Miscellany – April 2, 2020

Chris Margrave’s short film, The Lesser Known Rules of Werewolves, which he co-wrote and acted in, was selected for screening at the South by Southwest Film Festival on March 14th.

Kathleen Peirce’s manuscript, Lion’s Paw, was a finalist for this year’s Dorset Prize with Tupelo Press.

Kitty Ledbetter’s article, “The Women’s Press,” has just been published in Volume 2 of the Edinburgh History of the British and Irish Press, a three-volume history that offers a definitive account of newspaper and periodical press activity across Britain and Ireland from 1650 to the present day.

Longleaf Review published MFA fiction student Taylor Kirby’s essay, “Relics, Registries, and Other Bastard Things,” in their latest issue.

Make Them Cry, a novel by Jon Marc Smith and his co-author Smith Henderson, will come out this fall from Ecco: https://crimereads.com/excerpt-make-them-cry/

Caleb Ajinomoh’s short story, “Taking Mr. Itopa,” will be published in the New Voices section of The Masters Review. Caleb is a first-year MFA fiction student.

MFA poetry student James Trask placed 2nd and received a cash prize in the Poetry category of the San Antonio Writers’ Guild 28th Annual Writing Contest, an open competition with nationwide entries. This year’s contest was judged by Caitlyn Doyle.  James’ poem, “A Smear of Red” was written for Steve Wilson’s graduate Poetry Workshop last fall.

Susan Morrison recently was interviewed by The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town about toilet paper hoarding: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/30/what-would-freud-make-of-the-toilet-paper-panic?fbclid=IwAR1615G5QI4DDonXeAcy2GljwI0eFNz67Sm-Ix7z9SbTOGm-DeZLVJsKHtM

On March 18, PoemoftheWeek.com celebrated Cyrus Cassells’ The Gospel According to Wild Indigo, published in 2018 by Southern Illinois University Press.

MFA fiction student Clayton Bradshaw has accepted an offer of admission to the PhD in English program (Creative Writing) in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Dr. Debra Monroe Awarded at the 2020 Conference of Southern Graduate Schools for her Mentorship of MFA Writers

Texas State’s Professor of Creative Writing, Dr. Debra Monroe, was recently recognized with two awards for her twenty-seven successful years mentoring MFA Creative Writing students: The Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award sponsored by Texas State, and The Conference of Southern Graduate School’s Outstanding Mentor Award.

At Texas State, Dr. Monroe was selected unanimously over other nominated mentors for her work with graduate fiction writers. She received a plaque, an honorarium, and a nomination from Dean of the Graduate College Dr. Andrea Golato for the Conference of Southern Graduate School’s Outstanding Mentor Award. In this nationwide competition between other universities’ most successful mentors, Dr. Monroe rose above other nominees to win the conference award for 2019-2020, which celebrates best practices in graduate studies. The Conference of Southern Graduate Schools reports that this award recognizes an advisor who has maintained successful mentorship of graduate students by “facilitating student learning by making complex ideas understandable and meaningful,” the “establishment and maintenance of high academic standards,” and “consistent and ongoing guidance of students regarding resources within and outside the university, conflict resolution, and advocacy for completion of the program of study in a timely manner.” On each of these standards, and many others, Dr. Monroe exceeds expectations for winning this regional award.

Dr. Golato was introduced to Dr. Monroe through the impressive record of her work and the many successes of her writing students after she was nominated for Texas State’s Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award. “This woman never sleeps,” Dr. Golato states as she passionately relates the extensive list of Dr. Monroe’s accomplishments and contributions, which include 32 student publications of work by former students over just the past two years, and a total of 27 book publications by her graduate mentees over her tenure at Texas State. Today, many of her students attribute the success of their own writing to the mentorship and critical guidance they received from Dr. Monroe, who found success in publishing her own work after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Utah.

Dr. Monroe’s dissertation became her first fiction publication, The Source of Trouble, which was awarded The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 1990. Not only does Dr. Monroe support young fiction writers as a mentor and Professor of Creative Writing, but her accomplishments as a writer allow her to bring her own notable successes and experiences with writing and publishing to the advice she offers her students. Other successful works include her nationally acclaimed memoir On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain (2015), which details her experience as the mother in a mixed-race, single-parent family in the American South.

Admiring Dr. Monroe’s work with students beyond her work as a professor, Dr. Golato explains what is “truly special about [Dr. Monroe’s] mentorship is that she has helped students find daycare for their children … find family resources…. [She] encourage[s] students to go on when life gets tough” and return to their work if they have had to leave the program. Dr. Golato’s endorsement of Dr. Monroe continues as she describes her enduring and special impact as an advisor in the humanities. “In the sciences students publish in a team of other students, postdocs, and their professor. Student research interests are often the same as the professor’s because of this.” She explains that, since students in the humanities generally work on isolated projects with their professor’s guidance, they generally graduate with fewer publications than students in the sciences. However, Dr. Monroe’s achievement is that this general trend is not true for her students, and that “this is where Dr. Monroe breaks the mold.”

Dr. Monroe comes to know and value her students as people as well as young writers. It is this mentorship that many students cite as crucial to their successful writing careers, which contain such a long list of student publications that her nomination for the Conference of Southern Graduate School’s Outstanding Mentor Award could include only the most recent two years of student achievements. Serving as much more than a writing coach, Dr. Monroe contributes to the lives and work of her graduate students while maintaining a successful writing career herself.

– Kennedy Farrell, English Major

2019 Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement Awarded to Naomi Shihab Nye

The 2019 Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement has been awarded to Texas State Professor of Creative Writing, Naomi Shihab Nye. This prestigious honor is awarded each year by the National Book Critics’ Circle (NBCC) and is named after the NBCC’s first president. Nye joins the ranks of previous winners such as Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, and PEN America. Nye will receive the award at a ceremony in New York on March 12, 2020.

Nye’s expansive body of work comprises over thirty-five projects and spans a variety of literary modes, including poetry, young-adult fiction, essays, and novels. Many of Nye’s works reflect her upbringing as a Palestine-American splitting time between Jerusalem and the American South, allowing her to explore themes of heritage and culture in her work. A student studying fiction in the MFA Creative Writing program at Texas State, Caleb Ajinomoho, says that Nye’s poetry “workshops are ritualistic,” and feature Nye’s “genuine, warm, and accessible” presence. Although he writes fiction, Ajinomoho returns to Nye’s workshops regularly, seeking inspiration and “[encouragement] to tap deeper into what’s happening around [him],” and to achieve the same awareness and presence featured in Nye’s celebrated publications. Among these publications are her first collection of poems, titled Different Ways to Pray (1980), which describes the experience of and tensions between cultures in the American South and Mexico; and a children’s book titled Habibi (1997), for which she won the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award (1998).

A writer since her early childhood, Nye continued practicing her craft while she attended Trinity University in San Antonio, where in 1974 she earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and World Religions. Her long experience with writing and studying her craft informs the calm leadership described by current MFA poetry student Katie Kistler, who notes that Nye’s workshops “cultivate an intensely helpful workshopping group each semester.” Kistler describes Nye as the type of mentor and leader that will remind young poets to note all criticisms, including both positive and negative comments made about their work. Kistler continues, “[Nye] has taken her lifetime of writing and revising and turned around to be a mentor for us MFA students — not comparing us to writers who have practiced for decades, but showcasing the practiced empathy of someone who cares deeply about the success of her peers and poetic successors.”

Nye’s work is featured in major online and print poetry anthologies, from ThePoetryFoundation.org to Poets.org. Of her work, the Poetry Foundation states that “Nye is a fluid poet, and her poems are also full of the urgency of spoken language.” In many of Nye’s poems, she offers her observations on humanity gained during her world travels. Of her Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature (2013), World Literature Today describes how “[Nye’s] incandescent humanity and voice can change the world, or someone’s world, by taking a position not one word less beautiful than an exquisite poem.”

Named a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award for her exploration of Middle Eastern culture and heritage in 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, Nye has two new books set for publication this year: Cast Away: Poems for Our Time (February 2020) and Everything Comes Next: New and Collected Poems (September 2020). Last year she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. A world-renowned poet and teacher, Nye uses her rich personal history and experiences to compose the perceptive and engaging works that earn her so much acclaim, and to mentor young writers at Texas State with compassion and profound insight.

 

– Kennedy Farrell, English Major

Film Concentration for English Majors Explores Visual Texts

“I think I had [an interest in film] from the very beginning,” Texas State English professor Dr. Suparno Banerjee explains. “I started my scholarly writing with film.” Dr. Banerjee works to deepen his students’ understanding of course material by incorporating film into his classes and analyzing the themes within specific genres such as science fiction, which he often teaches. He welcomes exploring a text alongside its filmic adaptation, stating that “one major way of representing is in film” and comparisons of text and adaptation can reveal more about the issues presented in class.

To supplement the discussions of colonialism Dr. Banerjee held in several of his courses last Fall, he hosted a showing of Two Flags followed by a talk with its director, Pankaj Rishi Kumar. The documentary pertained directly to his course material in its exploration of the politics of the post-colonial town Pondicherry, India and allowed students to explore the representation of these issues on screen, as well as discuss them with the director in a Q&A session. Being able to discuss the work with other attendees, professors, and sometimes filmmakers or directors offered a unique experience for students to engage in a discussion of the issues that surface in their course texts.

Dr. Banerjee’s perspective on the value of teaching film as text and its important role in the English Studies is supported by the Film Studies emphasis offered to English majors. Requiring a subset of three Advanced English film elective courses distinguishes this degree path from the traditional English major. These classes cover such topics as Theory and Criticism in Film (ENG 3320), Writing for Film (ENG 3306), The Southwest in Film (ENG 3309), allowing students to personalize their academic investigations.  Whether students are interested in filmmaking, understanding various texts, or analyzing film alongside literature, the Film Studies emphasis prepares undergraduates to think critically about film. Integral to the development of the emphasis is Dr. Rebecca Bell-Metereau, its Coordinator, who explains that the program allows students to evaluate “film adaptation, try their hand at video editing, or explore such topics as gender, monster theory, politics, or conspiracy films.”

Senior Lecturer Jon Marc Smith recalls his own interest in film, which led him to pursue screenwriting after he completed his MFA in Fiction at Texas State. Smith explored the screenplay as a genre by reviewing academic film criticism and the history of film. This passion rewarded him, when in 2010 he co-wrote a screenplay that was made into a film, Dance with the One, featured at Austin’s SXSW Festival. That same year Smith created the Writing for Film (ENG 3306) class at Texas State, which is now one of the Advanced English electives approved for the emphasis. Smith also now teaches Writing for Film and An Introduction to the Study of Film (ENG 3307), allowing him to work with students developing the same interests he had. He believes the study of film helps students understand that “visual texts [that] are a part of modern life,” and that “learning to do filmic criticism or create visual media is directly relevant to most students,” regardless of their particular academic goals or interests.

Topics and themes explored in recent Film Studies courses include English Department Chair Dr. Victoria Smith’s Fall 2019 course Advanced Topics in Film: Mainstream Queer Cinema (ENG 3308), which evaluated Queer films as modes of representation and how they interact with their audiences, considering such elements as “filmic aspects – the mise-en-scene, cinematography, and editing.” In The Southwest in Film (ENG 3309), offered by Dr. McClancy this Spring 2020 semester, students evaluate Western film, investigating the filmic and cultural aspects of Westerns that “work to create place, ideology, and nation.”

From exploring colonialism, to queer theory, to nationhood, Film Studies courses reflect the diverse content offered in the English Department curriculum. Dr. Banerjee and Mr. Smith, like their colleagues teaching in the emphasis, see films as “visual texts,” providing an opportunity to apply the critical skills all Texas State English majors gain through their studies. Students interested in learning more about the Film Studies emphasis, its requirements, or the electives offered should visit the course catalog, speak with their academic advisor, or email Dr. Bell-Metereau (rb12@txstate.edu) directly.

 

Kennedy Farrell, English Major

News – Special Topics 

From exploring texts about Chicana/o border ballads to evaluating the Blues as an influence on African-American literature, each semester professors in the Texas State English Department teach a broad range of Special Topics Advanced English courses that inspire student curiosity and excitement. These courses reflect the diversity of student interests at Texas State, as well as the talents and scholarly interests of the faculty who create them. Many of these courses are offered only once, providing students unique experiences to examine timely, intriguing topics as part of their college educations. Among the many Special Topics courses on offer for the upcoming Spring 2020 semester are Dr. Eric Leake’s course on “The Rhetoric of the Emotions” (ENG 3318, Group D), Dr. Elvin Holt’s single-author course on African-American writer August Wilson (ENG 3341, Group B), Dr. Sara Ramirez’s “Chicana/o Myth” course (ENG 3329, Group B), and Mr. Steve Wilson’s course on “The Literature of Resistance” (ENG 3340, Group B).

Students taking Dr. Leake’s course, “The Rhetoric of the Emotions,” will investigate representations of emotion in writing from “rhetorical, cultural, social, and embodied perspectives.” Their multidisciplinary study of the “theories of emotion and how emotions function rhetorically in everyday texts, experiences, and relations” will culminate in a personal journaling project, in which students will write about events from their own lives. In another project, students will select an emotion and research “the rhetorical significance of that particular emotion” in literature, scholarship, and their lives. Together, these projects will allow students to share and evaluate their own experiences with emotion, promising an exciting intersection between literary scholarship and personal experience.

Dr. Holt’s “August Wilson” course will consider Wilson’s undeniable influence on African-American literature, as well as the social impact of Wilson’s work and his treatment of race and history. According to Dr. Holt, students will discuss the “four B’s’ … Romare Bearden (collages), Amiri Baraka (black nationalism), Jorge Luis Borges (magical realism), and the blues (creative aesthetic),” each offering a lens through which to examine Wilson’s plays and highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the course. Not only will students enrolled in this course study Wilson’s creative and cultural influence, but they also will perform a scene from one of the playwright’s works as part of their course project – encouraging them to become both young literary scholars and artists themselves.

Dr. Ramirez’s course on Chicana/o myth will investigate important elements of Chicana/o mythological narratives, beginning with “Aztlán, the mythical homeland, and its characterization in various cultural productions.” Students also will consider several deities from the Nahua and Mayan mythological pantheons that offer a framework for discussing Feminist Chicana mythology. Transported to mythologized border spaces, students will focus on assigned texts – Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, Virginia Grise’s blu, and Cherríe Moraga’s The Hungry Woman – that will instruct their study of border ballads as they relate to Feminist Chicana myth. Dr. Ramirez notes that the course is interdisciplinary in its examination of mythological adaptation, addressing, in particular, “the three mothers known in Chicana/o mythology: la Llorona, la Malinche, and Guadalupe.”

Students enrolling in Mr. Wilson’s course on “The Literature of Resistance” may find themselves similarly transported as they evaluate “the complicated relationship between aesthetics and politics” in texts portraying resistance by and reactions to oppressed groups. The required texts address such topics as gender, sexuality, race, and class-based oppression – from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, set in a dystopian future; to Helena Viramontes’ Under the Feet of Jesus, set in California and exploring the lives of Latin-American migrant workers. Discussing methods of resistance and the characterization of this resistance in literature will allow students to draw conclusions about the social impact of politicized texts that influence a variety of audiences and strive for social reform.

The courses highlighted above are only a few of the Special Topics courses available during the Spring 2020 semester. The full list of Spring 2020 Special Topics courses, as well as course descriptions for all Spring 2020 Advanced English classes, are available at the English Department website. These documents provide course codes, CRN, descriptions, names of faculty, and the degree requirement each course satisfies. Registration begins October 22, 2019.

-Kennedy Farrell, English major

Dr. Victoria Smith – English Department Chair 

Sept. 23rd, 2019

A portrait of Dr. Victoria Smith in a blue jacket

Dr. Victoria Smith, who became Chair of the English Department this Fall, has always loved traveling and exploring new places. During the senior year of her undergraduate studies, she had the opportunity to study abroad in Greece, and this passion for immersing herself in another culture only grew. Each morning she woke up in her apartment on Democritus Street, the smell of warm bread filling the air as it wafted up from the bakery below. On Thursdays, beginning in the early hours of the morning, this aroma scented the bustle of vendors setting up their stalls for the weekly street market. Excitement on the street grew equally with anticipation for the market and the desire to socialize, which is characteristic of the very expressive Greek people. Dr. Smith reflects on this formative experience by noting that “being immersed in that culture and being able to travel and learn about it was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Dr. Smith describes herself as an “army brat.” Traveling from France, to Italy, to Washington DC, to New Orleans, she had no choice but to adapt to the different places and cultures she encountered. Exploring the world during her adolescence taught her an invaluable lesson that shaped both her current outlook on the people around her and her career path. Still a lover of exploring, Dr. Smith finds joy in traveling because “it reminds [her] that people are different.”

She carried this important lesson forward as she pursued her college education, realizing that cultural differences don’t make one group better or worse than another. Dr. Smith earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from Pomona College; a Master’s degree in English from the University of Texas-Austin, with a minor in Radio-Television-Film; and a Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness from the University of California-Santa Cruz. While pursuing her Ph.D., she explored how Modernist female authors write about loss. She investigated the social traditions that instruct this demographic’s characterization of loss as a consciousness represented in their writing, aiming to prove that women writers internalize society’s limitations of their gender and write about loss in a melancholic way.

Dr. Smith’s respect for cultural differences also informs her current scholarship and teaching. In “The Heterotopias of Todd Haynes: Creating Space for Same Sex Desire in Carol,” she analyzes the film employing Foucault’s concept of “other space,” exploring how a queer counterspace is created through the film’s “framings, textures, color, and spatial relations.” In another project, “Highways of Desolation: The Road and Trash in Boys Don’t Cry and Monster,” she considers how familiar tropes and genres such as melodrama and the road movie make characters accessible to an audience. Dr. Smith explains that this project evaluated how speaking to an audience’s understanding of social class and norms allows the characters’ transgressions to “draw attention to the larger hierarchical structures of power in American society.” Scholarly projects in Film Studies and Gender Studies that examine portrayals of sexuality and race suggest Dr. Smith’s varied interests, which she also incorporates into her English classes such as her Fall 2019 course on Mainstream Queer Film.

Dr. Smith laments that she will miss teaching as often as she’d like now that she has taken on the administrative responsibilities of Department Chair. “I love teaching, so [becoming Chair] was never a goal of mine,” Dr. Smith explains, reflecting on her new position. Even so, she hopes her new role will allow her to continue promoting diversity; over the next two years, she plans to work with her colleagues in the English Department to revise the English major curriculum – “to improve the curriculum, change it, make it more reflective of what student needs are and how students have changed.” Dr. Smith explains the English major “hasn’t been changed in twenty-one years,” and she hopes a new curriculum will formalize the offering of classes that promote diversity – classes often taught in the English Department but under the current curriculum only scheduled as “topics courses.” Such courses reflect the rich complexity of the English Department and Texas State University as a whole, diversity of the University, and the varied interests of its students and faculty.

Kennedy Farrell, English major

Archiving Civil Rights Movements

Dr. Miriam Williams

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a core component of the Voting Rights Act, weakening the federal government’s oversight of voting rights. In recent years, the impact of this ruling on marginalized groups in particular has been dramatic: lack of transportation to a shrinking number of polling places, voting roll purges, and new requirements regarding what forms of identification are valid as proof of eligibility to vote. Such attempts to make voting more complicated are not new. In her latest article, “Technologies of Disenfranchisement: Literacy Tests and Black Voters in the U.S. from 1890-1965,” Dr. Miriam Williams, an English professor in the MATC program at Texas State, discusses how laws affecting Black voters have existed for years in the United States, especially in the South.

Co-written with Dr. Natasha Jones of the University of Central Florida and forthcoming in a Fall 2018 special issue of Technical Communication focused on election technologies, Dr. Williams’ article explains how discriminatory voter registration cards and literacy tests appear innocuous on paper while, in practice, targeting Black voters. For example, from 1890-1965, voter registration forms that were written in race-neutral language were used to collect housing and employment data about Black voters. This data could then be used to report those voters to their employers or landlords who would, in turn, threaten them with loss of home or job if they went to vote. In their research for the article, Drs. Williams and Jones also recovered documents (manuals, reports, and graphics) created by Civil Rights activists to help Black voters successfully navigate the obstacles designed to prevent them from voting. Because these archives exist, we can see how activists resisted oppression when it came to unfair voter registration practices.

Dr. Williams also examines the archival history of activism in another recent essay, “#BlackLivesMatter: Tweeting an Essay in Chronos and Kairos” (included in Texas State professor Octavio Pimentel and Cruz Medina’s edited collection, Racial Shorthand, recently published by Computers & Composition Digital Press). The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter acts as a living archive, documenting instances of police brutality and sharing them across the Internet, thereby serving as a platform that facilitates activists’ organizing and resisting. Dr. Williams explains that technical communication, in part, studies how digital media tells stories, and she uses that perspective to illustrate how people used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to chronicle “a story of oppression and resistance.”

Attention to voting laws that may seek to disenfranchise marginalized Americans matters, as does the way we treat the activism surrounding that disenfranchisement. Dr. Williams’ research explores how activists have sought to archive their own fights for social justice, and hopefully, we can learn from these archives in preparing for our country’s future.

 

– Gloria Russell, English major

Fall 2018 New Faculty

This fall, the Texas State English Department welcomed four new tenure-track faculty members. While each has origins in Texas, making their arrival at Texas State something of a homecoming, their scholarship attests to their pursuing very different research and teaching interests. From Irish Modernist studies to analyses of comic book superheroes, our new faculty ensure exciting new courses and research over their coming years at Texas State.

James ReevesJames Reeves

While he was earning his Master’s degree at Oxford, studying John Milton, Dr. James Reeves wandered into Blackwell’s Bookstore. The religion section shocked him. He grew up in Hutto, Texas, with an extended family of evangelical Christians, and though he had studied authors like Milton while earning his undergraduate degree at Texas Tech, he hadn’t considered the scope of religious studies. “From then, I was fascinated by how religions are related and how they represent each other,” he says.

Dr. Reeves changed his focus from Milton to 18th-century British literature, exploring authors like Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, whose works deal with shifts in religious thought and secularization. After earning his Master’s degree at Oxford, he went to UCLA for his PHD, investigating how atheist characters were represented in that time period. Literature from the 18th century often imagined worlds dominated by atheism or with atheist characters, suggesting a shift towards secularization that manifested itself in its representation of atheist themes.

After earning his PHD and teaching at Franklin & Marshall, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, he applied for a job posting at Texas State. He wanted to raise his family where he’d grown up and where his extended family lives, and he finds the public-oriented goal of state schooling compelling. At Texas State, he currently teaches First-Year Writing classes and a British literature course on the Restoration and Augustan periods.

His research projects include reshaping his PHD dissertation into a book and writing an article about how British abolitionists’ view of the slave trade impacted the concept of a Christian hell.

Sara RamirezSara Ramírez

Although she claims San Antonio as her home, Dr. Sara A. Ramírez grew up in Dallas. She attended Notre Dame as a first-generation college student with the intent to become a medical doctor, but her passion for literature, outstanding performance as a writer, and urging from her English professors convinced her to become an English major.

After she graduated from Notre Dame, Dr. Ramírez attended graduate school at UT-San Antonio, where she began to “cultivate a sense of Chicana feminist consciousness.” She wrote her thesis on madwomen in literature, and when she went to Berkeley for a Master’s and then PHD in comparative ethnic studies, she began to understand madness as a reaction to trauma. Because of this understanding, she began studying Chicana representations of historical and intergenerational trauma, an interdisciplinary endeavor involving psychiatric and indigenous interpretations of madness.

While doing dissertation research in San Antonio, she worked in the Women’s Studies program at UTSA from 2013-2017. She then pursued a postdoc at the University of Minnesota before applying to work at Texas State. Texas State stood out to her as a Hispanic-serving institution, or HIS, because it meant she could relate to and mentor Latinx/Chicanx and first-generation college students. “On the first day I ask them what they need to know about college,” she says, “because I had no one to talk to when I went.” At Texas State, she teaches First-Year Writing and a class on Chicano Narratives and Social History.

Currently, Dr. Ramírez is writing a philosophical article on how Chicana subjects can recognize themselves through indigenous (Nahua) ideas of the self.

Julie McCormick WengJulie McCormick Weng

While she was earning her Master’s at Texas A&M, Dr. Julie McCormick Weng came across an article by John Eglinton (William Kirkpatrick Magee). The article, titled “Mr. Yeats and Popular Poetry,” discussed the connection between literature and new technologies and sparked her interest in machines’ representations in Modernism. “Modernism rethinks not just style and form but also the way we relate to the tactile and technological world around us,” she says, “and that captivated me.”

She went on to earn her PHD at the University of Illinois, where she looked at the intersections of Irish Modernist literature with questions about science and technology. She attended Georgia Tech for her postdoc, and there explored the possibilities of digital pedagogy. Her students created podcasts, dramatic recordings of poetry, and infographics of literary texts. “This media lets students explore a range of possible responses to literature from different angles,” says Dr. Weng.

After completing her postdoc at Georgia Tech, she came to Texas State University. She wanted to teach in her home state, and the Texas State student body’s reputation for friendliness promised innovative and creative classroom discussions. She teaches First-Year Writing and twentieth century British literature.

Currently, Dr. Weng is editing a collection of essays titled Science, Technology, and Irish Modernism, which is scheduled for release in 2019. She is also working on an article concerning digital student projects in the classroom, as well as a book manuscript about Irish modernism, transportation technologies, and gender politics of the early twentieth century.

Samuel SaldivarSamuel Saldivar

When Dr. Samuel Saldivar left his hometown of Weslaco, TX to go to college at Ohio

State, he was surprised to find that there was a whole area of study focused on the very community with which he had grown up. For this reason, when he worked on his Master’s in English with a specialization and certification in Chicanx studies at Ohio State, he first was interested in Victorian literature, but felt drawn by “the opportunity to talk about authors of color who have been forgotten over time.”

After his Master’s, he pursued a PHD in Chicanx Studies at Michigan State University, writing his dissertation on Chicanx representation in American media. Specifically, he studied the shifting ways Chicanx people are portrayed for American audiences. As a result, his work is extensive, ranging from 1970’s poetry by Corky Gonzales, to Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua, to even modern-day comic book representations of Chicanx/Latinx superheroes.

Dr. Saldivar worked as an associate professor and undergraduate coordinator at the University of Michigan for a year and half before coming to Texas State. He was eager to return to Texas and explore how students at a predominantly Hispanic institution would respond to his field of study. At Texas State, he teaches First-Year Writing and an American literature course spanning from 1930 to the present day.

His current research includes researching a Puerto-Rican superhero named Vibe from the DC franchise and exploring how Vibe’s representation over time has changed since he first made his appearance in the 80’s. Dr. Saldivar is also working on book chapters focused on Chicano heroes and their representation in American film; and just finished a short piece on the diversity of Tejanx people, highlighting the largely ignored Afro-Latinx associations of the term.

by Gloria Russell, English major

Distinguished Professor, Dr. John Blair

Dr. John BlairDr. John Blair, professor of English, has been awarded the title of Distinguished Professor at Texas State University for teaching, research, and service that has been recognized at the state, national, and international levels.

For the duration of his time at Texas State, Dr. Blair will keep the title “Distinguished Professor.” Along with the title, he will receive a one-time $5,000 cash award, a commemorative medallion, and recognition during the fall convocation. In addition, he will be considered by the Texas State University System (TSUS) Board of Regents for the Regents’ Professor Award.

Dr. Blair came to Texas State University in 1989. He is a professor in the English Department and directs the undergraduate creative writing program. His collection of short stories American Standard was the 22nd winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and his third poetry collection, Playful Song Called Beautiful, is the 2015 winner of the Iowa Poetry Award. Among his other literary prizes are the Sewanee Review’s Andrew Lytle Prize for Fiction, the Texas Institute of Letters’ Helen C. Smith Award for Poetry, the Phoebe Winter Fiction Prize, the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize in Poetry, and a nomination for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

Dr. Blair says that he is “very happy and grateful” for the opportunity to work and teach at Texas State. He is currently working on his fourth book of poetry, with the working title Misericordia.

–Gloria Russell, English major

The Cradle of Digital Literature: The Saga of the Lindsey Reading Series

Title Image

In a locked closet, in another locked and little-used room in the English Department at Texas State University, lay hundreds of dusty and nearly disintegrating VHS tapes and DVDs. These recordings, however, weren’t just old home movies of picnics and fundraisers, but constitute perhaps one of the most significant archives in the literary world, a collection now valued well north of $1 million dollars. Until 2005, the tapes had been stacked on shelves, filed away and forgotten, some for nearly 30 years, and they were just awaiting the digital era for their re-discovery.

Therese Kayser Lindsey

Originally entitled the Therese Kayser Lindsey Readings Series, visiting writers have come to campus to deliver lectures, read from their work, hold Q&A’s with graduate students, and host workshops at the Katherine Anne Porter House. Previously, each event has been filmed and shared with English Department faculty for their research and teaching purposes. Now, preserved digitally for the first time, these recordings have been re-mastered, archived, and made available to the public in a way none of the original organizers and participants could’ve imagined.

 

Begun in 1978, almost exactly 40 years ago, Louise Lindsey Merrick created the series as a living memorial to her mother, Therese Kayser Lindsey, a Texas writer born in 1870 in Chappell Hill, one of the many scrub-grass towns that dot the hill country between Austin and Houston. Lindsey was a poet, newspaper writer, and producer of operas, known for a narrative poem about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane’s destruction. Lindsey graduated from Texas State University in 1905, and throughout her life, invested heavily in the future of literature in Texas, establishing the Poetry Society of Texas in 1921. Mrs. Lindsey was a resident of Tyler, TX until her death in 1957.

First recorded event

The first recorded event in 1978

The first event was entitled “The American Southwest: Cradle of Literary Art” and featured Larry McMurtry, John Graves, R.G.Vliet, and Lon Tinkle. In the early 80’s, the series expanded to feature other Texas and notable southwest writers like Bill Wittliff, James Dickey, and Thomas Berger. As the series continued growing in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the department brought many titans of the literary world, authors such as Allen Ginsberg, Margaret Atwood, Ken Kesey, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Sandra Cisneros.

Despite the obstacles, the department arranged for each event to be filmed. Recently retired Professor Nancy Grayson, the TKL coordinator from 1983-1986, helped make the reading series an institution at Texas State and fought to get each event recorded, no small feat given the cumbersome recording equipment of the analogue era.

“The goal,” Grayson said in an email, “was to ensure that as many students and faculty as possible heard our speakers and to give them the opportunity to hear and experience Q&As with great literary artists…. Obviously, filming has enlarged audiences extensively by continuing to provide access to the presentations down through the years.”

Fast-forward again to 2005 and the tapes in the Brasher closet and Tom Grimes, then the Director of the MFA in Writing Program, when he “rediscovered” the tapes. Professor Grimes imagined what few others could: a digital home for these events, where anyone in the world could, with a touch of a button, hit “Play,” and beam some of the world’s foremost authors into their living rooms, where viewers could watch them read, hear them answer questions, and marvel at humanity’s urge to tell stories. Given the nascency of the Internet and digital-streaming services at the beginning of this century, Grimes’s foresight also cannot be understated. He knew this was an important resource for the university and that’s why he’s “pushed so hard to get these videos online,” he said.

Still, given the technological, professional, and contractual limitations, it would take another decade to realize this concept. The archive currently stands just shy of 500 events, or nearly one terabyte of data, and grows every year. This information needs a secure location with regular backups and high-speed servers for hosting streaming content. Another battle has been the lack of technical expertise in developing the website and video-player interface, two subjects largely beyond the department’s knowledge.

Stack of VHS tapes

One stack of VHS tapes

In 2014, the English Department paired with the Learning Application Solutions component of the office of Instructional Technologies Solutions. With the help of ITS, the department secured the necessary server and bandwidth space and helped finish the re-mastering process, where additional graduate students converted all of the DVD files into high-quality MPEG-4 files better suited for adaptive bitrate streaming.

With an estimated 95% percent of the files online, the department begins to focus on the second stage of development. They’re in the beta-testing stages of a new portal interface that will allow for an improved user experience, one of the biggest shortcomings so far. This new portal will offer more intuitive content hierarchy, improved search capabilities, and eventually transcript files.

“The focus now,” said English Department Chair Dr. Dan Lochman, “is to make these videos accessible to scholars and academia.” However, in the future, they plan to group these talks, readings, and Q&A’s into learning modules, organized by creative writing craft elements and techniques. The hope is that these adaptable learning modules will expand awareness and access to “develop lesson plans for everyone, not just within academia,” Lochman said.

Yet, challenges lie ahead. Closed Captioning and ADA compliance and slow-streaming speeds are several of the problems viewers encounter. Additionally, many of the events from the first two decades either never had a permanent copy stored or weren’t ever filmed, and so are likely lost forever.

But there’s little doubt the archives will continue to grow in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine, because these events and their recordings bridge a divide in the writer-reader relationship. Authors can seem remote, almost superhuman when hidden behind their words, but seeing them read and speak about their work allows anyone a glimpse at the wizard pulling the strings. This act of connection in an otherwise solitary experience, perhaps, represents something new in the literary world, as one can imagine other closets, at other universities, that also possess hidden gems awaiting their own re-discovery for the digital age.

If nothing else, as Professor Grimes said, the Lindsey Archives hope to “give everyone, everywhere, online access to one of the richest — if not the richest — literary video archives in the country.”


More information:

The collection is housed via the English Department’s graduate-run literary magazine, Front Porch Journal.

For a list of this year’s writers and events: The Katherine Anne Porter Center and The Wittliff Collections.

For a more in-depth biography of Therese Kayser Lindsey see the book Texas Women Writers: A Tradition of Their Own.

Written by Eric Blankenburg with reporting by Gloria Russell