Dr. Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman is the most recent addition to the creative writing faculty. Her writing has recently appeared in Hippocampus and Brevity. She has worked as a freelance researcher for various media organizations including MTV, where she was the first person to compile research on the show that would later become the nationwide hit Teen Mom. Her teaching and writing interests include memoir, the personal essay, cultural criticism, and Narrative Medicine.
JT: When did you start teaching at NKU? How has your experience been so far at NKU?
JCH: I started at NKU in August 2014, and it’s been amazing. I have never had more enthusiastic students, and my colleagues go out of their way to be supportive of me. Everyone has been very welcoming as I find my place here.
JT: I remember the first time I really fell in love with creative writing and why. What sparked your passion for creative writing?
JCH: Like most writers, I fell in love with reading first. I grew up in two very small, mountainous towns–one in WV that was under 2,000 people, and one in VA that was under 3,000. Reading was my primary way of learning about different people and places. And it was by reading that I knew I wanted to write. I remember being a freshman in college and reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed. What I loved about that book is that it translated the realities of the working poor to a wealthy, elite readership. The translation wasn’t perfect, but it was the first time I’d ever read anything that even attempted to do that. As someone who had grown up in Appalachia and moved to uber-wealthy Manhattan, I knew I wanted to write literary nonfiction that bridged the divide between those two cultures, which is something that I struggled to do in my daily life. And I knew I wanted to write in a way that promoted social justice.
JT: How did that passion for creative writing transfer to a passion for teaching?
JCH: I never set out to teach, and yet, learning how to teach (it’s a constant learning process) has been the most meaningful intellectual and artistic experience of my life. Writing, particularly memoir writing, requires me to search inward. Like most memoirists, I don’t always like what I find there! Teaching is the opposite; all of my attention is focused on other people. It’s a much more comfortable stance. All that said, teaching is by no means some selfless act. I learned more about writing during my first semester of teaching writing (during the second year of my MFA program) than I had in K-12, college, and the first year of my MFA combined. I am constantly learning how to write by teaching others how to write.
JT: I know a number of students plan on being writers and professors after they graduate, myself included. What advice would you give to those students?
JCH: I think flexibility is key. I majored in Middle Eastern Studies in college. When September 11th happened I was actually in Cairo, Egypt on my junior year abroad. I interned at several newspapers and thought that with my knowledge of the Middle East and newspaper reporting experience, I’d have no problem getting a journalism job, especially with all the chaos in the region. But then, within a span of a few years that happened to coincide with my college years, the internet decimated the entire field of journalism. Newspapers folded, thousands of people were laid off, and the remaining news organizations closed most of their foreign bureaus. I had planned very carefully how to get a job after college, and it didn’t matter at all because the entire world had turned upside down. You just can’t plan for that; what you can do is be flexible. Think about what skills you have. Think about what the world needs. If there is anything that you know would make you absolutely miserable, cross that off your list, but be open to everything else. Be especially open to career paths you’ve never even considered. I never in a million years thought I’d be a college professor because, well, I really didn’t like college that much, and I was very happy to graduate and get the heck out of there. I never thought I’d go to graduate school. It was only years later that I opened my mind to it, and now I consider academia a place where I can contribute and a place where I feel at home. My point is that the world is going to change in extreme ways that we have no ability to predict. The “practical” major of today can easily become the major of the unemployed tomorrow, and vice-versa. The great thing about becoming an expert in the English language, and learning how to think critically and creatively, is that these are extremely flexible, transferable, and durable skills.
JT: I know you have work that is in the process of being published. Tell us about that.
JCH: Yes, I have a memoir that is currently with an agent in NYC. We are in the final stages before shopping it to publishers. Because it’s still in that stage I can’t say much more than that, but what I can say is that I wholeheartedly agree with George Orwell, who said that writing a book is like having some horrible, exhausting illness. It has been worth it, because one’s first book is, of course, where one learns how to write a book, but I will be very glad when the process is over and I can move on.
JT: Any other advice, thoughts, etc.?
JCH: One thing that sustains me through long workdays is knowing I will get to encounter my students’ lives on the page, in all of their glorious complexity, diversity, hilarity, and tragedy. I feel so privileged to help people write about their lives, and I learn so much about the world through what my students write. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’ve ever thought you have a true story to tell, I hope you’ll consider taking a Creative Nonfiction workshop!
Dr. Parmita Kapadia, Associate Professor of English at NKU, discusses her research and her reasons for pursuing English Studies. She also offers advice for current students.
Please tell us about your recent publication.
My most recent publication, Bollywood Shakespeares, is an essay collection that explores how the Indian sub-continent has appropriated, adapted, and consumed Shakespeare. Specifically, the book traces the historical origins of Bollywood’s engagement with Shakespeare’s plays and examines how the Bard continues to be reimagined and reproduced through Bollywood conventions, styles, imagery, choreography, costuming, and music. This book builds on my previous scholarship on Shakespeare in a global context.
How did you know you wanted to become an English major and then a professor?
I actually did not major in English. I majored in Economics and Finance; my plan was to get an MBA and work on Wall Street. I still enjoy reading and learning about financial management. I was an English minor and had a professor who coaxed, cajoled, and finally pushed me to think about pursuing a doctorate in English. First he encouraged me to take a few more English courses. Then, he suggested I help the then-still-being-formed English Club write a budget and with general management issues. I loved being in the club; it was great to be with people who loved to read about, talk about, think about, and write about literature as much as I did. I wanted to keep reading and writing and I hoped to learn how to produce scholarship. At that point I realized I needed to get the Ph. D. I am still in touch with my former professor and I asked him if his getting me involved with the English Club through my economics background was intentional. He just smiled. I guess I can give him the credit or the blame.
What do you think is important for our current majors and recent graduates to know?
I think it is important for our majors to challenge themselves. Students should take courses in areas that are unfamiliar to them and in areas that sound hard or unusual. They should not be afraid of stepping out of their cocoons and trying something completely different. College should be a time of learning and experiencing new things and our majors should take advantage of this time.
Any current projects?
My current project focuses on how literature and immigration law represents and treats characters/individuals who come to the United States on various types of visas. Particularly, I am interested in individuals—most of them are women—who enter the US on what is known as a “Dependent Spouse” visa. This visa does not allow recipients to work, access public services, and in some cases drive, have a bank account, or rent a residence. Postcolonial literature’s depiction of such characters and immigration law’s treatment of them provides a space through which to examine issues of gender, race, and global capitalism.
Anything else you would like to tell us? (For example, I know you have to balance lots as professor, writer, mother, wife, and daughter. You must know a great deal about balancing such roles.)
Balancing different roles is the key to being productive, but it is important to keep one’s focus.
Dr. Andrea Gazzaniga, Assistant Professor of English, discusses her latest projects and how she became an English professor—as well as why she feels close reading skills are so utterly important.
How did you know you wanted to focus on English studies?
I’ve always loved the way literature allows me to engage with people who inhabit distant times and lands. Reading all types of literature makes me feel connected to the world. Reading poetry especially intensifies my experience of life because it articulates feelings and thoughts that we all share and yet believe to be ineffable. The way poetry captures in words an idea, an impulse, whatever, is pure joy.
Why did you want to become a professor?
I did not realize English studies could be a profession until my last year in college when a few of my English professors encouraged me to pursue my passion for literature further. I distinctly remember turning in my last college essay for a Jane Austen class and wandering around campus in a daze. I ended up on a bench by the lake crying my heart out. I thought, “I’ll never be able to discuss and write about literature like this again!” Very melodramatic. That same afternoon I was walking through the library and my Shakespeare professor said, “You need to seriously consider academia as a profession. You could do it.” A profession? I had no idea that was possible! I always thought my professors were fairies who magically appeared for class to feed my mind with ideas and then retreated back to the forest for supper and a nap. I had no understanding that they actually worked for a living! I decided I needed to figure out whether or not I liked teaching, so I taught English as a second language in Morocco (long story) and realized I absolutely loved it. So, being a professor weds my love for research and writing about literature and my love for teaching. The combination of intellectual pursuit through scholarship and inspiring students to intellectually engage with texts in the classroom is my idea of a perfect life.
I recently listened to a paper you gave at the MMLA conference, and it was fascinating. Can you summarize it for us?
First of all, I was so honored to be on a panel with you and Mary Ann Samyn. What a treat! I created a special session called “The Pedagogy of Poetry” to address, among other things, my question: How can teachers of poetry cultivate close reading skills while still preserving a sense of wonder and ambiguity? My specific paper, “The Ethics of Close Reading a Poem,” argued for the importance of teaching close reading skills not only as a means of textual analysis but also as an embodiment of ethical behavior. Close reading asks students to listen to what a text is saying rather than make assumptions or guesses about what it is saying based on preconceived notions and expectations. In this way, teaching students to close read is a way to resist prejudicial thinking.
Tell us about your recent publication.
I published an article on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and its revisionist take on the Western genre. Specifically, l examine the way the film challenges and revises the female archetypes in the Western tradition. I have another article under review on the Victorian poets Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper who wrote under the male pseudonym Michael Field.
What are you working on now?
I have a couple of projects going right now. I am currently writing a pedagogcial piece on integrating creative assignments into literature courses. I’m also finishing an article on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Next up is a journal article on George Meredith’s sonnet sequence Modern Love.
Any advice for current students and recent grads?
Stay engaged. For current students, talk to your professors about the material you are studying in class. Ask a lot of questions. Being able to ask the crucial questions about something is a skill that will serve you well in whatever you choose to do.
Dr. Tonya Krouse (center) with Ashley Theissen (left) and Lauren Kaplan (right), Graduation 2009
Dr. Tonya Krouse, Associate Professor of English, shares how she became an English major and professor as well as her recent publications and projects and advice for students and alums.
How did you decide on English as a major?
Nobody is more shocked than I am that I ended up having a career as an English professor. When I was a kid, I never dreamed of being a teacher, and when I was older, when I first went to college, I thought that people who majored in things like “English” were weird, stupid people who didn’t have a practical bone in their bodies. I ultimately did earn my B.A. in English in 1996 from Kent State University. But I didn’t start out as an English major, and it was really hard for me to accept that I should become one.
I was one of the first people in my family to go to college. It was even hard for me to convince my mom that I should go to a four-year university, and not just community college, and beyond that to go to a university where I wouldn’t commute and live at home. (I’m from Cleveland: Kent was only an hour and fifteen minutes away, but that was a world away in terms of my family’s expectations.)
But if I was going to go to college, just to make the case to my parents that it made sense, I needed to have a clear career path. So I started off in college as journalism major with a political science minor. Journalism, because I always liked writing and excelled at it, and it was a major that had a clear connection to a job, and political science because I’d seen All the President’s Men and fancied myself as a person who would expose some great government conspiracy and become famous.
It never occurred to me that I could major in English until my professor in my freshmen writing course suggested that I’d be suited to it, and even that I might think about becoming a professor myself. I thought that she was nuts. It’s so long ago now that I don’t quite remember my reaction to her, but it might be true that I laughed. In the end, though, her suggestion stuck with me, and I decided to switch, after much soul-searching and many tears, in my junior year. And then once I did that, I picked up minors in women’s studies and writing.
When did you know you wanted to be a professor?
From the time I changed my major, I was fairly certain that I would like to pursue a career as a professor. It’s worth noting that neither my grades nor my GRE scores were perfect, and my undergraduate adviser discouraged me from applying because “there is no way you’ll get into a top program.” Because I was incredibly naïve, I ignored that advice, but through a combination of hard work and luck I managed to get accepted to excellent graduate programs – I earned my M.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1997 and my Ph.D. from Brandeis University in 2004 – and to beat the odds to find a tenure-track job right out of graduate school.
I pursued a Ph.D. in English because I enjoyed reading, research, and writing criticism. I did not learn that I enjoyed teaching until I was forced by the terms of my funding to do it. Honestly, if I had been drawn to teaching in the first place I would have become a high school teacher and avoided the stress of getting a Ph.D. and going on the academic job market! But once I taught, I discovered that I love teaching and that it is one of the most enriching parts of my work.
Can you tell us a bit about your recent essay publications?
Recently, I’ve published an article about gender politics and nostalgia in the AMC television series Mad Men and an article in The Virginia Woolf Miscellany about representations of nature in Woolf’s novel The Years. I also was invited to write an article about the place of Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook in the canon of twentieth-century literature for a forthcoming essay collection honoring the fiftieth anniversary of The Golden Notebook’s publication.
What is your current project?
Currently, I am finishing my book, Deviant Domesticities and Female Creativity: Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, Zadie Smith, which discusses how women writers depict domestic spaces as ones in which gendered ideals about “women’s work” and artistic work intersect and conflict. I’ve presented portions of my research at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture after 1900, the American Comparative Literature Association Conference, and the International Conference on Virginia Woolf. I am also envisioning my next project, tentatively titled Pleasure and Terror: Temporal Aesthetics in the Modern and Contemporary British Novel. In January, I will present the first ideas related to that project on a panel called “Terrorism and Temporality,” which has been identified in the program as one of a select group that best represents the convention theme “Vulnerable States,” at the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago.
What advice do you have for students and alums?
- Take courses with as many different professors as you can; don’t just find one professor you like and only take courses with him or her. If you need references for jobs or recommendations for graduate or professional school, you want to have at least a handful of people who know you fairly well and whom you could legitimately ask.
- Going along with that, don’t feel like you need to specialize within the major while doing your undergraduate work. Yes, the major has tracks, but it also has electives. I truly believe that students should use those electives to sample courses outside their tracks. The major prepares you for many different kinds of careers, which involve writing, interpretation, presentation, and analysis. If you haven’t been to the Career Services Center to explore the many options that you have, do it!
- Don’t assume that you must earn a graduate degree as a default. Many people have wonderful intellectual lives and rewarding professional lives without going to graduate school.
- Only go to graduate school in Literature to become a professor 1) if the program fully funds your tuition and pays you a stipend, 2) if you are passionate about doing research and writing critical essays, and you have demonstrated talent in those areas, 3) if you understand that getting full-time employment is exceptionally competitive and that you will have no choice about where you live if you are lucky enough to get a tenure-track job. (That’s my doom and gloom advice, but it’s important.)
In spite of recurring attacks on the humanities in general and on English Studies in particular, I truly believe that our discipline continues to evolve and to grow in exciting and challenging ways. Far from being a “boutique” major, the English major is flexible, dynamic, and practical in the ways in which it addresses the needs of the twenty-first-century workplace. Further, our discipline highlights the skills and values essential to engaged citizenship.
Dr. Wallace with Kathleen Piercefield and her multi-media Queequeg print
at her Senior Show in the Main Gallery in December 2004.
Our Regents Professor, Dr. Bob Wallace, shares some teaching memories as well as his current projects.
When did you arrive at NKU? Why did you stay?
I arrived at NKU in August 1972, the year I got my Ph.D. from Columbia University. I was very fortunate to be able to come to this new university, because that year there were only six jobs advertised nationwide in American Literature. I have stayed because it’s been great to teach our students from the beginning, and wonderful to watch our department and university grow.
What is one of your fondest teaching memories?
I think of two brief conversations with long-lasting results. Barb McCroskey, a student in my course in Music and Literature, asked if I could also teach a course in Literature and Painting. About a decade after that, Fred North, a student in my course on Melville and the Arts, asked if he could submit a painting, rather than a research paper, as his final project. I said yes to each question, and am eternally grateful for what I have learned from Barb, from Fred, and all those students who have followed in the path their questions opened up for me.
Please tell us about your latest publication.
My book on Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera has been an amazing personal and artistic experience. I went to the world premiere of the opera in Dallas in May 2010 not knowing what to expect. By the end of the performance I knew this was something I wanted to write about. One month later I flew to San Francisco for an interview with the composer Jake Heggie. By the end of our day-long interview, I knew that I wanted to make a book about the opera, and the creative team who created it, and extraordinary artists who performed it, my top priority. I had to adapt my scholarly style as a writer to a new kind of subject, and audience, and I am grateful that my publisher made room for a lot of photographs from the production and a lot of interviews with creators and performers who shared their time and experience with me.
What is your current research project?
I am currently writing a book about Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati in the 1850s. I am learning a lot about Douglass himself as well as about the abolitionists who supported him here, some of whose stories have yet to be told. We have more to be proud of here from that period in history than we are generally aware of.
What advice do you have for our student writer-researchers and those who wish or are just beginning to teach?
I think the most important thing for student writer-researchers or beginning teachers is to follow your passion, see where it leads you, and give it all you have.
As someone who joined our English faculty way back in 1972, I am particularly grateful for the fine young faculty we have hired in every subsequent decade, making this a better and better department in which to teach or study.
Dr. Wallace with Nicci Mechler (our alum feature from September) from the “In Dreams” show at the NKU gallery. Of course, Dr. Wallace inspired Nicci’s Dickinson art (featured in the background).