Monthly Archives: March 2011

Christopher Newgent: Hoosier Indie Literature Hero

Photo courtesy of Indy Star.com

Alumnus Christopher Newgent has been getting a lot of attention lately. If you attended the second night of the In Print Festival of First Books, you may have heard Artifice Magazine editor James Tadd Adcox drop his name when discussing things young writers can do to be involved in the literature world. Newgent was recently featured in an article for the Indy Star as well. What’s all the buzz about Christopher Newgent? He is the progenitor of Vouched—part reading series, part blog, and part indie lit vendor. Vouched exists “to spread and promote small press literature by peddling literary wares at art events and farmers/flea markets around Indianapolis,” according to Newgent. He states, “Every book on my table is a book that I’ve personally read and enjoyed and want other people to read and enjoy.”

That last line explains where Vouched gets its name. Newgent only peddles literature he’s passionate about, and when you’re at a Vouched table, you have the refreshing feeling of knowing you can ask the him anything about his titles and he will have an answer. He exudes excitement, and this makes him approachable and helps to create a whole Vouched experience that is especially positive.

Newgent’s innovative project provides a breath of fresh air in the bookselling world, especially for those interested in contemporary literature. Vouched has even gained so much support that it has begun to spread to other states. Laura Relyea, another BSU alumnus, is working on launching her own Vouched table in Atlanta, Georgia. There’s also talk of another table getting ready to spring up in Nashville, Tennessee. Of these new Vouched tables, Newgent says, “My plan for it is ultimately to allow each tabler to be autonomous, able to choose and stock their own vouched titles…” This means that each Vouched table operator will make their own choices as to which books they sell. By allowing this freedom of choice, Newgent is ensuring every seller will have that same, trademark Vouched passion, which has been instrumental in the project’s success.

You can find Newgent and his table at First Fridays at Big Car Gallery, occurring on the first Friday of every month. Vouched Presents, a reading series, is having its fourth event on May 15th, and will feature BSU professor Peter Davis and Michael Schaivo.  There will be another Vouched Presents reading on July 18th, featuring DOGZPLOT, an online literary journal. Newgent sets up his table at other events here and there as well, which he posts about at Vouched Online.

English Majors and the Job Market: You’re Okay

English majors get a bad rep when it comes to the job market. Frankly, we’re sick of it. A major goal of this blog is to show the versatility of the English degree. As our “Life After the English Major” section proves, we’re not just blowing smoke. One of the most important skills for any business is communication, and do you know what you’re studying in all of your literature and creative writing classes? Exactly.

According to the NY Times.com article, “Young Workers: U Nd 2 Improve Ur Writing Skills,” by Phyllis Korkki, “In a survey of 100 human resources executives…Nearly half the executives said that entry-level workers lacked writing skills, and 27 percent said that they were deficient in critical thinking.” The years of using dictionaries and thesauruses for unknown words can pay off, as well as studied attention to authors’ word choice and conveyance of mood. Much of today’s communication is done over email or similar text formats where mood can be lost, or most likely, misinterpreted. A person who keeps these lessons in mind can end accidentally passive aggressive messages and make for clearer communication, and few are better equipped for this accomplishment than English majors.

In her September 2009 post on Payscale.com, “Jobs for English Majors: They Do Exist,” Bridget Quigg shows that the numbers prove English majors can be competitive earners. Citing this graph of popular careers for English majors, Quigg presents some of the top positions for English majors:

Technical Writer                                        –      $68,900

Paralegal                                                       –     $53,100

Copywriter                                                   –     $49,900

Online Marketing Content Writer      –      $50,900

These are the median salaries after ten years. As Quigg notes, “They don’t top aerospace engineering majors, who come out number one overall at $108,000 a year,” but still, these aren’t exactly wages of destitution. In her article “Working Your Degree,” on CNN Money.com, Shelly K. Schwartz notes that regarding English majors, “The versatility of the degree, in fact, is what makes the post-graduation job hunt so hard.” This means English majors can fit to nearly any career field, and because the possibilities are so broad, it can be hard to zero in on a particular field, or realize the extent of these possibilities.

There may also be the need to sell yourself a little more to job interviewers. While they may know they need people with good communication skills, they may not know they can find this quality in an English major. This will require an explanation of your skills, which could benefit greatly from using buzzwords, such as your aptitudes concerning “critical thinking” or “dynamic (changeable) communication.” Selling yourself is something everyone has to do in job interviews anyway, so this shouldn’t put you off. Knowing the skills you bring to the table ahead of time can help put you a peg above other applicants, especially when said skills are unique and well-practiced.

In her article, Schwartz goes on to say, “…increasingly, insiders say, one of the fastest growing career choices for English majors is broadly defined as ‘business.’ The verbal and written communication skills that English majors possess remain in top demand at nearly every company in America.” Upon graduation, it’s commonplace for English majors to assume they’ve spent their college careers studying what they enjoy instead of cultivating specialized skills, and so they are left not knowing what directions they can take in terms of a career. The good news is that while you spent your studies doing what you love, you were also cultivating one of the most important skills to the job market: communication. More good news: proficiency with this skill means you can be an asset to any company, because even if an organization is filled with the world’s top tradesmen, people with skills not found anywhere else, the organization needs a good communication system to get the most out of these people—to work efficiently. In Schwartz’s article, Professor Ernest Suarez remarks, “Businesses tell us they like to hire English majors because they feel they can think. They’ve got the writing and analytical skills they need. The rest they can be trained to learn.” Don’t be afraid to mention this in job interviews, applications, or personal statements.

Signed,

Jeremy Bauer

Interview with Paul Killebrew, this year’s poet for the In Print Festival of First Books

Paul Killebrew

Our third and final excerpt from The Broken Plate’s In Print Festival interviews is with poet Paul Killebrew. Killebrew is the author of Flowers, published by Canarium Books in 2010. John Ashbery has written that Killebrew “plunges us into a world we inhabit but seldom notice, forcing its horror on us but also reminding us why we go on coping with it.” Born and raised in Tennessee, he now lives in Louisiana, where he works as a lawyer at Innocence Project New Orleans. Here is his interview excerpt:

How did you choose the title for Flowers?

The first draft of the manuscript included a lot of poems that I’d written for specific people, and Flowers seemed like a nice way of thinking about those poems. I ended up revising the manuscript quite a bit and took out most of the occasional and epistolary poems, but there were still a lot of poems that seemed to deal with immediate beauty,

so the title still fit. I also thought that the word “flowers” was due for something like this.

What have you been working on since Flowers?

Five or six years ago I told myself that I wanted to write good short poems, which for me would be anything under 25 lines. At that length my poems have tended to feel either truncated or of radically reduced scope, and then you read all these folks who do so much with so little, I mean this is poetry after all. So for the past year I’ve been trying to write shorter poems, though they’re all coming out to be like 25 to 30 lines, so maybe instead of short I should call the poems medium.

Medium poems—how’s that for an ambition?

Having some familiarity with the city, “Nashville” was cool to read, and I’m curious how your feelings about Nashville, as a native, come into your writing.

As an English major at a southern university I took the obligatory course in southern literature, which, though we read some fantastic stuff, was awful, partly because the professor took the position that contemporary southern writing, and at some level contemporary southern culture, was (or maybe should be) anti-technology and defiantly agrarian. Maybe or maybe not, but that was definitely not the Nashville countrypolitanism I grew up around. Nashville is a remarkable place that growing up in did nothing to make more comprehensible. There’s a complicated racial dynamic that loomed large in my childhood because I went to a virtually all-white private school that had been founded in the ‘70s specifically because the federal courts had recently enforced integration of the public schools through bussing. And then Nashville also has this hilarious campy side that’s both unpretentious and glitzy. The town is full of washed-up talent. It’s hard to know what to do with all that. In the poem “Nashville” I tried to make a record of words that struck me as indigenous to the Nashville I grew up in, as a kind of documentary.

*(Interviewed by Layne Ransom)

The In Print Festival of First Books starts tonight with a reading by the authors from their work. Tomorrow is day two of the festival, which features a panel where the authors, along with an editors from Artifice Magazine, will field questions relating to writing and publishing. Every year, the In Print Festival is a shining event greatly looked forward to, so we hope to see you there!

Interview with Debra Gwartney, this year’s nonfiction writer for the In Print Festival of First Books

Deborah Gwartney

Debra Gwartney is this year’s nonfiction author for the In Print Festival of First Books, and also the star of our second excerpted interview from The Broken Plate. She is the author of the memoir Live Through This, published by Houghton Mifflin in 2009, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a former reporter for the Oregonian and worked as a correspondent for Newsweek for ten years. She teaches writing at Portland State University and is the mother of four daughters. Here is our excerpt of her interview:

What was your thought process on how to structure the book? I noticed the events were mostly chronological, but you use quite a few flashbacks. Why did you include flashbacks?

When I first began writing about this time in my family’s life, I found I could structure a fairly decent two- or three-thousand word piece. I wrote, and published, maybe six such stories and then I figured I’d just put those together and have at least a good hunk of a book. Um, no. That didn’t work in the least. I wasn’t after a book of essays—nor did the stories succeed as a book of essays—and yet the over-arching arc of a book-length memoir eluded me. After many failed attempts at discovering a structure, I finally one day sat down and wrote a list of the, say, ten integral scenes. Ten scenes onto which I’d hang the rest of the narrative. I didn’t worry that much about the chronology of those scenes (although of course I had to consider chronology eventually), because I was determined not to let the narrative get trapped in the plodding episodic, “and then this happened, and then that happened…” I was much more interested in the themes I was watching emerge organically from the text, and in glimpses of metaphor, which I tried not to over-think but let take shape as they wanted. Flashbacks would occur to me here and there as ways to deepen the meaning, to sharpen the symbolism, of certain sections. I felt the reader needed to know at least a little something about my younger self—my childhood, and my young adulthood—in order to relate to the woman who, as narrator, was ready to face her own responsibility in the conflagration of her family.

What’s the future in writing look like for you? What are you working on now?

I’m working on another memoir, even while I have to ask myself how one person could have enough life experience, really, to justify two books about herself. I’d like to think I do, and so on I go collecting pages of drafts and continuing to research, in order to discover that “over-arching arc.” I’d like to write about growing up in the west, a fifth-generation Idahoan, my relationship to my region and my people, as well as my conflicted desires regarding place and family: to both celebrate and cling to my heritage, and to run from it as fast as I can.

*(Interviewed by Phoebe Blake)

We would like to thank the editors of The Broken Plate for allowing us to excerpt these interviews. We can’t wait for the new issue to be released at this year’s In Print. Here’s a breakdown of the In Print info as a reminder:

Wednesday, March 23, AJ 175, 7:30pm: In Print Reading.
Debra Gwartney, Paul Killebrew, and Tina May Hall will read from their recently published books.

Thursday, March 24, AJ 175, 7:30pm: In Print Panel Discussion.
The authors will be joined by James Tadd Adcox, editor of Artifice Magazine, for a discussion about writing and publishing.

As a bonus for attending this year’s festival, all In Print attendees will receive a FREE copy of the 2011 issue of The Broken Plate! There will also be a book signing and reception immediately following each event. We have one more excerpt in the works from an interview with poet Paul Killebrew, so keep watching, BSU!

Guest Post: Tyler Gobble on the Ball State University-University of Alabama Creative Writing Student Exchange

Cover of the students' collaborative chapbook

Hey, remember when those sweet students and that nice-guy professor came from the University of Alabama a few weeks ago and wowed us with their words? Well, that was for the first ever Ball State University-University of Alabama Creative Writing Student Exchange. Now, we’ve gotta hold up our end of the deal.

I was lucky enough to have been selected by Creative Writing faculty, Sean Lovelace and Matt Mullins, to accompany them on the trip, along with Layne Ransom, Elysia Smith, and your English Department blogger Jeremy Bauer. At the end of this month, the very end to be exact (March 31st), we will be heading to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The plan is to read at The Slash Pine Poetry Festival with those cool University of Alabama students and some other visiting students. Also, we will be able to see some awesome readers from both the University of Alabama and other visitors. (Side note: I’m most looking forward to seeing University of Alabama MFA student Brandi Wells and poet Oliver de la Paz.) In addition to the readings, during our three-day stay, we will be meeting with faculty and students of the university to learn about their programs, such as the planning of this festival and their awesome literary magazine the Black Warrior Review.

You might be surprised, but I’m so stoked about this trip. More importantly, I’m honored, realizing how unique and great of an opportunity this trip is for me as an undergraduate student. Additionally, the trip has created an opportunity to design and share chapbooks, broadsides, and videos of the readings. Recently, we started a Kickstarter project for this trip, to help cover the expense of traveling. As rewards for donating, we are offering the limited-edition chapbooks and broadsides, along with other cool things, to donors. Again, we have been honored by the feedback from this project already, and thrilled to see so many supporters with a little under a month still left.

I think there is something uniquely special about meeting writers (both students and otherwise) from other universities and communities. In my limited experience as a writer, I’ve grown immensely from knowing other writers and writing enthusiasts on the Internet. To take those interactions or make them in person will truly be a life-affecting opportunity. For me, this trip is more than a chance to visit another school, to read at a poetry festival, to produce some literary works, to spend close time with writing friends, and to share my work with so many people; rather, it’s the amazing chance to do all those things together in three days.

Can I speak for all four of us? Okay. Reading at the festival is the culmination of a creative project lasting several years: developing our craft of writing. The travel we will undertake will allow us to exhibit and share our work with a whole new audience through our readings, an audience we may otherwise never reach. Also, we are thrilled for such an opportunity, through fundraising and the trip, to share our growth as writers via the chapbook, broadsides, and videos.

The Washington Center

Photo courtesy of TWC.edu

I recently attended an information session on The Washington Center, organized by Dr. Barbara Stedman, Director of National and International Scholarships and Honors Fellow. I am grateful to Dr. Stedman for the chance to learn about TWC, and most importantly, to pass the information on to others who may benefit from TWC’s programs, which have the potential to be nothing short of life changing.

As TWC puts it, “Leaders are built from the inside out. They’re made, not born.” TWC is a nonprofit academic internship program based out of Washington, D.C. that offers internship programs, as well as academic courses and seminars. TWC mainly functions to connect college students with civic, governmental, and business leaders. They work with hundreds of colleges and universities, a considerable number of public and private host organizations (or internship sites), and over 40,000 alumni.

Here is the list of TWC’s main internship programs:

  • Advocacy, Service, and Arts
  • Business and Management
  • Cordova/Fernos Congressional Internship
  • Ford Motor Company Global Scholars
  • Global Trade and Regional
  • International Affairs
  • Law and Criminal Justice
  • Media and Communication
  • Political Leadership
  • Science, Technology and Society

Because they are located in Washington, D.C., TWC has contacts in nearly every U.S. government organization in the area, as well as contacts beyond the governmental realm. One program I believe could yield experiences particularly useful to English majors is their Media and Communication Program, which includes the fields of communication, print and broadcast journalism, public relations, advertising, and social media.

Social media, in particular, is a field businesses and organizations are especially looking for people to handle. It has become public knowledge that social media can be a great source for advertising, and is gaining more interest every day. Many business owners do not know much about managing social media, but have been paying attention to such trends. Since younger people tend to have more of a beat on this arena, this is who these business owners are going to in order to get a leg up when it comes to their reach, and activity, on the internet.

Here is a short sample list of organizations TWC connects interns with:

  • White House Office of Media Affairs
  • National Public Radio
  • CNN
  • Peace Corps
  • Bread for the World Institute
  • The Smithsonian Institution
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Center for Public Integrity
  • CBS News
  • Women for Women International
  • Fair Trade Federation

Internships are a great way to not only prepare for careers in the real world, but also help to learn how to effectively apply for jobs. If you pursue and internship with TWC, you will be required to create a portfolio, including the following elements:

  • Résumé and cover letter
  • Individual development plan
  • Internship defense letter
  • Analyses of selected lectures
  • Civic engagement project reflection
  • Informational interview and other writing or work assignments specific to your program

As I believe we have shown with our “Life After the English Major” posts, ALL career tracks are in need of good writers, or effective communicators, and so each internship is a viable opportunity for an English major. The great reward of internships is the firsthand work experience it provides, something 45% of employers look for when hiring. I think the worth of the internships TWC offers is made obvious by the list of organizations it works with. For more information on TWC, feel free to visit their website here, or email them at info@twc.edu. A brochure will be available in RB 295 as well. We will always strive to connect students with opportunities such as those TWC provides, so keep watching, BSU!

Signed,

Jeremy Bauer

Interview with Tina May Hall, this year’s fiction writer for the In Print Festival of First Books

The annual In Print Festival of First Books at Ball State University includes readings, discussions, and classroom visits with authors who have recently published their first books. The two-day event typically includes three emerging authors and an editor or publisher. This year, the authors are Tina May Hall (fiction), Debra Gwartney (nonfiction), and Paul Killebrew (poetry). Fulfilling this year’s editor/publisher portion are the editors of Artifice Magazine, a nonprofit literary magazine.

In Print also marks the release of The Broken Plate. This year, the editors of The Broken Plate asked the visiting authors to contribute an interview to the issue. TBP’s editors would like to note that they are grateful to Tina May Hall, Deborah Gwartney, and Paul Killebrew for the opportunity to share their ideas about writing with the readers of TBP. In the weeks leading up to In Print, we will be excerpting these author interviews here on the BSU English Department blog.

Tina May Hall

Our first interview is with Tina May Hall. Hall won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literary Prize for her short story collection The Physics of Imaginary Objects. She teaches at Hamilton College and lives in the snowy Northeast with her husband and son in a house with a ghost in the radiator. Some days, she spends with her ear pressed to the wall. Some days, she snowshoes with her son to the wolf-ring in the woods where they drink hot chocolate and howl until the crows chase them home. Here is our excerpt of her interview:

The characters in The Physics of Imaginary Objects are so fleshed-out and distinct. How do your characters come to you? How do you find their voices?

I usually begin stories with a line or image, so the character often evolves in surprising ways. I am a painfully slow writer, mostly because I love revising, and it is in the revisions (which generally span a couple of years at least) that the character begins to emerge.

In this book, the reader will find a pregnant woman who craves meat, a woman who keeps her own cut-off digit, a grandmother’s ghost, a museum full of body parts, etc. Is there something you are trying to say or explore with this reoccurring darkness?

What is odd is that many of these things don’t seem particularly dark to me. Which maybe is more revealing of my own worldview than the impetus behind the collection. Many of these things seem rather humorous or hopeful to me, even if a bit macabre. As you note, many of the tensions center around the body, and I think the body is a kind of mysterious, funny, sometimes shockingly strange thing. Then again, my mother is the only one who consistently finds humor in my writing, so maybe the lightness I see there isn’t translating well.

You have a unique ability to explore the absurd and the mystical. Who has helped influence and shape your distinctive style?

I’ve had lots of influences, writers I’ve read at various points in my life who have opened my eyes to what fiction can accomplish. The first was Jane Austen when I was very young, and after that, Gabriel García Márquez, Charlotte Brontë, Italo Calvino, Jayne Anne Phillips, Angela Carter, and many others.

*(Interviewed by Alysha Hoffa)

We are very much looking forward to this year’s In Print. Remember to pick up a copy of TBP for the full interview, and have a safe and fun spring break, BSU!

Annual Gala Winners Reading

From left to right: Layne Ransom, Lindsey P. LaVal, Spencer McNelly

Tonight! The Writers Community will be hosting its annual Undergraduate Gala Winners Reading. The reading serves as one of the outstanding prizes awarded to Layne Ransom, Lindsey P. LaVal, and Spencer McNelly for winning the top three places at the Undergraduate Writers Gala last fall. The reading will be in Bracken Library, room 104, at 7:30 p.m. Come out and celebrate this great accomplishment of your peers by listening to their work. It’s sure to be a great time, so don’t miss out!