Cyrus Cassells

“In my travels, I have often stumbled upon new, unexpected topics,” explains Texas State Professor of Creative Writing Cyrus Cassells, recounting the global journey he embarked on last year, supported by a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. According to the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, this fellowship is “intended for individuals who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” The award is given to applicants from the United States and Canada, allowing artists and scholars to dedicate time to their work. An accomplished poet, Cassells often finds inspiration for his writing from “music and visual art, particularly painting”; and notes that he is “an avid student of history and languages,” a passion that accompanied him as he explored the cultural and geographic homes relating to his current projects. Spending much of his time abroad during his fellowship, Cassells visited such places as Spain, Italy, Mexico, and the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Cassells describes the effect “walking in historical places and looking at visual art” had on his writing, noting that travel is “always a great source of inspiration for [his] busybody mind and pen.” His inspiration from the arts shines through his selection of music and art as poetic sources. This is reflected in the title for his new volume, Dragon Shining with All Values Known, which is a line from the song “Trouble Child,” sung by Joni Mitchell.

Cassells says that his “Guggenheim project … explores poles of faith and politics” and includes a section inspired by his research on Father Damien, “a 19th century Belgian priest who worked in a leper colony [on Molokai].” Over the summer he spent exploring Europe, he went to “Rome for a month to look into the beatification of Father Damien, who is now Saint Damien.” This research informed his trip to the Hawaiian Island of Molokai, where he further studied the priest’s life. His writing and research supported a series titled “The Going of the Inland Soul to Sea,” included in his newest volume. Cassells’ interest in Father Damien’s work and legacy is reflected in his project’s focus “on the timeless influence of the 19th century priest … as his altruistic legacy pertains to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

Over the summer months he spent in Spain and Italy working on these projects, he also completed a collection of poems that strays from his typical style and voice. The project is titled The World That the Shooter Left Us (to be published by Four Way Books in 2022) and explores the politically charged topics of gun violence and border issues, new subjects for Cassells. He explains the collection was his “response to the ‘Stand Your Ground’ killing of a close friend’s father and to the continuing detention of children in the border crisis.” This “new, overtly political mode” has been described by readers as “ferocious,” comprising the work in but one of the completed projects Cassells plans to publish after the experiences gained from his fellowship.

While abroad, Cassells often found himself writing in these new modes or surprised by the inspiration he found from his surroundings. His trip early in 2020 to Mexico City and Tepotzlan, Mexico, places he had visited before as a teenager, led him “by coincidence …  to staying with a documentary filmmaker, who lives directly behind the legendary blue house and museum of the great, internationally revered painter, Frida Kahlo.” This surprise in his travels developed into a rich cultural backdrop outside the window of his Mexico City writing desk: he “could directly see into Frida’s fabulous garden from my desk and bedroom window.” This exposure developed into an ongoing work for Cassells on Kahlo and her first love, Alejandro Gomez Arias, which he attributes to the proximity to Kahlo’s former home.

Among Cassells’ other current projects and travels are his exploration of New York City streets in his in-progress novel written in verse, called Reindeer in a Sunshine Land, and set in late 19th/early 20th century; and his two-month stay in Spain last summer to “work on a project related to Federico Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish poet and playwright (1898-1936).” Cassells also completed his first chapbook of poems during his fellowship, More Than Watchmen at Daybreak, which was published this April by Nine Mile Books and details his stay in a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico. He also signed a contract to publish Is There Room For Another Horse On Your Horse Ranch?, a finalist for the 2019 National Poetry Series Award; this collection will be published by Four Way Books.

Cassells’ Guggenheim Fellowship is only the most recent of the many prestigious awards he has earned, including the William Carlos Williams Award for his second collection of poems, Soul Make a Path Through Shouting (1994); a Pulitzer Prize nomination for the same title; and other fellowships including the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

 

 

-Kennedy Farrell, English Major

Dr. Octavio Pimentel

February 2015

After interviewing with other universities across the United States, Dr. Octavio Pimentel accepted an offer from Texas State University. “The obvious change coming to Texas State [from the University of Utah],” Dr. Pimentel explains, “was the cultural thing; I come here and… you have every color; it was nice to see the diversity, not just in ethnicities, but in physical appearance in general.”

Before joining the English Department at Texas State, Dr. Pimentel attended California State University in Chico, where he received his BA in English and Spanish, and an MA in Composition Studies. He continued his career as a doctoral student at the University of Utah, where he received his PHD, studying the social foundation of education, with an emphasis on rhetoric and composition. Since his arrival at Texas State in 2005, he has received numerous awards, most recently the 2014 Texas State Excellence in Diversity Award. Many of the classes Dr. Pimentel instructs are a direct reflection of the diversity this award supports: Language Problems in a Multicultural Environment and Writing for Social Justice, among many others.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Pimentel is a widely published scholar, and just as his courses are a reflection of the Diversity Award, so is his scholarly work. For example, “Shrek 2: An Appraisal of Mainstream Animation’s Influence on Identity,” published in the Journal of Latinos and Education in 2009 discusses the presence of constructs and discourses present in Shrek 2 that perpetuate existing stereotypes, specifically of Latinos and African Americans, in Shrek 2. Two pieces that are currently in progress also maintain this cross-cultural theme. One is a manuscript exploring the variation in definitions of success across cultures. It explores the idea that success is multidimensional and cannot be restricted and defined based on one perspective simply because it is the dominant one. The other piece, which will appear in English in Texas, discusses the need for cross-cultural awareness and inclusiveness in writing centers. Both articles emphasize the importance of recognizing cultural diversity as well as its impact on society and, more specifically, on students.

It is clear that much of Dr. Pimentel’s writing is inspired by experiences and observations he has had as a professor. Discussing the situation of incoming students, particularly freshmen, Dr. Pimentel parallels their experiences and expectations to those of collegiate athletes. “Imagine a good high school player, getting MVP and everything, but then they go to college; most high school players will do terrible in college [and] it’s kind of interesting what sports teams do: they red-shirt you” — they give new players some time to feel things out before really joining the team. In essence, when good students get to college, they tend to be over-confident, and then, after having a rough time during the first round of exams, they get discouraged. “You come here,” Dr. Pimentel continues, “you’re still a high school student; you’re going to get beat up a little bit, but it doesn’t mean you won’t be successful.”

Featured Faculty: Dr. Aimee Roundtree (December 2014)

Dr. Aimee RoundtreeDr. Aimee Roundtree

Associate Professor Aimee Roundtree, who joined the English Department faculty this year, says she has always been fascinated with moments of translation and interpretation using technical information. As someone who specializes in technical communication, she describes what she does as “focusing on discourse in scientific practice and the public understanding of science.” Dr. Roundtree often works with communications regarding natural sciences and the medical field. “My work takes a rhetorical lens and applies it to technologies that scientists use to construct and disseminate scientific knowledge”

Dr. Roundtree first became interested in technical communication when she worked in public relations for the military and various hospital organizations after earning her bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy. Additionally, she reported the health beat for a women’s magazine in New York City. There, she wrote health articles that translated medical information for a general audience.

Coming into technical communication from a philosophy background, she often finds ways that philosophy, rhetoric, and technical communication overlapped in her work: “We think science is about facts, but how we get to the facts has a lot to do with how we argue for them, and what to do about them.”

Working as a medical writer and communication specialist, she began seeing interesting patterns in how science and medical information was used; she made this topic her focus when she pursued post-graduate work at the University of Texas-Austin. She found that “rhetoric informs argumentation, which informs dialectic, which informs how scientists make and report scientific data.”

Her current scholarly work includes looking at the rhetoric of supernovas and climate change. Her hobbies include running and playing electric guitar in her spare time.

Featured Faculty: Dr. Cecily Parks (October 2014)

San Marcos, TX – Dr. Cecily Parks, a new assistant professorDr. Cecily Parks in the English Department at Texas State University, cites environmental literature and women writers as her major influences and research interests. Inspired by her own experience in the outdoors, Dr. Parks believed early in her life that there were interesting things happening in the dialogue between literature and the environment. These themes permeate her works; Dr. Parks’s poetry collections Field Folly Snow and O’Nights are both centered on the natural world. O’Nights Is scheduled to come out in April of 2015.

Dr. Parks earned her PhD in English and American Literature at City University of New York, and her MFA in Poetry at Columbia University. Her passion for poetry began when she took a creative writing class during her senior year of college in order to fulfil a credit, and it quickly became a favorite outlet. “I liked that I could write, but it didn’t feel autobiographical,” she states. “It led me to write about things outside myself. Poetry helps me think about the world.”

Although Dr. Parks is new to Texas State University, she has over ten years of experience teaching and has been widely published in poetry anthologies, prestigious literary journals, and essay collections. Her publications this year include Birdlands, which is a poetry and print collaboration with visual artist Ken Buhler; a poem entitled “Plastic Flower” in the anthology The Petroleum Manga; “Conversation Between Fox and Field” in Another Chicago Magazine; and a scholarly publication entitled “The Secret Swamps of Susan Howe in Secret History of the Dividing Line, Thorow, and Personal Narrative,” which appears in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment.

In her spare time, Dr. Parks enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking and cross-country skiing. She is especially excited about reading Marilynne Robinson’s latest work, Lila, which was released this month.

Featured Faculty – Leah Schwebel (September 2014)

San Marcos, TX – This year, the Department of Dr. Leah Schwebel, assistant professor at Texas State University English has celebrated the arrival of many talented new faculty members. Among the new professors and lecturers, Texas State University is excited to welcome Chaucer scholar Dr. Leah Schwebel as an assistant professor.

Dr. Schwebel received her MA from McGill University in Montreal, Canada; and her PhD in Medieval literature from the University of Connecticut, focusing on Chaucer and the Italian Renaissance.  However, her interests in medieval literature were not limited to her academic career: “I’ve been a Chaucerian since I was fifteen!” Dr. Schwebel proudly admits with a smile.

Dr. Schwebel’s interest in Chaucer began when she was young and was fed by her fascination with medieval studies and her love of classical myth. She explained that she became intrigued by the ways medieval studies retold classical myths. These interests are especially reflected in her PhD dissertation, “Re-telling Old Stories: Chaucer and an Italian Poetics of Intertextual Commentary.”

She has been published in several medieval literature and Chaucer journals, including Studies in the Age of Chaucer, Chaucer Review, and Dante Studies.  Among her current projects, Dr. Schwebel is co-editing a collection of essays on Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women that should be in print by April, 2017. She also is planning to present at four conferences this year, and will be chairing a session of the Northeastern MLA conference in Toronto with Dr. Kara Gaston.

Explaining her excitement about in her new position, Dr. Schwebel expressed her interest in participating in the Department’s Medieval and Renaissance Society. She stated that she is looking forward to meeting the people in the organization, and taking a leadership role in the Society.

Outside the classroom, Dr. Schwebel enjoys swimming, biking, and running. Last summer, she completed her first full-distance triathlon, the Ironman Lake Placid. Dr. Schwebel, who was always athletic, took up cycling while in Connecticut. She hopes to continue these pursuits while in Texas and plans on participating in Ironman Texas, held in The Woodlands.