Monthly Archives: April 2010

Faculty Spotlight: Kellie D. Weiss

To make the English department at Ball State more personable, these faculty spotlights will occasionally appear on the blog. I’m happy to inaugurate the faculty spotlight series with Kellie Weiss, visiting Assistant Professor of English:

First, if you could explain where you came from, in terms of your education. And what do you teach at Ball State?
I have a BA in English from Penn State and an MA in English from Duquesne University. I will finish my PhD in 20th Century American Literature from Howard University this July. Excited! At BSU I’ve taught 103, 104, 205, 210, 230, 491, and 493.

What do you enjoy most about English?
Originally, I wanted to be a lawyer. On my undergrad apps I wrote about how I would become a Supreme Court Justice who would be referred to as “the grandmother of the nation.” Yeah, I was reaching. When I realized that English offered all of the debate, reading, discussion, and open-mindedness that I liked and none of the defending murderers stuff that I didn’t, I decided to study literature.

What interests do you have outside of English and literature?
I love to play tennis when the weather’s nice. When it isn’t so nice, racquetball has been a good substitute. I also try to travel as much as possible. I can pack for a week-long trip in about 30 minutes.  I feel lucky, being the first in my family to graduate from college, to have been able to live in four states (PA, MD, CA, and IN) and two countries (US and the Netherlands).  Travel has afforded me the chance to see who I am in different environments and to learn more about what it means to be human.

What piece of advice would you recommend to English students both as they study on a collegiate level and for their life afterward?
Not surprising advice: read. No matter what your area of concentration, just read everything that you can get your hands on… books, newspapers, blogs, graffiti, whatever. Maybe surprising advice: read these articles before you decide to go to grad school:
Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go and So You Want to Go to Grad School?

If you could recommend that all English students read a particular book/poem/short story/essay/etc, what would you recommend and why?
I personally love Jean Toomer’s Cane.  The short stories at the beginning are realistic, irreducible, lyrical portraits of human beings.  To me they offer the best of what literature can be.  Aside from that, I’d recommend Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice.  When you’re faced with as much honesty as Cleaver gives you in that text, you can’t help but confront the foundations of your thinking.

Any last thoughts or comments? Or a good blog or website to “waste” time?
Learning while you “waste” time…
TED
the Root
the podcasts for “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” from NPR
Current (check out the Max and Jason videos)
Just for fun: Photoshop Disasters and One Sentence.

English 409: Creative Writing in the Community Reading

This past Thursday, April 22, English 409 Creative Writing in the Community held a reading at Cornerstone Center for the Arts. Throughout the semester, English 409 students collaborated with clients in a variety of organizations in Delaware County, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Heritage Retirement Village, Hilcroft Services, Inc., and Motivate Our Minds.  This is the eighth year of Creative Writing in the Community, taught by Barbara Bogue.

As a member of the audience, listening to the excerpts was inspiring. As writers, it’s essential to look for new experiences and different points of view to spark the creation of a piece or to give insight of an existing piece. For me, personally, it would be fascinating to work with a member of a retirement home. To collaborate with someone of a completely different generation who experienced a completely different lifestyle would provide a new way to learn history. How was life during World War II, or the Cold War, or Vietnam? Or even to hear about reactions toward the colored TV or the transition from records to 8 tracks to cassettes to CD’s. It would create such a personal perspective rather than relying on history textbooks.

So to members of the audience, what was it that stood out during the reading? What inspired you?

To students in English 409, what were the best moments of the class? How has it changed your perspective?

Mia Hanneken, Undergraduate of Creative Writing

Another Great Learning Experience at Ball State

The summer of 2009 was coming to a close, and I found myself in Munice an entire week before school even started. Turns out wandering through the Muncie Mall, down southern Tilloston, and around the village only makes the fact of not having a job seem that much more hopeless and depressing with each application you fill out. Tired and frustrated from my lack of “experience,” I turned to Cardinal View Jobs hoping to see a job posting worth pursuing. To my luck, the description of “writing tutor” stood out like a $100 bill on the street.

After finishing my first year as an English major, I declared my focus in rhetoric and composition. After completing all the preliminary English courses in one semester, I had my fair share of practice in writing. The job fit my field of study perfectly, and I did not want to let this opportunity pass by. Upon getting the referral and making a quick phone call, I was speaking with the writing desk director.

It has been almost an entire school year working at the writing desk in the Learning Center, and I am grateful for every minute. At first, tutoring was a bit intimidating. I felt somewhat awkward to tell a client that something they wrote does not make sense, and it was even harder to refrain from interjecting your own writing style into their paper. The first clients were often a challenge as my tutoring abilities were still underdeveloped, however I learned quick.

With time, it became easier for me to get every client involved in the learning process. Some student show motivation to learn, others only want proof that they showed up; regardless of their motives, you have 50 minutes to teach them something. Some sessions go extremely well and the student is grateful for the help, while other sessions go by leaving you wondering what you could have done differently to improve. Either way, every session proves a learning experience for both tutor and student.

Working at the Learning Center has helped me become a better reader, writer, and teacher. Hoping to one day teach myself, this job means more to me than just getting paid. The one-on-one atmosphere emphasizes focus and interpretation as opposed to lecture based learning; I value this aspect as I believe smaller group discussion relies on such rhetoric for effective learning. Aside from class, every student should treat the tutor session as another opportunity to gain knowledge.

The writing desk at the Learning Center, as well as the Writing Center at Ball State are only two of many awesome resources available to Ball State students. Graduate and undergraduate student alike are encouraged to take advantage of these writing centers as tutors are more than happy to look at their work.

-Brian Wysock, Undergraduate of Rhetoric and Composition

Interning with Sarabande Books

As my senior year approached, I started to feel the after-college strain. I looked around and saw my friends in accounting and telecommunications snagging jobs and internships like free Tshirts at a concert. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the library for hours on end, sending out application after application to various publishing companies, newspapers and magazines.

The opportunities into which I was looking were primarily in New York, Boston and Washington D.C. I thought that if I aimed high I’d be rewarded for trying. Needless to say, I only heard back from one or two less-than-promising places that were going to cost me an arm and a leg just to pursue. I decided to turn elsewhere.

One day I had a conversation with Professor Todd McKinney of the English Department about my future. Knowing that I was from the Louisville area, he mentioned a fantastic non-profit literary press in Louisville called Sarabande Books. For this I was very grateful. I looked into works they’d published, read through their website and two days later sent in my resume.

Two months later I received an email from Sarah Gorham of Sarabande and went in for an interview for an internship in February. I couldn’t have been happier. For the past 3 years I’d been taking on various opportunities and they’d finally paid off.

During my interview I felt surprisingly comfortable. Sarabande’s offices smelled of good coffee and freshly printed pages. The walls were adorned with interesting pieces of art and book shelves housing numerous copies of their published works just waiting to be read. I was at home.

The interview was more like a book club meeting amongst friends; we spoke about pieces we love and hate, writers we admire and what we’d been reading as of late. They showed special interest in my work for my English 435 blogging class as well as a volunteering gig I did last year with Greenhouse Poetry, teaching under-privileged youth aspects of effective writing.

One thing that worried me was that I rarely, if ever, write poetry. Although I love to read it when I’m not buried in non-fiction, I just rarely pick up books of poetry. I think that I was able to illustrate to them, however, that I feel I can write/read anything and everything given the right motivation.

Starting the day after Labor Day, I’ll be interning with Sarabande and I can’t express how excited I am about it. Although it is unpaid, it is only 20 hours a week so I plan on substitute teaching on my free days around Floyd and Clark County Indiana.

Here is a list of my intern responsibilities, in case anyone is thinking of applying for an internship with Sarabande (they accept applications year-round) or any other literary press for that matter:

• answering phones and general e-mail
• responding to guideline requests
• Helping with mailing of galleys and review copies
• Reading and responding to unsolicited manuscripts
• Personalizing rejection letters
• Proofing of manuscripts and publicity materials
• Data-basing
• Assembling press kits for marketing director
• Errand-running to the post office, Kinko’s, etc.
• Packing up books to customers or for prize entries
• Filing in author binders
• Offering input on artwork for book covers
• Helping with grant research
• Attending monthly staff meetings
• Assisting with special marketing initiatives
• Assisting with local publicity initiatives
• Opportunity to write an article for newspaper or local paper
• Opportunity to meet with and ask questions of all staff
• Garnering radio interviews for authors
• Following production process for manuscript acceptance to finished book
• May be involved in special projects such as search engine research, special fundraising events, donor research, and locating new audiences for books.

I am attending commencement in May and finishing up my last two classes this summer, after which I’ll head back down to lovely Louisville. I encourage anyone interested in an internship to apply to Sarabande because they’re not only a fantastic non-profit but also a very warm and welcoming group of professionals.

Sarabande Books Website
Sarabande Blog: Endpapers

-Evan Himelick

English 435 and Blog Origins

According to Technorati, an online tracking system for blogs, 94 million Americans are blog readers while 22 million are bloggers themselves. The Wall Street Journal estimated that about two million Americans make some money from blogging and that over 450,000 Americans make a living from blogging. Newspaper, corporations, and universities all employ bloggers; bloggers are interviewed on national news programs. Blogs have moved from the margins to the mainstream.

During the Spring of 2010, the Department of English offered a special topics course within writing and rhetoric, “The Rhetorical Art of Blogging” taught by Dr. Jackie Grutsch-McKinney. Throughout the semester, the class explored a variety of topics relevant to blogging and the field of English:

  • the genre and poetics of blogs: what are the conventions, the affordances, and potential
  • blogging rhetoric: ethos and arguments
  • differences and similarities to print genres
  • technologies for composing and reading blogs
  • multimodality: composing with images, links, audio, video
  • the blog to book (to film) phenomenon
  • blogs of consequence: politically and personally
  • the blogging life and cultivating an online identity

The text for this course included Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything, Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture and Sarah Boxer’s Ultimate Blogs.

The course was intended as an opportunity to explore blogs, blogging and bloggers and the all-encompassing blogosphere. Throughout the semester, students enrolled in the class wrote essays discussing and analyzing the rhetoric of blogging, investigated the various blogging platforms (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, etc.) and indicated tips and tricks to enhance a blog. All of this investigation in and exposure to the blogosphere climaxed with each student creating, launching and presenting a personal blog, including a report to discuss the choices made when creating the blog.

The BSU English blog is the culmination of what the class has learned during the semester. In addition to creating individual blogs, students in the class collaborated to launch this blog for the department. After the semester ends, the department has offered to continue the blog by hiring a paid intern to upkeep and manage the blog’s content.

[Posted by JD Mitchell]

We’ve All Been Through This

Stream-of-consciousness commentary on my relationship with writing

More often than not, I can’t just sit down and write. I have found that when it comes to writing and other hobbies, such as drawing, these activities are preceded with a lingering sense of dread, a coil of reluctance that slithers up from my stomach and wraps its tendrils around my wrists. Any attempts to thwart these attacks are met with fierce resistance; my fingers ache with illusory arthritis and my optic nerves throb with irritation, begging for rest.

My hands freeze over the smudged keys, and the little black line blinks inquisitively back at me. Well? It asks. Are you going to start? Shall I come back later? I seek out distractions; a forgotten assignment, a browse through the emails, a snack, a bathroom break — which all too often leads to the abortion of my Untitled Document.

Solitude and silence are often necessary for my mind to function unfettered, at least for a few minutes. I am easily distracted by sounds, especially voices. If I can write anything at all, it is short and disconnected. It has no beginning or end; it just is. A fragmented piece of a larger structure which my reeling mind has not the capacity to complete nor the strength to support.

Inspiration flits in and out of my room with the irregularity of a humming bird. There are abundantly pollinated minds elsewhere of much richer quality and flavor than mine. And then, at 4a.m., the buzz of tiny wings and a glowing spot in the darkness alights at the foot of my bed, insisting that I write. More often than not, I want to write but do not have the compulsion to do so. My mind is empty of all but the most mundane thoughts. The comfort of my room and even the most deadly of silences are not always enough to spur me on.

My greatest enemy is The What. Stopping me in my tracks, forcing me back, asking What are you going to write about? What do you want to say? Always giving me pause, stiffening my fingers and slowing my brain. So, we meet again. What will you do? Original ideas are impossible — maybe I’ll read a book or a magazine, watch a movie, stare out the window, crack my knuckles, listen to music, have a snack. If The What is my greatest enemy, The How is its sidekick, questioning my abilities and slyly demanding how I could possibly hope to record such vivid imaginings with words that will do them justice.

the ghost writer

How do the celebrated writers do it? Nudging and shepherding words around until they are right where they need to be — in a place where they were clearly meant to be all along? Words strung together with such precision and perfection that they couldn’t possibly be arranged in any other way?

Perhaps the discrepancy lies in the lack of distinction between my writer self and my “me” self. Or maybe it lies in the insecurities I harbor concerning whether I am, in fact, a writer, or merely an impostor. I often view writers as people who have established themselves as such to the rest of the world — who are published, experienced, and wise. I consider myself to be more of an apprentice; green, uncertain and stumbling over my words, struggling to build a sentence with the most aesthetically pleasing materials.

How do I separate myself from my writer self? If someone were to see me in my room, ferreting out words from my mind and typing them out onto the screen, would they not recognize me as the same person they spoke to earlier that day? Do I transform into a different person when I write? Everyone acts differently when adapting to various social situations, but is it possible to lead a double life?

I am quick to reject this theory, but upon further consideration, it seems plausible. When I write, I have more time to fashion out words and phrases into their most appealing and persuasive ensembles. My mouth is always one step ahead of my brain, resulting in rushed and awkward speech. I can converse as well as anyone, but who would want to listen to me talk for longer than what is deemed necessary for the trading of information? I am a much less confident person when I can hear the flaws in my voice and the words I choose without deliberation. Alone with my hands poised over the keyboard, the words are at my command and cannot come forth without thought. Unlike the spoken word, they can also be undone. Erased and replaced. As a writer, I have more control, and less chance of making an unalterable mistake.

– Katie Furlan

Book Review: Alice I have Been by Melanie Benjamin

The infatuation with Alice in Wonderland has been an everlasting wonder since the release of the book, written by Lewis Carroll, in 1865.  It became even more popular with the release of Disney’s animated film, but became a craze with the release of the 3D version of the film on March 5th, 2010.  However, not many people are aware of the true meaning behind this phenomenon.

Charles Dodgson, who went by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, met young Alice Liddell in 1856.  The mystery to the relationship between the two is still unsolved today.  The only proof available was from Dodgson’s diary, those of which he has ripped out from 1858 to 1862 (the time he spent with Alice).  Many critics believe there was some infatuation or sexual desire between Alice and Dodgson, but without the proof there is no claim.  However, many authors such as Katie Roiphe and Melanie Benjamin have created fictional histories about the relationship that are so authentic, which makes the stories seem absolutely real.

In Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been, she tells a convincing tale that the truth about Alice and Dodgson seems like it is in the pages of her book.  She includes factual people, places, and events, but includes them within a fictional story line.  Some of the real events include the day Alice and Dodgson take a boat ride, which is where Dodgson’s inspiration is embarked upon to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Another event that actually occurred was a controversial photograph taken of Alice by Dodgson.  The photograph is known as “Alice Liddell as a Beggar Girl,” which exposes Alice to be exposed and mature as a seven year old.  Whil most of the fictional plot is about Alice and Dodgson’s relationship, Benjamin creates such a remarkable piece that it feels like this is strictly a biographical story about the pair. 

Anyone who has read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or has seen any of the movies should read Alice I have Been.  You will gain a much better grasp of the meaning behind the stories and the films.  While some of it may be fictional, there is still a lot of truth behind the pages, and Melanie Benjamin writes in such a believable way it is impossible not to become lost in wonderland.

-Alyson Lammers

Writing Center Tutors Take on ECWCA

Ball State University was well-represented at the 2010 East Central Writing Center Association Conference in East Lansing, Michigan this April. Three undergraduate students (Tyler Gobble, Phil Call, and Neal Coleman) and two English graduate students (Emily Standridge and Dani Weber) who all work at the Writing Center presented papers at the conference.

In a panel presentation “Exploring the Writing Center’s Convergence with Social Capital,” Phil, Dani, and Emily explored the ways that social capital plays a role in writing center work. Tyler suggested in his presentation, “Creative Writers in the Writing Center,” that writing centers might pursue different paths to appeal more to creative writers. Neal presented on the effect, or lack of effect, that traditional advertising has on writing center services.

Ball State alum, Nikki Caswell (MA, Rhetoric and Composition) co-led a successful workshop on assessment at the conference. Writing Center Director Jackie Grutsch McKinney, also in attendance, was elected to Vice President of the organization.

Benefit Reading for Haiti is a Success

Students from the English Education Club and English faculty members Pam Hartman and Melissa Adams-Campbell organized a benefit reading for the victims of the Haiti earthquakes on April 5, 2010. The event, featured in the Daily News, asked for volunteer readers and pledges from the Ball State community. Together, they raised an impressive $235 in just two hours.

The Writing Center: A Tutor’s Experience

The Writing Center helps Ball State University students with writing projects. The tutors offer free, one-on-one 50-minute sessions on all varieties of writing projects: essays, reports, websites, slideshows, theses, dissertations, proposals, resumes, and applications. The Writing Center’s purpose is to help students become better writers, whether it be learning to find grammatical errors or to organize an argument in writing. Students, both in the English Department and the University as a whole, are encouraged to stop by the Writing Center. As 97 percent of students rate tutoring sessions as good/excellent, it seems like an opportunity worth taking.

I have been a tutor at the Writing Center for two academic years now, an experience I have found incredibly rewarding. Initially, I became a tutor to gain first hand teaching experience in a writing-based setting. While accomplishing that professional goal, I have continued to gain experience in other areas, such as working with professional colleagues and attending professional development meetings. One of the most useful experiences through the Writing Center was my recent participation in the ECWCA Conference as a presenter. Doing academic research, preparing a presentation, and presenting at a professional conference are all valuable experiences that working at the Writing Center has granted me and which I will be able to use in my future professional career.

One unexpected benefit of working at the Writing Center has been the growth of my social skills. Working in close, one-on-one sessions with students has allowed me to become a better conversationalist (asking questions, listening to answers, and working in collaborative situations), which has had great effects on my personal and professional life. Also, working within a set schedule has allowed me to develop relationships with my fellow tutors and the Writing Center directors, leading to added personal growth. Most importantly, my social skills gained through working at the Writing Center has allowed me to become better at discussing writing.

Looking back on these last two years, the reason I am most thankful for my Writing Center experience has been the opportunities for personal growth, of course leading to professional improvements as well, that the Writing Center has provided.

Tyler Gobble