An Outstanding Student

Laura Ward, an English Education major, was recognized as an outstanding English student at the Missouri English Conference in February, meeting at Tan-Tar-A at the Lake of the Ozarks. Laura is currently student teaching as she finishes requirements for her degree and certification. Join me in congratulating her!

Floating Blue Squiggles

Really! A week ago – on Wednesday, February 25 – my wife and I saw blue forms – not exactly squiggles, what artists call “biomorphic forms” – forms that suggest living shapes.We saw shapes suggesting the human form -glowing blue shapes – shift, glide, float, zoom in a dark space. These blue shapes glowed as they moved individually or in combination.

We saw a performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, an even in Missouri S&T’s Campus Performing Arts series in Leach Theatre. The company performed three pieces, each quite different from the other.

The first, “Sweet Fields,” choreographed by Twyla Tharp, used music from William Billings, the Shaker tradition, and Sacred Harp, a shape-note hymnal. The second, “1st Flash,” choreographed by Jorma Elo, to music by Jean Sibelius,

The third, Noir Blanc, is the one my opening paragraph deals with – a performance that is a culmination of movement arts over the last 100 years. (I’m thinking of Diaghilev and Nijinsky.) Those float blue biomorphs, were, of course, the dances of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. The skillful use of costuming and lighting gave the audience an experience difficult to represent in words. So I will stop with that; no, let me add that, if you have the opportunity to see this ballet company perform, I recommend that you do just that.

A Tech Com Grad at Work

Elizabeth Richardson (“Libby”) received her M.S. in Technical Communication in 2007. She has been working in the Republic of Korea, first teaching English as a Second Language, and now as a technical writer for Samsung. In a recent email, Libby brought us up-to-date:

“I’m in Suwon City, South Korea at the R&D complex, working with B2B products (Business 2 Business). Our marketing team is going to be launching the B2B web portal soon from our worldwide website.
“I’ve been editing all of the manuals for applications coming out of my division it seems. They are even having me write some pop-up messages for the applications. Right now I’m helping write a Java API (javadoc) for a major release we have coming up. It’s a challenge, but it’ll be worth it. I’m working with an engineer that’s in India to document the code. I also edit other stuff, too. I think within a few months I’ll probably be editng every piece of writing coming out of Samsung’s Digital Printing Division. Oh, I’m also working on getting a style guide up and going for our division. That’s in my ‘spare time’ though.
“Tell the current students to hang in there! The future isn’t completely bleak!”.

“And zero at the bone”

The title phrase comes from a poem Emily Dickinson wrote about suddenly encountering a snake while walking in tall grass. It’s always resonated with me because I had the same experience more than once, encountering a variety of snakes, including rattlers, in the grasses of the Kansas Flint Hills.

“Zero at the bone” also seems appropriate to the week ending today. We’ve had some very cold temperatures accompanied by dangerous wind chills. At the same time, this week opened the spring semester here at Missouri S&T. Starting a new semester is somewhat like taking off in a jetliner: there are some jolts and shakes, a bit of nervousness, but also the excitement of beginning a new journey, of meeting new people.

Speaking for myself, the new semester is off to a good start. I’m teaching World Literature I, from the beginnings to the Renaissance. The beginnings go way back to Sumerian and Akkadian syllabary script inscribed on clay tablets, Gilgamesh, in other words. This is one of my favorite courses, so it’s appropriate as the last course I expect to teach at S&T.

My retirement is scheduled for 1 July 2009, so this is not only my last semester to teach but also my last as chair. I hope to post more frequent entries here in these last few months, so come on back!

Weathering the Storm

Surely everyone knows by now that a series of economic catastrophes are shaking up our lives. Everyone I know has more questions than answers, and the answers seem to shift each day–or more often. The University of Missouri system faces serious budget cuts; the amount isn’t known yet.

This post expresses strictly my own views, stating my attitude more than what I know, because what I know isn’t much. The serious budget cuts that the University of Missouri system faces will affect the way each campus, each department, and each faculty member functions. The cuts will affect the educational process of students.
As chair of the Department of English and Technical Communication, my goal is to do all I can, and to support the department’s faculty and staff to do all they can, to ensure that we come through this storm with the least possible damage. The quality of our courses, our degree programs, our research will remain as high as before the crises.

Jambalaya and Literature

trent-1.jpgOn October 4 this year, Dr. Trent Watts was a featured author at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, an all-day event in and around the outstanding 34-story Art Deco state capitol, where Huey Long was assassinated in 1935. The organizers of the festival invited Dr. Watts and a number of other authors, including novelists, poets, and non-fiction writers, to present panels at which they discussed their books before interested and enthusiastic public audiences. About 20,000 people came to hear the authors, watch cooking exhibitions, and listen to music ranging from zydeco and traditional fiddling to the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra.

The event was very family-friendly, with lots of children’s authors reading their books. The organizers of the festival also brought three contributors to White Masculinity in the Recent South, a collection of essays edited by Dr. Watts and published by Louisiana State University Press. These authors appeared on the panel with Dr. Watts. These contributors are Ted Ownby, Susan Donaldson, and Chip Arnold, outstanding scholars and writers. After their discussion and questions from the audience, Dr. Watts and his colleagues signed books.
The Louisiana Book Festival is only six years old, but it’s already grown into one of the best events of its kind in the country. Everything about it was first-rate. The authors were picked up at the Baton Rouge airport in a limousine, which was a treat. The night before the event, the Louisiana Book Festival threw a party for the authors at the Louisiana State Library. A jazz ensemble played while they ate jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp, catfish, and lots of other good southern food.

On Saturday night Dr. Watts and his wife, Jennifer, skipped another author event to go out to dinner at a great Baton Rouge restaurant. Their driver (the event organizers thought of everything) was an LSU student. When Jennifer said that it was a shame they weren’t going to be able to see the LSU campus, the driver insisted on giving us a nighttime tour. The campus is gorgeous, with magnificent old oaks everywhere. When Dr. Watts wanted to see Tiger Stadium, where LSU plays football the driver insisted that they stop to meet Mike the Tiger, the school mascot. He’s a Bengal/Siberian mix who’s well on his way to the 700 pounds he’ll weigh when he’s fully grown. Mike lives next to the stadium in a 15,000 (yes, 15,000) square foot enclosure, complete with a stream, a waterfall, and an Italianate tower.
Trent says, “I wish Missouri had an event like this one. It’s a great opportunity to present one’s work to the public. It’s also a good place to meet other scholars. A fellow I met at the Friday night party has agreed to work with me on my next book project.”

Creative Nonfiction Workshop


On October 17, Dr. Stacy Tintocalis gave a presentation on creative nonfiction to a group of students, townspeople, and faculty. Next semester (spring 2009), Dr. Tintocalis will teach an evening workshop in writing creative nonfiction. Her course will meet on Tuesday evenings from 6:00-9:00.

Dr. Tintocalis has an MFA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She has published both fiction and creative nonfiction.

So what is creative nonfiction? Here, in brief, is a definition based on my understanding of her talk yesterday. Creative nonfiction begins with the writer’s experiences, but as opposed to a memoir, a diary, or a journal, seeks to find universal themes in the experience. In exploring a topic, the writer of creative nonfiction will do research  of various kinds, from traditional library research to Web searches to talking with people. Creative nonfiction uses techniques such as dramatization and several points of view, but is neither fiction nor journalism.

If you are interested in enrolling in the course or simply want information about it, you may begin by contacting the department or me.

The Middle Ages Return to S&T!

This fall, Dr. Eric Bryan joined the faculty of The Department of English & Technical Communication. Dr. Bryan’s scholarly field is medieval literature. He received his PhD from St Louis University in 2007. This fall, Dr. Bryan is teaching our upper-level course in Chaucer, a welcome return of a significant course. In the spring 2009 semester, Dr. Bryan will be offering Fantasy Literature, a course that discusses a number of fantasy authors, including J. R. R. Tolkien.

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In response to my asking what about Tolkien’s work attracts him, Eric answered with three points:

1) “When you read Tolkien, you can’t help but think, “now here’s a guy who was fascinated by absolutely everything.” ??Languages, obviously. ??Literature, of course. ??But beyond that, Tolkien was curious about everything from the environment to food preparation, from sociology to military tactics. ??All of those fascinations come out in all of his writing, whether it be LOTR or “Leaf by Niggle” (another great word that Tolkien makes good use of, “to niggle”).”

2) “What I mentioned earlier about mythology. ??When I’m working on Norse or Celtic mythology and folklore, I’m constantly faced with the realization that I’m trying to solve a problem that has no solution. ??We can’t be sure whether the accounts we have are accurate or contaminated by the obviously Christian scribes who wrote them down. ??We know so little about it not so much because there’s not enough evidence, but moreso because we just don’t know how to interpret what we do have. ??It’s a wonderful challenge, but it’s also exhausting. ??With LOTR and, of course, the Silmarillion, I can just enjoy the stories. ??It’s NOT a mythology, as much as Tolkien makes it look like one. ??We don’t have to be skeptical.”

3) “Finally, I enjoy watching Tolkien pull from the very same literatures and mythologies that I study, myself. ??It’s just wonderful to see him revive Anglo-Saxon culture in the people of Rohan, to see him bring to life the mythology of the Norse Eddas, and to see him create a world that supports those vague and ancient stories of heroes and dragons.”

The department and Missouri S&T are fortunate to have a scholar and teacher of Dr. Bryan’s promise with us.

Jack Morgan in St. Louis

Most Americans have only vague knowledge of our Civil War. That knowledge focuses on the best-known battles, places, and people east of the Mississippi. However, St. Louis, the Ozarks, and Missouri were important in that conflict. Research Professor Jack Morgan‘s recent book, Through Irish and American Wars: The Life and Times of General Thomas W. Sweeney 1820-1892, fills in an significant part of that history. Published by the Irish Academic Press in 2006, this book is essential reading for the history of the American Civil War.

On September 18, Professor Morgan lectured on General Sweeney at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. His lecture, part of the Smurfit-Stone Endowed Professorship in Irish Studies, was titled “General Sweeney in St. Louis and Missouri.” This invited lecture shows the recognition that Professor Morgan’s research is achieving.

I highly recommend Through Irish and American Wars as a well-written and informative history. General Sweeney and his life are presented vividly.

What Happens after Graduation? Ask Amy Edwards . . .

An English student
with minors in business and marketing, Amy Edwards, English 2007, stayed active at
the Missouri University of Science and Technology through KMNR, Blue Key,
International Friends and Southwinds Literary Journal. In addition, she served
as a writer at the Missouri S&T Department of Public Relations and
Communications, where she reported to Mary Helen Stoltz, English 1990. “Mary Helen
was an excellent mentor,” Amy said, adding that this writing and new media
experience paved the way for later positions.


Currently a graduate student at
Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Amy spent the last year serving as a
new media specialist and marketing intern for Chicago-based companies Aptium
Global and Azul Partners. She remains a regular contributor to company blogs
MetalMiner ( and Spend
Matters ( “We cover a
range of topics,” Amy explained to me. “I’ve written about everything from the
price of steel and the metals technology behind samurai swords to the metal
content in Olympic medals. I try to find topics that are fresh and
exciting, with a focus on the role of metals in global


Amy has firsthand experience with
“global society.” Taking advantage of Missouri S&T’s study abroad programs,
Amy’s semester in Lund, Sweden, spurred a life-long interest in comparative
literature. With
research interests that include postmodernism and feminist rhetorical theories,
Amy cites professors Anne Cotterill and Irina Ivliyeva as major influencers and
role models during her academic career at Missouri S&T.
Now that Amy
has completed the coursework for her master’s degree, she moved to Wisconsin
this fall, where she continues to work on her thesis. She serves as adjunct
faculty in writing and communications at Moraine Park Technical College.