Category Archives: Who We Are and What We Do

Welcome, Dr. Spear!

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

Q: What can you share about your research area and your current projects?

A: My research deals with writing as a form of healing, for self and for others, and pulls from expressive therapy theories as well as autobiographical and trauma studies.  I focus primarily on contemporary nonfiction texts by women authors who write about their traumatic experiences, including, but not limited to, illness and rape.  One of my current projects examines a specific rape narrative, where the author blurs her personal story with a cultural call for change.  Arguing that society’s dominant narrative silences rape stories and weaving her different storylines together, the author constructs a clever text, filled with stylistic choices aimed towards restoring her own agency as well as invoking a shift in how others perceive and discuss rape.

Q: What text has been most influential in your teaching?

A: While a number of texts come immediately to mind, I can, without a doubt, say that two have and will continue to have huge impacts on my teaching: Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress.  Also, I should note that Henri J. M. Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer offered a framework for how I think about teaching and its purposes, being instrumental in my conception of a “wounded healer pedagogy,” a pedagogy that I outline to focus on healing and compassion through the use of personal stories.

Q: How might students explain your teaching style or your course?

A: I cannot speak for my students, and they would be better at answering this particular question.  However, I can share that students’ comments have been positive and often highlight the challenge as well as the gain.  To explain, I do hold students to high standards, and they constantly impress me.  Also, I encourage them to be active participants in the course as well as their learning process, and together, every student assists in creating our classroom dynamic.  In addition, I know I carefully construct courses to cover the material while working with informal and formal writing assignments, layering a number of objectives, and encouraging personal investment.

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I spent my summer reading a number of books by some talented writers.  A couple included Jemyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen.  I had such an ambitious list.  Sadly, I have not had the chance to finish everything on that list, but currently, I am enjoying Mark Doty’s Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir and Andrew Malan Milward’s The Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Q: What is one of your talents or an interesting fact about you that tends to surprise your students or colleagues?

A: I like to think that I am full of hidden talents and random facts, but perhaps an easy answer to this question is that once upon a time, I played basketball.  I also danced, so I had the most graceful layups on the court.


Faculty Research: Dr. Michelle Veenstra Discusses “Mindful Learning”

Dr. Michelle Veenstra, Assistant Director of the Writing Program, recently gave a talk to FMU faculty about the interplay among mindfulness, learning, and teaching. 

She presented her talk, “Mindful Learning in the Age of Distraction: How Students and Professors Can Become More Present in the Twenty-First Century,” as part of FMU’s Humanities and Social Sciences Symposium. The Symposium is held monthly and features works-in-progress by FMU faculty members.

Dr. Veenstra advises professors and students begin class together with three minutes of meditation in which one:

  • Focuses on the breath or breathing in and out
  • Lets thoughts come and go so as to remain in the present moment

Mindfulness, as Dr. Veenstra suggests in her talk, may improve attention, critical thinking skills, and even capacity for innovation and creativity.

Watch Dr. Veenstra’s talk in its entirety below to learn more about the research behind mindful learning. Dr. Veenstra also discusses how she used meditation in her English 200 classroom during the Spring 2013 semester.

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!

Welcome, Dr. Mica Hilson!

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

Dr. Hilson comes to us from Indiana University, where he taught literature and composition courses, or as Dr. Hilson explains, “everything from critical theory to drama to stand-up comedy to professional writing.”

Below, Dr. Hilson explains his teaching and research interests as well as the importance of cultivating new experiences, especially during one’s college years. 

Right now, you’re teaching an English 200 class on the topic of “Hospitality and Sharing.” What inspired you to come up with that theme?

The concept for the course came from a combination of personal experiences and research interests. First of all, when I came to Francis Marion to interview for this position, I was immediately struck by the amazing hospitality I received. For instance, Dr. Chris Johnson, our department chair, not only personally picked me up at the airport—he drove me back to the airport at 4:30 in the morning, so I could be back in Indiana in time to give my students their final exam. Ideas of hospitality and gift-giving are also central to the book project I’ve been working on this summer, which examines the different conceptual structures that we might use to define “family” and “inheritance,” as well as the ways in which certain family relationships might strain the customs of hospitality.

Also, in two chapters of my dissertation, I looked at fiction that was posted to freely accessible story-sharing websites, and I explored how the plots of these stories often celebrated the sharing of items that would be normally be considered private. From that, I became interested in how issues of sharing and private property were key to many different issues in 21st century life—everything from tissue samples to music samples—and thus could be related to a lot of different disciplines. Since English 200 is all about learning how to write for different disciplines, it seemed like the perfect fit of course goals and topic.

Many of the texts and authors you study are pretty obscure. What do you think is the value of studying and teaching lesser-known works?

Although the process by which books and films and albums become famous isn’t totally random, there is a fair amount of luck involved, and as a result, there are some truly fantastic works that never achieved the fame they deserved (or were once famous, but have now fallen out of fashion). You’ll sometimes see lists of “100 Great Books that You Must Read,” but as a voracious reader, I can tell you that I’ve read a lot more than 100 great books. And so when I teach literature classes, I try to include a combination of well-known and lesser-known works, because I feel like that encourages students to venture off the beaten path and seek out literature that really speaks to them.

Back when you were a college student, you had a pretty unusual double major—English and Math. How did you end up deciding to pursue a career in English rather than Math, and do you ever still use what you learned as a Math major?

I was lucky to have some really good mentoring in English, with professors who both served as role models and let me try my hand at the kind of work that professional literary scholars did. I already knew that I loved teaching, but finding out how much I enjoyed doing literary scholarship really sealed the deal for me. On the other hand, I knew I had fun in my math courses, but I wasn’t so sure that I would love doing advanced research in math. Though some of the “math muscles” in my brain have now gone flabby, I still find lots of opportunities to apply concepts I learned as a math major—whether it’s discussing logical proofs with my English 112 students or simply showing students how to calculate their grades, math still comes in handy!

Finally, if you could pass along one piece of advice to your students at FMU, what would it be?

Well, not long after I graduated college, when I was in my early 20s, I went through a rough couple of years—I was an only child, and my mom and dad died within a year of each other. One good thing that came out of that experience was that it taught me just how short life really is. In the following years, I went on trips to a number of places I’d always wanted to visit (including Spain, Turkey, Australia, and Croatia) because I realized that I needed to seize those opportunities while I could. In my English 200 class, we’ve been thinking a lot about the value of encountering new people, places, and languages, even when those interactions take you outside of your comfort zone. So I guess my advice for students would be to embrace all the opportunities that FMU offers for travelling to new places, meeting new people, learning new ideas, and working at new jobs—even if those experiences initially strike you as a little too foreign or make you uncomfortable at first.


Welcome, Dr. Catherine England!

The Department of English is pleased to announced the appointment of several new faculty members. In this post, we get to know Dr. Catherine England. 

Dr. England comes to us from Wofford College, where she taught Victorian literature, British literature surveys, and composition. Her research interests include British marriage plots, the history of the novel, cultural studies, and gender. At FMU, you’ll find Dr. England teaching a variety of composition courses.

We sat down with Dr. England to talk about her love of Victorian novels, her first time reading French feminist Hélène Cixous, and her advice for students.

Describe your approach to teaching in three words.
Passionate, productive, and interactive

Any advice for students — current or future?
Allow yourself quiet time to think not only about your coursework but also about who you are and what matters to you. This quiet, independent time will make your thoughts more subtle and original, and it will also make it easier for you to make decisions about the future because you will know yourself better.

Did you have a favorite class or text in college? What made it your favorite?
One of my favorite texts from college that will always stand out in my memory is Hélène Cixous’s “Castration or Decapitation?” which I read in a gender theory course during my sophomore year. This essay enriched my understanding of feminism and caused me to rethink how I had read familiar stories. But most importantly, it showed me a style of nonfiction that was playful, creative, and audacious. It opened my eyes up to the diverse ways in which literary theory and criticism can communicate, including styles that I might have thought were reserved only for fiction. I continue to teach this essay, because I want my students to have the same broadening experience it gave me.

It’s no secret that you love Victorian novels, which are often very long. Why should undergraduate read long Victorian novels?
The Victorian novel offers three things that many undergraduates look for in fiction: frequent plot movement, diverse and developed casts of characters, and complex, absorbing worlds.

Many young adults enjoy entering the detailed societies that fantasy fiction offers, and I feel that Victorian novels offer a similar experience as they present the intricacies of nineteenth-century society. Students may also be surprised at how authors such as the Brontë sisters and Dickens mix realistic depictions of characters’ living environments and emotional dilemmas with supernatural elements such as ghosts, telepathy, and spontaneous combustion.

Additionally, I feel that fans of today’s long-running television dramas will find equal rewards in Victorian novels, which were often serialized as installments over several months. Consider how much more involved you are with a series if you watch it week in, week out over several months as opposed to a single all-night marathon. It’s true that you don’t have one-night stands with Victorian novels. They stay in your book satchel and on your nightstand for a while, but in the end, you may form some great relationships.