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.

Education in Winter

We’re experiencing our third winter storm of the year — with sleet mostly, but also a little snow. The sleet verges on freezing rain. What happens at Missouri University of Science & Technology when we have icy, slushy streets and sidewalks, with more sleet falling as I type?
Many faculty and some students live where it’s dangerous or impossible to drive to campus. Walking, too, is hazardous when everything is coated with ice. It’s fairly quiet in the department this morning, although I’ve seen four faculty members, and talked with three or four students. The department’s administrative assistant, Linda Sands, lives several miles out in the country amid hills that, when the roady is iced over, make driving very hazardous. She’s not here today.
The quiet and relatively few people are somewhat disconcerting. It’s almost lonely.
I drove to campus, as I usually do, although I live within a 15 minute walk. I have walked to campus in worse weather than this, but . . . perhaps I have more (or less) sense.

[Read more…]

Librarian, Trucker, Novelist . . . and Mother

What do English majors do when they graduate? All kinds of things, as I hope to discuss here. One of our graduates, Angelia Sparrow (BA, 1991), has established herself as a writer of erotic fiction. Ms. Sparrow maintains a professional Web site, The Den of Debauchery.
Visitors to the Den will find links to information about Angelia and Naomi Brooks, with whom she shares the site, links to samples of her fiction, to publishers, reviews, and other goodies. The site is well-designed, a relief when so many sites seem to emphasize flash animations and other glitzy effects.
Ms. Sparrow’s fiction — like all fiction — will not be to everyone’s taste. Her fiction covers a range of erotic tastes and experiences. She also presents dark fantasy themes and settings. The sample story I read on her Web site is a crisply written ghost story with a homoerotic theme. The style is simple and straightforward, which presents the ghost-theme quite effectively.
Here’s an excerpt from an email she sent me:

I left the CBU library in 2005, went to truck driving school and now have an auto parts delivery run that gets me home every night.
I sold 14 short stories and a novel last year. My second novel, Nikolai, came out January 18. I have 5 more stories and another novel in the editing process for publication this year. My goal is 20 published pieces this year.

Ms. Sparrow also includes information about her husband, Richard, a physics graduate of Missouri S&T (back when it was UMR) and a high school teacher. Their children are in junior high and high school.

[Read more…]

Just a Couple Days Before Classes Start

The spring 2008 semester for Missouri University of Science & Technology starts on Monday, January 14. Here it is, Saturday, January 12, and I’m putting together course materials. (I suspect I’m not alone in that!)
This is the university’s first semester as Missouri S&T, rather than the University of Missouri – Rolla. We’re all making the transition in how we refer to the campus, with some uncertainty whether it is "MST," "MS&T," or "Missouri S&T." Officially, "mst" is reserved for our email and Internet domain, not for print or speech. However, it’s only three syllables versus four or seven in the other possibilities.
"S&T" is a good designation but a little too obscure right now. The Rolla Daily News uses it, so maybe it will spread.
I did quite a bit of class preparation back in December but still have plenty to do. I’m teaching Creative Writing for the first time in several years and using Blackboard for the first time for that class.
For a department chair, preparing for a new semester means much more than writing up (or revising) the course syllabus. It also means making sure all the courses taught by the department have teachers assigned to them, that everyone has appropriate office space, that the courses have sufficient enrollment.
In fact, I’ve been constructing the class schedule for the fall 2008 semester.
My colleagues in the department are doing their preparations (or have already completed them); some of my students have already visited Blackboard. Unfortunately, there won’t be much there until sometime late today or tomorrow.
Enrollment for this spring semester is slightly higher than for last spring. This weekend, the population of Rolla will expand by several thousand. The campus has felt very empty recently; that changes soon.

Honors for Three English Majors

At Zeno’s Steak House at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, December 6 , three English BA students were inducted into Phi Kappa Phi, a national honor society.
Two of the students, Kathryn Knocke and Laura Ward, are pictured here with Elizabeth Cummins, professor emeritus of English and Technical Communication. Dr. Cummins is the president of the local chapter of Phi Kappa Phi. The third student inducted is Andrew Moss, who has been studying in London this fall (after studying in Italy this past summer). These three students are among approximately 30,000 students, faculty, professional staff and alumni to be initiated into Phi Kappa Phi each year.
Phi Kappa Phi was founded in 1897 at the University of Maine. It is the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective all-discipline honor society. The Society has chapters on nearly 300 campuses in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Membership in Phi Kappa Phi is by invitation and requires nomination and approval by a chapter. Only the top 10 percent of seniors and 7.5 percent of juniors, having at least seventy-two semester hours, are eligible for membership. Graduate students in the top 10 percent of the number of candidates for graduate degrees may also qualify, as do faculty, professional staff and alumni who have achieved scholarly distinction.
The English and Technical Communication Department congratulates these three students on receiving this honor. You make us proud!

It Takes a Team to Pedal Fast

This afternoon, Missouri University of Science & Technology’s chancellor, John F. Carney III, delivered his fifth semi-annual State of the University speech. A high point was Tom Shipley‘s brief documentary on Missouri S&T’s entry in last summer’s human-powered vehicle contest. The vehicle was designed and built by UMR — pardon me — Missouri S&T’s Human-Powered Vehicle Team, a part of the campus’s Student Design and Experiential Learning Center. Shipley’s film is tight and clean and the source of the title of this entry: it takes a team and a lot of effort for someone to pedal a little over 59 mph.

Yes, I jumped the gun on the name-change from University of Missouri – Rolla to Missouri University of Science & Technology. But that particular gun is being jumped more and more often. Why not me?

Wait a minute! Why am I writing about student design teams? I’m chair of English and Technical Communication, not an engineer.

  • First, I admire the student design teams, having known students in them in my own classes.
  • Second, our department is a vital part of the campus and its endeavors, as Chancellor Carney noted early in his state of the university talk. The chancellor reminded the audience forcefully that, while he would talk mostly about scientific and technological matters, he did not want to overlook the humanities, the social sciences, or the business program.
  • Third, there are numerous ways, many yet to be discovered, in which the scholars, teachers and students of our department can relate to the campus’s major thrust. One important way is to pursue our own research and teaching interests with energy and imagination. Our efforts do contribute to the overall accomplishments of the campus. Another way is participation of our students and faculty in projects of other departments and organizations.

Enough with metaphor and analogy! The university is not a bicycle in an aerodynamic cocoon, with its power-source, a student, concealed inside: the university is a complex enterprise, dependent on everyone, everything, every place that make it up. Ending his talk, the chancellor called on the university to focus on our world’s needs for energy and environmental renewal. Those of us who work with words and images can contribute our knowledge, skills, wit, and wisdom to that project.

Dancing in Unity

Yesterday was Unity Day on the UMR (MST) campus. The event celebrated diversity through the arts — including the art of cooking, one of my favorite arts.
I was vaguely aware of Unity Day, something that happens around twice a semester. The event was in the atrium of the Havener Center; I had a 12:00-1:00 meeting in a room on the second floor, close to the atrium. When I walked into the Havener for the meeting and saw the tables of food, I knew I had come too late. The meeting went well, but we could hear music, cheers, and singing from the open space just outside the closed doors to our meeting room.
When the meeting was over, I walked out and looked over the railing, into the atrium. Two young women were dancing. I couldn’t see well, being above them at a sharp angle. They were dressed in soft gray and white clothing. The dance involved their mirroring each others’ gestures as far as I could see. From my impression, the dance expressed a kind of focused grace, a strong quiet.
After that dance, I walked down the stairs, still hoping for some food. The next act was a step show by the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha. Stepping is an African American art form, the steppers moving in unison, often in a close line. The moves are strong, with stamping and powerful arm gestures. The steppers express strength and unity. If you’ve never seen a step show, I recommend you do if you have the chance. There’s a stepping contest in Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze. (I googled Spike Lee and
School Daze and decided to let you find your own links if you’re interested.)
And, yes, I did score some food: two wonderful egg rolls.

Travels with Students

Recently, two English and Technical Communication faculty members accompanied students to events in St Louis. Dr. Kathryn Northcut took students to a regional meeting of the Society for Technical Communication; Dr. Kristine Swenson took a group of students to attend a play. These events enrich the students on-campus education.
Six MS students and Dr. Kathy Northcut attended the St. Louis regional chapter meeting of the Society for Technical Communication. The topic was "Cool tools for Technical Communicators <$100." The speaker, Nicky Bleiel, demonstrated dozens of tools which are either free or available for a nominal fee. Examples include voice-to-text applications, the GIMP, and icon-building design software.
A brief side trip to Global Foods International Market rounded out the evening.
The GIMP is the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, a tool that I use myself, on both Windows and Linux. It is a freeware parallel to PhotoShop.
Dr. Kris Swenson took a group of students to see Alan Bennett’s award-winning play, The History Boys (2004) at the St Louis Repertory Theatre on September 29. The play is set in a boys’ school in England in the 1980s. A group of history students preparing for Oxbridge entrance exams is being pulled in contrary directions by the teaching styles and goals of different faculty members. It’s really a play about the ends of education and something of an indictment of the current emphasis on testing versus life-learning. I set up the trip especially for students in my Contemporary British Literature class, though all were welcome. The trip was partially supported by Sigma Tau Delta, the English honorary society.

An MS Thesis on Arthurian Literature

Question: When was the first Master’s degree in literature awarded at the University of Missouri Rolla (UMR)?
Question: What was the topic of the thesis?
Answer(s): First, revise the first question to " When was the first Master’s degree in literature awarded at the Missouri School of Mines (MSM)?" As you may know, this campus was known as the Missouri School of Mines from its founding in 1870 until it became the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1964. As part of the University of Missouri system, this campus has a long, proud history of educating engineers, scientists, and, in the last 40+ years, humanists and social scientists.
Second, notice that I didn’t specify whether the degree was a Master of Science or a Master of Arts. (One would expect the latter with a literary topic.)
Third, the answers to both questions from Elizabeth Cummins:

In 1927, the Master of Science degree was awarded to Nadine Matlock Sease. Her thesis (which is in the UMR library) was "The Origin and Development of the Arthurian Story in English Literature in the Nineteenth Century." I believe it was the first M.S. degree awarded to a woman (maybe even to anybody!) in the humanities/social sciences. I think she was from St. James and may have taught English at MSM.

The thesis is in the Curtis Laws Wilson Library at UMR.
My thanks to Elizabeth Cummins, professor emeritus of English and Technical Communication, for bringing this piece of history to our attention. I don’t know anything more about Ms. Sease; however, I do hope to learn more. If you know more about this bit of UMR history, please share it with me. I will post it here and give credit to the source.

Promotion for Rebecca Frisbee

Frisbee_Rebecca.jpgA primary question of prospective students is, "What can I do with a degree in English?" Here is one example of sort of thing graduates of our programs do when they graduate.
Rebecca Frisbee joined the University of Missouri – Rolla’s Publications Relations Office in 1992 after graduating with a BA in English in 1990. Rebecca has been with Publications Relations for 15 years. In 1995, Rebecca became manager of the department, and art and production editor for the MSM-UMR Magazine. In 2005, she led the redesign efforts of the alumni magazine when we changed its name to UMR Magazine.
Rebecca will begin her new duties as manager of marketing for the School of Extended Learning on Oct. 1. It covers Distance and Continuing Education, International Affairs, and the Engineering Education Center in St. Louis. On behalf of the Department of English and Technical Communication — Congratulations, Rebecca!