Category Archives: Faculty News

Meet Jason Owens

This fall, Jason Owens became one of three new faculty members to join the English Department.  We asked him to tell us about himself and what he brings to FMU.

Q. Tell us a little about your research. In what areas do you research? What was your dissertation about? Any future plans?

Jason OwensMy research interests include Black social and political thought, the systemic, institutional, and technological forms of violence against youth in the United States, and the impact/influence of privatization/corporatization on operations, curriculum implementation, and values orientations in public schools. My dissertation focuses on social reconstruction theory in education, particularly the work of Theodore Brameld, and the theory’s radical instructive influence on the values, vision, and mission of public education in the United States. In the future, my research plans are to engage social reconstruction philosophy with different areas of youth culture. I plan to offer social reconstruction theory as a force to defend violent capitalistic onslaughts against the youth, as well as offer awareness to the contemporary crises that endanger this most vulnerable and targeted group.

Q. How might students explain your teaching style or your course? What can students expect of you in the classroom?

Students often explain my teaching style as free-flowing, passionate, and current. One of the chief components in social reconstruction is to facilitate a form or approach of problem-posing. I seek to trouble the waters, to move into, survey, examine, and reflect on uncomfortable spaces, and hopefully to achieve a measure of growth or develop successful solutions to the many critical problems that confront contemporary society. I tend to build on the foundations of critical pedagogy and experiential learning. I feel that these platforms allow a more democratic space and decenter the classroom and overt and implicit functions of hierarchy that can arrest the learning/engagement process.

Most students might say I’m light-hearted and intense, playful and serious, a little neurotic, and very human in the classroom. I expect strong engagement from students in our learning communities. I understand that students are at different places in their academic journeys, but I feel motivation, enthusiasm, and curiosity are vital to their successful and active participation and growth, and these qualities often will compensate for other more measurable shortcomings or issues in process.

Q. What texts have been most influential in your teaching? What are you currently reading?

The authors who have been most influential to my teaching and research have been Theodore Brameld, Henry Giroux, H. Svi Shapiro, Charles W. Mills, Stanley Aronowitz, Howard Zinn, James Baldwin, Peter Berger, Maxine Greene, bell hooks, Zygmunt Bauman, Noam Chomsky, and Cornel West. There are many others, but these scholars have contributed so much to my critical approach and outlook on the power and purpose of education and the value and importance of democracy.  I am currently reading and re-reading several articles by Henry Giroux and a collection of short stories and essays by Charles W. Chesnutt.

Q. What do you do for fun?

I enjoy spending time with family. I love spending time in South Carolina’s low country. I am a casual fan of certain sports, but I am quite passionate when watching basketball. I enjoy all aspects of the science and poetry of the game of basketball, particularly the high school level. I enjoy trying new recipes and experiencing different restaurants. I can be a bit of a homebody. Sometimes there is nothing better than reading a good book and taking a long nap on a Saturday afternoon. I enjoy many different genres of music. I am really into soul and jazz from the 1960s and 1970s. I also tend to enjoy political dramas and documentary films on politics, social issues, and popular culture.

Q. What were you like as a college student?

It’s kind of a blur now. I must be getting old.  I will say that seeing the Francis Marion students does often take me back to those bygone days as an undergraduate. I think this is one of the greatest rewards that comes from working with and sharing space with mostly traditional students primarily from South Carolina. I do recognize so much of my younger days and experiences as a native South Carolinian in the lives and passions of the students at FMU. I feel truly renewed and invigorated from their youth and energy.

Meet Dr. Jason Marley

This fall, Jason Marley became one of three new faculty members to join the English Department.  We asked him to tell us about himself and what he brings to FMU.

Q: Tell us a little about your research. In what areas do you research? What was your dissertation about? Do you have any ongoing projects? Any future plans?

My research focuMarley 1ses mostly on linguistic and narrative experimentation in 20th century global Anglophone fiction. I’m currently working on a project on speech in the postcolonial novel that explores questions of dialect, slang, accents, and vernacular language. Specifically, I focus on writers such as G.V. Desani and Sam Selvon, who experiment with the variability of national and local languages. I’m interested in the ways these texts enact resistance through their experimental—and often extremely antagonistic—representations of speech and language.

I also do some work on Modernism. My two most recent publications are on Jean Rhys and Felipe Alfau—writers who, I would argue, seldom get enough critical attention.

Q: What texts have been most influential in your teaching?

More so than that of anyone else, the work of Jean Rhys has been enormously important to me—particularly Good Morning, Midnight and Voyage in the Dark. Rhys’s early work is often read solely in the context of British Modernism, but themes of racial oppression and the trauma of dislocation lurk below the surface of the text. Her work opened a lot of avenues of exploration for me; I started to explore more Caribbean literature as a result.

Rhys is also incredibly fun to teach. Students don’t often find her protagonists very sympathetic because they are, in most cases, bitter, depressed, and frequently drunk. I think that this initial frustration and annoyance is fascinating to talk about, especially since her protagonists’ anger hides a very long history of abuse and oppression.

Q: What are you currently reading?

At some point over the next few semesters, I plan on teaching a Caribbean literature course, so I’ve recently been rereading C.L.R. James’s Minty Alley, which focuses on a middle class suburbanite who essentially goes “slumming” in an impoverished neighborhood in Trinidad. What I find intriguing about James’s novel is its use of limited perspective. As readers, we see the slum solely through the narrator’s eyes; there are no flashbacks, no cutaways—and the only thing we really know about the alley is the stories the inhabitants tell him which, of course, may or may not be true. Essentially, without explicitly stating it, James suggests the narrator can never truly immerse himself in the world of Minty Alley; he is an observer, but can never grasp the tragedy of poverty that surrounds him.

Q: In additional to World Literature courses, what are some other courses you’d like to teach at FMU?

I’m very interested in narrative structure and, at some point, I’d like to teach an interdisciplinary literature course analyzing narrative in video games. There’s been a lot written on electronic and hypertextual literature, but very little actual critical analysis of video games. For example, I haven’t heard nearly enough discussion about the recent focus on minimalism in console games. If you look at something like Journey, a game that lacks dialogue and is meant to be played in one sitting, there’s a level of immersion there that, to me, is fascinating, given how short the game actually is. Similarly, FROM software’s recent titles (Dark Souls, Bloodborne, etc) provide almost no narrative exposition whatsoever. It’s a phenomenon far different than the recent trend in television dramas like Orange is the New Black or The Walking Dead that build their narrative arc on backstory. I think it’s a mistake to view video games in a vacuum apart from other forms of art and entertainment, so it’d be refreshing to turn a critical eye to the genre in the context of broader culture.

Faculty Spotlight: Professor Gardner, Creative Writer

Next spring, Professor Gardner is offering  a screenwriting workshop (English 431) for students who want to learn the fundamentals of screenplay design, including screenplay structure, presentation format, scene design, character and plot development, and tips for creating effective dialogue.

Professor Gardner began teaching English at Francis Marion University in 1980. He is a widely published writer of short fiction and is the author of two collections of short stories, Someone To Crawl Back To and Somebody Wants Somebody Dead. A third collection, Available Light (Boson Books), was published last November.

Also in 2013, his short story, “Happy Hour,” was selected for adaption for a short film and shown at the Expecting Goodness Film Festival in Spartanburg, SC in June, 2014. The story was first presented by Liar’s League in London.


In October, Professor Gardner was the featured writer for USC-Aiken’s Oswald Writers’ Series, and on November 10, he will be the featured writer for Barton College’s Victor R. Small Writers’ Series.

FMU students who would like more information on Professor Gardner’s upcoming screenwriting course can read the course description for English 431 online or visit Professor Gardner in his office.

FMU Patriots Attend Dickens Universe

In this joint-authored post, Dr. Catherine England and English majors Thomas Wampler and Meagan Hooks recount their trip to Dickens Universe, an annual event in Santa Cruz, California. 

There’s a foggy, seaside town in California where scholars, students, and enthusiasts gather to discuss, analyze, and enjoy Charles Dickens’s works every August for a week. It’s called the Dickens Universe, and it has been hosted by the University of California, Santa Cruz for thirty-four successful years. I was lucky enough to take Thomas Wampler and Meagan Hooks, two FMU English majors, to this event last summer because of the generous support of FMU’s REAL Grant program. We attended lectures, seminars, and workshops to enrich our knowledge of Dickens, Victorian culture, and the field of English Studies more broadly. I am excited for Thomas and Meagan to tell you more about the Universe and their wonderful experiences in their own words!

Thomas, Meagan, and Dr. England at Dickens Universe

Thomas, Meagan, and Dr. England at Dickens Universe

What is the Dickens Universe?

One of the organizers of the Dickens Universe calls it a combination of a “scholarly conference, festival, book club, and summer camp,” and it lives up to that billing. Each year the Universe focuses its lectures, seminars, and other events on one novel by Charles Dickens. In 2014, the Universe focused on Dickens’s final, completed novel, Our Mutual Friend, a dark work that takes its readers from scenes of dead bodies floating in the Thames to massive heaps of “dust” (something like a Victorian landfill) as it explores the relationships between life and death as well as money and filth.

At the Universe, top scholars powerfully deliver lectures once or twice each day, and between these lectures, participants attend seminars and workshops lead by English faculty and graduate students from all over the world. It is an opportunity to listen and learn from others while formulating and expressing your own ideas about literature. As an added bonus, you get to stay in beautiful Santa Cruz with access to unbelievable views of the mountains, the Redwoods, and the Pacific Ocean. This unique event concludes its scholarly conversation by embracing whimsical fun with a Victorian ball on the final night, during which you can, despite your jeans and T-shirts, learn and practice nineteenth-century dances. The Dickens Universe provides daily intellectual stimuli, a very busy schedule, and the opportunity to learn all about Charles Dickens, the Victoria era, and contemporary scholarship.

Reading under the Redwoods at Dickens Universe

Reading under the Redwoods at Dickens Universe

Thomas’s Experience

One of the most exciting things that happened to me while attending the 34th Annual Dickens Universe was the opportunity to interact with Professor Jessica Kuskey. Dr. England, as part of our summer preparation before attending the conference, had us read “Our Mutual Engine: The Economics of Victorian Thermodynamics” by Kuskey. We were required to summarize the article and also prepare a basic response in support or disagreement with Kuskey’s work. I found out the first day we arrived at Dickens Universe that I was going to be in Kuskey’s seminar. I had the opportunity to discuss her paper in class and later one-on-one. She answered my questions and proved as kind as she was smart. She took the time to tell me her thought process in writing the paper and how she eventually “stumbled” upon the subject of thermodynamics, which was not originally her topic.

Another aspect of the Universe that struck me was how international its make-up was. In my morning seminar, there was a student from Japan. In my mid-morning session, there was a participant from Australia, and the session was led by a graduate student originally from India. In all my classes we had a variety of people from all over the United States: Colorado, Washington State, Washington, D.C., Maine, New York, Iowa, Hawaii, to name just a few. The fact that I was exposed to so many different people with different backgrounds only enhanced the educational and cultural experience.

reading thomas and meagan

Meagan’s Experience

I really enjoyed my graduate-student led discussion group at the Dickens Universe. This open forum was great for allowing participants to delve deeply into Our Mutual Friend and analyze critically through close reading and class discussion. In these forums, I was able to learn a lot from the grad students along with my fellow classmates, who all brought unique perspectives. I feel confident I will be able to apply what I learned from my experience in my own English studies, and hope to be able to apply teaching strategies in the future when I may have students of my own.

There was much more to Dickens Universe than just the classroom, however. One of my favorite activities was the Grand Ball on the last night of the conference, during which we were taught traditional Victorian dances. The dance was a great way to have fun and socialize with other participants, as well as get a taste for Victorian culture. Overall, Dickens Universe was a truly unique academic experience unlike anything else.

Dr. Edwins Wins Carrie McCray Nickens Poetry Fellowship

Dr. Jo Angela Edwins, who teaches creative writing courses in poetry, is the winner of the 2014 Carrie McCray Nickens Poetry Fellowship. Dr. Edwins will be honored in April at the annual induction ceremony for the South Carolina Academy of Authors. She also will be awarded a cash prize.

CC-licensed photo by flickr user the learnedfoot_

CC-licensed photo by flickr user the learnedfoot_

According to the South Carolina Academy of Authors website, the fellowship  “was established in 2009 to support South Carolina poets whose work employs skilled verse composition and reflects a heightened awareness of the human condition.” The competition is held annually, and submissions are accepted each fall.

Writer and professor Lavonne Adams, who judged this year’s competition, praised Dr. Edwins’ winning poetry collection as

hav[ing] a coherence of voice—poems that speak to one another, that echo… The author exhibits mastery of form—a gracious breaking of line and stanza—which enhances the language, the imagery, and the sound devices, all delightfully tactile. [1]

Congratulations, Dr. Edwins, on this fine accomplishment!


Resurrecting Forgotten Literary Texts Widens Notions of Genre, History

In this post, Dr. Chris Johnson, chair of the department, discusses a forthcoming publication about a little-known eighteenth-century biography. Although the biography commanded a huge following for decades after its publication, it’s been largely forgotten today, but studying it and other overlooked literary texts has its own rewards. 

Much of my scholarly work involves recovering old texts that may have enjoyed considerable popularity in their own day, but that have been largely forgotten by literary historians and critics. These works, I’ve discovered are often quite readable, and they give us an opportunity to reconsider some of our assumptions concerning a particular genre or time period.

For the past few months, I have been working with a nearly forgotten text, Philip Doddridge’s Some Remarkable Passages in the Life of the Honourable Col. James Gardiner, which was first published in 1747. The biography, which was enormously popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, records the life of a famous solider who endured horrific wounds as a young man, repented and early life of sin, and fought valiantly in the Battle of Preston pans, where he was killed.

Although readers of the biography will learn a bit about eighteenth-century weapons and tactics, Doddridge does not focus on Gardiner’s military career. Instead, he directs our attention to his subject’s spiritual life. This focus seems logical when one considers the author. Doddridge himself was a dissenting minister, who published dozens of sermons and theological works, including the tremendously successful Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul.

For Doddridge, the important part of Gardiner’s life is his transition from sinfulness to redemption, and his work follows many of the conventions of spiritual autobiography, which English majors will remember from John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Doddridge’s work, however, is notable for the quality of its writing. Reading very much like a novel, the work is a rhetorical masterpiece, and it contains many of the features that Doddridge incorporated in his sermons and that he taught to young ministers. Particularly noteworthy are Doddridge’s many appeals to his reader’s emotions, which align his work with later eighteenth-century sentimental literature.

In the end, I argue that the biography helps us understand the complicated dynamics that exist among novelistic fiction, biography, homiletics, and hymns.

–Dr. Johnson

Dr. Johnson’s article about Doddridge’s biography, “Artful Instruction: Philip Doddridge’s The Life of Colonel James Gardiner” is forthcoming in Beyond Sense and Sensibility: New Perspectives on Moral Education in the Late Eighteenth Century, ed. Peggy Thompson (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press).


Welcome, Ms. Kim Turner!

Earlier in the semester, the Department of English announced the appointment of several new faculty members. In this post, we get to know Ms. Kim Turner as part of an ongoing “Q and A” series with our recent faculty additions. 

Ms. Turner previously taught at Florence-Darlington Technical College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but she’s no stranger to FMU: she’s a recent alumna!

In this Q and A, Ms. Turner discusses pursuing an MA in English, which she completed from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2013. She also explains how minoring in Gender Studies at FMU shaped her current research interests.  

What made you decide to specialize in your current subfield in English?

I minored in Gender Studies as an undergraduate, and I found the coursework particularly interesting. Modern American society, for all its progress, still possesses relatively archaic views of gender, sex, and sexuality. We find these issues played out over and over again in literature and popular culture, and research concerning these themes are particularly crucial for our cultural advancement.

What would you have liked to tell the 20-year-old version of yourself about college?

It’s okay if you need to take time and go a little slower. You’ve got a lot of life left. Take your time and learn.

What is the most intriguing or quirky idea that you have learned from your recent research?

I’ve been researching the HBO show Girls, and I’m still awed that my work is part of a legitimate field! It’s great to study in a field which entertains and interests you AND yields academic work!

Did you go straight to graduate school after college? If not, what was the most interesting thing you did in the interim?

I took a year off in between my undergrad and grad degrees. In the year off, I taught at a tech school and learned that being a teacher is not for the faint of heart!