The Past, and How It Is Repeating

Dr. Sarah Einstein

Dr. Sarah Einstein

It’s no secret that the current sociopolitical climate is . . . fragile, at best. Since 2013, movements such as “Black Lives Matter” and have gained significant traction in the face of social injustice. They fight to dismantle centuries-old systems in which a select few enjoy real freedom while most of the population suffers. Meanwhile, white nationalist and neo-Nazi movements have become more vociferous than ever—the so-called “Unite the Right rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia that took place in August marked a dramatic shift, making it clear that these movements are not just whispers in dark corners of the Internet.

Dr. Sarah Einstein is a Creative Writing professor in UTC’s English department. I had the pleasure of interviewing her a few weeks ago for her new book, which examines Austria’s response to revelations about Nazism after the end of World War II. We met in person and chatted about her work and the world, and she also emailed me with additional information. We also discussed the current state of affairs in the world, including the way in which people are becoming increasingly divided. The audio file of our interview is available for listening at the bottom of the page.

You earned your Ph.D at Ohio University, but you are from West Virginia and now teach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Why did you decide to come here to teach?

In truth, nobody gets to decide where they teach. There are very few jobs in any one academic field at any one time, and places choose people rather than the other way around. That said, I am thrilled to have landed where I did. I wanted, very much, to teach at an Appalachian university with a diverse student population. The student writers at UTC are far and away the best undergraduate writers I have ever had the opportunity to work with, largely because of the diversity of our student body. I’m very glad to have been chosen for this position and hope to spend the rest of my academic career right here.

You teach Creative Nonfiction here at UTC. What about this is appealing to you as a genre versus fiction or poetry?

In fiction, the author needs to understand the motives of the characters–and I’m terrible at that. I’m a weirdo, I make weird decisions, and often the only reason I have is that I followed my interests. My first book is about my friendship with a homeless man. Can you imagine how I’d have to twist myself into knots to explain why a middle aged housewife would take off to Texas to visit a homeless friend? In nonfiction, I don’t need a why—only that it happened. And I think that’s more like life. Often, the why of something seems inexplicable to me. And poetry . . . well, poets are magic. They do things with language that leave me gaping in admiration, but it’s a magic I don’t have, though I envy it.

In fact, your bio on UTC’S website mentions specifically that your research interest is in disability studies, and you wrote Mot with a precision that suggests you have deep interest and experience with writing about mental illness and disability. What is it that interests you so much about this particular area?

I am a disabled person, and so of course the every day experiences of disabled people interest me, as do the ways in which disabled people are—and are not—welcomed into the academy. One of the things I love most about UTC is the MOSAIC program; I’m thrilled to be at a university that not only welcomes, but encourages, neurodiverse students to become part of the academic community.

Image of white supremacists clashing with riot police during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“White supremacists clash with police” – By Evan Nesterak (White supremacists clash with police) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As I understand it, you are currently working on a book about the aftermath of WWII and how Austrian civilians were kept in the dark about how egregious the Nazis and the Holocaust were until as late as the 1970s. What challenges have you face researching for this book compared to pulling your personal experiences for your memoir? With that in mind, the recent Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally demonstrated that Neo-Nazism and white supremacy are at an all time high in recent memory. Between that and the increasingly boldness with which Neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups are acting online and in person, how has this changed your perspective on the book? Has your research shifted from the historical to the more recent?

The damn Nazis are back. Originally, this was to be a book about how Austria recovered from its Nazi past, and it relied on the idea that Nazis were a historical artifact. Charlottesville changed that, of course. I’ve been spending a lot of time researching the resurgence of the American Nazi movement, and it’s hard work. It means getting up every morning and reading about the reasons that people want to kill me. There is nothing distant or removed about that. It’s not the work I set out to do, and it’s not work I’m particularly well-suited to do. I tend to write about things long after they’ve stopped being current, when they are safely enough in the past that I can reflect on, rather than react to, them. Still, this feels like necessary work right now, so I’m trying to proceed. Feel free to stop by my office, though, and offer a word of encouragement. There are mornings when the awful is a little bit more than I can comfortably bear.

Finally, we as a nation are facing a critical shift in sociopolitical climate following the last election. As we see these groups becoming more and more vocal, what are you hoping to accomplish with your new book? And what advice would you give to current students looking to pursue Creative Nonfiction?

I think that all Creative Nonfiction has the opportunity to open up the world to readers–to show us the way another person thinks. I’d advise anyone who wants to write CNF to think about what they, and only they, can bring to our awareness. The CNF writer serves as a witness; sometimes to the joys of life, sometimes to it’s pain, but always to the real. Think back on what you have seen that others have not, and show it to us. Offer us, the reading world, the gift of yourself. We will honor it and be grateful.

Interview Audio.

 


In Memory and Rememory: An American Appreciation of Yvonne Vera

Republished with permission from Dr. James Arnett from his blog.

[speech given at Pamberi Trust’s ‘Celebration of Yvonne Vera,’ Harare, National Gallery, October 3, 2017]

In Memory

Petal Thoughts: Yvonne Vera biography cover.There is no question that Yvonne Vera’s work holds a special place in both Zimbabwean and African literature. But by virtue of her lyricism, her ambition to depict a broad sweeps of histories otherwise swept under the rug, her literature is a truly world literature – uncovering common humanity, carving out a space for the experience of women under colonial violences, revealing and reevaluating, too, the societies meant to give black African women rights and shelter. She spares no one, but her voice is not overwhelming or condemning. Like Nonceba’s survival in The Stone Virgins, there is a way through history, a way to live with and past the terrible violences that continue to haunt contemporary Zimbabwe.

In this way, I see a tremendous affinity between Vera’s work and those of the American Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. Her mother, Ericah Gwetai, makes mention of the fact that Vera re-read The Bluest Eye every year on her birthday; that novel, about the essential confusion about growing up black and abused, in a world that fetishized whiteness and power, has clear echoes all across Vera’s work, which poignantly looks at the racial dynamics intertwined with colonial dynamics in Rhodesia’s, and then Zimbabwe’s, 20th century. Both women write of the heinous violences inflicted on the most vulnerabled – and I use this in the past tense to foreground that vulnerability to violence is anything but essential, but rather something ideologically imposed. And both women skirt the usually bland celebratory bromides about women’s strength.

In October 2017, I attended the Women, Wine, and Words event as part of Bulawayo’s Intwasa Arts Festival. Five talented female poets from Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, and the UK came together to perform their work. One of the common threads that ran through almost all of the poets’ work was this: “I’m tired” – tired of many things – of being underappreciated and rhetorically overvalued, denigrated and vaunted simultaneously. Indigo Williams’s take on this theme was particularly poignant; she began by talking about how, paradoxically, it is frustrating and wonderful to be taken as a “strong black woman.” But what of the days, she wondered, when it was hard to get out of bed? What of the times when her vulnerability was at the fore, and strength something hard to muster? How does one live in between strength and vulnerability without being consumed?

Vera’s work, like Morrison’s, isn’t afraid of boasting of the resilience of women and also depicting their vulnerability. Vera gives us women that fight as much as they can – as much as can be expected – and break, too. No one can stand the onslaught of dehumanizing violence without cracking, and Vera’s lyrical novels assemble those broken pieces into something like stained glass – illuminating and awe-inspiring.

 

We Need New Names

“Muzhanje is the name of a fruit from Chimanimani, in the eastern highlands, whose seed this man has brought stuck to the bottom of his pocket, then planted it in her mouth like a gift, days and days after they have met. She has stopped considering time and only considers him.” (Stone Virgins 43)

The passion with which Vera writes characters whose lives have already been – or about to be – ruthlessly scarred by violence and by history – serves as a tonic to run-of-the-mill arguments that representations of violence are abstractly dehumanizing. The way Vera writes violence does precisely the opposite – it renders their humanity palpable and real, not dominated by their place in history, but continuous with history, running alongside it, occasionally, cruelly, pierced by it.

The opening section of The Stone Virgins – the lull before the violence consumes us – depicts Kezi, and the Thandabantu Store, and Thenjiwe, and her lover. Thenjiwe hones in on her lover, full of him: “She brings home the man who gives her all her hips, who embraces her foot, who collects her shadow and places it right back in her body as though it were a missing part of herself, and she lets him gaze into her eyes till they both see stars through their tears. In the deep dark pool of her eyes the man sees places he has never been, she has never been” (SV 43). He has brought this strange fruit to her – the muzhanje, the name Thenjiwe chooses for her dream child, impossibly conceived in mind only.

She understands this native fruit – native, unlike the “Host of eucaplytus trees redolent; their scent euphoric,” or the jacarandas casting their blooms over Bulawayo’s streets, or the “fusion of dahlias, petunias, asters, red salvia and mauve petrea bushes” in Centenary Park, each of these plants an importation, a colonial transplant from the Antipodes and Caribbean and the reaches of the British Empire (SV 10). There can be a beauty in these transplants, Vera observes, but the muzhanje is the fruit that ignites Thenjiwe’s fascination. It is local and not – brought from a distant within, exotically local.

The colonial place names that open The Stone Virgins, its catalogue of Selborne, Fort, Main, Grey, Abercorn, Fife, Rhodes, Borrow streets, depict Bulawayo as it could officially be known and indexed, not unlike the catalogue of imported flowers that brighten Centenary Park. But that Bulawayo is one that is ultimately condemned to living as the past, a town prey to the homogenizing urban forces that render cities similar. Instead, Thenjiwe’s lover wants to taste the real place, not ‘Rhodesia,’ but Zimbabwe: to see “more than Bulawayo, after coming all the way from Chimanimani he wanted to see the Mopani shrubs, the Mtshwankela, the Dololenkonyane, the balancing Matopo Hills, the gigantic anthills of Kezi.” (45)

Colonialism didn’t make Africa go away, not under its gridded streets and imported street names, nor under its imported jacaranda trees. Africa lived alongside imperial Africa, contained in the places whose names are not forgotten, nor replaced, the flora native and indigenous and resilient. The work of reclaiming spaces, Vera writes, is only partially about effacing the names of the colonizers who controlled and wrangled and dictated. It is also about recognizing that the old names were always the names, no matter what dressing was applied.

 

Strange Fruit

There is much strange fruit in Vera’s work – fruit that is literally strange, that compels consumption, like the native-but-distant muzhanje fruit. Thenjiwe wants to know all about it, suspects that there is something important, resilient, productive in it. “She rises…to ask him on what soil the muzhanje grows, how long before each new plant bears fruit, how fertile its branches, how broad its leaf. She rises to ask what kind of tree the seed comes from, the shape of its leaves, the size of its trunk, the shape of its branches, the colour of its bloom, the measure of its veins” (46). The muzhanje, Thenjiwe believes, may give her access to tradition and place in a way that street signs misdirected and obfuscate. She, like Alex Haley’s displaced Africans in America, wants to understand roots – literal and figurative. “Thenjiwe knows that the roots of trees have shapes more definite than leaves,” Vera writes in The Stone Virgins. The surface is merely coincidental to the way that the tree grows in ground, rooted in place. Thenjiwe, before the violence that forecloses her life, seeks the strength of rootedness, of rediscovering place, and of forging a real relationship to it, grounded in loving and knowing.

This phrase “strange fruit” has a particularly American history; it is the name of the famous Billie Holliday song, penned by Abel Meeropol, it decries the American practice of extradjudicial killings of black men – a practice we historically call lynching, but these days I fear we just call “policing.” It metaphorized the lynched bodies of black men, darkly describing the methods of white supremacy to control and subjugate populations of color. Chester Himes, the African-American writer, remarked that “no one, no one, writes about violence the way Americans do. As a matter of fact for the simple reason that no one understand or expresses violence like the American civilians do. American violence is public life, it is a public way of life, it became a form…” But that isn’t exclusively true – black Zimbabwean writers have managed to develop a sophisticated language to describe the unspeakable, and Vera’s associative novels leave the reader breathless in the wake of horror, not unlike this moment in The Stone Virgins, the prevision of finality that afflicts Thenjiwe suddenly: “Muzhanje. Thenjiwe flicks the seed to the roof of her mouth and pushes the man aside, way off the bed. She has been hit by an illumination so profound, so total, she has to breathe deep and think about it some more. She wants to lie down, in silence.” (SV 44)

But there is other strange fruit, too, in Vera, as in the grisly tableau that opens Butterfly Burning, of the mass hanging of men…”The dead men remain in the tree for days. Their legs tied together, their hands hanging close to their stomachs. Toes are turned down to the ground as though the body would leap to safety. The foot curls like a fist, facing down. The feet of dancers who have left the ground. Caught. Surprised by something in the air which they thought free. The limbs smooth and taut, of dancers in a song with no words spoken. A dance denied. A blossom in a wind. A dark elegy” (BB 11). It takes great creativity and fortitude to render such a horrific scene so approachable and, dare I say, beautiful. It is not a beauty that celebrates violence or death in any way, but one that, as I argued before, humanizes its victims. In this passage, seventeen men are lynched in 1896, strange fruit overripe, cut short by the overzealous, overreaching, paranoiac violence at the heart of the founding of Rhodesia. “It is not a place with large trees,” Vera writes with dismay and wonder, “This tree, like these deaths, is a surprise. Away from the Umguza River which sings a lullaby each morning whatever the season, there are no trees” (BB 12).

Terence Ranger recalls of Vera their trip to the Cyrene Mission outside of Bulawayo, where she went to see the art and murals, and where Vera “saw for the first time the enlarged version of the photo of African men, captured in 1896 [during the Second Matabeleland War, as the English call it; the first Chimurenga as it should be known], hanging from a tree. She was astonished that the photograph fitted so exactly with her description of hanging men at the beginning of Butterfly Burning, the sense of the men swimming in the air, being as vivid in the photograph as in the book” (Petal Thoughts 90). Vera’s historical imagination was strong enough to conjure the horror of the scene, so in touch was she with history and culture, and with what Toni Morrison in Beloved, calls “re-memory.”

 

Rememory

In Morrison’s Beloved, when Sethe is escaping the unthinkable violence of her slave plantation, seeking to give birth to her last child in freedom, she encounters the kindly Amy Denver, who massages her feet, and remarks, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts,” a painful description and a prophecy. Vera writes, continuing the gruesome scene, “[The women] are not allowed to touch the bodies. They do not grieve. It is better that the murdered are not returned to the living: the living are not dead. The women keep the most vital details of their men buried in their mouths” (BB 12). The women of Vera’s novel know that there is no live return from the space of the dead, no amelioration or respite, just names and impressions held silently until mourning breaks. Vera is also haunted by the permanence of violence, as if linked to troubled spots, crossroads of tribal, colonial, and nationalist violence.

One of the things most relished and valued about Morrison’s work – and the work of most canonical African-American writers – is its unflagging attention to historical truths, revealing the dark side of the American colonial enterprise, with its attendant slavery; Vera’s refusal to shy away from these historical violences makes her kin to Morrison. Sethe, in Beloved, ruminates, “I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.” Vera’s affirming discovery of the photo of the hanged men demonstrates the vital power of rememory – the resurgence and reality of violence in places where trauma has occurred, where the attempt to efface or move beyond that violence is fraught with its perpetual recurrence. Vera is the guardian of Zimbabwean rememory, holder of truths that are, in some cases inconvenient, or disappointing, or regrettable.

 

Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals?

Her short story “Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals” gives insight, I think, into the difficulty of the work of writing Zimbabwe. The conversation between street artists – a carver and a painter – illuminates the differences between two-dimensional art, where you can add, revise, cover over, and three-dimensional art, like sculpture, that achieves a finished form that is true, even if it isn’t accurate. The painter, on the one hand, “puts the final touches on the image of the Victoria Falls which he paints from a memory gathered from newspapers and magazines. He has never seen the Falls. The water must be blue,” he thinks. He relies on this hodgepodge of hearsay and observation, but gives beauty and control the uppermost, inductively reasoning that the Falls must be blue – if water on maps is blue, if the sky is blue. He “realizes that a lot of spray from the falls must be reaching the lovers, so he paints off their heads with a red umbrella. He notices suddenly that something is missing in the picture, so he extends the lovers’ free hands, and gives them some yellow ice cream. The picture is now full of life,” he thinks (73). The painter and writer can revise, can insert, can alter and shift and move around, staying true to inductive principles but honoring beauty.

But beauty is not the only end, and while Keats encourages us to believe that beauty is truth, and truth beauty, and that’s all we need to know, Vera knows better. Art is also the purview of dream and imagination. “The carver has never seen the elephant or the giraffe that he carves so ardently,” her story observes, placing him in the same category of unknowing as the painter. But unlike the painter, who aims to achieve beauty through reason and truth, the sculptor knows there are other avenues for art. “He picks up a piece of unformed wood. Will it be a giraffe or an elephant? His carving is also his dreaming” (73). Like his dreaming, each carving is different, unique; spoiled, even, like his giraffe whose paint has run, and whose neck is comically short. He may seem the lesser artist by strictly aesthetic standards, but there is no question that he is an honest man, making honest art. The “unformed wood” is the wholecloth of history, the unknowable archive of all that has been, and the writer’s access to truth is contingent on honouring the materials she works with. The two artists – the painter and the sculptor – represent the collaborative pull between beauty and honesty, between pleasure and pain, thinking and dreaming.

I was doing research last year at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I wasn’t looking for Vera’s work, but I found among Charles Larson’s papers a copy of Vera’s final, unpublished work, Obedience. I was at the end of my stay at the library – quite literally; it was to close for the weekend in an hour and I was scheduled to leave town just after. But I couldn’t help but open up and thumb through the manuscript – which begins, indelibly, with a description of the stone birds of Great Zimbabwe. These birds don’t look exactly like an extant bird – but this is not the point at all, even if it might have been a good-faith effort at mimesis. Instead, they simply are: they endure, they are beautiful. In spite of colonial thefts, an independent Zimbabwe achieved their return; they roost once more at the site of rememory, presiding near the complex stone ruins that have fascinated throughout history.

The painter asks the carver in the story, “Why don’t you carve other animals?…Why do you never carve a dog or a cat? Something that city people have seen. Even a rat would be good there are lots of rats in the township!” (73). Why didn’t Vera write her stories and novels exclusively about the fascinating life she saw unfolding before her in the present? – a present that Zimbabwean readers could recognize immediately as their own? Why instead did she lyrically inhabit the past, the full sweep of local history?

Probably because she understood that the greatest foundations of art lie not in the mimetic transcription of things exactly as they are now, but rather in the imaginative flight through the past into the present and back again. Rememory exists anywhere where trauma, pain, violence, extremity has occurred, and there is no place where that is not true. Petina Gappah, a vital contemporary Zimbabwean writer, recently swore in a talk at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town that she was done with writing contemporary Zimbabwe after her impressive Rotten Row appeared in print – she wanted to explore the possibilities of writing elsewheres and elsewhens, to delve into history and unearth new old stories. These modes are not mutually exclusive, but this move reverberates with Vera’s temporal rangings, and describes the difficulty and ambivalence about approaching contemporary Zimbabwe without also attending to its past.

 

In Rememory

The Harry Ransom Center holds another crucial Zimbabwean manuscript – the unfinished manuscript of Doris Lessing’s novel “The Memorykeepers.” Tendai Huchu, in a story just published in the 2017 anthology Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories by ‘amaBooks in Bulawayo, recounts this piece of local folklore: “The Great Zimbabwe Empire was built by kings under the instructions of the Memorykeepers. You have heard of them, no? Of course not. It is an old – for lack of a better word – guild that has been there for as long as our people have been around. The Memorykeepers’ task is to remember everything.” The Memorykeepers are entrusted with the whole sweep of time, of remembering all that has been in order to inform what is to come.

Memorykeepers are rare indeed; not even every African literature has such an honest, exposed, and vulnerable writer. Indeed, not every African literature is capable of absorbing the persisting, the inconvenient truths. There will always be those who seek to wrest the past in service of a future that they desire, instead of honouring the past for the truths it has produced, in spite of its violences. Such manipulators of truth and history – regardless of their position or power – should never supplant those brave enough to tell us unpalatable truths about ourselves. There is no honor in easy deceit, in palatable fictions. If, as Huchu worries, “now there are fewer Memorykeepers than at any stage in the past and they cannot hold all the new knowledge that flows from the four corners of the world,” we must learn to celebrate those who have walked amongst us – giants like Vera – and those few who remain, who have access still to rememory in an era where information deceives, and truth slides, and lives nevertheless hang in the balance, feebly swimming against the wind.

REFERENCES
Gwetai, Ericah. Petal Thoughts. Gweru, Mambo Press, 2008.
Morris, Jane, Ed. Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories. Bulawayo, ‘Amabooks, 2017.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eyes. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.
–. Beloved. New York, Knopf, 1987.
Vera, Yvonne. Butterfly Burning. Harare, Baobab, 1998.
–. The Stone Virgins. Harare, Weaver Press, 2002.
–. Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals? Toronto, TSAR, 1992.


“Running Coincidences and First Hearts,” an essay by Chuck Keegan (MA, 2003)

Below you will find a brief essay written by Charles “Chuck” Keegan. Many retirees like Chuck audit classes at UTC using the “Over-60 Senior Auditors” benefit, which allows senior citizens to sit in on graduate and undergraduate courses at UTC at no charge.  Fewer of these retirees, however, take courses for credit, and still fewer actually complete their graduate degrees.  Chuck so loved the first course he attended – Dr. Tom Ware’s seminar on James Joyce –that he began taking graduate courses in earnest, completing the M.A. in English just as he turned 70.  I was fortunate enough to be Chuck’s teacher the one and only time I taught literary theory at the graduate level.  Although he was twice my age, he had the enthusiasm and passion for the work that one would hope to find in any brand new graduate student.  I recall that when he wasn’t preparing for class, he was out training for the Dublin Marathon.

Although he now lives in Iowa so as to be closer to his children and grandchildren, he dropped by my office a few weeks ago.  At 84 he remains the same delightful and ceaselessly curious person I remember. He’s still auditing classes at a nearby university, and he still gets excited talking about the literary critic or theorist who has inspired him most recently.

We thank Chuck for his support of our department, faculty, staff and students.

—Dr. Chris Stuart, Head, Department of English


Narrative is defined as much by its incompleteness as by its completeness. Joan Didion said, “We live entirely . . . , by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” One of those “disparate images” would likely be of a seventy-year old man wandering around Holt Hall as a student of the English Department.  A SNL sketch could have been done when I asked Tom Ware, who was always the Southern gentleman, if I would be the oldest graduate getting a Master’s degree in English from UTC.

The “shifting phantasmagoria” could be associated with my being an Iraqi Hostage (Human Shield) from August 2, 1990 to December 8, 1990 during the Persian Gulf War. One of my UTC classmates was more interested, than most, by the fact that I returned to the United States on December 8 on a Coastal Corp flight along with John Connally who was a member of the Coastal Corp board of directors. The U. S. State Department called it the Connally flight. When I graduated from UTC on December 13, 2003 the Iraq war was ongoing and the day before a disheveled Saddam Hussein was captured as he emerged from a spider hole where he had been hiding. Richard Rice, a retired history professor and a friend of mine, handed out the diplomas. When my turn came Richard stopped the activities and told my Iraq Hostage story. While I was pleased, even my robust ego could not ignore the restless signs that emerged from loving parents interested in viewing their son or daughter get his/her diploma.

Pic of Charles Keegan

Iraqi-held hostage Charles Keegan being lifted by his daughter, Peggy & son-in-law, Tom Van Baale, at front steps of Monsour AL-Melia hotel. (Photo by Terry Smith/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

The latter part of my career was spent in the Middle East in investment management. It began with one year of employment in Bahrain. I moved on to Kuwait for three years. Then with a different Kuwaiti firm, I worked two years in New York City. I returned to Kuwait with the company I had worked with before doing the same job—Chief Investment Strategist. I expected to be there several years, but I had completed less than a year on my contract when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. It would end my working career.

The late Ken Smith was my creative writing professor.  He detested the use of coincidences in stories. My life, however, has been greatly influenced by coincidences. If my Bahraini employer’s first choice for the position I filled had accepted the job, I would not have been in the Middle East. In July 1990 I put off the beginning of vacation in the United States so an associate could enjoy another week of vacation in India—this put me in Kuwait at the time of the Iraqi invasion. Finally, in the spring of 2000, I was on a Celtic Odyssey in Ireland in search of my Irish roots, and for a reason I cannot now remember I came back one week early. If I had returned as I expected, my friend Clive would have been in Zimbabwe visiting his mother. Clive likes to connect people, and he knew of my search for my Irish roots. He put things together and connected me to Tom Ware who was teaching James Joyce’s “Ulysses” that fall.

Pic of Dublin Riverside

Dublin Riverside and the Ormond Quay Hotel

I have run ten marathons.  This surprised many people when they saw my build. An associate’s wife said, “but you don’t look like a runner.” She was right. My best time (age 49) was three hours and thirty-five minutes. My last marathon was in Dublin in the fall of 2000 while I was following Leopold Bloom around Dublin textually with Tom Ware. I kept warm before the marathon in the lobby of the Ormond Quay Hotel made famous as the site of the “Sirens” episode of “Ulysses.”

A character in a John Banville novel said, “The past beats inside me like a second heart,” and I believe that to be true, but as long as my first heart beats it is what tomorrow brings that fills my day with meaning. For me, that meaning is currently coming from finding existential deficits or crises of meaning in literature. In referring to my getting a degree in my retirement years I routinely got the question, “What are you going to do with it?” After seventeen years of my enjoying great literature I believe that question has been answered.


The Senior Seminar: An Interview With Savannah May

Savannah May

UTC’s English undergraduates have three options to complete the Senior Capstone graduation requirement: the Senior Seminar class, a Senior Thesis, or an internship. Each has its own merits and may be more appropriate depending on which concentration a prospective senior may take. Savannah May, a current senior, is currently taking the Senior Seminar class with Dr. Jenn Stewart. Below is an interview conducted over email in which I asked her some questions about her experience as an English major and what exactly she’s doing in the Senior Seminar class.

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What made you decide to major in English?

I have loved reading and writing for as long as I can remember… that sounds cliché, I know.

My love for writing stemmed from my love for reading. In third grade, I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I remember seeing the word “beseech” in the “Walrus and the Carpenter” poem that appears in Through the Looking Glass, and I made a point to use it in anything I wrote for school for the rest of the year. By fourth grade, I had written a poem about weasels that was published by the Young Southern Writers Journal through UTC, and by fifth grade, I was reading David Copperfield.

I think I have always been an English major, just without the official title; I have always wanted to read, write, and learn. I really discovered my passion for the field in high school, however, as I began to experiment in Honors and AP classes with different genres and writing styles. I did my first rhetorical analysis paper in eleventh grade. I remember my classmates reacting to that assignment as if they had been asked to read Heidegger’s Being and Time. I, however, loved it. Rhetoric was a new side of English to me. It was like the science behind the art of English studies.

When I discovered rhetoric, I learned to read texts differently. I developed heightened analytical skills and learned to be more intentional in my speech and writing. I felt, and still do, that having a firm understanding of rhetoric allows one to excel in any social, academic, political, etc. discourse. During my senior year, I researched UTC’s departments and programs, and when I saw that the English Department had a Rhetoric and Professional Writing track, I was in.

Dr. Jenn Stewart, teaching rhetorical concepts from Dr. Clay Spinuzzi of the University of Texas.


Why did you decide to take the Senior Seminar class as opposed to one of the other options you had for the Capstone?

The Senior Seminar was the only practical option for me, as I feel it is for many students. I have a full-time job, which is non-negotiable, because I pay my own rent, car payment, etc. I would have loved to have done an internship, but even the paid ones would not cover my monthly bills. I felt like I would not have time to do the other option—a departmental thesis—due to my work schedule and my class schedule (which has always been packed tight because I am also majoring in Spanish). So, a Senior Seminar class was simply the best fit for me..
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I am aware that the course description on the catalog states that the class “emphasizes application and synthesis of student learning in the major as it focuses on themes/topics in literature, theory, creative writing, and/or rhetoric and composition.” Can you elaborate on this?

In fewer words, we are doing things. What I mean by that is we aren’t just discussing literature, writing, and theory, but rather we are doing things with the knowledge we have acquired during our time as English majors. We are doing hands-on collaborative projects that require research, technological skills, and *gasp* group work. This seminar is preparing English majors to apply the analytical, communication, and writing skills learned in our other English classes to real-life jobs. We are studying the history of the major, analyzing its identity, and learning how to make our skill sets as English majors marketable.

 

Dr. Stewart encourages students to work in groups in her “Senior Seminar: Deconstructing the English Major” class.


The course is subtitled “Deconstructing the English Major.” What exactly does this mean? What are some of the things your class has discussed together up to this point?

Well, we are literally deconstructing the English major. We are analyzing its beginnings, growth, and future. We are analyzing its identity and our own. We are analyzing what the major has taught us and how that knowledge is applied to every facet of post-graduate life.

We have discussed information coding in class, which we then applied to a collaborative project. We used our coding skills to analyze Buzzfeed articles about English majors. We then compiled our findings, narrowed them down, and formatted them into a rather lengthy memo that discusses the perceptions and stereotypes tied to being an English major.

We then discussed Halvorsen and Sarangi’s study about activity and discourse roles to analyze how people collaborate and behave in a professional group setting. We used this information and other team roles studies to reflect upon our own activity and discourse roles in group settings.

We have read McComiskey’s “English Studies: An introduction to the Discipline(s),” which offers a detailed history concerning the growth and change of the English major, and we are now in the process of doing a collaborative meta-analysis that will examine how English majors or departments compare and contrast across the country.

We will soon be conducting in-depth interviews with a former English major. We will be interviewing them about their careers and how their education in English prepared them for their current job. We are only interviewing English majors who are not teachers, because the goal of the project is to analyze how the English major instills one with communication and writing skills that prepare one for a wide variety of careers.

Later in the semester, we will be doing a “Situatedness Autoethnography” that will analyze our strengths, weaknesses, and aptitude, and will reflect on past work. By the end of the course, we will have also created professional online portfolios to be used when entering the job market.


Welcome to Bulawayo…

As many of you know, Dr. James Arnett won a prestigious (and rare at UTC) Fulbright Core Teaching/Research Fellowship this past Spring. It’s a 10 month grant to teach at National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo and conduct research on Bulawayo’s literary history, past infrastructure, and current programs for encouraging creative writing and literary production. 

Check out Dr. Arnett’s first post, reposted here on our own blog, Connections. His post was originally published on his blog at http://jarnettphd.weebly.com/.


Picture of Dr. James Arnett

Dr. James Arnett

I arrived in Bulawayo at the tail end of their winter, such as it is. It’s more impressive a winter than you might think, given any image of Africa you might have as either a tropical or desertified climatological hellscape. The weather at night turns a crisp, cold and on its worst nights, the wind comes whipping up the plains – of Matabeleland, not Oklahoma. The buildings here are built for passive heating and cooling, although their proficiency at either is yet to be determined fully. Summer – a longer season, roughly nine months of the twelve – is on the horizon, and to hear it told – and felt – it began today.

I applied for the Fulbright to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe because it has a long history – it was the gateway of the Ndebele people fleeing Tchaka’s (of Zulu fame) despotic wrath. And it was the vista from the incomparable Matobos Hills that inspired British imperialist Cecil Rhodes to establish a private mining concern here, a concern that morphed into the colony of Southern Rhodesia (named after him, naturally). He asked to be buried here, and surprisingly, given the rancor and violence with which white Rhodesians defended their country against black African independence – it’s still up there, the grave, looking down on the first major city in Zimbabwe.

But Bulawayo also has a long history of artistic and literary sophistication, home to the Cyrene Mission (from which was derived an enduringly popular visual art), a regional hub for the author Doris Lessing during her youth in Rhodesia, home to the country’s National Gallery and Natural History Museum, and home or birthplace of Zimbabwean authors Yvonne Vera, NoViolet Bulawayo, John Eppel, and others.

 

Bulawayo is also a minority-majority city, home to the Ndebele people, a 20% minority in a country that overall identifies as roughly 80% Shona. The tribes have historically been pitted against each other, in spite of unifying in their long fight for independence against white Rhodesians that ultimately culminated in the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980. A young country, then, and the oldest town therein, Bulawayo has endured some pretty hard times, all told – especially considering it’s on the national government back-burner, which prefers to funnel money into the capital and other politically faithful towns. Throughout the 1980s, the majority government conducted a low-intensity and high-casualty campaign against the Ndebele, sowing ever greater distrust and fear amongst the Ndebele for the majority government. This erupted into politics at the turn of the 21st century, and Bulawayo became the center of an emergent opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Since then, Bulawayo has positioned itself as a fiercely independent and resistant space in the country, questioning ZANU-PF’s thirty-seven year tenure as a majority government. Elections happen every five years, and the current president, Robert Mugabe, at the age of 94, is the oldest sitting statesperson in the world, and has publicly claimed that he has no interest in stepping aside, even as he wrestles with age and health issues. Thirty-seven years of power creates a tremendous amount of both momentum and inertia, and the vexing combination of both means that the upcoming elections in 2018 will, of necessity, be important to the shape of Zimbabwean politics to come.

It’s not terribly usual for literature professors to travel in search of literature – after all, books bring the world to us: such is their purpose and value, as records of ephemeral truths and vehicles of far-flung experience. But I’ve got a passion for travel, and a passion for travel in particular to the places where most other travellers don’t go. I taught for an ultimately ill-fated semester in Afghanistan in 2013, drawn there by my pacifism and my desire to see the workings of American Empire up close. It was probably an ill-considered decision, but I learned a lot – about American empire, about myself, about the value of the ideology of education and intellectualization. It has been impossible since to walk back those epiphanies – that education is incredibly impactful, the most potent force for the realization of freedom, equality, and justice.

Picture of National Gallery Of Zimbabwe

National Gallery Of Zimbabwe

The bus ride from Harare, fully six hours long (Africa is much larger than any map we’re familiar with represents it as), took me through a rusty, rocky, jutting landscape. An hour passed between remarkable towns, remarkable, mostly, for their ability to survive in this bone dry, elevated plateau. Kadoma. Kwekwe. Gweru.

Even in the cooler breeze of winter, I sweated in the double-decker bus, and strained my eyes, when it didn’t make me nauseous, for glimpses of anything worth remarking. I won’t lie, I was looking for exotic fauna, too, although they undoubtedly know better than to hang out anywhere near the one major highway cutting across the center of the nation. And contrary to the image one might have of Africa – as of wide open spaces, unbroken horizons, full of sky and burning land – it’s marked out and fenced just like America is, as glimpsed from the highway. More than a hundred years of colonialism, capitalism and private property have irreparably taken root, limiting, as we know, the ranges and spaces in which the charismatic African fauna can roam, confining them to the protected open spaces of national and game parks.

Image of the Bulawayo city center.

Bulawayo city center

We pulled into Bulawayo, a gridded and bustling city, the regional hub for industry and commerce – or at least it was, until economic fortunes changed dramatically for the city, and the larger country, in the 21st century. Four faux-nuclear-cooling-towers (coal plants, it seems) tower over the edge of the city, whose skyline is broken by scattered, anomalous high-rises, all testifying to its importance, once, as a center of industry. Anywhere between 600k and 1 million people live here; the former is the government’s low-balled census number (determined, as it were, to downgrade the city’s importance), the latter the number that opposition politicians cite. Either way, there are certainly far more people on the street in Bulawayo at any time than there are in Chattanooga, proper.

The city’s architecture is a mix of buildings that wouldn’t look out of place on the mission coast of California, or the Victorian quarters of an English city, or the midcentury angular experimentation of once-thriving Rust Belt cities. It’s a random mix, but not without charm, even if it’s suffered pretty intensely from neglect and sometimes-explosive poverty.

But there are some buildings that are like time capsules, including and in particular the National Gallery of Art. A two-story building, painted red with white trim, its ornate balcony railings borrowed from the Victorian style of Cape Town, and which wouldn’t look out of place in New Orleans. It has a charming open-air courtyard, where a chic new coffee shop sprawls into the blue-bright glare of the cloudless sky. To one side is a two-story building, replete with a dozen studios for local artists to work and host buyers, students, and critics. It’s precisely the sort of place I love: full of art, full of history (it was built at the turn of the 20th century), but most of all, full of the memory of literature.

For many years, Yvonne Vera, the lyrical, ambitious, and avant-garde Zimbabwean writer, was the curator here. Her tenure in charge is remembered fondly by all as a high point in the institution’s history, and she was a tireless advocate for artistic production and preservation, a steward to the unique cultural traditions of the town, and a local human repository of memory for the city. When the eminent historian of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Terence Ranger, decided finally to approach Bulawayo as a subject, he tipped his hat to, and started with, Vera’s fictional account in her novel, Butterfly Burning.

Vera’s novels range over the full modern history of Zimbabwe, variously touching on all of the important eras, from the first Chimurenga (roughly glossed as <righteous conflict> or <revolutionary struggle>; 1894-1897) against white imperialists, through the resource plunder of Zimbabwe while a colony, into the difficulties of the Second Chimurenga (1966-1979) against the Rhodesians, and into the turn of the 21st century. Her novels are wrenching, and disorienting, and stand out in a field of literature that has been, and still largely is, dominated by social realist novels in the Chinua Achebe tradition.

Vera’s novels are wrenching and disorienting, replete with ruefully casual violence, and dwelling uncomfortably on trauma.  In December of 2016, I travelled to the Harry Ransom Center Archive at the University of Texas-Austin, a famous collection of very important literary manuscripts, with heavy concentrations on 20th-centry British and African literature. They have a larger and more complete collection of Doris Lessing’s correspondence and manuscripts than found anywhere else. And buried amongst the papers of the African literature scholar Charles Larson is a small cache of papers of Yvonne Vera’s –letters and emails, copies of essays and articles, handwritten notes, and Terence Ranger’s eulogy for her. Most remarkably, though, when Vera died in 2005, she left behind a nearly-complete manuscript, now archived amongst Larson’s papers at UT, named Obedience. This novel begins with the uncovering – and plunder – of the stone birds at Great Zimbabwe, a kind of ground zero for colonialist appropriation of ersatz-“primitive” cultures that characterized the “cultural labor” of colonialism.

Archives can – in their best moments – yield precisely such gems: unfinished work, notes for projects that were never realized, casual insights into literature’s composition. Although Larson wanted very much to publish the novel – and corresponded with her husband about her planned revisions – and Sarah Kastner worked with the manuscript for her MA thesis, “Writing Against Possession: Archiving Yvonne Vera, and the Obedience Manuscript,” the text is still not available outside of archives. It remains, therefore, a tantalizing promise of what could have been, as well as a novel in situ, waiting for its hopefully-eventual publication.

Although Vera passed in 2005, her mother still lives in Bulawayo, and it seems that she has taken up the banner of her late daughter. She has compiled a biography of Vera – the only one, I believe – and also become a writer in her own right. I hope to meet her, to let her know how important and impactful Vera’s work has been, is, will be – that she has been and will be celebrated as one of the most important and idiosyncratic voices in all of African literature. I don’t doubt her mother knows this, of course, in the way that mothers do.

I’ve always loved literature, and by extension, those writers who have poured their blood and sweat into these texts that give me life, but I’ve always been sceptical of the Romantic notion of the isolated, tortured, god-appointed ‘genius.’ It’s a holdover from less egalitarian times, this idea that some people are uniquely imbued with otherworldly powers of expression that render them godlike among men. My investment in materialist philosophy inclines me to want to believe that people are made, shaped, formed; they push and are pushed; they stretch and snap back; and around all of us swirls a dense cloud of ideologies about the world that allow us to understand ourselves as ourselves, and the world as the world – and that that fact means that we all inhabit different registers of experience in and of the world. Short-hand: poststructuralist materialist Marxist.

Nevertheless, for the same essential reason that people make pilgrimages to the Land of Mickey in order to asymptotically approach the impossible Disney fantasy through hyperconsumerism… I want to be where the writing was. I want to see – want to see them writing, see them writing on – what do you call those? Desks?

I’ve seen Marcel Proust’s recreated bedroom in Paris; the tree under which Lawrence Durrell wrote his Mediterranean travelogues in Northern Cyprus; the towering pine tree that DH Lawrence stared out of the window at in Taos, NM; Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables; Stein’s and Hemingway’s and Fitzgerald’s and Joyce’s Shakespeare and Company; Larry McMurtry’s Archer City, Texas; Amma Darko’s Agbogbloshie Market in Accra.

When I’m feeling uncharitable to myself, I think: what are you doing? What do you imagine you’ll find? The writing is over; the book is in your hands; the text is what lives, such as anything can be said to ‘live.’ Give up the search, enjoy the book, accept that that time, that place, that moment, that person is gone, and it is precisely the text that remains when nothing else does.

On the other hand, I think – here is a city, Bulawayo, somewhat frozen in time, haunted by its past and uncertain about its future; unupdated since 1980; slowly decaying under the whiplash of the wind, the abrasion of the ruddy dust, the weight of history. Toni Morrison was right, you know, when she described “rememory” in Beloved  – places that have seen life, and history, and violence and death and trauma and pain and love and joy and fear, record these feelings in their bones. And their bones are the width of the streets of Bulawayo, designed to allow a full complement of oxen to effect a U-turn in the middle of the street, and streets which are still used for this effect by hand-me-down double-decker buses shuttling people between the blasted capital and the buffeting winds of Bulawayo. And the bones are those ornate white railings of the National Gallery, chipping paint now that Yvonne is gone. And the bones are the corner public library, whose stock of schlock fiction and time-warped classics impresses. And the bones are in the stout and flaring coalstacks on the edge of the ridge that once intentionally separated the ‘native’ town, Mzilikazi, and the rest of bleached, whitened Bulawayo arraying themselves in the orderly grid, out of plumb with north and south, but arranged on lay-lines of topography and romantic imperial visions. And the bones are in the irrepressible warmth of a people who should, by logic and experience and history, be sceptical of my wondering and wandering eyes, but haven’t. All of these places contain layers of life and lived experience, the residue of our bodies and the signatures of our sacrifices.

 


Learning the Ropes in Social Media

Noah Pace

My internship this semester as the Staff Writer and Social Media Coordinator for the UTC English Department has given me a new appreciation for the work that goes into every little update on social media, something that most of us (myself included) may not think about as much as we should in our digital age.

My duties mostly centered around maintaining the Facebook and Twitter profiles for the department. This sometimes involved finding articles from other sources about writing advice, study tips, and any other topics that might interest an English major. However, perhaps the most immediately important goal in working on the social media profiles was keeping people informed about upcoming events; if the deadline for writing submissions was coming up, or a professor was planning on participating in a local reading, I needed to make sure that people knew about it.

Harrison Ford spotlight I produced for the Facebook page, emphasizing successful English majors

This isn’t to imply that my only responsibility was to report on the activities of others, of course. Throughout the semester I was given plenty of opportunities to contribute original work of my own. I published two longer articles on the Connections blog during my internship. The first, Internship Ins & Outs: Part II, was a series of interviews with current and former members of the UTC English internship program, highlighting their thoughts on the program and how benefecial it could be for their futures. The second, The Power of an English Degree, recapped a Sigma Tau Delta panel of English alumni discussing the career options available to English graduates who decide not to attend grad school. I was also responsible for producing a short series of alumni profiles to add to the English Department website.

Internship Ins and Outs: Part II, one of the articles I wrote as an intern

As a result of these projects, a lot of my time working as an intern was spent interviewing others. This was a great opportunity for me to meet with other English majors and graduates who had plenty of important advice for me. I greatly appreciated this because as a graduating senior, I definitely had some concerns about what my post-university life might entail. By conducting so many interviews (online and in person), I simultaneously made connections with successful English majors and broadcast their success to others in need of inspiration.

An event notice for the release party of Sybil Baker’s book, “Immigration Essays”

I’d like to emphasize that I’ve loved every single English professor I’ve studied under as a UTC student. They each have wonderfully memorable personalities and I’m very fortunate to have met them. The two that have perhaps most influenced my direction as a student have been Dr. Jones, whose course on rhetoric will be very important for me in my career, and Dr. Hunter, whose Writing Beyond the Academy course initially inspired me to consider how writing in our postmodern age has blended with technology to create new and exciting rhetorical situations. I feel that spending my time as an intern working with Dr. Hunter has been precisely the experience I needed to solidify this skill set.


Outstanding Graduating Senior, Laura Coker

English Department Staff Writer and Social Media Intern, Noah Pace, recently had a chance to sit down with Laura Coker, this year’s Outstanding Graduating Senior in Rhetoric and Professional Writing, to ask her about she experience as an English major. Here’s what she had to say.

Pic of Laura Coker.

Outstanding Graduating Senior in English: Rhetoric & Professional Writing

Noah: First, what made you want to be an English major at UTC?

Laura: I have always loved to read. . . . I was just like, “I’m going to be an English Major.” There were no other options that I had. I decided to be an English major, and it was probably the best decision that I have ever made. I’ve heard my friends talking at a college not too far from here, and they hated the English program. They said that UTC’s program was much better. So I know I made the right decision.

Noah: Tell me about your most interesting or significant experiences as an English major?

Laura: I think my most significant experience happened when I took the History of the English language. And this is going to sound really weird, so bear with me. I love the Lord of the Rings more than anything. So, when I took her [Dr. Katherine Rehyansky], I decided to write a paper on Elvish. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I did it. I had 35 sources, and so wrote this paper, and ever since then I have been presenting on it at [undergraduate research] conventions.

Screenshot of Coker's Tolkien’s Linguistics: The Artificial Languages of Quenya and Sindarin.

Coker’s 2016 CUR presentation abstract, “Tolkien’s Linguistics: The Artificial Languages of Quenya and Sindarin.”

I think that moment was significant for me because I was able to gauge my skills. I was able to use those [writing and analytical] skills and see them succeed because it’s now been published. I’ve seen all of this happen within a span of a year and a half, and I never thought I would make it this far.

Noah: How would you describe your overall experience as an English major?

Laura: I’ve made a ton of friends here at UTC, and especially with the professors because I feel like they treat you on such a personal level. It’s not scary to talk to them, and I know they will always help me. And if I need anything, I always know they will be there. The professors also encourage friendships among the students in the classroom and with them, too, so there are all these personal connections that I know my friends don’t have with their professors who are in other majors. [English is] very intimate and inclusive, and our professors are all very helpful, nice, and welcoming.

Laure holding her paper up while at CUR conference.

Laura attending CUR 2016 to present her paper on Tolkien.

Noah: So what are your plans for after graduation?

Laura: I’ve always wanted to go to Law school from the very beginning. I’m taking a year off after I graduate to work because I need a break, and then I’m heading off to whichever law school accepts me. I would say that English has definitely prepared me for that because I know I have very strong critical thinking and writing skills. I am definitely way more aggressive than I was before when I first came to college. I now know how to argue and how to, I guess, get my way when I need to get my way. So I feel like that has definitely made me a stronger person.

Noah: Any final thoughts, or advice you have for current or future English majors?

Laura: Don’t be afraid and have confidence in your self because I know that’s what I was lacking when I came to college. Also don’t be afraid to go and speak to your professors because I know students who don’t have the same level of connections that I do with my professors, and I have my professors helping me look for jobs. I feel like those connections are the most important, because they will help get you so many more places then just being idle and not being involved.

Pic of Coker's 2017 CUR paper abstract.

Laura’s 2017 CUR presentation abstract, “Video Games & Literacy: The Positive Impact on the Traditional Classroom.”

*Laura was recognized for her achievements at the annual English Banquet on April 4, 2017.


The Power of an English Degree

As an undergraduate student in the English department, I’ve often found myself pondering the big questions concerning my future: What will I do when I graduate? What’s the job market like? Is graduate school a good option for me? I know I’m not alone in this mental exercise. Thankfully, the English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta recently held a panel with four former English students to help current undergraduates explore this topic.

Department Head Dr. Christopher Stuart opened the panel with an important observation: while it is important that the department’s faculty members measure student success as if each undergrad will be continuing their education as graduate students, this won’t be the case for most. Graduating students may have any number of personal or professional reasons for avoiding grad school.

This was the common thread that connected these panelists; each managed to secure an admirable position in their field with an undergraduate-level education and a healthy dose of determination. Thus, they serve as evidence that while graduate school is an excellent option for some, it’s definitely possible to succeed with a BA in English, and each panelist had plenty of relevant advice for undergrads looking to do just that.

Natalie Martin

Natalie Martin, the first highlighted panelist, graduated from UTC as a double major, earning BA English Literature and BA Communications degrees. Although she initially came to UTC hoping to be a high school English teacher, Natalie eventually changed her major from English Education and pursued experience in PR and marketing fields. She currently works as a project manager for the Chattanooga-based web development company Crash Creative.

As she reflected on her career path, Natalie expressed a fascination for the potential of working online.  “I learned that I love the web. Web is so exciting… It’s limitless, really.” Natalie seemed to ponder what her career experience would have been like had she continued down the path of English Education, but ultimately concluded that she had made the right choice for her; the lessons she learned from the English and Communications departments combined to give her the formal schooling and technical know-how necessary to succeed in her field. When asked for advice to current undergrad students, she offered a reassuring message. “Find out what you can do with your degree! If you’re not looking for a future in academia, know that there are so many things you can do with an English degree.” It just so happens that working on web development for professional clients is one great example.

Brooke Brown

Brooke Brown, UTC alum and Assistant Editor for The Pulse, emphasized the importance of finding a good internship as a student. She interned with “Chattanooga’s weekly alternative magazine” during her last semester at UTC, and impressed her supervisors enough to land her a position as Editorial Assistant immediately following her graduation. Six months later, Brooke was promoted to her current role as Assistant Editor.

The paper is distributed for free at newsstands all throughout downtown Chattanooga, and features articles on all sorts of cultural events relevant to the Scenic City. “It’s awesome. I love it. I get to edit the paper, and I also write Featured Business and Featured Dining pieces for it, so that’s pretty cool, too.” Brooke displayed a passion for her work that permitted her to find success, and the connections she made with The Pulse during her internship led her to where she is now, giving undergrads yet another reason to look into the department’s internship program.

Mary Fortune, the last UTC alum, graduated with a BA in English Literature in 1995.
Remembering her time in school, Mary stressed having little interest in any other department. “I majored in English because I hated everything else,” she said. Still, she admitted to having few ideas about her overall career plan during her studies, humorously stressing that the only thing she was sure about was that she did
not want to be a teacher.

Much like Natalie, Mary explained how she discovered the benefits of coupling an English degree with experience in Communications. In her senior year, Mary began an internship with the Chattanooga Times (precursor to the Chattanooga Times Free Press) and kicked off her thirteen-year-long career as a journalist. “It was great because you’re a writer and you get to tell stories, but you don’t even have to make them up.” Needing a new position to support her growing family, Mary took a job as a manager in the Corporate Communications department at the Unum insurance company, and has thrived there for over nine years now. Now the Assistant Vice President of Corporate Communications, Mary serves as a great example for how much English majors may be desired in office environments, too.

Mary Fortune

While not a UTC alum, Dave Deardorff did graduate as an English major from a small university in Indiana with a focus in Creative Writing. He mentioned one great reason to pursue a degree in English: the ability to keep your studies broad. Choosing between a major in English and a major in the sciences, Dave chose English for the flexible skill set it could provide him in the future. This flexibility seemed to stick with Dave, as he eventually decided to establish a freelance writing company.

Confessing that he did spend some time in graduate school, Dave was not satisfied with his new program’s emphasis on literature, preferring instead to focus on his own ability to craft engaging work. “I went for a year and took all the Creative Writing courses I could, but then I realized all that was left were 18th-century literature courses that really weren’t enthusing for me.” Testing the waters as a technical writer, Dave found that his skills served him well, but the work was not particularly interesting. This led to the formation of Deardorff Consulting; Dave repeatedly emphasized the liberation of applying his skillset to constantly changing projects as an independent writer. “I like new challenges. I like variety.”

The Panelists for this event had plenty of great advice that we could all learn from. If you have an idea of what you’d like to do in the future, why not try for an internship in that field? When applying for jobs, consider the value of your communicational skills; as an English major, these skills can take you far in the job market. The English major is a broad field of study, and can lead to all sorts of unique experiences, but like with any field, making connections with others is also a great habit to maintain. You never know who might give you your next decades-long career doing something you love.


Launch Party for UTC English Grad Program’s New Southern-Inspired Magazine: CATALPA

Catalpa, a magazine of Southern perspectives, will release its first issue this April. This new publication thrives on the unique, unorthodox, and creative stories inspired by the South. Catalpa solicits submissions related to, or written in the South. At Catalpa we want to inspire, entertain, and evoke thought.

Catalpa Cover

Inaugural issue of Catalpa

Please support Catalpa’s release by attending our Catalpa Magazine Launch Party on April 28th at 6:00 p.m. in the Southern Writers Room in UTC’s library. We will be reading a few stories from our first issues and will have free food and drinks available. This is a project that all Catalpa staff members have worked extremely hard on, and would love to share with the UTC community.

To give you a little history of Catalpa, the magazine was created and is run by UTC English graduate students, under the watchful eye of our Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Rebecca Jones. Catalpa has been developed to be the product of an annual publication course, Writing for Publication: A Graduate Magazine. The magazine provides hands-on, true to life, real-world application of skills that are necessary of personal, public, and professional writers. From the message we want to put out, to writing and editing, to and deciding on design elements such as colors, fonts and page-layout, we created Catalpa from scratch. Student write, edit, and design the whole magazine. We hope this becomes a staple of the English Graduate Program. 

Catalpa, ultimately, is the result of English grad students’ group effort. Learning to work in a team, problem-solving, taking initiative, strategic planning, adaptability are just a few of the skills we’ve developed in addition to writing for a particular rhetorical situation. Students have specific duties and tasks and are required to finish them on time. If not, you could throw off the timing of the release, and that really is not an option. It’s refreshing to be in a class that is all about collaboration.

We hope our issue is the first of many and that you will enjoy it.

Your support for Catalpa will be greatly appreciated, and we hope to see you in the Southern Writers Room at 6:00 p.m. on the 28th of April.

—Team Catalpa


Hot Off the Dept. Head’s Desk: Fall 2017 Courses to Watch (and enroll in).

ENGL 3410:  British Modernism 1900-1945)  –  Kizza

British Modernism is an early to mid-twentieth century literary movement rooted in the Modernists’ desire to “bury Victoria”. The new millennium which opened with excitement but also apprehension enabled the Modernists to wage a battle against the Victorians. These brave adventurers captured the period’s overall sense of dislocation, despair, alienation, confusion, uncertainty, fear, etc.; critically analyzed and responded to political events and discoveries; voiced their dissatisfaction with “Western Civilization”; made artistic innovations, and experimented with literary techniques and styles to accurately depict the moral, social, and intellectual atmosphere of the new millennium, thereby successfully burying Victoria. So please join me for the most enchanting funeral you will ever attend – that of Queen Victoria, featuring renowned pallbearers like Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Bernard Shaw, and many more. 

ENGL 3750 M 5:30-8  Poetry Workshop: “What kind of times are these? Politics, Belief, and Poetry.”  — Jackson

Through writing poems and prose poems (essentially descriptive, lyrical paragraphs) we will explore how to write about politics without writing mere propaganda, how to write about the beliefs we have that underlie our views without mere proselytizing.  The theme comes from .the poem “What Kind of Times Are These” by Award winning poet Adrienne Rich who writes: “this is not somewhere else but here, / our country moving closer to its own truth and dread.”  In this class we will read some poems about current issues and try writing some that speak to our own beliefs and views about political, religious and social issues. We’ll meet once a week to share our reading and writing and suggest ways to get further into its truths. Truth, after all, is what the poem can bring us, a way to combat what Slovene poet Dane Zajc called the “stalkers” who try to control our language by redefining words and situations. As major American poet Gerald Stern says about belief: “To write and American psalm today means to penetrate the horror, the indifference, and the cruelty …to reach a true place of love and affirmation.”  Since all the material we need is on the internet we will not have any required texts.

ENGL 4270: Major American Figures: E.L. Doctorow – Stuart

E.L. Doctorow was a major presence in American letters from the late 1960s until his death in 2015.  He was best known for his classic historical novels such as Ragtime (African American terrorists blow up fire stations and hole up in J.P. Morgan’s library, among other events), Billy Bathgate (gangsters in the 1930s), and The March (a novel tracing Sherman’s infamous march to the sea towards the end of the Civil War).  Students in this course are in for a treat, as Doctorow’s novels offer a rare combination of accessible prose, exciting plots, and cerebral stimulation, an achievement reflected in the fact that many of his works were bestsellers while at the same time that they were winning the major literary awards and attracting sustained scholarly attention.

ENGL 4970: Fiction, Fashion, and Feminism  – Noe

This course will look at the ways in which fashion informs culture and constructs identity as seen in the fiction of Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, E.L. Doctorow, and other writers.

ENGL/WSTU 4430:  Africana Womanism –  Kizza

Since its inception in the late 1980s, Africana Womanism has been a major focus of literary scholars, and it is now centrally located in the feminist discourse, but what exactly is Africana Womanism? How and why did it move to the center of the feminist discourse? What is its agenda? How is it related to Black Feminism? How is it similar and different from main stream Feminism? What is its future? In this course, we will explore these issues and many more by immersing ourselves in the theoretical scholarship, and actively participating in the discourse on texts by Africana authors like Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neale Hurston, Flora Nwapa, Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo, Jamaica Kinkaid, and more, presumed to be representative of this ideology.

ENGL 4920 –Novel Writing Workshop – Baker

Although this new course does not show up on your My Mocs Degree yet, it DOES count as an upper-division level creative writing course.

For this class, we will focus on writing what Ann Lamont calls “the sh***y first draft” of a novel. We will use one literary novel to “read as a writer” in class, meaning we will closely examine and discuss the novel’s structure, scene, sentence structure, and character development as a guide to our own work. You will also choose a novel to write a short craft paper analyzing some aspect that interests you. All genres are allowed, but we will be focusing on the literary elements of writing in this class. At the end of the semester you will submit about 55,000 words toward the first draft of your novel.