Category Archives: Guest Posts

Gipson Schabel on Working at Book Arts Collaborative

Creative Writing minor Gipson Schabel recounts her experience working at Book Arts Collaborative, a “makerspace in downtown Muncie where community members and Ball State students learn about letterpress printing, book binding, and artist’s book design and publishing.” Book Arts Collaborative is currently fielding applications for the Fall 2017 semester; interested students should email Rai Peterson at rai@bsu.edu to apply.

It is important to first note that I earned my bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in actuarial science, with a minor in creative writing. Actuarial science is a brand of financial math specifically focused on statistics and predictive modeling. Creative writing is nearly the opposite. Half of my undergraduate years at Ball State were spent as a double major in these two subjects, which I was warned countless times was very weird. Mathematics and creative writing could not mesh, I was told. They were “left brain” and “right brain,” whatever that means. To me, it made sense. I was good at math and I enjoyed the concise correctness of it. Yet, I have been writing novels since age five. I wanted my education to reflect not only my strengths, but my passions. This is also the goal I had for my senior honors thesis: to combine mathematics and creative writing in a way that reflects not only what I have learned, but who I have become during my time at Ball State.

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An Interview with Tiffany Austin

Tiffany Austin received her BA in English from Spelman College, her MFA in Creative Writing from Chicago State University, her JD from Northeastern University, and her PhD in English from Saint Louis University. She currently teaches rhetorical and creative writing at the College of The Bahamas. Her research and teaching field also includes African Diaspora literature—African American, Afro-Latin, Caribbean, and African literature. 

How would you describe your writing?

My writing has been described as one with a gendered blues aesthetic, but I don’t relate this descriptor to how we generally perceive the blues.  I’ve always admired blues music, not only for its melancholic tones, but for its protest-like and freeing qualities. I grasp its expressive possibilities because of its creative use of language and sound (especially its disguised protest element).  I’m most interested in the embodiment of langtiffany-austinuage—readers’ visceral responses—so my poetry is full of images and elliptical narratives.  The themes range from historical and personal memory to “tenderness” amongst tragedy-fraught events and experiences.  I find myself asking, “What do we desire from memory?”  Within those themes subsist the subjects of cultural belonging, dislocation, gender, and age.  I don’t overtly point to sexuality because I’m more invested in how we sensually engage with ourselves and one another.  Pondering the possibilities for poetry, it’s about how I treat you and you treat me—personally, socially, politically—and that’s what the blues delves into and how it relates.

What should potential audience members expect if they decide to attend? Is there a target audience in your mind?

I once toyed with the term “poetics of quietude” to relate the importance of silences and ellipses in the intersection of some Caribbean and Southern women poets’ works, so my poetry, and especially its engagement with social issues, is not necessarily loud but contemplative.  It often baffles me that there has been this historical argument about whether poetry should be political or not, when the political alludes to the people.  It’s not original for me to say, but we’re always writing politically—as people.  I’m trying to work out something in my poetry, and I like for audiences to take that journey with me.  I truly believe if we use new language, our perspectives and how we engage with problems change as well.  I do not have a target audience; I only hope for one that is willing to listen.

What are your hopes for this presentation?

I hope that audience members will connect language, poetry, and social justice with a new lens.  I remember having a conversation with a young feminist who conjectured that we should take control of the word “bitch.”  But I asked why couldn’t we create a new word that proclaimed the same kind of female power that she desired to express.  I want audience members to assert a type of power in listening to the possibilities for language and political/social action.  When I tell my students that, as primary and secondary students, “unequal education funding” does not violate the constitution (there is no constitutional right to equal education), they are taken aback.  Then, they have to question the definitions of “equal,” “right,” and “education,” and they express how these definitions are ambiguously enacted by political policies through their writing.  So, I continue to ask, what can we gather from the intersection of poetry and social justice?  Our most vulnerable sites can become our most powerful means for shifts.  That’s the conversation to be had.

What do you want people to walk away with? In other words, do you want them to think about your message, learn something new, gain the desire to act, etc.?

I want audience members to think about what role language plays in their perception of ideas, in how they engage with different people.  I seldom ask, “How are you?” because at times I am not prepared for the potential answer.  How do we deliberately engage with one another?  With our privileges?  With disengaging with the soundbites?  I often say, I’m not a multi-tasker because when I am listening to someone, I try to give that person my full attention, and the same applies to my encounter with a social/political issue.  What do I not know? I want audience members to ask questions that lead me to ask questions.

Stars to Steer By Presents Ethan Johnson: A Long Journey

Ball State University alum Ethan Johnson discusses his travels after graduation and his future aspirations as he looks to the journey ahead. He graduated from Ball State in 2013 with a BA in English Literature and Classical Cultures. 

In the spring semester of my freshman year at Ball State, I saw Avenue Q at Emens Auditorium. I laughed along with the other audience members at the opening song, wondering “What Do You Do with a BA in English?” thumbnail_ethan-headshotI was laughing at the puppets, but I was also laughing at myself: I knew in three short years I would be in that position myself.

I came into Ball State knowing I wanted to be an English major. I loved books, so why wouldn’t I major in literature? When I told people what I was studying, especially after I added my major in Classical Cultures, they would inevitably ask me, “So what do you plan on doing with that?”

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Emily Mack on Interning at the Indiana Writers Center

Ball State University junior education major Emily Mack describes her phenomenal summer internship through the Indiana Writers Center where she worked with children to help them sharpen their writing skills.

This summer I had the opportunity to intern for the Indiana Writers Center, helping to teach creative writing to 3 different groups:  a pack of brutally honest, rowdy, affectionate 1st-3rd graders and two classes of funny, guarded, intelligent, bilingual high school students. In a mere seven weeks, almost 300 student writers ages 5-18 from across Indiana produced pages upon pages of funny, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching poems and mini-memoirs.Bryson and Emily

I believe everyone has an innate desire to be known and to connect with others. Storytelling has always been about sharing a connection. In meeting these kids where they are–embracing them as the wiggly, imaginative, funny, vulnerable, intelligent kids they are–we enable them to share their stories and be known by all who will read them.  The best parts of this experience were getting out of my own bubble, being able to put what I’m learning about diversity and teaching into action, and being trusted with these stories.

One day Bryson, a 7-year-old at Saint Florian, walked into class, pointed at me, and said, “I want to write with you today!”  I promised I would and went around the classroom to greet other students and pass out sheets of paper.  He kept staring at me and patting the empty chair beside him until I sat by him.   Continue reading

Guest Post: Isaha Cook on The Infinite Museum

“Where can’t an English major take you?”

This is a question that many English graduates have been hard pressed to answer, considering how versatile the degree really is. Last year, senior Amory Orchard’s journey with three other English majors took her to a special experience at the Virginia Ball Center, where she and her team joined their skills to help create The Infinite Museum app. Now, you might be asking: how could the English major be useful in the creation of a web based application? The ability to write and work within a team setting represents just two of the many skills that English majors develop and learn to use in their future careers.

So what problem was Amory’s team trying to address for the VBC? A general pitfall for most museums stems from the overall feeling that you can see all there is to see in a day or two of browsing. The experiences that many museums offer to visitors can grow stale quickly, despite the various special exhibits that can enter the rotation from time to time. For those concerned over how best to address this issue, an answer has been a long time coming. Amory and the team’s answer to the question comes in the form of The Infinite Museum, an interactive app that provides numerous prompts and information about the pieces within the museum

Amory discussed some of the things she and her English major cohorts were able to bring to the table, as well as take away10712734_732239086849969_3715995415968922610_n from the experience:

“I guess I was worried because I would have to work on designing an app. There were a lot of TCOM and COMM majors, but I’d never even published a blog post before! When they were designing prototypes, I edited the web content. To make an app, there need to be people who can design and those who can write. I eventually became lead editor and also learned about design.

We wanted to stand out and give the world something different. The second week of the semester, we created and tested tours each of us had made. Some of the best tours were completely crazy like English major Cooper Cox’s ‘Feet in the Museum,’ which made the museum visitors notice all the artworks’ feet. I think his tour captured the essence of what we were trying to do the whole time: to make looking at art transformative yet relatable.”

Users of the The Infinite Museum are offered more than fifteen hundred prompts that can send them to every area available in the museum to explore and experience in exciting new ways. For instance, the app might ask the viewer to decide what subjects of a painting were thinking in the scene, or how a certain technique used in the creation of the piece might be applied to other forms of art.

The app also provides users a level of customization and interaction with other users. Through their login feature, a user can post their thoughts or responses to certain prompts to the app to be viewed by other users, or vice versa. Users are also encouraged to favorite prompts they like best (like on Twitter), share prompts via social media sites, and explore favorite prompts of other users.

Another feature of the app is the map that is provided with each prompt. With a simple click, users can follow the map to the piece of art that each prompt is referencing, offering them the chance to cut down the time they need to hunt for that work of art. This fact also means that the user will have more time to interact with the prompt that led them to the piece in the first place.

Museum visitors are encouraged to utilize the app on pretty much any device since it is web based. After visiting the link, a user can save the link to the home-screen of their chosen device, and immediately have access to all the prompts The Infinite Museum has to offer. This quick and easy form of access is extremely efficient for involving a wide audience of museum visitors. Users can navigate the app by using just a few buttons, and each feature is clear and responsive considering how many pieces of art and prompts are being dealt with. Considering the whole experience, I believe The Infinite Museum has the ability to appeal to a wide range of students, not just in the Art or English departments.

If an English major could help produce such a great application, the answer to “Where can’t an English major take you?” retains its small mystery. Check out all of Amory and her team’s hard work at http://theinfinitemuseum.com/. And if you’re an English major seeking to show off your skills just take this final encouraging word from Amory:

“Go for it. Seriously. Immersive learning projects are like real jobs and will force you to learn how to work with others, no matter what your future career will be.”

Guest Post: Anna Butler on The Skills No One Recognizes as Skills

For a long, long time, I have been a person who does not know what she wants to be in a society/workforce that is absolutely obsessed with defining people. I am beside myself that the first question well-meaning strangers and distant family alike ask is, “What are you going to do with an English and TCOM degree?” I am sick to death of people saying, “So you’re going to be an English teacher…?”

Regardless of how much they make me stress vomit, these encounters and my stuttered responses have taught me a valuable lesson: not everything fits into a box, including myself. Some skills aren’t applicable to just one thing, but to all things. The most technical STEM-centered pursuit and the most free-form creative project each need a manager. They also each need a content creator, a PR person, and a team mediator, and I can be any or all of these things.

Two screenwriting classes taught me about ways the mind makes connections within a storytelling context, associating information from one scene with information from the next. In Professional Writing, I learned how to gather data via survey and draw from it conclusions and strategies that could aid a businessman or entrepreneur. Writing and Reading About Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 2.19.35 PMPublic Discourse taught me to analyze the motivations, biases, mediums, and structures of information and entertainment that fight to reach our eyes and ears every day. Practicum in Literary Editing and Publishing reinforced in me the belief that there are a vast array of aesthetics and preferences in literature, and that each is equally valuable. Flash Nonfiction Writing helped me come to terms with the fact that the everyday can be exciting, can teach us lessons, can link us, as readers, to each other. In Rhetorical Writing & Emerging Media, I learned the basics of HTML and CSS web coding, opening up to me an entirely new type of writing in which to communicate: design via code. Continue reading

Amory Orchard: Making the Invisible Visible

Every English major encounters the same situation — maybe it’s already happened to you since going home for the summer: a neighbor, relative, or (just the other day, in my case) the optometrist politely asks you how school’s going and what you’re studying.

You tell them.

“Oh, English?” they ask with a note of concern in their voice. “So what’re you gonna do with that degree?”

I love being an English major and all, but I’ve had to go through this song and dance more and more since I changed my Screenshot 2015-07-16 at 12.17.31 PMmajor from English Studies to Rhetoric and Writing a year ago. Only now, the concern in their voice is coupled with a puzzled, raised eyebrow whenever I reply, saying that I’m an English major with a concentration in Rhetoric and Writing.

Creative writers and literature majors are lucky; folks can at least grasp that there’s a lot of writing and reading involved.

But what comes to mind when most people hear “rhetoric”? It sounds intimidating. Perhaps they think we spend our days labeling everything ethos, pathos, and logos like in the rhetorical analyses many of us did in ENG 103 and 104. Or maybe they imagine us in class firing back at each other like politicians on the news.

So, what is the English major in Rhetoric and Writing?

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Pat Collier: Twenty-some films I think anyone who loves movies should see

A couple weeks before the spring semester ended, one of the students in English 425 (Film Studies) asked if I would make him a list of my top twenty movies. I said I would try, but wasn’t sure what I could offer. I didn’t have one at the ready, not having kept these sorts of lists since I was in about seventh grade, making and circulating lists of my Top 10 songs around the classroom. (I recall with some embarrassment that “Hotel California” was way up there.)

The problem today is that I like too many movies, and have seen enough in the last decade or so that I barely remember colliermany of them. Shortly after I started teaching English 425, around 2004, I made a point to spend many hours each summer catching up on essential films, directors, and traditions that I had missed along the way. Once, I watched ten Bergman films in a little over a week. I was amazed and moved by them all, but only Persona and Scenes from a Marriage have remained distinct in my mind. I did the same with Antonioni, with Kurosawa. Impossible to pick a top 20 from among these, to say nothing of the much larger cohorts of 1940s and 50s Classical Hollywood and noir films that I watch again and again, or the New Hollywood films (Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II) that first showed me that there could be more to film than escapist entertainment.

I gave up quickly on the effort to make a definitive list, and instead decided just to write up short descriptions of the first twenty or so movies that came to mind when I thought about movies that seem great to me. This list is quite predictable, I suspect. It has no consistent aesthetic, though it is skewed heavily towards my classical Hollywood comfort zone and to the auteurs (Hitchcock, Kubrick) that first ignited my fanboy enthusiasm for film. They are in no particular order: “first to knock, first admitted,” as Saul Bellow put it.

If anything holds them together, it’s that even the heaviest among them (2001, Children of Men) give some sort of characteristically cinematic pleasure, and even the lightest (CasablancaHis Girl Friday) provide something to think about. Continue reading

Jeff Owens: What I Learned from Writers' Community

Since we’re approaching the end of Spring semester, it’s time to hear what the English public relations interns have to say! Today, Jeff tells us about his experiences in the Writers’ Community — from freshman year to junior year.

If you’re interested in attending Writers’ Community, it takes place during the Fall and Spring. Meetings are from 8:00 – 9:00 PM on Wednesdays in Robert Bell’s Writing Center (RB 291).


Looking back, I guess I’d describe the majority of my freshman year as “comfortable.” After acclimating to college life, I was meeting new people, spending more time outside my dorm than inside, and writing more often.

When my second semester rolled around, I felt confident enough to attend a Writers’ Community meeting. And why wouldn’t I? In high school, I was head tutor of the writing lab, I edited too many narrative essays to count, and people voted me “Most Likely to Write a Novel.”

Writers’ Community would be old hat, or at least that’s what I told myself. But I didn’t make a single contribution to the writing workshop that night. Making proper small talk proved impossible. I spent more time wiping the sweat from my hands than looking people in the eye. Continue reading

Taylor Wicker: I'm the Girl Behind the Desk

Since we’re approaching the end of the Spring semester, it’s time to hear what the English public relations interns have to say! Today, Taylor tells us about her experiences as an English student — both inside and outside the classroom. 


I got my job as an English department secretary a few weeks before I started my freshman year of college. The office was inviting, my co-workers and bosses were friendly, and every day that I worked behind the front desk, I found myself meeting people, students, staff, and professors — all intimidatingly smarter than I was in every aspect of life.

I spent my first year hiding behind that front desk, watching clubs organize events I refused to go to, hearing about readings in local coffee shops I’d most certainly miss, and poetry competitions I would never dream of competing in. I got into the habit of staying behind the scenes, of appreciating my department at a distance. The more time I spent behind the desk, avoiding these opportunities, the more I craved to be involved in them.

I was writing, sure, but I wasn’t showing it to anyone. I was reading, definitely, but I didn’t want to talk about my experiences with anyone outside of my painfully disinterested friend group.

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