Category Archives: Who We Are and What We Do

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.

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!