In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series, we celebrate the end of the school year by bringing back a post from our archives by associate professor Dr. Debbie Mix. Below, Dr. Mix recommends her list of summer reads, headlined by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and followed by several other fantastic books!
In the Spring semester of 2010, theatre professor Beth Turcotte directed a Virginia Ball Center immersive learning seminar in which she and fourteen undergraduate students worked to write and produce a musical based on Ball State English professor Cathy Day’s book, The Circus in Winter. Since its beginnings, the musical has gone on to the 2012 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington D.C., where it won many distinctions, including “Outstanding Production of a New Work,” “Outstanding Director of a New Work,” and “Outstanding Scenic Design,” before being selected as one of only eight musicals for inclusion in the NAMT festival. Now, The Circus in Winter musical will be performed in regional theatres across the country with the hopes of being produced as a Broadway musical in a few short years. Follow the link below to read a Stage Magazine article about the musical including an extensive interview with Beth Turcotte, Ben Clark, and Cathy Day:
This Thursday, September 29, The Circus in Winter: A Musical will premiere for the first time ever at Ball State’s University Theatre. This musical is based upon the novel, The Circus in Winter, by assistant professor of English, Cathy Day, and it was written and produced exclusively by Ball State students as part of their Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry semester-long seminar. Below is further information about the performers and the chance to meet with Cathy Day after the October 6th performance.
Last week, I was walking down Main Street when I saw this on the marquee of the Muncie Civic Theater.
Yes, I know this is Muncie, Indiana, not New York City, but it’s still pretty cool to see the name of your book on a theater marquee.
Last year, an amazing group of Ball State students adapted my first book into a musical. This project was sponsored by the Virginia Ball Center and led by Theater professor Beth Turcotte.
To prepare for the full production in Fall 2011, they have been performing concert readings all around the region.
The next one will be Saturday, Feb. 5 at 7:30 PM, a fundraiser for the Muncie Civic Theater. $5 at the door.
I hope you can make it. You’ll be supporting the arts in this community as well as BSU students. And you will enjoy yourself to boot. Seriously, this is a wonderful show. You’ll find yourself humming the songs for days afterward.
Here‘s more information. Please share the link and let others know about his event, too.
Cathy Day is the newest member of Ball State’s Creative Writing faculty in the Department of English. She is the author of two books. Her most recent work is Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love (Free Press, 2008), part memoir about life as a single woman and part sports story about the Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl season. Her first book was The Circus in Winter (Harcourt, 2004), a fictional history of her hometown. I had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Day and talk with about what kind of research goes into her writing, the influence of her hometown on her craft, and writing in different genres.
Since environment seems to be a great inspiration for you, can you tell us about your hometown—Peru, Indiana?
My town was winter quarters for a circus at the turn of the century. There was a guy in the town named Ben Wallace who was a livery stable owner and he got this notion to buy a circus. When the circus was sold, the people who traveled with the circus ended up settling in Peru because it was the closest thing they knew to a home. Some fairly famous circus folk that settled there ended up training their kids how to be performers, and so these kids put on a circus.
When I went to college, people would ask me where I was from and I’d tell them the story of Peru and they’d say, “Wow! That’s really interesting.” The thing about being from a town is you think it’s boring because it’s always around you. That’s been a big thing for my writing and teaching: trying to encourage people to look at the places they’re from for their material. It’s usually all there.
How did you research The Circus in Winter?
I spent the first five or six years reading circus history books. I would be inspired by a photograph or a factoid, and let the story go from there. I think fiction writers research in a very different way than nonfiction writers in that I didn’t have to feel bound by the facts. I would flip through a book or look through a microfilm for something that would catch my interest and go from there. There’s this thing a friend of mine calls “the atrophy of writing” where if you’re looking, as I did, at this massive body of information you kind of pick through it and don’t know what’s going to be interesting. You just have to trust that the stuff that matters to you will rise to the top and the rest of it will fall away. It’s really overwhelming to look at all that stuff and think, how am I going to get all that in there? And the answer is you don’t.
CiW is being adapted as a musical by the Ball State University Department of Theatre & Dance, slated to be performed as part of their 2011-2012 season. What’s it like as an author to have your work adapted into another medium?
It’s surreal. To actually have a story that’s in your head tangible is awesome, but it’s also very weird. It’s really moving that they’ve created songs, a whole different medium to convey the themes of my book. One thing I was incredibly impressed by was that those songs were very faithful to what I was trying to say in the book. I call them the “truths of my heart,” coming out of someone’s mouth.
You also have a memoir out, Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love. Can you talk about your experiences writing memoir rather than fiction?
The thing I loved about writing Comeback Season was that it helped me learn to write a novel. To a certain point when you’re writing nonfiction, the plot’s already there, you just have to pick what parts to use. It’s a bit like being a documentary filmmaker and you shoot a ton of footage and then you have to go to the editing booth and figure out what to cut.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your new students at Ball State?
Ever since Circus in Winter came out I’ve been trying to come back here as often as I can to kind of give back to Indiana. When I was young, I didn’t know how to become a writer. I didn’t know how to be an artist or to live the life that I wanted because there was absolutely no one in my hometown who lived the way I wanted to live. I left for twenty years and now I want to be that person I would have loved to meet when I was a kid, to be that person to say, “That’s interesting. You should write about it.”
Anyone who has talked to me for more than, say, five minutes, probably knows the first book on this list: Moby-Dick. Why? Because it’s about everything! Love, grief, justice, power, gender, epistemology, language, disability, anger, belief, history, responsibility, humor, awe, identity, race—and that’s just the beginning. I’ll admit that I didn’t pick up this book by choice the first time (I had to read it in grad school), but now I pick it up regularly, and I really think you should, too. After Moby-Dick the choices get harder, but here are a few more books I read this summer that I think are worth your time and effort:
Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood: These two books are linked—two perspectives on a single set of events—and I read them side-by-side. These stories take us to a future riven by economic and genetic distinctions, and ask us to follow, and care about, the lives of characters living in different circumstances in that world. Global warming, genetic modification, the gap between the haves and have-nots, pandemic diseases, all these subjects (and more) are Atwood’s concern.
Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse: It tells the story of Toland Polk, growing up white and gay in a small southern town in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. The combination of image and text creates a compelling and profoundly human narrative about the intersections of the personal and political. Cruse’s book is a great example of the nearly unlimited potential of graphic narrative to address complex issues in more than black and white ways.
The Circus in Winter, by Cathy Day: Even if Cathy Day hadn’t just joined our English Department, I’d encourage you to read this wonderful collection of linked short stories. Set in the fictional town of Lima, Indiana (a stand-in for Peru, Indiana), these stories center around the Great Porter Circus, which makes its winter home in Lima. We see the lives of performers, clowns, animal trainers, and others linked to the circus by chance, desire, and heredity. At times funny, poignant, and heartbreaking, this collection is always humane and always fascinating.
The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich: Too often American Indians are represented in American culture as artifacts of the past rather than as citizens of the present. One of Erdrich’s most important projects as a novelist has been to challenge that myth through her beautiful and unflinching depictions of present-day indigeneity. This book, set on an Ojibwe reservation and the nearby town of Pluto, North Dakota, reaches back to the past—the brutal murders of a white family near the reservation in 1911—but its attention is on the present as Erdrich’s signature style of multiple intersecting narratives and gorgeous detail fills in the whole story.