Monthly Archives: February 2011

Why All Undergraduates Who Are Serious About Creative Writing Should Attend the Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference (AWP), by Prof. Matt Mullins

Photo courtesy of AWP Writer.org

Networking.  Networking.  Networking.  I begin somewhat offhandedly, but I mean this.  You want to go to AWP (the annual conference attended by most of the creative writing programs across America) because you are someone who writes, cares about writing and needs to meet people of like mind.  At AWP, you will meet your peers (i.e., other undergraduates from other programs who also care about their writing).  Many of these peers will go on to MFA programs and will likely end up editing some of the many literary magazines to which you submit your writing.  Regardless of whether or not you intend to pursue the MFA, having a beer or getting some face time with these peers will allow them to put your mug to a name when your piece comes in, and in the land of one to five percent acceptance rates, this works in your favor.

At AWP, you will also meet those who are a little further down the line (i.e. MFA students).  These are the people already editing many of those literary magazines you want to get into, so meeting them leads to the same end described above, only in the now rather than down the road.  Also, these are the people who also have recently completed or are about to complete manuscripts they’ll send to contests, indie presses and literary publishers.  They have good advice for you, and many of them are friends with the publishers you’ll want to familiarize yourself with.

At AWP, you’ll also meet people who have books out.  These people know publishers, and if these people get to know you and your work, they may recommend you to those publishers.  Thus, a conversation and an exchange of email addresses can lead to someone who has a publisher’s attention taking a look at your work and recommending you.

Once you’re out of your MFA (if you go for one), you may well find yourself at AWP for a job interview.  Though its dates shift a bit annually, the conference often marks the big round of interviews for universities and colleges.  You want to know the landscape and be comfortable with the scene before you end up going there for an interview.

However, AWP isn’t just a schmooze fest or a job finding machine.  At its heart, this monster is about the writing.  As I mentioned, the conference marks a time when nearly all the creative writing programs in America descend upon a city to network, talk shop and celebrate.  In a world where the vast majority of people could care less about something all of us love passionately, it’s a very positive thing to see thousands of writers come together to celebrate their craft.

The things I mention above are those things that orbit AWP.  The conference itself is also filled with wonderful panels on all manner of topics from publishing tips and creative writing pedagogy to the analysis of various literary trends and stylistic approaches toward specific genres of writing.  There are many, many readings with many wonderful writers that range from the indie world all the way up to the big names all of you know.  On top of this, there is the Book Fair to end all Book Fairs—literally hundreds of tables filled with gorgeous books and literary journals.  It’s the kid in the candy store scene.  All told, AWP is a few days spent in an alternate reality where creative writing has somehow become the center of the world.  And that’s something special.

As for my personal experience at AWP, the last few years have been eventful.  At the 2009 AWP, I interviewed for my position here at Ball State and had lunch with the fiction editor of the literary journal Pleiades, who asked me to send him a story, which he then published.  The following year, I had the pleasure of being part of the hiring committee involved in the interviews that led to our hiring Cathy Day.  I was also able to wander the book fair and meet the editors of the journals who’d taken my work over the previous year.  This year I was able to meet the editor behind Atticus Books and have him tell me in person that he wants to publish my collection of short stories.  We spent a good amount of time talking, and I think he came away understanding that I’m serious about my writing, an attitude he values as he’s about to make an investment in my work.  All of these positive experiences have, in some way, helped me get my writing out there, and I wouldn’t have had any of them if I hadn’t gone to AWP.

Next year AWP is in Chicago.  CHICAGO.  It’s a three hour drive from here.  It’s the city of big shoulders.  One of the most kick ass towns in America.   Thousands of writers will descend upon it for a long weekend.  And if you’re a writer who cares about writing and the publishing world, you’ll try to go.  I hope to see you there.

Guest Post: Sam Edwards on her internships at the Statehouse and Sarabande Books, Inc.

Sam Edwards (left)

To not be waiting tables anymore.  When State Auditor Tim Berry spoke to my intern class mere weeks ago, he began impromptu crowd-picking—‘Why did you do this internship??’ (Yes, with two question marks).  This was going to be my answer: to not be waiting tables anymore.  Despite my ambitious peers’ responses about their burning passion to know state government better and their devotion for politics, I was ready to be honest.  Lucky for the other interns (and probably more lucky for me), Auditor Berry never picked me.  However, I was picked for this internship out of a very large pool of political science, criminal justice, and international relations majors.  And yet, I majored in English.

The internship’s official title is Legislative Intern.  Since the beginning of 2011, I spend five days a week inside of that luminous building in front of Lucas Oil Stadium called the Statehouse.  I work for two senators, assisting with everything from constituent correspondence (via e-mail, letters, and phone calls), to committee coverage, to racing my senator’s computer from one marble-tiled floor to another.  You see, I had no particular political ambitions, to say the least.  But now that I find myself here—in a fine-looking suit—I’m entirely enamored with it.  And I know my writing background, including all the effort I put into it during my four-year stay at Hotel Ball State, had everything to do with why I have this internship.

My specialty was Creative Writing, but I spent just as much time and probably more passion on my literature classes.  Thus, by graduation in May of last year, I had done every type of writing imaginable, and it has truly paid off.  My present job requires me to be able to understand and utilize each type of writing I learned at Ball State.  I write thank you letters, letters of recommendation, letters of support for other bills, letters to constituents on smoking ban bills, taxes in Illinois, education reform, and on and on.  The Legislative Assistant that I work directly under is thrilled that I am writing-savvy.  She no longer checks my letters, but passes them right on for senator approval.  I have seen through this experience that not everyone speaks the delicate language of writing, yet it is oh-so-valued.

In the bigger picture, I know this is a lasting love affair with my English major.  I will be returning to my roots in the fall with an internship at Sarabande Books, Inc., a small independent publishing press in Louisville, KY.  After that, I want to continue to be a nomad, wandering different avenues of careers and locations.  I am quite confident (perhaps, partly because I’m still wearing my awesome suit) that my English major will take me wherever I want to go next.  There will always be employers who need skilled writers to communicate their awesomeness to the public/clients.  Erego, a job.

Allow yourself to be swept away by the major.  You won’t regret it.

*Sam Edwards is our second alumnus to receive an internship from Sarabande Books, Inc. Check out alumnus Evan Himelick’s post on his experience with the press here.

Trickster: Tales of Mischief from Around the World, by Amy Higgins

Learning that I some day had to write a senior thesis was by far the scariest moment of my freshman year. Just thinking about devoting an entire semester to an academic paper was torture; I couldn’t imagine how bad writing it would be. Thankfully, the Honors College is merciful, and the senior Honors thesis can be about anything. Since I’m a creative writing major, I decided to write a story, and then left the details for future Amy to take care of.

Eventually, I decided on a collection of short stories based on folktales. Each of the stories highlights a trickster character that appears in more than one culture. For example, in Mesoamerican myth, the character Coyote is always hungry, often trying to trick others into giving him a meal, or becoming one. In Native American tales, Coyote is a culture hero who fights monsters and uses his tricks to help others. My story, “Coyote Waters the World,” combines these two personalities. Coyote only wants a quick meal, but he ends up doing a great service for humanity. The other three stories are written in the same manner, and with the hope that they will encourage readers to strike out in search of their own connections between folktales and the cultures they originate from.

I asked Professor Elizabeth Dalton to watch over me as I wrote this collection, and I absolutely must pause and heap as much praise upon her as I can. Beth has been beyond fabulous, a wonderful mix of teacher and therapist who kept me sane at some critical moments in the semester. At the same time, she encouraged me to push my boundaries by doing something like, I don’t know, suggesting that I do a reading of my work this Wednesday, February 23rd, at 4:00 p.m. in RB 361. I hope to see you there!

Start of the As-Yet Unnamed Literature Group

Believe it or not, there actually are some people out there who really (and I mean really) enjoy tearing texts apart (figuratively, mind you) and just figuring out all the mechanical stuff. They are known as English majors. More specifically, English majors of the literary persuasion.

We’ve managed to somehow assemble a group of these people for the rough beginnings of a group that is dedicated, more or less, to the fun of reading with a critical eye.

So how does it work? Well, we’ve decided to try and develop a reading schedule including novels, plays, stories, poems, and multimedia texts so we can all get together once every two weeks to provide our own bearing on the subject at hand and exchange analytical insights. Think of it as an informal book club on steroids that doesn’t include a bunch of old women talking about how nice Agatha Christie’s plots are (no offense to any who may identify). Think of it as a literature class (perish the thought!) that doesn’t mind getting stuck on weird tangents for a while and just splashing around in the intellectual puddle. Think of it as a group of classy, bright people getting together to share ideas based on a specific text.

There’s more to it than that, though. We’re planning on asking professors across campus to come in and give the discussions real heft. We’re planning on reading non-Western, non-canonical, and definitely a few nonsensical texts so that we can challenge our understanding of our field. We’re planning on putting together an undergraduate conference for English majors to present really bang-up papers and projects from all areas of the department. We’re planning on taking some time for professional development in whatever ways we can. We’re even planning a prolonged engagement with some of Kurt Vonnegut’s texts and an adventure to Indianapolis to explore the Kurt Vonnegut library in March. We’ve got ideas, and we’re going to try to get them moving.

We understand that everyone has class (it is college, after all) and a full, if not overflowing, platter of responsibilities. So we’re electing to meet every two weeks rather than every week.  We’re hoping this breathing room will give everyone ample time to read the text in question. We hope that no one fears joining because they think they may have too much to read. We are not going to put people on trial for not doing the reading. We’re actually really sweet when it gets right down to it. We’re just trying to create a rigorous yet relaxed atmosphere in which we can work out texts and “escape, not from, but into living” (Cyril Connolly).

We meet every other week at 7:30 (the room has been changing, alas, but check our website for current info), and we’ve even got things planned up to March. Ask to be added to our Facebook group (Ball State Literature Group 2011) to get all of the information your little heart could desire. We would really love to have everyone come and share with us. And maybe you can help us come up with an actual name! We really need one.

If all else fails, hey, we’ve got donuts!

Jeremy Carnes & Ben Rogers

Springtime on the Thames: What Prof. Elizabeth Dalton is Reading

Elizabeth Dalton

On Kindle: John Keats, Anna Quindlen, Monica Ali, William Shakespeare, and Dava Sobel. In my book bag: Anthony Burgess, Helene Hanff, and Virginia Woolf. On the coffee table: Zadie Smith.

What am I reading? Why London, of course.

This May, a group of Honors students will accompany Dr. James Ruebel and me to Rome and London as part of a field study colloquium wrapping up our Honors Humanities sequence, a series of Honors classes devoted to the study of Western literature, philosophy, and art. Rome and London, two key cities in the narrative of Western Civilization, are connected by way of the ancient Romans themselves, whose infrastructure—including the ruins of old walls—can still be seen in London today.

There are too many literary connections to name, but our focus settled on English poet John Keats, who spent his last months in Rome attempting to recover from tuberculosis. In ­ABBA ABBA, Anthony Burgess (English author of A Clockwork Orange) reimagines these last days as a meeting of the minds between the dying Keats and a famous, conflicted Roman poet, Giuseppe Gioachino Belli. The two poets are initially at odds, but philosophically united by the universal beauty of the sonnet form and its ability to accommodate a variety of languages and subject matter. The end of the book was no surprise to me, but Burgess’s language-play and ruminations on the purpose of art and poetry made me long to see Keats’s Spanish Steps and visit Belli’s statue in the Trastevere. And in London, a visit to Keats’s Hampstead residence will be in order.

During Christmas break, I spent a snowy day reading Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City. In this literary travel guide, the author traces her fascination with the city through some of her favorite literature. In this brief overview of the city’s most popular literature, she mentions some of the other texts I am reading this semester, including Mrs. Dalloway, one of my all-time favorite books. In this quintessential London novel, Virginia Woolf trains the readers’ gaze on her characters as their paths intersect in the London streets and parks on a beautiful June day. Thrumming underneath their feet is all of London’s ancient past, and permeating the air they breathe is the far-reaching stench of the recently concluded World War I. In May, some of my students and I will retrace some of  Clarissa’s footsteps along Bond Street, and reenact Elizabeth Dalloway’s exhilarating bus ride to the Strand.

A London matron of more recent vintage is Nazneen, main character of Monica Ali’s popular and controversial novel, Brick Lane. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003, this novel traces the self-initiated emancipation of a Bangladeshi woman who finds herself on the banks of the Thames, married to a Bangladeshi man twice her age.   An uneducated village girl, Nazneen is out of her element and unable to speak English, but uses her native resourcefulness to guide her family through the tense months leading to and following September 11, 2001.

A more pleasant London-American connection is the true story of Helene Hanff, an American writer whose fascination with rare old books led her to a twenty-year correspondence with a London used book dealer named Frank Doel (whom she sometimes calls “Frankie”). Collected in the book, 84 Charing Cross Road, the letters document an increasingly warm and personal relationship between book lovers on separate continents. Far more engaging than the awkward 1987 film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, the letters are full of personality. “WHAT KIND OF BLACK PROTESTANT BIBLE IS THIS?” Hanff demands upon receiving a requested copy of the Anglican New Testament in Latin. “Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, mark my words.” Doel responds with characteristic British calm and continues to provoke Hanff’s delight and feigned exasperation with his literary finds. Marks & Co. has long since closed, but we will stroll past the old store front anyhow, and pop into a few other used bookstores on Charing Cross Road.

Other texts I’ll be getting to this semester include Dava Sobel’s Longitude, an account of John Harrison’s quest to solve the longitude problem in the early 18th century. We’ll see some of his famous clocks as well as the International Dateline when we cruise down the Thames to Greenwich. And what trip to London would be complete without a visit to the Globe Theatre? We haven’t yet settled on a play, but an hour or two of the flight across the pond will be devoted to reading one of the Bard’s comedies.

After our return to the States? Current luggage restrictions may limit our souvenir shopping while we’re overseas, but I can always revisit London through E.M. Forster, W. M. Thackeray, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Fay Weldon, Zadie Smith, and Nick Hornby.

—Elizabeth Dalton, English Instructor

Undergraduate Literary Exchange with the University of Alabama

February 21 and 22, the University of Alabama faculty/writer Brian Oliu and four Alabama undergraduate writers will visit Ball State University to exchange ideas about creative writing, visit our Creative Writing in the Community program, and also visit the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.

On Tuesday night, February 22, BSU will host a reading where the visiting Alabama writers will showcase their original creative works. The reading is at 7:30 p.m. in Bracken Library, room 104. Please come out and support our visiting authors from the South!

From the end of March to the beginning of April, four creative writing students from BSU will be visiting the University of Alabama and The Slash Pine Poetry Festival, accompanied by professors Sean Lovelace and Matt Mullins. Here’s a short excerpt from Slash Pine Press about their festival:

“In April, The Slash Pine Poetry Festival brings over forty national and regional poets together for a two-day extravaganza of poetry. The festival highlights the public and democratic nature of creative work, refusing to privilege one form or aesthetic over another, and presenting diverse voices in non-traditional, communally-accessible spaces. The festival itself spreads widely across a range of venues, emphasizing that art is intimately connected to place”.

Feel free to check out this firsthand account of the first SPPF in 2009.

The BSU undergraduate students participating in the exchange have started a fundraiser on Kickstarter.com to cover the costs of their trip. Kickstarter features donation increments that award certain prizes determined by the dollar amount. For instance, in the case of these students, poems/stories, chapbooks, and broadsides created by the students themselves number among the prizes awarded. You can view the students’ Kickstarter here.

Guest Post: Luke Boggess on the English as a Second Language licensure program

Luke Boggess (center) with students Mitul and Hardik

Hello,

I am Luke Boggess—a senior in the English education program who is also working on receiving his English as a Second Language License.  In this post, I will explain my personal experience through the ESL licensure program.  My hopes are to help you decide whether or not this would be the best step for your educational experience/professional development.  In an attempt to provide you with a more personal understanding of what the ESL courses have to offer, I will break down the 21 credit hours required to receive the license so you will be able to see how the courses will benefit you in the field of ESL education, as well as your content area.

To start, I think it is appropriate to explain how I got involved in the ESL program.  Back in the day, I was in my EDSEC 150 course when a nice old lady from the Teachers’ College came to discuss some educational opportunities.  She addressed a number of options with handouts, such as the Special Ed minor, study abroad opportunities, etc.  To be completely honest, my “do-the-bare-minimum-and-get-out-of-college” freshman mindset got the best of me, and I wasn’t really paying attention.  That was until the white haired woman said, “If you are an English Ed major, I strongly suggest you consider the ESL program because it is only a few extra classes you will have to take.”

As I looked over the light blue handout containing the list of the ESL licensure courses, I saw that the lady from the Teacher’s College was right.  ENG 220 and ENG 321 were already required courses for the English Ed majors.  Furthermore, ENG 320 could count for the English Ed majors’ 300 level required elective course.  This only left me with four additional classes needed to get the license.  ONLY FOUR CLASSES!!!  So when the next course enrollment came around, I jumped right in without consulting my advisors or anyone (not necessarily recommended, but I just wanted to illustrate the accessibility of the program for those who are interested in trying it out).

ENG 320, Introduction to Linguistic Science, was the first course I took in the program.  Though I will admit this does not sound like the most exciting class in the world, I must say, don’t judge a book by its cover.  In this class, we studied the basics of language: how it is used, the different concepts, the history of it, and how it is constantly changing.  In my opinion, this is the rebel linguistics course.  It teaches you the rules so you can break them.  After you learn the content in this course, you will see how fun it is to confront a linguistic snob who says, “You can’t end a sentence with a preposition.” And you say, “Well actually, that idea is based on a Latin rule which carries no real weight in our developing English language, so preposition at the end or not, the sentence will still make sense if I want it to.”

ENG 436 and 437 were next two courses I took (take these classes together).  These two classes focused less on language and more on the process of language learning.  In 436 we were required to find a language-learning student and “study” them.  Through class readings, discussions, and interactions with the student, we were able to analyze their proficiency levels and why they were struggling with certain linguistic characteristics.  In 437, we learn how to work with the students’ proficiency levels and how to assist them with their acquisition of the language.

The great thing about these courses is the experience you gain.  The professors place you in one of the local schools with an ELL (English Language Learner).  You go into the school and work with the student one-on-one.  This was a great experience for me because I really got to see what it’s like being an ESL “pull-out” instructor.  I worked alongside counselors, teachers, and administrators trying to create a positive educational experience for the ELL.

ENG 457 and FL 396 were the next courses I took (take these together).  They were kind of the “step above” 436 and 437.  FL 396 is a course dedicated to using technology and assessment in foreign language learning. I learned more about assessment and its purpose from this course than all of my other education courses combined.  Along with FL 396, ENG 457 provided me with the opportunity to put the knowledge I gained from all of my ESL education classes into practice.  I was placed in a local school with a group of language learners.  We met twice a week.  I was given the freedom to see what the students needed to learn and how I wanted to go about teaching them.  Through this differentiated project based course, I developed a great relationship with the students, learned a lot about teaching, and enjoyed every minute of it.  To my knowledge, there is no other education program that offers you this kind of hands-on experience.

Dr. Lynne Stallings is a great professor and head of the ESL program.  Leading by example, she completely changed my view of how to teach and the purpose of education.  Though she was very challenging at times, she challenged my classmates and I for the best.  She pushed us to go outside our comfort zones in order to make us better teachers.  And she was successful.

I hope I was able to shed personal light on the program and these courses.  I know the course descriptions on Course Planner never really get at the heart of the course.  And even still, you would have to experience the program itself to truly appreciate its value.

Good Luck,

Luke Boggess

An Exchange of Cultures: English 103 Students Partner with IEI Students

Students in English 103 section 092 and two sections of Level 4 students of the Intensive English Institute had an unusual opportunity to work together on projects for one assignment for Fall 2010.  Dr. Martha Payne instructed the English 103 students. The instructors for the IEI classes were Dr. Snea Thinsan, from Thailand, and Mr. Jonathan Pierrel from France.

English 103 students and students in IEI Level 4 Open topic met five times to discuss aspects of each other’s cultures. The students met in Library 104, a room large enough to accommodate all of the students and yet allow easy movement around the room.   In addition to the students and their instructors, several visitors came to observe sessions: Dr. Yeno Matuka, English Department, Dr. Deborah McMillan, Assistant Director of the IEI, Darren Mills, Reference Librarian, and Dr. Charles Payne, Director of the Office of Institutional Diversity for Ball State.

The American students’ final essay was about an aspect of their international partners’ culture, for example, sports, education, urban myths, marriage, and religion. The international students’ essay concerned an aspect of American culture, for example, university life, and education.

Students from both groups enjoyed working with each other. Some American students noted that they would now like to learn even more about other cultures and perhaps travel overseas. (Kaylee Anacker, Adam Dick, Ryan Duffy, Vanessa Sepiol).

Other American students said that they have become friends with their partners. (Chandler Bateman, Josh Coleman). In fact, Josh even helped his partner, Mohemmed, look for a car.

John Haynes noted that he learned to appreciate “…how hard it would be to be thrown into a different country not knowing much of the native language.”

Joanne Weber found that the project “…taught [her] to be more open about other’s [sic] beliefs.”

Adam Kelly commented that the project “…helped tremendously with reinforcing the importance of research and interviews.”

Michael Farley said that he was interested to see that “…certain things in the U.S .… absolutely blew Jood’s [his partner’s] mind.”

Some of the international students also had comments.

Zhang Huiting said that the “…collaborative work…provided opportunities to communicate with native speakers.”

Doaa AlDani “learned about American history and certain American customs such as Thanksgiving.”

Afaf notes uncovering “… some of the concepts that have been misunderstood about the lifestyles in America.”

Both sets of students struggled at times to understand what each other was saying either because of getting used to English with an accent, or concepts unfamiliar to them. Nevertheless, both sets of students worked through their communication difficulties and learned some patience in the process.

Dr. Martha Payne is one of the Diversity Associates members for 2010-2011 and hopes to develop a similar assignment for Spring 2011.

Bader Al Ruwaili, Chris Collord, and Abdullah Aldahlan

Huiting Zhang and Sarah Newton

Mohemmed Al Rufayi and Josh Coleman

Robert Brooks and Yang Yang

Yang Yang, Ryan Duffy, Mohammed Alotaibi, Jiaxun Liu, and Kolbi Killingback

Jordan Lauber and Abdulmajid (Jood) Kabil

Faculty reading: Cathy Day and Matt Mullins

On Thursday, February 10th, there will be a faculty reading in AJ 225 featuring Professors Cathy Day and Matt Mullins. The reading will start at 7:30, and is a great opportunity to see what your professors/peers are writing. Cathy Day is the author of Comeback Season, a memoir following the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl season, and Circus in Winter, a short story collection recently adapted into a musical by the Virginia Ball Center immersive learning experience. Matt Mullins is a screenwriter, poet, and fiction writer. His work has appeared in such literary magazines as Hobart, kill author, Pleiades, Harpur Palate, and Hunger Mountain. Mullins is also an Emerging Media Fellow currently working on several experimental films and a series of interactive literature interfaces.

This event is free and open to the public, so come out and enjoy some refreshments while listening to these professors’ great work!

Student reading tonight!

Tonight, there will be a student-organized reading at Be Here Now in the Village. The reading will take place at 9:30 and will require a $1 cover for all attendees under 21. The readers, in no particular order, are: Phoebe Blake, David Jessee, Ashley Ford, Cody Davis, and Ryan Rader. Ryan Rader will also be releasing two chapbooks, First Rodeo: Poems and The Millennial Hipster: Superficial Reflections. Come out and enjoy the writing of your peers!