Category Archives: Who We Are and What We Do

Course Spotlight: English 250, Introduction to Literature

In this post, Dr. Jones reflects on teaching English 250: Introduction to Literature. At FMU, Dr. Jones frequently teaches Introduction to Literature as well as English 348: African American Literature and English 200: Writing in the Disciplines.

The Joys of Teaching English 250: Introduction to Literature

A few years ago I read that the average American reads one book a year. Changing that frightening statistic is my motivation for teaching. One of the most challenging courses to teach can be English 250 Introduction to Literature.  The first day of any class can be anxiety producing, but the first day of English 250 seems to  elicit boredom in most students. Ah, those first 15 minutes of “I have to take this course so let’s get on with it so that I can tweet.” English 250 is my favorite course to teach because it gives me an opportunity to pass on a priceless gift: the love of reading. I know that most students don’t read for pleasure but, as President Carter said at graduation a few years ago, we aren’t doing our jobs very well if we don’t create lifelong readers.  Producing not only readers, but informed and passionate readers is my goal for English 250.

I like teaching English 250 because reading together is a great way of forming community. We share our likes, dislikes, hopes, and dealbreakers for relationships. I know that my students are sometimes surprised that they reveal some of their deepest thoughts and desires about life and love as we discuss works such as Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. We form an emotional bond by sharing our reading experiences. I respect the demonstration of faith and trust they create by being engaged in the readings.  With that said, I must admit that many of my students have lost their dating privileges. Perhaps my protective parental instincts took over, but I just had forbid them from dating to protect them from themselves. It all started when an offspring of a faculty member enrolled in my section of Introduction to Literature. Now I’ve known this person grow from a talented artist in high school into an amazing young man. So, when I heard his hopeful yet totally inaccurate description of a character in our novel, I had to immediately rescind the student’s dating privileges for his own benefit. It turned out that the way that he responded to the character reflected his actual romantic history. He wanted to save her when she clearly was incapable of saving herself. What started as a joke became serious when other students, out of concern, agreed with the loss of dating privileges for other students. I would hear “You know, Dr. Jones, Mr. or Ms. really shouldn’t date.” It has been funny and touching to see the protectiveness of the students develop for each other.

I also enjoy helping students, who openly admit to not liking literature, turn into combative sonnet lovers. Seriously, each semester discussions of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed And Where And Why” are downright heated.  I don’t know why Millay provokes such strong responses, but it is beautiful to listen to the differing interpretations of the poem’s speaker. Let’s just say that there aren’t many budding feminists among my students.

After a few weeks of reading works by Edith Wharton, Shakespeare, Lorraine Hansberry, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, these young people form passionate opinions about literature. They begin to welcome the challenge of tackling a new literary work. I am always so proud of all of my students for being emotionally and intellectually present when they read literature. The fiery disagreements also reveal who has not done the reading. That number decreases to about 1 by the third week. If they haven’t read, they can’t participate. I’ve seen students sneakily try to read in class to find out what has everyone so excited.

Lastly, my goal in English 250 is to introduce the students to works of literature that every college graduate should know. Because I want to inspire confidence in their abilities to understand canonical literature, my students come to class without knowing the text of that day’s class.  Everyone encounters the work at the same time. Being able to understand a sonnet by William Shakespeare makes my students feel confident in themselves. They start to banish that voice in their heads that has labeled them as bad English students . Sometimes they even read works that I haven’t assigned.

My ultimate goal is to help them to make more informed life choices. At least I feel certain that my students will forever remember at least one lesson from William Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”.  Students have come back to tell me that they  keep a copy of the sonnet with them to remind them of their own romantic goals while others keep the sonnet with them as a talisman.  They tell me that they can still hear me saying over and over “Love’s not Time’s Fool” and now understand the motivation behind my constant refrain. Then my work is done. The class is over. Let the dating begin.

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!

[1] http://www.scacademyofauthors.org/Fellows/2014NickensWinner.html

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.