The countryside of Yunnan is lovely break from the continuous, busy city life.
Dating an East Asian Studies & Chinese Language major helped spark and cultivate my interest in China as a culture and country; eventually my partner and I both shared the desire to travel and work together outside the United States, which made China the perfect destination. However, making the decision to live and teach in China initially presented me with a bit of a shock upon arrival—especially without any formal training of the national language or an acute understanding of China’s social norms. Despite the inundation of unfamiliarity outside the classroom, Yongchuan’s citizens have been continually open to including me in their daily life even with the presence of a language barrier. Most notably, families encourage their children to call me “uncle” and offer hugs as a gesture of welcome and endearment. 
At night the ancient towns that surround the modern commercial center of the city look like glowing embers.

 Outside the work environment I take the opportunity in exploring all the facets of culture that my current community offers. With the least amount of effort I am able to come across thousands of years of history that manifests in the traditional food, customs, and ancient ruins in my surrounding community—a bus ride away can take a person to 1,000-year-old fishing towns, or to view massive ancient Buddhist rock carvings.
These pictures are of my favorite places around my university's campus.
Because this fall semester marked my professional teaching debut, facilitating and guiding the progress of the oral language skills of over 200 students for one contracted school year appeared to be a daunting challenge. Combating the impersonal classroom atmosphere, I try to help create a more personalized relationship with the English language and the speaker by placing less stress on grammar in the classroom. The students have been able to forget the anxiety of proper speech, which frees them to explore more creative options in expressing their opinions and emotions more accurately, whether through poetic imagery, iconic quotations, folk idioms, or personal anecdotes. Witnessing these students bringing the English language alive (even to the point of tears and laughter) profoundly affirms the importance of being able to express and perform a language that conveys the true reality of the individual.
These massive 1,000 year old Buddhist rock carvings can be found in the forests right outside Yongchuan’s city limits.
Above all, teaching in China has highlighted and further solidified the importance of communication in expressing and discovering myself—whether through language, cultural exchange, or through displaying emotional and physical expression. Without the engagement and immersive experience within Chinese society I could not fully appreciate and understand their spectacular culture. In regard to my time as a teacher in China, studying as an English major at Ashland University instilled the importance of understanding the English language as a living and multi-layered mode of communication and self expression. Despite not being an Integrated Language Arts major, or having a background in ESL instruction, Ashland University's English department has given me the intellectual resources necessary to facilitate a successful classroom environment, in which college students are able to use the English language as a personal resource for future opportunities of self-expression, communication, and employment. Although I do not see ESL instruction as being a long-term career for myself, yet my work experience of teaching in China has strongly built upon my educational foundation for further career opportunities.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: Maggie (McLinden) Layfield

Maggie with her husband, Daniel
By Maggie (McLinden) Layfield, Class of 2010, Integrated Language Arts major

“English majors can do anything.” I heard that more than a few times (both in college and out), and it sounded like the desperate chant of people trying to convince themselves that they could do something with their degree. Well, something aside from attempting to write a novel while working as a coffee shop barista. I suppose my family was grateful that I declared myself an Integrated Language Arts Education major (after a brief stint as a Math Education major), as it at least meant I could get a job as a teacher. Upon graduating, I did just that, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

At the age of nine I boldly declared to my neighbor that I wanted to be a poor English teacher living in a shack with my husband and many children. He chuckled and patronizingly patted me on the head, which only served to motivate me further. When it came time to graduate and plan my future, I knew I belonged in education and I belonged at Ashland University. From the first moment I visited there, I considered no other colleges. It knew it was the perfect blend of small town feel with the diversity that my own small town decidedly lacked. Not too far from home but not too close, and above all, the home of one of the best education programs in the state.
Maggie with Daniel on their wedding day
What I didn’t know until my first day of classes was how life-changing my time there would be, thanks in large part to the professors and classes. It wasn’t enough to simply learn how to teach and have a general knowledge of your subject; we were expected to push ourselves, expand our ideas, and challenge the material in front of us. I fell in love with reading and literature all over again as I took courses in everything from South African literature to 18th-century English novels. The last two years at Ashland were spent composing my Senior Thesis for the Ashbrook program, a labor of love that is, to this day, one of my greatest achievements and sources of pride.

Through a connection with another education major post-graduation, I found myself interviewing, accepting a position, and moving to New Mexico all within the span of a week. My time as an English teacher was short-lived, as I moved back to Ohio. I intended to get back into the classroom, but the market was incredibly competitive and it never happened for me. However, my time with Sylvan Learning and another fortuitous connection with an AU grad (who also happens to be my best friend), led me to Georgia, where I became an admissions advisor with a university in Atlanta and met my husband, Daniel.

Traveling for work in Sacramento with her coworker, Donna
To end this slightly chaotic journey, I now find myself as an account manager at NetSupport, a software company that specializes in tools for education. The classroom has changed so much with the influx of technology, and my goal is to help equip teachers with tools to make it more manageable so they can spend their time doing what they love—teaching. Most of my days are spent in communication with everyone from classroom teachers to IT directors. This entails a lot of phone calls and emails, and I am able to develop my own templates and work with marketing on campaigns as well. I serve as the unofficial copy-editor for all materials that go out, and occasionally they even let me out of the office for conferences! I’ve had the chance to travel across the country, including California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, and Florida.

I never expected to end up where I am, and if you’d told nine-year-old Maggie she would end up working for a software company, she would have scoffed. But life has taught me that it has a wicked curveball, and all you can do is prepare yourself for what it will throw at you next. English Majors are critical thinkers and creative problem solvers, taught to examine things closely and look at all possible interpretations. We succeed when others fail because we know what it is to spend 8+ hours up to our eyeballs in books as we research a specific phrase that a character used. I can say with conviction that we can, absolutely, do anything.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dr. Maura Grady Discusses New Book

Q: Provide an overview of your book The Shawshank ​Experience: Tracking the History of the World's Favorite Movie.

​A: The Shawshank ​Experience: Tracking the History of the World's Favorite Movie features in an in-depth analysis of the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption and its source text, Stephen King's 1982 novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption." The movie was filmed almost entirely in the Ohio counties of Ashland, Richland and Wyandot. The book delves into issues such as the significance of race in the film, the film's cinematic debt to earlier genres, the Gothic influences at work in the movie, and the representation of Andy's poster art as cross-gendered signifiers. The book also explores the history of the Ohio State Reformatory, which served as the primary filming location, and its relationship to the movie's fictional Shawshank Prison. The book also examines why this film has been such a popular and critical success, inspiring diverse fan bases online and in person at the filming sites. Lastly, it traces the creation of the local tourism industry surrounding the film, which last year drew over 100,000 visitors to Ohio.

 Q: How did the book project evolve?

A: The original project that led to this book was a collaboration with former Ashland University COBE Hospitality Management professor Dr. Richard "Robby" Roberson, Jr. (now at College of Coastal Georgia) in 2013. Dr. Robby (as ​his students call him) and I were looking to do some kind of project together, as I have a professional history in the tourism industry and he is a huge film fan! We decided to combine our official disciplines -- film history and fan studies (on my part) + tourism/hospitality (on his). We knew the Mansfield Convention and Visitors Bureau was organizing a "reunion" for cast, crew, and extras involved in the 1993 filming of Shawshank and that many people would be visiting the filming sites. We approached Jodie Puster-Snavely of the CVB in the summer of 2013, simply to ask if we could get permission to survey and interview fans. She not only said the CVB would be happy to have us do that, she asked us for help in planning the event. The CVB knows tourists, but they said they didn't know fans. What would fans want to do during the Reunion weekend? What kinds of activities would we recommend? We collaborated with the CVB to help plan several events, using Fandom Studies research to suggest possibilities. We designed a survey to measure what people were looking for and how happy they were with the activities on offer. The students of the Fall 2013 HN 390 course were our data collectors, having done a 4-week unit on Shawshank and Fan Studies with me. We gathered over 225 surveys and used the data to recommend changes to the marketing, merchandising, and attraction design for the Shawshank Trail (a collection of filming sites). We published the data in a peer reviewed Tourism journal called “The Shawshank Trail: A Cross Disciplinary Study in Film Induced Tourism and Fan Culture.” Link to article here: https://almatourism.unibo.it/article/view/4953

By 2014, Dr. Robby and I were on the planning committee for the 20th Anniversary Celebration event. The committee was hoping to invite Stephen King to the event. I contacted Dr. Tony Magistrale, a professor with whom I had studied at University of Vermont who is a scholar of Gothic literature, and who has written a number of books and articles on Stephen King, to get King's contact information. I knew King was an intensely private person who rarely attends public events, but I thought I could at least try (he never responded!). In chatting with Tony, I asked if HE might be interested in coming to give a keynote talk at Ashland University to kick off the weekend's events. I asked-- do you have a talk on Shawshank ready to go? He said, yes, he had just given a talk in Boston. We raised the funds to bring him out to give the talk (much of which ended up in chapter 3 of the book) and appear on a panel prior to the film's screening at the Renaissance Theater in Mansfield. He was so impressed with the Shawshank Trail that he suggested we write a book on Shawshank. Dr. Robby's contributions are noted for Chapter 4, where some of the data from the 2013 survey was used. The book came out in 2016. The book is available in hardcover, eBook format and print-on-demand paperback. The regular paperback will come out in December 2017.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Shawshank Experience? The most rewarding?

​A: I wrote ​most of chapter 2, which is a history of the Ohio State Reformatory, and finding out definite information on that place is so much more challenging than you might think! I interviewed a number of people who are connected with the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society and even visited some state archives for information. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding that building and to a large extent, it depends who you talk to what sort of history you get!

​The most rewarding part has absolutely been all the people I met working on the project, most of whom were interviewed for the book. A group of us from Ohio were invited to attend the 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Oscars theater in LA in 2014. We were 20 feet from Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, and Frank Darabont. A number of other cast and​
​crew were in attendance and it was pretty amazing. ​Also getting to work with the students on this project has been great-- the 2013 HN 390 class and the 2014 Marketing Research class that did another survey-- getting students out doing applied research is so fantastic.

Q: Who are the audiences for The Shawshank Experience? Who might be interested in this book?

​A: The audiences for the book include of course fans of the novella and the film, but also students of film history, fan studies, tourism studies, Gothic literature​, prison history, and Stephen King. We focus quite a lot on the shift in prison philosophy in the 20th century, so people interested in the issue of mass incarceration may find something in it for them. Ava DuVernay's Oscar-nominated documentary The 13th was not out while we were writing the book, but it's very relevant to understanding some of the changes that have occurred in our country's attitude toward the purpose of Corrections.

Q: What else would you like to share with the readers of this blog?

A: I want to urge everyone to get out to visit all the sites on The Shawshank Trail! Two sites are in Ashland and many more are in nearby Mansfield. The Ohio State Reformatory is a must-see. Check out the Trail's interactive website here: http://www.shawshanktrail.com/
​I especially encourage everyone to make the slightly longer trek out to Upper Sandusky to see the Wyandot County Courthouse (Andy's Trial) and The Shawshank Woodshop. The woodshop is featured in several key scenes and the owners, Bill and April Mullen, will give you a personal tour of the location and their extensive collection of posters, photographs, costumes, and props from the film. You can see the prison bus that brings Andy to Shawshank and the ambulance that takes Boggs away from it, along with many other goodies.

This film continues to find new fans through repeated showings on cable television and it is really an excellent piece of writing, directing, and film craft. The screenplay is widely regarded as excellent, it's a fascinating case of an adaptation success, it has the best (in my view) Director of Photography (aka cinematographer) in the business, Roger Deakins, to light the film. The score is haunting and beautiful. The film was nominated for 7 Oscars and took home zero but is arguably more durable as a cultural object than Forrest Gump, which won most of the awards that year. The 1990s were a fantastic period for American films and this film is a prime example of what was going right in Hollywood at the time.​

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fall 2017 English Department Course Descriptions

ENG 201 A&B Introduction to Creative Writing--Poetry Section
Dr. Deborah Fleming
MWF 10:00-10:50
Requirement for Creative Writing Major & Minor, Requirement for the Integrated Language Arts Major

In this seminar class we will discuss students' own poems as well as learn about poetic forms.

Requirements: During each week devoted to poetry, students will write one or several poems to be discussed in class; portfolio submitted at the end of the semester.

Text: Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms

ENG 301 Writers' Workshop: Poetry
Dr. Deborah Fleming
MWF 1:00-1:50
Requirement for Creative Writing Major & Minor, Elective in the Integrated Language Arts Major

In this seminar class we will discuss students' own poems as well as review poetic forms, technique, and style.

Requirements: One poem per week, reaction papers most weeks on assigned poems, one paper on an Ashland Poetry Press book; portfolio submitted at the end of the semester.

Text: Ferguson, et. al., Norton Anthology of Poetry, Shorter Fifth Edition or similar Norton Anthology of Poetry; one Ashland Poetry Press book.

ENG 314: Literature and Gender
Dr. Sharleen Mondal
MWF 2:00-2:50
Core Humanities, elective in the English and Integrated Language Arts majors, elective in the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

Our course theme for spring 2016 will be "Narratives of Cross-Cultural Encounter." The central question of our course will be: how do gender, race, class, and other such factors shape how literature is produced, reviewed by contemporary readers, and discussed in our current culture? Our readings will include essays, two novels, and relevant films. Students will write several short literary analysis papers and two longer literary arguments. There will also be two exams and two presentations. Readings are likely to be chosen from the following:

Short Essays:
John Ruskin, "Of Queens' Gardens"
John Stuart Mill, "Statement Repudiating the Rights of Husbands"
Virginia Woolf, "Professions for Women"

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Literary criticism on each novel

ENG 316: Postcolonial Literature
Dr. Sharleen Mondal
MWF 1:00-1:50 PM
Core Humanities, elective in the English and Integrated Language Arts majors, elective in the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

This Honors course will focus on postcolonial literature and film from South Asia, specifically India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. We will begin with the late colonial period, examining the end of British rule and struggle for independence, decolonization, modernity, and postcolonial nationhood through the perspective of poetry, short stories, essays, novels, and film. We will consider the nuances of everyday life under British rule, what it meant for colonized Indians to seek independence (inspired the Irish "Home Rule" movement), and the religious and linguistic tensions that led to the formation of Bangladesh.

Likely texts include:
Timothy Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing about Film
Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" (poem)
Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King (novella)
Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age (novel)
Selections from letters and speeches by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru
Gandhi (film, 1982, directed by Richard Attenborough)
Earth (film, 1998, directed by Deepa Mehta)
Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable (novel)
Literary criticism and historical materials as relevant

Class activities include regular discussion, reading quizzes, three exams, short close reading papers, two longer literary argument papers, and two presentations.

ENG 317: Studies in Shakespeare
Dr. Naomi Saslaw 

TTh 10:50 a.m.-12:05 p.m.
Core Humanities, requirement in the English and Integrated Language Arts majors, elective in the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

Students will read examples of Shakespearean histories, comedies, romances, and tragedies, exploring language and dramatic technique to develop an understanding of the structure and themes.

ENG 319: Modern Drama 

Dr. Jayne E. Waterman
TTh 1:40-2:55 p.m. (Hybrid)

Core Humanities, elective in the English and Integrated Language Arts majors, elective in the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

This course will begin with the close reading analysis of some powerful one-act plays from the late nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. We will also consider a range of full plays from, for example, Ibsen’s realism to Quiara Alegría Hudes’ triumph in trauma. All of the course texts will help the class explore key issues, ideas, texts, and contexts of European and American modern drama. The main focus of the course will be to examine plays from different periods and styles. Attention will also be paid to the cultural, historical, political, sociological, and dramaturgical aspects that surround and inform the works. Themes of gender and race, the tension of illusion and reality, and the crisis of the individual and the family will also be of significance as we explore modern dramatic sensibilities and discourse. In addition to the texts, the course will, where relevant, consider the adaptations and interpretations of the plays in performance and film.

Assignments: Two essays, a presentation, in class and online projects and participation.

ENG 333: American Studies – Nineteenth Century: The American 1890s
Dr. Linda Joyce Brown
MWF 12:00-12:50
Core Humanities; Elective in the English major, English minor, and Creative Writing minor

This course will provide an in-depth look at a pivotal decade in American cultural history: the 1890s. We will frame the course by examining the World’s Columbian Exposition, a fair held in Chicago in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival. With this fair as our touchstone, we will consider many of the significant shifts in America’s cultural and political landscape that occurred in the 1890s, such as the United States’ increasing colonial power, the supposed “closing” of the frontier, the expansion of Jim Crow policies, and changing social and political roles of American women. Our reading assignments will include fiction and nonfiction texts that represent and respond to the significant events of the era.

ENG 338: Themes and Topics: Utopian and Dystopian Literature
Dr. Linda Joyce Brown
MWF 2:00-2:50 

Core Humanities; Elective in the English major, English minor, and Creative Writing minor

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the United States’ presidency, there has been a marked increase in sales of dystopian texts such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. To what extent are such texts relevant to our current social and political environment?

In this course, we will explore how writers have imagined ideal and far-from-ideal worlds. A premise of this course is that by studying utopian and dystopian fiction and thinking deeply about the ideas these texts pose, we can gain new insight about contemporary social and political problems. Thus, in addition to addressing texts within their specific historical and cultural contexts, we will also connect them to contemporary issues, such as environmental degradation, technological dependence, and debates surrounding sexuality, marriage, and family.

ENG 360: Literature of Crime and Retribution
Dr. Naomi Saslaw
Wednesday 6:30p.m.-09:10 p.m.

Core Humanities; Elective in the English major, English minor, and Creative Writing minor 

This course emphasizes close analysis of literature on themes including evil, faith, insanity, racism, and motiveless malignity.

ENG 365: Greek Literature
Dr. Russell Weaver
MWF 9:00-9:50

Core Humanities; Elective in the English major, English minor, and Creative Writing minor

In this course we will read some of the great masterpieces of Greek Literature. This particular semester we will be reading Homer’s Odyssey along with ten plays by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus. Sophocles: Antigone, Oedipus the King, The Women of Trachis, Ajax and Philoctetes

Euripides: Medea, Hippolytus, Iphigenia at Aulis, Electra. Aeschylus: Agamemnon.There will be two take-homes, one on either Antigone or Medea and one on The Odyssey and one presentation on two of the other plays.

ENG 406: Seventeenth-Century English Literature
Dr. Hilary Donatini
TTh 12:15-1:30
Elective for English major and minor, Creative Writing major and minor, and Integrated Language Arts major

The seventeenth century was a time of political and religious conflict in England, when Catholic extremists came close to blowing up Parliament in the 1605 “Gunpowder Plot” and civil war gripped the nation mid-century. King Charles I was publicly beheaded in 1649, leaving the throne empty until the 1660 Restoration of his son, Charles II. Out of this dissonant and dissenting culture came some of the most vigorous and energetic voices in English literature. Seventeenth-century authors engaged with topics as various as religion, politics, philosophy, and the workings of the human heart. We will read poems and prose works by authors ranging from John Donne to John Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost, one of the greatest epic poems in the history of literature. Throughout the semester, we will investigate the relationship between form and content—how a range of genres allowed authors to respond to or influence contemporary debates.

Format: Heavy emphasis on class discussion with occasional lectures
Assignments: one quiz, three essays, exam, and a presentation

Required Text: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th Ed.: Volume B: The Sixteenth Century/The Early Seventeenth Century

ENG 410: Romantic Movement
Dr. Russell Weaver
MWF 11:00-11:50
Elective for English major and minor, Creative Writing major and minor, and Integrated Language Arts major

In this course we will read some of the great masterpieces of the Romantic Movement. This semester we will be read some of Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “The Eve of St. Agnes,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Lamia,” Bronte’s Jane Eyre; and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There will be two take-homes, one on either Blake or Wordsworth and one on Keats, and two presentations, one on Coleridge and one on Jane Eyre and Frankenstein.