Category Archives: News

New musical by BSU profs revisits King assassination, Kennedy speech

“Dear Bobby: A Musical,” written by BSU English professors Angela Jackson-Brown and Peter Davis, will debut on Thursday, March 22 at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre in Indianapolis. Prof. Jackson-Brown is the author of the novel Drinking from a Bitter Cup, the upcoming poetry collection House Repairs, and the plays Black Lives Matter (Too), Anna’s Wings, and It is Well, among other works. You can find more info about her work at www.angelajacksonbrown.com. Peter Davis is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Band Names and Other Poems. You can find more info about his work at artisnecessary.com.

Department Assistant Chairperson Pat Collier spoke with Jackson Brown and Davis about the new musical.

PC: Your play tells the story of Bobby Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis on the day of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Kennedy was discouraged from going on with the speech but insisted; it’s been suggested that his intervention may have prevented rioting in Indy.

Angela, how did you get selected to write this musical?

AJB: Most times when I write, the vision is 100% mine. In this instance, I was commissioned by the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative to write a play about Bobby Kennedy’s speech on April 4, 1968. That night, Kennedy had just finished giving a speech to over 10,000 Ball State University students (another wonderful connection to this story), so the historical component to this event was not lost on me. I strongly believe in serendipity and this felt like one of those moments.

James Still, the phenomenal playwright at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, produced a play about this event called April 4, 1968. I knew I wanted to do something totally different and out of the box, so I immediately thought, this story needs to be a musical. And because Pete and I had just completed writing a musical called Underneath the Chinaberry Tree, I knew we could do this project together. Our work ethic is so similar. We don’t procrastinate, and we are never so married to our work that we can’t listen. I don’t know if he and I will be the next Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I do know I would love to work on future projects with Pete. He gets me, and I believe, I get him too.

PC: Peter, you’re primarily a poet (though you’ve written a lot of songs). How is writing for a musical different from your previous work?

PD: I haven’t written music for a musical before working with Angela, but working on it wasn’t much different than working on other projects. No matter what I’m doing, I’m always working within a certain set of constraints, like the genre, or my abilities, or time, money, and access. Being an artist always feels like the same thing because the “art” part takes place regardless of (or inside of) the specific constraints.

PC: Creative writers spend a lot of time working alone, in complete control of their creations. What was it like working collaboratively?

PD: Working with Angela was great. It was super easy. She basically did everything. Angela secured funding for the both of us, wrote the play, wrote the lyrics, coordinated with the IndyFringe Theater, and even sang some of the melody for one of the songs.  Once she’d explained the project to me she gave me a file with lyrics for seven songs. All I had to do was to come up with the melodies. I’m constantly writing songs and so this felt like a vacation for me; half the songs were already done; I just had to fill in the music.

Of course, on some songs I had to tinker with the lyrics to fit a particular pattern or something, but Angela had already written the lyrics in a structure and so that job was mostly done. She gave them to me all at once and I just worked on whichever song I wanted to until I’d finally completed them. It was during the summer and so I sat at the piano in my living room and just messed around. It was pretty relaxing. It reminded me of the expression “many hands make light work.” Except in this case, it should be “Angela’s hands make light work.”

It was so easy working together that in the weeks prior to working on “Dear Bobby” we used roughly the same process to complete another musical, this one full of blues music. This play has yet to be produced, but my point is simply that working with Angela was easy and fun. I’d work with her on anything, anytime.

AJB: I love the art of collaboration and when I wear my playwriting hat, collaboration is imperative. Up until this project, my favorite collaboration was with BSU alum Ashya Thomas, who studied in our department. Ashya and I wrote Black Lives Matter (Too). This play received glowing reviews and was invited to two different festivals. Even though she was a student at the time, I respected her craft and her understanding of our subject matter.

The only way collaboration can work is if there is 100% trust between the collaborators. It is never one person’s vision. It might start out that way, but then, it becomes the vision of the director, the costumer, the sound and lighting designer, the scenic designer, and the actors (just to name a few). So, a playwright cannot afford to go into a theatrical writing project without considering the fact that there are many voices that must be heard if the project is going to go off without a hitch.

When it came to working on Dear Bobby, I was prepared to share the vision with Pete because more than anything, I trust him. This musical depended heavily on his musical vision and understanding of the historical time we were writing about. Pete asked all of the right questions, and then, we were off to the races, so to speak. Working with Pete was a dream. We never had to scrap a song because we just clicked so well artistically that we instinctively knew what was going to work. At times, it felt like he was inside my head (I hope he didn’t get scared up there.)

My goal as a teacher is to encourage other young writers to consider collaboration. Learning how to collaborate prepares young writers for that day when they hopefully sign with a literary agent. People may not realize it, but the agent and writer are collaborators. My agent, Alice Speilburg, is phenomenal when it comes to suggesting things I need to change or work on, and I know I have to be open to her suggestions. I have to trust that the people I put in my camp are there to make my work the best it can be.

Tickets for Dear Bobby: A Musical are available at http://www.indyfringe.org/theatre-show/dear-bobby-musical.

 

 

 

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Oh, the places you’ll go, #bsuenglish

Want an answer to the question “What can you do with an English degree?”

Here’s what some recent #bsuenglish graduates are doing right now!

Communications & Marketing

  • Luke Bell (BA in CW 2016) Writer & Social Media Manager, Fanning Howey Architects, Indianapolis, IN
  • Lauren Birkey (BA in English Studies 2017) Copywriter & Designer, Spotted Monkey Marketing, Muncie, IN
  • Ellie Fawcett (BA in Literature 2017) Marketing Specialist and Content Writer, Englin’s Fine Footwear, Muncie, IN

Publishing

  • Daniel Brount (BA in CW 2016) Page Designer/Copy Editor, Gatehouse Media, Austin, TX
  • Brandon Buechley (BA in CW 2016) Marketing Assistant, Cardinal Publisher’s Group, Indianapolis, IN
  • Caroline Delk (BA in CW 2017) Assistant and Remote Intern, Brent Taylor, Triada Literary Agency, Sewickley, PA
  • Audrey Hirons (BA in CW 2016) Article Editor, ZergNet, Carmel, IN
  • Niki Wilkes (BA in CW 2015) Marketing Coordinator, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN Continue reading

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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#bsuenglish at the AWP Conference

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) is an annual conference, held this year from February 8 through February 11 in Washington, D.C. Eleven #bsuenglish students had the honor of attending this year, led by #bsuenglish Professor Jill Christman.

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs was held in the convention center located in downtown Washintgon, D.C. this year. Nearly 12,000 writers from all across America flocked to the event, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Professor Jill Christman, who has served on the AWP Board of Trustees for five years now, was eager to be the chairperson of the conference committee this year.

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Professor Christman displays her crown at the AWP conference.

Long before the conference even began, Professor Christman was busy planning for the event. She is also the head of the sub committee of 20 professional writers who prepare for the annual AWP conference by reading proposals for the event and deciding who will present at the conference. This year, she estimates that the committee read approximately 1,800 proposals but were only able to accept 550 of them. Professor Christman read 600 proposals alone. “It’s not all just about wearing the crown,” she says.

One of Professor Christman’s additional duties was to help choose the keynote speaker for the conference: Iranian writer Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita In Tehran and The Republic of Imagination. Choosing her to speak at the conference was “galvanizing for a lot of people,” said Professor Christman. In addition to choosing Nafisi as the keynote speaker, Professor Christman also had the honor of hosting her and welcoming her to the conference.

The conference included a book fair where presses of all shapes and sizes, including university presses, rent tables that are all displayed in a room about the size of the football field. This year was the first year that Ball State University had a table, which helped recruit for the creative writing and graduate programs. Students had the opportunity to mingle with professional writers, such as Rita Dove, Valeria Luiselli, and former #bsuenglish student Ashley C. Ford.

Senior creative writing major Lauren Cross was very excited to be there. “Attending the AWP Conference was easily the best undergraduate experience I have had. I was able to talk with people whose essays we read every day in class and they seemed almost as interested in us as we were in them. I guess what struck me the most, though, was being able to say the authors and essayists we look up to professionally are also people we can look up to personally—they are genuinely kind, empathetic people. It’s refreshing knowing we can surround ourselves with others who only wish to be their true, authentic selves,” she said.

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Ashley C. Ford, who attended Ball State, visits the university’s table.

“The AWP conference sweeps you away in a rush of the sensorium: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, comics, and so many other genres in books, essays, stories, graphic novels, and more,” says senior creative writing major, Drew Miles, who also attended AWP this year. “There are so many colors, voices, lights, rooms, microphones, words. There are tables upon tables at the book fair representing literary journals and MFA programs. There are famous authors and managing editors casually mingling around you and panels lined up like clockwork discussing social issues, pedagogy, literary elements, and how they all connect to more developed writing. It’s like a wave of shared passion lighting you on and flowing within you. It’s nothing short of spectacular.”

Next year’s AWP Conference will be held in Tampa, Florida, in March! We hope to see you there!

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Stars to Steer By: TESOL Information and Next Semester's Events!

panelThe panel for this event included Nuha Alsalem, Tiffany Ellis, Leslie Erlenbaugh, Shane Lanning, and Matthias Raess. Each speaker had valuable information regarding their experience with teaching abroad and also teaching English as a second language. Students interested in teaching English to non-native speakers should check out the TESOL minor. The minor in TESOL offers the skills and knowledge necessary for teaching English to non-native speakers of English both domestically and internationally. If you are looking to teach abroad, you should look at the Fulbright Scholarship.

If you missed out on the last Stars to Steer By event this semester, have no fear! We’ve got a whole lot more coming to you in the spring semester! Our first event entitled “English Majors Can Make Millions (for Good Causes) with speakers Cheri O’Neill and Bruce Hetrick is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31 at 5 pm in Bracken 104.

#bsuenglish Remembers Dr. James Ruebel

James Ruebel Honors CollegeMany English Department students and faculty are also affiliated with the Ball State Honors College and were deeply affected by the passing of Dr. James Ruebel, who had been the Dean of the Honors College since 2000.

“I’ve been acquainted with Dr. Ruebel since he arrived at Ball State many years ago,” Professor Elizabeth Dalton remembers. “We’ve worked closely for the past six years working together to teach an integrated humanities class every fall. For four of those six years we also led field studies to Rome and, usually, Florence, Italy. These were two-week field studies where students explored art, architecture, history, and literature of the cities.”

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