Category Archives: Interview

Women in the Post-Apocalypse: An Interview with Kristen Simmons

This year’s Digital Literature Review focuses on the post-apocalyptic, including the ways gender is depicted in post-apocalyptic stories. Time and time again, women in post-apocalyptic narratives are forced back into patriarchal roles after catastrophic events. Young adult fiction writer Kristen Simmons deliberately writes stories that place young women in active, empowered roles. An award-winning author who lives in Cincinnati, Simmons has written six books and has a seventh coming out this fall. 

Simmons will read from her novel The Glass Arrow tonight at 7:30 in the Student Center Ballroom. The Glass Arrow tells the story of Aya, a girl on the run from men who hunt women and sell them at auction. 

In the interview below, Simmons talks about The Glass Arrow, about reproductive rights, about young adult fiction, and about why post-apocalyptic fictions feel timely right now. 

What inspired you to write this book? What sources did you draw inspiration from? 

I had many inspirations for this book, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and my own experiences as a woman. Writing has always been a way of processing events in my life, and so the beginnings of Glass Arrow are rooted in my childhood, and my transformation to teenage life, when I quickly realized the beliefs that I could do anything would be stunted by a glass ceiling, and a societal shift of values. Girls are often given the message that worth is defined by physical beauty, and how others perceive them. I wanted to write about that world, and about a girl trying to break out of it.

Why do you think there is trend in our media towards post-apocalyptic/dystopian themes and worlds? 

I think there are many writers, like me, who see dystopia as a way of examining current events. I never feel like I’m writing about the future–I feel like I’m writing an altered view of the present. Misogyny is not a concept defined by time; the media is reporting on this kind of oppression every day.

Did Aya (or other characters) ever point you to a different direction in the story than you had planned?

Oh yes! Without giving away too many spoilers, there was definitely one scene in the book I did not expect at all. I bawled when I wrote it.

Why did you focus this story on women and reproductive rights? 

Because I believe this is a current issue we’re still facing. If we don’t keep talking about it and challenging the existing constraints of our society, we’re going to find ourselves stuck, or reverting. We all need to make our voices heard. The Glass Arrow is how I’m sharing my story, and my feelings on the issue.

Why did you decide to write in the young adult genre? 

Writing to a young adult audience has never been a deliberate decision of mine. I always write the story in my head, and it often ends up that those characters are in their teen years, a time when people first experience true independence. My stories always seem to gravitate toward characters forced to make decisions they’ve never had to contemplate before–they’re young on the page, but hopefully feel relatable to any age reader.

Why did you pick a post-apocalyptic world as the setting of this novel?

I see a post-apocalyptic setting not as a future possibility, but my own processing of the present. Dystopia is the lens through which I view the world now, as is. We all process experiences in different ways, but when I think of many of the things we are facing today, I see a world in disarray, and fierce, tenacious survivors carving their way through it.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new book? 

I’m so thrilled to say that Pacifica, my next book, will be out on March 6th. It’s about a pirate girl and the son of the president, thrown together to search for their missing friend in a trash-filled world after the last of the polar ice caps have melted. Due to the environmental impact, there is tremendous strain among the people in this story–a dynamic inspired by my grandmother’s stories from her internment in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. Because of that, this book is very personal. I hope people enjoy reading it!

Original interview done by Bailey Shrewsbury.

Adrienne Bliss on Working with Indiana Prisons

We interviewed #bsuenglish professor Adrienne Bliss about the volunteer work she has been doing with women’s prisons for the past five years.

AdrienneBliss.jpgCould you describe what you do?

I am a volunteer in … two ways: I started out with a program called Angels Wings. … They work with the nursery program, Wee Ones there at Indiana Women’s Prison. … It’s pretty innovative actually, and we do baby showers, we do baby’s first Christmas, baby’s first Easter, things like that. … And then on the education side, I both teach as a volunteer professor and I volunteer in the library.

An Interview with Elizabeth King

Elizabeth King is a MA student at Ball State in the English General Studies program. She received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Taiwan for the 2016-2017 school year. Since August 1, 2016, Elizabeth has been in Taitung, Taiwan, a rural county popular with tourists for its beautiful landscape. She has been spending part of her time working with local Taiwanese English teachers in elementary or middle school classrooms, and also improving her language skills and investing in the local community.


King

Winning a Fulbright is a big deal. What do you think made your proposal stand out?

I think there were two main things: one, I knew Taiwan was the right country for me to apply to, and two, I knew how my past experiences added up to make that the right place, and the ETA the right grant. I studied abroad in Xiamen, China back in 2011 and moved there to teach English for a year after I finished undergrad in 2012. After I came back to Indiana, I was a substitute teacher and was able to do some long-term subbing before I came to Ball State, where I have been a TA for the Writing Program. It was a lot of haphazard teaching experience, but when I started my application for Fulbright, I could see how it all added up, and how to demonstrate that experience in my essays.

Also, I worked with Dr. Andrea Wolfe to revise my essays, which taught me so much about that genre of writing. I’m not sure my application would have been successful without her help.

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Brittany Ulman on Interning at International Floral Distributors, Inc.

#bsuenglish Senior Brittany Ulman reflects on the valuable experience she gained as the marketing intern at International Floral Distributors, Inc. in Richmond, Indiana this summer. During this time, Brittany created numerous marketing materials, wrote the scripts that would be featured in IFD’s annual Flower Trends Forecast, and served as a guest blogger for Indianaintern.net.

My internship at International Floral Distributors, Inc. was definitely a whirlwind to say the least, but that doesn’t mean it was not worthwhile. Even though I wasn’t completely prepared for the way in which I was propelled into the previously foreign world known as the flower industry, that exact phenomenon is one of the reasons why I enjoyed my time at IFD.

Despite the fact that my internship placed me in an unexplored environment, I enjoyed the challenge. I love the fact that as an intern, I wasn’t simply doing busy work or carrying out small errands for my co-workers. Instead, I was in the middle of nearly every project, voicing my opinion and being one of the main team members.

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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.

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Meet Dr. Jeff Spanke!

The English Department would like to introduce you to Dr. Jeff Spanke:

How would you describe your perspective on teaching?

I think that teaching is first of all a reciprocal enterprise. So I don’t like the idea that there’s a person with knowledge that gives that knowledge or gifts that knowl20150413_183438035_iosedge to students who are otherwise incapable of learning. I like the idea that teachers serve as guides and facilitators of students’ own learning process, and that ideally teachers are learning along the way too. So it’s a mutually beneficial and a reciprocal process that doesn’t need to take place in a classroom and often doesn’t take place in a classroom. In my experience this idea that we’re treating students as incomplete globs of clay just doesn’t make sense and it’s totally unrealistic. Students are complete individuals, they have worries and fears and motivations and goals, so within the institution of schools, teachers need to adapt to those needs and those learning styles, otherwise we’re just going to keep reproducing a system that every year leaves millions of kids feeling marginalized and othered. So I think teaching is the most noble and important and rewarding thing any of us can do, but I also think that it’s one of the most difficult, and one of the least understood professions in the world.

When are your office hours?

Right now they are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:00 until 2:00 pm in Robert Bell 246. Continue reading

Meet Professor Allison Layfield!

The English Department would like to introduce you to Professor Allison Layfield

Layfield_Allison.jpg Professor Layfield sees the classroom as a time for brainstorming and collaboration. Her goal in the classroom is to get students to think and actively participate in class discussion. She also wants her students to think about the discussions at home and then write about their ideas on the subject.

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Katy Didden

Dr Katy Didden earned her BA from Washington University in St. Louis, her MFA from the University of Maryland, College Park, and her PhD from the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. This semester she’s teaching one section of ENG 285 and one section of ENG 408. 

How would you describe yourself as a teacher?

One of the things I want the most, as a teacher, is for my students to have confidence in their convictions. I also want them to know how to use dialogue as a means of expanding ideas and testing assumptions, and to see the benefits of respecting and understanding other points of view. I want to convince students that because they each have unique life experiences, their contributions to class discussion and peer review are not just valuable but essential to helping the class articulate complex ideas. In my classes, I want to create an atmosphere that fosters students’ creativity, curiosity, and responsibility. I want what they learn in my class to help them succeed in all of their classes.

When are your office hours?

My office hours are Tuesdays from 2-3pm, and Wednesdays from 1-2pm, but I also meet with students by appointment.didden

What are you reading?

I’m often in the middle of several books at once, and right now is no different. Here’s what’s on my desk at the moment: Inger Christensen’s Alphabet, Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Elaine Showalter’s Teaching Literature, George David Clark’s Reveille, Stanley Plumly’s Orphan Hours, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I highly recommend these books! They were highly recommended to me, which is why I have them.

Truly, though, I am spending most of my time thinking about Marianne Moore’s poem “An Octopus” (her poem about Mt. Rainier). I am writing an essay about the importance of place in poetry, and about how Moore has influenced and continues to influence my writing in that respect. Soon, I will turn my attention to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric—I’m presenting a paper on that book for a conference in November. I’m interested in how Rankine uses photographs and other visual images in Citizen to help her navigate difficult subjects such as race relations and the subjugation of women’s bodies.

What do you think everyone should read?

One short story that has stayed with me over the years, and one that has generated a lot of thoughtful discussion with my students, is Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” A quick list of poems I love would be: “At the Fishhouses,” by Elizabeth Bishop, “The City of Light,” by Larry Levis, “A Small Needful Fact,” by Ross Gay, “What he Thought,” by Heather McHugh, “Rain Effect” by Mary Ruefle, and “The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz.

What’s your biggest pet peeve in the classroom/what is a big mistake students tend to make?

The first thing that comes to mind is “eye-rolling,” though I’m also intrigued by it. On some level, people roll their eyes as a form of protest, and maybe more importantly to form a bond with their classmates (the ones for whom the eye roll is performed). What I don’t like about it is that it sets up the teacher/ student dynamic into clichéd, antagonistic roles, and that doesn’t interest me. I prefer to think of the classroom as a collaborative space. That is to say, I appreciate students who take responsibility for creating an engaged, positive environment in the classroom—it makes more of a difference than most students realize.

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I am working on two new manuscripts of poems. The first project builds upon and advances work I began in my first book, The Glacier’s Wake. That book includes persona poems where I write in the voice of a glacier, a sycamore, and a wasp to confront the contrary impulses of consumerism and conservation. For “The Lava on Iceland,” I am erasing a series of source texts about Iceland, from a variety of disciplines (from literature and history, to politics and pop culture) into a lyric voice of lava. The project is multi-modal, and collaborative; I am working with graphic designer Kevin Tseng to set the erasures over a series of photos, alternating between the archival photos of Frederick Howell and color photographs by numerous contemporary artists and writers. The final texts are a palimpsest of photographs, source texts, and erasures.

Even while I am working on more experimental poems with the erasure project, I have been steadily working on a series of sound-driven poems, some in blank verse, and others in looser, rhyme-dense forms. These poems address a range of subjects from super derechos, to opera, to Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” I see one theme emerging among the new poems, which is that many poems are in dialogue with other writers and artists, from photographers like Travis Dove, to writers like Cavafy, Dante, and Shakespeare. I have also recently returned from the Pilgrimage to Compostela in Spain, and have begun a series of poems inspired by my research of medieval Christian iconography and Spanish mystics like Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the hermits who lived at Montserrat.

What are your other hobbies?

I love to be outdoors, so some of my favorite hobbies are running, hiking, swimming, and cycling. I also love yoga, especially Iyengar, or alignment-based, yoga. I enjoy playing the guitar, and I’m currently taking guitar lessons for the first time in fifteen years!


Please join us in welcoming Dr Katy Didden to our department!

Cultivating Creative Identities with Brian Morrison

Brian MorrisonBrian Morrison

Ball State English Professor.

Published writer.

Part of Ball State’s Faculty Reading Series.


On Wednesday the 28th…

Brian Morrison will read with Silas Hansen as part of Ball State’s Faculty Reading Series.

The Faculty Reading Series hopes to bring English professors into the spotlight, showcasing their talents and interests outside of class.

Brian is still a relatively new addition to Ball State, taken on as an assistant English professor in 2013. He was also assistant editor of Black Warrior Review while he received his MFA at The University of Alabama. You can find his poetry in Verse Daily, Copper Nickel, Story Magazine, and other literary journals.

Before his reading on Wednesday, we got to talk to Brian about his role as a teacher and a writer.


How did you become interested in writing?

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An inquiring mind: a new faculty profile of Kristine Kotecki

Welcome to the latest installment of the English department’s new faculty profile series, where we welcome another new member to our family. Be sure to check out past profiles, which include Silas Hansen, Lupe Linares, Molly Ferguson, Laura Romano, and Vanessa Rapatz.

Say hello to Kristine Kotecki.

Photo provided by Kristine Kotecki

Photo provided by Kristine Kotecki

Kristine earned her Ph.D. from University of Texas at Austin in Dec. 2013, and she was most recently a lecturer at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Kristine will be teaching courses in world literature, film, media, and digital humanities. In her research and teaching, Kristine focuses on how the past is imagined in contemporary texts. She has written about film festivals, world literature anthologies, neorealist films, fairy-tale films, Eastern European video film exhibits, and anticolonial historiography.

So, how did you get interested in your interdisciplinary research?

I spent an eventful four years between college and graduate school exploring various paths that someone with an inquiring mind and socially conscious disposition might take.

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