Sharing Writing Research with Infographics

This semester, students in my Teaching Composition class designed infographics to share ideas drawn from our course readings and discussions. These multimodal projects, which blend writing and visual design, had to convey ideas from the scholarly articles we were reading in an accessible, visually-appealing way. Many of our future English teachers designed their infographics to be used in their future classrooms. The topics varied widely, though all the projects focused on different aspects of writing. You can check out each infographic by clicking on the images below.


In their infographic, Robert Elkins, Mary Kate Hynek, and Samantha Kohrt wanted to, as they put it, “help writers craft effective rhetorical arguments based on Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation. Having a framework of the rhetorical situation and its three constituents makes a writer’s argument meaningful and relevant to the situation. This allows them to be aware of the needs, values, and expectations of their audience.”


Another group was interested in teaching rhetorical concepts to their future students with their infographic as well. English Education majors Alexis Ceballos and Rachel Webber “constructed a useful infographic for upper middle school students and underclassman high school students to utilize when writing a rhetorical piece. Students can refer to this poster to quickly gather the key components of writing a persuasive speech or paper.”


In her infographic aimed at students, Cassie Claffy wanted to help students understand how different kinds of writing can serve different purposes. As she put it, Cassie “created her infographic to provide students with exposure to personal writing. It is essential for students to be supported in both academic and personal writing in order to develop their own voice and writing process.”


Another group of English Education majors, Alyia Cady, Hannah Bolden, and Kathryn Drey, focused on genres of writing. Their infographic provides an overview of literary genres frequently taught in English classes and is designed for students to reference. At this moment late in the semester, they ask, “Have you read too much this year that your brain can handle? If so, take a look at this poster to get a quick reminder of what each genre entails!”


An Elementary Education major, Eve Odum created her infographic to teach young writers how to communicate ethically. As she put it, “the Writing with Ethics infographic shows students what, why, and how to write effectively and ethically. Students learn that their words have power and, therefore, they should use that power to do good. Students can feel empowered when they read about the three young people who have changed the world by using ethics in their speeches and writings.”


English majors Sara Cahill and Sarah Deffenbaugh created their infographic for future high school English students. As they put it, “their topic focused on how to organize writing in order to create an energetic and engaging piece. Their infographic stemmed from researching writing theory and how to effectively implement these ideas into a classroom.”


Bringing his interest in technical writing to the project, Daniel Snyder created an infographic designed to introduce the field of technical writing to English majors, who might not realize this is a great job opportunity after graduation. To introduce the infographic, Daniel asks: “Are you on track for an English degree and still have no idea what to do with it? Have you ever wondered about what a career as a technical writer might look like? Are you one of the three writing concentration students here at USF? Look no further than this infographic detailing the ways you can use your writing talents in a variety of technical fields.”


It is always exciting to see how students synthesize our class readings in rhetoric and writing studies to create original, audience-focused infographics, and this semester, the Teaching Composition students have created a diverse set of engaging projects. 

Building Bernie’s Paw Prints: USF’s Literary Magazine Prototype

Over the course of the last semester, Professors McDermott and Ioanes tasked their respective classes with building a literary magazine for the university. Being a member of both classes, Technical Writing and Ecopoetry, has granted me unique insight into the processes that enabled this ambition to become a reality.

Ecopoetry, taught by Elizabeth McDermott was a novel experience among many other writing and literature focused classes. Not only did we discuss what constitutes an eco-poem, but we delved into some ethical concerns regarding the matter. Once we believed we had a solid understanding of what made a proper eco-poem, some of us set out to create, while others opted to critique. Every team of writers sported two poets and an editor. It was a highly collaborative experience in which I, among other poets in my class, was tasked with defining eco-poetry based on what we had learned so far. That definition would serve to guide our hands as we created our own poetry to be used as the foundation of Bernie’s Paw Prints.

Once the poems were written and critiqued, it was time for the work to fall within the purview of the Technical Writing class taught by Anna Ioanes. It was here that the focus lay more on understanding the medium of literary magazines. We conducted research reports to discover what kind of things made a successful literary magazine, we applied for grants with prospective funders, and finally, we created a website to host everything.

It was a wonderful experience and I can say I’m proud to have been a part of the creation of Bernie’s Paw Print’s, USF’s very own literary magazine. It started like any other assignment, but I feel it has matured into a labor of love for many of those involved.

Please keep in mind that the site is still in it’s prototype stage. Submissions are currently closed and content and form may be subject to change. That being said, the work therein is a result of much revision and more or less reflects a finished product.

If you are interested in visiting the site and checking it out for yourself, you can find it here.

Interview with a Sr. Rose Marie Surwilo Annual Poetry Contest Winner: Sarah Alomari

Sarah Alomari is a senior at the University of Saint Francis, undertaking her last semester before graduating with an IO Psych degree. She starts her clinical psychology master’s program this Spring, and is excited to continue her journey into psychology. Mental health and creative writing have always been her passions since she was very young. She would write poetry, short stories, and novels in her free time. When starting college, she put creative writing on the backburner, only recently rediscovering her passion for writing. This was one of the first poems she wrote that reignited that flame. Currently, she is writing a book about her years spent living in Palestine, and this poem helped push her to begin creative writing again. Her entry into the contest was entitled “Concussed.”


DS: What inspired you to begin writing poetry?

SA: My inspiration to begin writing poetry started when I was 19 and living in Palestine. It was a whole new lifestyle and perspective, and I was taking creative writing classes at the time. I remember my first piece of writing was about the food marketplaces that I walked through every morning. I wrote about the smells, the sights, the people, and my friends said they loved it. This inspired me to keep writing about things I’ve seen and experienced. It also helped me deal with difficult situations in my life because I could make something beautiful out of it. 

DS: Do you envision yourself continuing to write into your adulthood? What role do you predict writing will play in your future life?

SA: With Grad school coming up, I have found myself struggling to find time to write as much as I used to, but I still am interested in creative writing and poetry and have set time aside to find inspiration and write in my adulthood. Writing is an outlet for me; it’s like writing in a journal. It releases all my emotions in a nice compact manner and in a way that I can share it with others. 

DS: Poetry can take many forms and those forms can be disseminated in many ways, such as poetry clubs, blogs, literary journals, etc. In what ways do you connect to the poetry of others?

SA: I have never been involved in clubs or blogs or journals when it comes to creative writing and poetry. I usually do this as a hobby that I am passionate about and have shared with others when I am comfortable to do so. 

DS: In Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, Kleon describes having multiple workstations for different occasions: a digital one and an analog one. W. B. Yeats, widely acclaimed poet and 1923 Nobel Prize winner, would plan out which words he would rhyme before he even began writing his poetry. Do you do any of these things? What is your writing process like?

SA: I have a writing journal that I store all my poetry and short stories in, digitally. However, when I find blank journals to write in with a cup of coffee it has an entirely different feeling and motivates me to be more creative, so I do prefer writing by hand. 

I do not try to rhyme at all, I am not good at rhyming, however, I do pride myself in my emotional range and descriptive skills and have found that is also what others love in my writing. 

My writing process starts with an event, or an emotion. Something or someone overwhelms me and then I set up my writing station. 

I light my candle, lately it’s been pumpkin and vanilla, and organize my desk with a blank journal in front of me. My warm vanilla coffee is always nearby, with puffs of smoke rolling out of it. 

I allow myself to first write what I feel without thinking; every emotion, feeling, hurt, excitement, passion, and anything I need to get out of my head. 

After that, I re-write it into a more compact manner, shortening my emotions but making sure the heaviness is still understood by the reader’s in a poetry style. 

Then, I find a title and I prefer single-worded titles that perfectly sum up my poetry. 

Interview with a Sr. Rose Marie Surwilo Annual Poetry Contest Winner: Jewel Andy

Jewel is a senior pursuing her undergraduate degree in social work and a minor in psychology. The Sr. Rose Marie Surwilo Annual Poetry Contest was her first time entering her work in a competition, and the 29th Annual St. Francis Writers Conference was her first time showcasing her work. Besides writing, she enjoys watching Netflix, spending time with her family, and playing with her dogs, Louie and Phoenix. Her entry into the contest was entitled “Marriage.”


DS: What inspired you to begin writing poetry?  

JA: My mom! Since I was 2 years old my mom has been attending or organizing writers groups in the Will County and North Aurora area!

DS: Do you envision yourself continuing to write into your adulthood? What role do you predict writing will play in your future life?

JA: I plan on writing for the rest of my life. I enjoy doing it and it helps me process experiences and emotions. As long as I have emotions I will write poetry, haha. In the future it would be cool to see one of my poems published and to continue participating in writing events.

DS: Poetry can take many forms and those forms can be disseminated in many ways, such as poetry clubs, blogs, literary journals, etc. In what ways do you connect to the poetry of others? 

JA: This is a great question! I love any opportunity to go to spoken word performances or poetry readings, by the authors. Most often I will watch youtube videos of people reading their works.

DS: In Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, Kleon describes having multiple workstations for different occasions: a digital one and an analog one. W. B. Yeats, widely acclaimed poet and 1923 Nobel Prize winner, would plan out which words he would rhyme before he even began writing his poetry. Do you do any of these things? What is your writing process like?

JA: My poetry tends to be very free form. If rhyming happens, I think of it as a happy coincidence. As far as my writing process goes, it depends on if I am writing a song or a poem. When I am writing lyrics, I typically start with the music first and then add the lyrics later. When I write the words first, it usually ends up being a poem.

An Interview With Dr. Spicer

Dr. Kevin Spicer is Chair of the English Department as well as an active Professor here at USF. I had the chance to interview him regarding his teaching style, which I found unique to the profession, after taking his Adolescent Literature class in Spring of this year.

DS: What genres do you most enjoy?

KS: There aren’t a whole lot of genres that I don’t enjoy—I like to range and roam quite a bit. I do have a fondness for sci-fi and fantasy—and I am one of those people that legitimately thinks Tolkien is incredibly overrated. That being said, I quite like the so-called “hard sci-fi” that shows up in the work of Kim Stanley Robinson and numerous others. I’m also a huge fan of China Miéville’s work—he’s an interesting mix of “hard sci-fi” and straight-up fantastic world-building fantasy. His trilogy set in New Crobuzon (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council) is brilliant and I could not recommend it more highly.

Of course, I dig all the more typical and classical works within the realm of literature—I love Shakespeare and the late Dickens—Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend especially. There might not be a genre of literature I don’t like—lame as that no doubt sounds. I’m sure I could talk on and on for this question.

DS: What kind of student were you when you were younger? Did you enjoy schooling?

KS: I think that for me this is a rather difficult question to answer—or perhaps it’s not so much difficult as it’s perhaps somewhat ironic to say that in all kinds of ways I was an atrociously horrible student—at least within the institutional confines of formal schooling, so to speak. I had always loved philosophy and thinking and reading and had always done a great deal of it outside of school—within school I just found myself drifting and always having a rather difficult time within that context. Outside of school I read Nietzsche and Sartre and Heidegger when I was a senior in high school and then even more extensively when I went to college. One of my mentors who used to be a faculty member here at USF—Marvin (Vin) Katilius-Boydstun—often used to say that he thought that the worst students from the perspective of formal schooling often made the best teachers, if only because that made it easier for them to sympathize and empathize with students who just did not particularly fit within certain kind of molds that the formal system of schooling and education so often puts students into in one way or another.

DS: When did you know you wanted to become a professor?

KS: In many ways I absolutely did not know that I wanted to become a teacher until I had tried it out for myself in graduate school. I thought before I actually started doing it that there was no way that I would enjoy it and also that there was no way I would be in any way good at it. This is the spot where I do want to again try to be a little bit modest and say that I’m not quite sure that I’m a good teacher. It’s true that I have colleagues who tell me I’m good at it and I’ve received a fair number of accolades. More students than I can count have said that I do it rather well, but even after all these years I’m not quite sure that they’re right. I think it would be so nice if we could manage to see ourselves from the perspective of others or of the world that gazes at us. I wonder if things would be so much easier if we could do something like that and then come to some kind of working conclusion.

DS: What do you enjoy most about teaching here at USF?

KS: I definitely think it’s a combination of all kinds of things. For starters, I am exceedingly grateful to be at an institution where teaching is so heavily prized. USF is a place that calls itself a teaching institution—and I think that’s true. There are all kinds of other characteristics that go along with this that make the focus on teaching so clear: the small size, the opportunity to get to know students well over the course of their time with us, and all kinds of other things that come with a “smaller” school. I am also profoundly grateful to my faculty colleagues in the English Department—each of whom I have had tons of profound pedagogical conversations with over the years. I was also here when both Dr. John Bowers and Vin Katilius-Boydstun taught—each of whom helped me to become the teacher that I am today.

DS: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself back in your college days, what might it be?

KS: I would probably have two—and they’re ones that I could elaborate on endlessly, but I won’t. The first would be: don’t be so arrogant. Secondly: figure out some way to indulge your sense of humor. I would bet that when I was in my late teens I was perhaps a rather stereotypical late teen: moody, a bit too much on the depressive side of things—and it certainly didn’t help any that I sat around reading Sartre and Heidegger and the existentialists—even worse was that I thought I knew what they were talking about! Of course, I didn’t know what they were talking about at all—not really. Later when doing doctoral work on these thinkers and philosophers I figured out what they were up to—but not when I was eighteen, nineteen. I slide altogether too far towards a fundamentally tragic view of life. Life is tragic in so many ways, no doubting that—but there is a more joyous, festive, carnivalesque conception of being that was hard to find in Heidegger and Sartre. I found it in other thinkers and poets, Nietzsche, for sure, Dante even. In other words: don’t slide too far towards a fundamentally melancholic conception of the world, life, etc.

DS: You have a distinct teaching style. How would you describe your teaching philosophy?

KS: I am not quite sure how I would describe it. I would say that my pedagogy is fundamentally student-centered and focused—quite radically so, I might add. Of course, it’s possible—more than possible—to have a pedagogy without anything more than that: just that it is student-focused and centered. However, if you grilled me for mine, I think I would say that there are two things in particular that come to mind. The first one has been with me for a really long time and the second is quite a bit more recent. I think the first major component of my pedagogy comes from psychoanalysis—and especially the strange brew of theory that comes from the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, who was by far the most fascinating greatest analyst after Freud. Freud very famously said towards the end of his career that there were three professions that were impossible: politics, teaching, and psychoanalysis itself. I find it endlessly curious how two out of three are things I engage with quite often. I suppose one should also mention that every teacher probably needs to admit that in their role as a teacher they themselves perform a profoundly political function and role. I’m not a therapist and I’m not a counselor and I’m certainly not an analyst or clinician by any stretch of the imagination but I have read a fair amount of literature that comes out of psychoanalytic circles and it seems to me that there are all kinds of ways in which I often have to ask myself if in order to be a good teacher, must they to some degree be somewhat of a good analyst as well?

I’m not sure if this will transition well here, but I’ll give it a go nevertheless. I think that one perhaps should take very seriously the possibility that what Freud calls the unconscious does exist in some way, shape, or form—or at some level of reality, so to speak. I actually find that all kinds of things become slightly easier to understand if one is working within a psychoanalytic framework. Why is it that one teacher can teach something to a student and it just does not stick at all—but then another teacher could teach the exact same lesson and all of a sudden everything becomes crystal-clear for the student? Freud had a word he used to try to explain such things—he called it the “transference”—and I find that word and concept to be exceedingly helpful to me as a teacher (and also as a student too). I think the unconscious exists—and that means we teach and we learn with it. I have an unconscious and it impacts all of my pedagogical relations. Students have it as well and it plays all kinds of roles in terms of whether students learn, how they can learn, what it is a student can be consciously clear about (in terms of their own knowledge), and what they can’t. I think to discount this all as silly Freudian psychobabble is quite an unfortunate mistake.

This also leads me somewhat naturally into my second major philosophical undergirding, the one that is slightly newer in terms of my own ever-evolving ideas and thinking about pedagogy. This newer cornerstone is definitely something that I can pinpoint and locate very easily to roughly three years ago or so when the department hired Dr. Ioanes—whose own scholarly work managed to spark a return for me to all kinds of things that are now quite central to how I think about and teaching. I think what a good analyst does—and this is perhaps something good readers do as well—is they are able to read a situation and, as Lacan would say, “punctuate” a discourse in a way that opens up all the possibilities of interpretation that they can. We all know how different inflections, different intonations of the voice, can spin a word or a sentence in many different ways. Imagine a kind of question that you could easily ask pretty much anyone within any profession—something along the lines of “Why do you teach?” or “Why do you play baseball?” or whatever the case may be. A good reader can hear such a question and, through changes in inflection and tone and emphasis and much more, twist and turn that sentence in all kinds of different ways. I think it takes a great deal of skill and rhetorical power to read a situation (or a poem or a play or a story) and then fashion and create responses to these things that allow for as much freedom and flexibility in those readings as possible.

During each and every class session, one does not really quite know where things are going to go or where the conversation is going to lead. I can imagine all kinds of people pursuing fields where they need not face such uncertainty during each class period. I myself find it quite wonderful and exciting. I do not have elaborate, finely tuned lesson plans that “set an agenda” for a group’s conversation each day. (I can imagine that statement being construed as outright sacrilege by so many educators and pedagogues. “No lesson plans!” they would say.) Are class sessions like a heavily scripted TV drama? Mine usually aren’t. Are they some kind of bizarre mix of the scripted and the improvisational? That’s getting slightly closer to the truth, I would bet.

I think that it’s really important to note that it’s difficult for me to say what my teaching philosophy is at the end of the day. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not mine, in any real strong way—it’s the product of all kinds of other thinkers, scholars, friends, colleagues, etc., such that to say it was “mine” would be a mistake. Given that we do have a small-ish department, what this means is that, in so many ways, I never teach alone. I also think that over the past few years, the department has become more and more of a collaborative teaching unit. All of us, more often than not, have a pretty good idea what the others are doing, reading, teaching, and talking about in their own classrooms. This itself was my own first intentional stab at working around the “silo” problem in universities where I only know what is going on in my classroom and am largely oblivious of the other English courses and what is happening in them. A teaching philosophy that describes a single faculty member in a single classroom is missing some incredible opportunities. There is no doubt that those who have done advanced study in the humanities know that our disciplines can be incredibly solitary affairs: we read alone, we think alone, we write alone, all of which lead us, quite often, to teach alone. However, my years on the tenure clock at USF have led me to embrace a teaching philosophy that seeks to fight against this tendency.

What this leads to is a pedagogy that seeks to make every classroom session look and sound like it has more voices in it than one would initially think if they simplify just counted the number of bodies in the room. My body and presence can serve as the dummy that countless other voices ventriloquize. A classroom should be a meeting place of many voices—starting with the students’ own, to be sure—and each day one should be bringing more and more of them to bear on the problems that concern us. I am quite proud of the way in which faculty bring each other’s voices into their own classrooms so often. I think it’s an incredibly unique thing about our Department.

Spring 2021 English Department Upper-Division Course Offerings

ENGL 316 A: Teaching Composition (Dr. Ioanes): This course, which is intended primarily for prospective teachers, will help you develop personally meaningful and useful ways of thinking about teaching writing. The class is rooted in the field of Composition Studies, which explores questions including: how do writers write? In what ways is writing teachable? In what ways is writing learnable? How should writing instructors approach errors in grammar or mechanics? Why should students write well? Who decides what it means to write well? How does writing respond to different social contexts? How does writing interact with other modes of communication, especially now that we communicate through digital platforms? Working in a collaborative, discussion-based practice, our class will explore these questions for theoretical and practical purposes. By the end of the course, you will have a better understanding of yourself as a writer and a teacher, and you will be equipped with practical tools for teaching writing. 

ENGL 354 A: British Lit: Beowulf to Milton (Dr. Spicer): This course will be a somewhat broad overview of a great deal of “British” literature, starting with Beowulf, moving through the medieval period, Shakespeare, and then on to Paradise Lost by John Milton. If you’re interested in getting the larger, longer arc of literature over this period, you’ll get it here.

ENGL 494 B: Border-Crossing in Literature (Dr. McDermott): For many of us the word “border” is contextualized by the 21st century, which has seen borders increasingly policed in a post-9/11 environment. But the idea of border—where does that come from? How and why are borders “erected”? What social forces come into play? What (if anything) exists on either side? How can critical theory help us to deconstruct binary oppositions such as “east/west” “legal/illegal,” “self/other”? Is that deconstruction a profitable endeavor? Why or why not? Finally, how can postcolonial theory and literature help us think about our own perspectives and the way we frame otherness?

In this class we will consider literary and artistic representations of borders and how elements such as genre and language complicate readers’ perspectives of borders and the people who cross them; that is, can artistic decisions—the very word choices that writers use—be ethical acts? In what ways do art and literature help us to understand border-crossing as an embodied experience? What does the border mean in both aesthetic and political terms?

Texts include visual art, photography, and reporting, as well as nonfiction by Luis Alberto Urrea, poetry by Ocean Vuong and Myung Mi Kim, and criticism by Susan Sontag.

Poetry: The Linguist’s Antidepressant

The content of the post includes discussion and statistics about depression.


With September behind us, it’s easy to forget that not every month is National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. Depression doesn’t just rear its ugly head for a twelfth of the year and then slink back into whatever dark hole it emerged from. It’s important that we continue this narrative and don’t leave those who are still suffering behind at a time when seasonal depression has scarcely begun, and awareness is now more important than ever.

According to a JED Foundation article referencing the 2006 American College Health Association Survey, 45 percent of women and 36 percent of men felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. Those statistics seem high already, but we don’t even have data regarding 2020 and how all of the stressors and social isolation of Covid-19 piled on top undoubtedly enflame these problems even further.

Keeping the dialogue open is important, but actions can be taken to ameliorate or at least minimize negative emotions and thoughts when they come knocking. I’d like to share a method of dealing with depression that I’ve had success with in the past: poetry. Really it can be any form of writing, but I find it most useful to write about myself. The simple act of creation can be relaxing and relieving. Being responsible for the birth of something utterly new can be seen as a triumph over an otherwise chaotic world. Getting your thoughts out on paper can make sorting through them a feasible task.

An article in Psychology Today, an online magazine specializing in mental health and wellbeing, poses this idea as well. Linda Wasmer Andrews, in her piece entitled “Will a Poem a Day Keep the Doctor Away?”, talks about therapeutic uses of poetry throughout history. She mentions poetry as an expression of oneself: an idea with which many are familiar and may even consider to be cliched, but there are certainly prominent cliches which are such for a good reason. For me and many others, poetry is an appropriate tool; however, for some that may not be the case. Alternative resources are available, such as the USF Counseling and Wellness Center or National Suicide Prevention Line.

I’d like to share a poem that I wrote a few semesters ago for Professor McDermott’s Creative Writing course. Originally it was an assignment and little more, but much incessant revision and many iterations later, became something I am truly proud of. It pulls from the darkest times in my life, as well as the means by which I managed to brave my way through them. I hope after reading this, some of you are inspired to create something of your own.


Shadows on the Road

Beneath my feet it wound and coiled
That duplicitous topsoil
Like the deep blue unbound
Free to roam and roil

The serpentine road
It stole from me
My happiness gone
My innocence flees

I contemplated once or twice
This solution I devised
This antidote must be precise
Myself from suffering excised

But then a moment passed me by
Where I realized that my
Life was to be much more
Than grim and gloomy skies

Ahead are stories yet untold
Although the road is dark and cold
The shadowed paths, they do conceal
Cities made of gold

They say the darkest part of night
Is just before the dawn
I’m glad I made the choice
To carry on

“My Favorite Color is You”: An Essay about Navigating the Universe

“My Last Message would be to find your people. And to treat each day like a lifetime.”  

-Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End 

***

I remember constantly thinking about how, by utter coincidence, the Earth was created from a collection of gas and dust that just so happened to be floating close enough to each other. And I remember beginning to question what our overall meaning in life was. What was our purpose? We had to have been placed here, specifically, for a reason, hadn’t we? I remember thinking all of this as I read Big History a couple days before school started, wondering why we didn’t have these answers. 

***

The way that the night sky slowly makes its presence known in the early hours of the day was how Purple crept into my life. I couldn’t have imagined what would soon follow a cringy DM. I didn’t know anyone going to the University of St. Francis other than my brother, and realistically, I knew I couldn’t hang out with him all the time. It was almost as though the universe wanted to create another planet, because I had suddenly stumbled upon an old elementary school acquaintance who was also going to USF. I decided to take the risk of coming off as some sort of internet stalker and sent her a DM asking if we could hang out during school once and a while because my lack of friends. 

I think back as to how I was lucky to have met her. All the days where we would stay on campus and eat pizza while procrastinating on homework. The hours we spent roaming the aisle of Target and piling our arms up with unnecessary items because she refuses to use a basket. I think of our Steak and Shake days where we order the same thing each time we go: a hot dog with only ketchup, fries, and a root beer, along with a chicken sandwich with no tomato and a lemonade. The countless times we spend laughing at each other until we couldn’t breathe play over and over in my head when I feel as though everything is closing in. I told her that she would definitely miss me over spring break; I ended up calling her on the first Monday to go with me to eat Portillos. Our conversation flitted from tattoos of honeybees, to the fast-approaching end to our entire college career, to number cakes.  

I found someone who I could rely on, someone who I could proudly call a best friend. She is a constant and promising reminder that there will always be a tomorrow to look forward to. I cannot imagine a life without the stars. 

She is that reminder to live in the moment. 

***

The suddenness of the sun approaching and the feeling of the warmth that it emits is how Yellow lit up my life. I met her during a paint night hosted on campus and I remember wanting nothing more than to be her friend. We bonded over the fraternity, being education majors, and not really knowing anybody. I remember the words that we exchanged that night, “I’ll do it if you do it.” And to this day, we continue to live by it.  

I replay all the memories we’ve had together from the short amount of time we’ve known each other. The days that we spent on campus just basking in one another’s presence. I think of the day I went to visit her at work and she helped me pick a bowtie for my dog. I think of all of our pizza dates and long conversations we would have about everything and nothing in the parking lot after every late-night meeting. I remember the day when we found out our birthdays were only two days apart and we immediately began making birthday plans to celebrate the following year. I think of our plans to travel Europe together. The way we are always supporting each other’s bad decisions and are ready to stand against anything with no questions asked. She came with me and my family to Chicago over spring break, and I don’t think I remember ever smiling or laughing so much.  

I had found another best friend.  She is the sunlight that brightens my day and radiates hope. She is the forever promised tomorrow. I cannot imagine a life without the sun.  

She is that reminder to love life. 

***

I think about how the Earth came to be and I think about how this odd collection of gas and dust came together by the force of gravity to create a safe haven. 

I don’t think I would be who I am today had I not come in contact with the sun and stars. I think of the vast abyss that college is and how the lack of gravity keeps you from touching the ground; how it would be so easy to float off and disappear forever. I think about how we are nothing more than these small human beings who live on this rock that came to life by coincidence. And I think about this rock that is placed so precisely to sustain life, and how this rock is floating in this massive galaxy that expands into an even more massive universe. 

I don’t know how long we have on this planet. I don’t know when this rock will go back to being nothing more than dust and gas. I don’t know what will happen in the upcoming years or how we will handle the situations we find ourselves in. I don’t know our purpose. 

Instead, I think about how, by pure chance, I stumbled across a bit of stardust that weaves our stories against the amethyst colored sky. I think about how, by pure luck, I was gifted a drop of liquid gold that continues to brighten up every aspect of life. I think about how, although we may one day cease to be, the stars will continue to shine silvery and strong. They will tell of our lives; they will keep our stories, our dreams, our wishes embedded in them. The sun will continue to glitter golden and bright. It will provide life; it will write new stories, create new dreams, and grant new wishes.  

I can’t imagine my life without the sun and the stars. 

Fall 2020 English Department Course Offerings

ENGL 300:
Free Speech

Very little is written today in the US without the assumption of “freedom of speech,” but free speech is not an absolute right in our nation, and is not a right at all in many others. This course provides students with an understanding of the historical underpinnings of this fundamental right and its theoretical grounding. It also explores the limits our society has placed on free speech, how it comes into conflict with other freedoms, and how complex it is to exercise free speech here and abroad. 

The course will have two parts:  the first is a philosophical, legal, and political investigation of how and why we talk about freedom of speech, up to and including today’s controversies. We will begin with John Stuart Mill, and will then turn to historic and recent Supreme Court decisions on copyright, obscenity, speech that incites violence, free speech forums and new media, etc. The second half of the semester focuses on acts of reading and writing under censorship; we will read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Mikail Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita, a novel about Soviet censorship that was written under censorship and was then censored by Stalin.

ENGL 316:
Technical Writing

This course is designed to introduce you to the rhetorical contexts, organizational forms, styles, and conventions of writing in the context of the 21st-century workplace. Technical writers explain complicated ideas or procedures to non-experts, communicate with different audiences in an organization, and use the affordances of their medium to solve communication problems. In the digital era, writing is an essential tool for solving problems on global and local scales, and technical writers must use recognizable written forms, as well as images, sound, and digital tools, to communicate with audiences. Increasingly, writing is disseminated in online spaces, including social media; in turn, writers today must critically evaluate the rhetorical and technicalcontext of digital spaces in order to communicate effectively. This course will develop technical writing skills through a series of projects. First, students will develop their professional persona through technical writing, building a personal website and designing professional documents. In the second half of the course, students will collaborate in teams to identify potential clients they could assist with their writing, propose a technicalwriting project, compose documents that could serve their client, and test the usability of their documents. The course is designed as a writing workshop, and learning will take place through writing and digital design projects, user testing and peer review, project management, small-group collaboration, and discussion of writingstrategies, genres, and style. 

ENGL 372: Shakespeare

In this course devoted to the poetry and plays of Shakespeare, we’ll try our hand at getting a sense of why he is revered as one of the greatest writers to grace the planet.  The course will also help students understand the historical context in which Shakespeare wrote while constantly being attentive to what made the English language at that time so ripe for the inventiveness of a poet like Shakespeare.  In a time before dictionaries and overly rigorous treatments of grammar and syntax, the language available to Shakespeare in 16th century England gave him a kind of freedom that most of us today can barely fathom.  The “rules” of his language had not yet solidified—and thus the flexibility and agility of Shakespeare’s poetry was made possible by a profound degree of linguistic freedom.  (Everyone knows if you want to turn a noun like “father” into a verb, easy enough:  “fathered”; but Shakespeare could—and did—turn a word like “child” into a verb, as Edgar does in King Lear:  ”He childed as I father’d!”).  Students will also hone their close reading skills while getting a nice dose of theoretical perspectives with which to read the work of the greatest English writer of all time—always paying careful attention to the role language plays in articulating all of the beauty and tragedy of the bard’s work.  Hopefully we will also get a chance to look at some of the different legacies Shakespeare has had on other poets, philosophers, and thinkers to have come after him.  

ENGL 494: Ecopoetry

By Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19119317

Marianne Moore. Elizabeth Bishop. W.S. Merwin. Poets have long been obsessed with ecology, zoology, and botany. Whether they took inspiration from National Geographic or their own gardens, these poets depended on scientific exactitude, as if the poem itself would be tested and weighed. Why should something typical of major 20thcentury American poets suddenly be categorized as “ecopoetry”? Can ecopoetry, more than regular poetry, make us stop and consider the potential and real consequences of our everyday actions? Wouldn’t rhetoric do better? 

This is an American literature course with a strong interdisciplinary impulse. In order to interrogate how poetics interacts with science and environmental ethics, topics will hover around this central question: what are poets and writers doing when they project onto an animal or landscape? Is avoiding the pathetic fallacy or anthropomorphism the hallmark of good ecopoetry? If so, what does an aesthetic decision have to do with good citizenship, or being an environmental steward or activist? In addition to criticism and anthology excerpts, major texts include collections by contemporary poets Ross Gay and Katherine Larson. Assignments include close readings of poems and a final interdisciplinary project that will allow you to organize a volunteer effort or craft your own creative project.

Boiling Water

I was heating water to a boil for some mac n’ cheese.  While I was waiting for the water to boil, I was in the living room (which is on the other side of the house) watching basketball.  I still remember the game: North Carolina at Duke on Coach K Court.  Why I remember a small detail like that? I don’t know.  Anyway, the game was about midway through the second half and I had forgotten all about the water I was boiling.  So, naturally, I had an “oh shit” moment.  There was scalding hot water all over the stove and on the floor, bubbling, hissing, and steaming.  

I was fifteen.  This was the first night I was on my own of what turned into over a month.  My parents were at Rush hospital with my extremely ill younger sister, and I had just dropped out of my high school to be home schooled so I could work full time.  The boiling water mishap was the first mistake of many.  I was overwhelmed.  I only had a learner’s permit, so I could not drive without an adult in the car.  I had to rely on others, a seemingly impossible thought.  

My first full day resulted in me waking up at 8:00, walking to work at 8:30, arriving at 9:00, and then getting off at 6:00 in the evening.  I worked at a diner, so eating wasn’t a problem. I would normally be off at 5:00, but I picked up an extra hour so I could eat dinner for free (we had a policy that anyone on the job didn’t have to pay for food).  That was my way of avoiding making another mistake at home.  I know that letting water boil over isn’t a big deal, but at fifteen everything that happened was always amplified.  

Skip ahead a couple weeks and I started to get into a routine of going to work all day and providing for myself when I wasn’t on the work schedule.  School work kept me occupied because I had to teach myself and figure out how the work was supposed to be done.  Making the choice to be home-schooled was out of necessity, not out of want.  My sister was sick.  My private school was expensive.  I was no longer playing football due to injury.  I didn’t have a purpose for attending a physical school anymore, and I figured that home-schooling was the best option.  I found an accredited program and my parents gave me their approval.  They trusted me.  With that trust I was able to do my own thing and give them some peace of mind.    

A month into being alone and I was doing fairly well for myself.  I did my “grocery shopping” at the local Dollar General, and I would walk to the local Casey’s for gas to fill up the weed whacker.  (There was a weed epidemic outside of our house; I didn’t want my dad to have to worry about something that I could easily take care of myself.)

Skip ahead another three weeks and my parents came home, leaving my sister at the hospital for more testing.  My mom and dad were worried about me and my possible struggles.  The reality?  I was not struggling.  For not having much I was thriving.  I lived off of Spam, eggs, grilled cheese, and bologna. 

When my parents saw I was fine, they stayed for a couple weeks and then left again to be with my sister.  And I was fine with that.  I really didn’t care.  I enjoyed doing my thing.  And that’s it.  I was fine. Everything was fine, really. 

Jack Shields is a Senior English Major at the University of St. Francis.  He has been a student assistant with the USF men’s basketball since his arrival in Fall 2016.  Jack is the current USF English Department Intern for the Fall 2019 Semester.