Faculty Feature: Dr. Andrea Gazzaniga

 

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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.

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Alum Feature: Sara Moore

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Sara Moore with her son, Cohen, and her fiancé, Jon Wagner.

Recent MA grad, Sara Moore, talks about teaching in Korea, her studies at NKU, and her work as a poet.  

You spent three years teaching in Korea.  What was that like? How did you find this program and secure the position?
It was a phenomenally life changing experience. I first heard about the opportunity through a friend who was already living there. She helped me find a good recruiter who placed me in an amazing school. Recruiters can often be motivated solely by self-interest, but I found Footprints Recruiting to be extremely helpful and attentive to my needs as a foreigner (it’s run by previous teachers). It’s hard for me to sum up such a long and complex experience. I will say that I feel so differently about the world now, and about people. I think it’s easy to get caught in a worldview bubble, which is fed by media, etc. To get out and live in the world was a gift to me. It was at times beautiful, terrifying, boring, enriching, and humbling. It was like living anywhere else; you get used to it and it becomes a part of who you are. For me, it gave me a deeper sense of adventure, and a real love of teaching. The kids were the best part!

Why did you choose the MA program at NKU?
I chose this program because it really met all my needs. I had been out of school for seven years, and back in the US for about three. I was teaching at the high school level and raising my young son, but I wanted to be able to further my education that I might have more employment opportunities. I wasn’t sure that an MFA would do this for me, and at this time I wasn’t writing much poetry (I have a BFA in poetry from BGSU). The program here did not pressure me to decide what I wanted to do/study right away. I was allowed to explore and choose my own path. It was also affordable and offered all evening classes, which worked well for me as a single mom.

How has writing poetry changed your life?
I feel like I’ve always been a poet…I know it sounds cheesy. When I was as young as seven or eight, I would write my diary entries as rhymed poems. I don’t know if I thought this would make it harder for my brother to figure out what I was really saying or what. Regardless, I’ve always loved poetry. It helps me make sense of the world and my connection to it. Reading poetry does the same thing for me. My first poetic love was H.D., reading her made me want to learn and explore the world, and to play with language. She also led me to mythology, which is another passion of mine.

During the seven years between my BFA and MA, I wasn’t writing poetry as much, for whatever reason. Coming back to poetry through the writing program at NKU changed my life significantly. I am much more balanced and happy, and I’ve met an amazing community of writers who push and support me. I’ve learned to connect with my own voice, and to be regimented in my writing and revising.

Tell us about your recent publications.
One of the things I’m most proud of recently is my acceptance into Vine Leaves’ Best of 2013 anthology for my poem “Imaginary Bodies.” Also, two poems from my capstone project, “His Coffin” and “Explaining Origins and Ending” will soon be featured in Arsenic Lobster. Over the past year, my poems have appeared or are scheduled to appear in The Rappahannock Review, The Red Rose Review, The San Pedro River Review, and Illuminations. 

What are you up to now?
I am currently teaching as an adjunct at NKU and at a private school for homeschoolers. This schedule allows me to spend a lot of my time with my son, who is just finishing preschool. I recently got engaged, and am looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life. I also see a PhD on the horizon.

Any advice for current students and recent grads?
My main advice is to make connections with both faculty and students, especially if you are a writer. This world has so many distractions. It’s easy to get off-task, or to forget things we promise ourselves we’ll do. Meet people who will help you be that person you want to be, and help them too.  Offer the best of yourself in every class, and in the feedback you give your peers. Be present and engaged and take every opportunity you can.

Alum Feature: Rich Shivener

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Rich Shivener (BA 2006, MA 2010), Assistant Director of First Year Programs at NKU, discusses his position, his recent publications/conference papers, and his advice for recent grads. 

How did you become the Assistant Director of First Year Programs at NKU and how did your English studies prepare you for this role?
In Fall 2010, I had a good connection with First Year Programs when I was teaching University 101 and finishing my last semester in the MA program. FYP was seeking an assistant director who could coordinate FYP’s communications and the Book Connection, its common reading program for freshmen; a bonus was that the 2011-2012 Book Connection would feature a graphic novel by NKU alum David Mack. I felt prepared for the position, since I studied writing technologies, creative nonfiction and graphic novels. What’s more, my final project in the MA program was a graphic novel script on Cincinnati music. I was advised by Profs. Andrew Miller, Allen Ellis and John Alberti, the latter of whom serves on the Book Connection committee. It’s a joy to stay connected with the department!

Tell us about your publications.
Simply put, I love writing in a variety of contexts, and I’m thankful for the opportunities. I’ll name some recent ones. Writer’s Digest published my interviews with A Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin and The Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman. Cincinnati CityBeat published two chapters from my graphic novel script. I have credits with PasteSports Illustrated online and Publishers Weekly, for which I write features on digital publishing and comics. Beyond freelancing for magazines and online, I have presented scholarship at New York Comic-Con, the Conference on the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition and Comic-Con International: San Diego.

What did you present at Comic-Con International?
I was part of the panel “Crossover Series: Comics to College Writing” at the Comics Arts Conference at Comic-Con International. Fellow MA alum John Silvestro and I were sharing a lot of ideas since graduation, and we decided to propose a panel that discussed ways we use comics in ENG 101/College Writing. I thank Dr. Jen Cellio for offering me classes. 

Any current projects?
I just finished a chapter on crime graphic novels, set to be published later this year in the book volume Critical Insights: The Graphic Novel (Salem Press). In December, Cincinnati magazine will publish my six-page comic on King Records in Cincinnati, where James Brown got his start. I wrote the script and recent grad Brian Wolf illustrated it.

Other than those, I have a few presentations and freelance pitches in the can. At FYP, I’m working with some colleagues on an assessment project regarding the Book Connection program. We want to know how the program impacts students’ opinions on such topics as child labor and globalization, two from this year’s book, Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman.

Any advice for current students or recent grads?
Stay persistent and form relationships as you pitch your ideas – whether you are connecting those with a professor or a potential employer. A little anecdote: When I was seeking an internship my senior year, I stalked (his words) a magazine’s editor-in-chief. I found out where he was holding special events and made sure to introduce myself each time. I had nary a writing clip to my name, but I sent over some recent creative writings and my first three clips with the student newspaper, The Northerner. The magazine decided to hire me because they knew I was eager to learn more about magazine writing and wasn’t afraid to fail many times in the process of sharpening my skills. I’ve been persistent in every pitch and application since.

Alum Feature: Mary Anne Reese

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Mary Anne Reese is an attorney based in Cincinnati.  She graduated from the MA program May 2012 and she is the author of the poetry collections Raised by Water (Finishing Line Press, 2011) and the forthcoming Down Deep (Finishing Line Press). 

Since you were/are a lawyer, why did you decide to pursue an MA in English?  And why did you choose our program?
Most of my legal practice involves analytical writing. I knew from my undergrad experience that studying English would sharpen those analytical writing skills, and it has.

My real hunger, however, was to turn my creative side loose in a supportive environment and see what might happen. I searched online and found NKU’s new graduate program. From the first course, I knew I was in the right place. The learning community, the mentoring and feedback I received, and the extensive reading I did all helped me to develop as a writer.

Also, while many fields of study provide useful skills, I think the humanities are a lifeline. Our professors, students and the coursework taught me a great deal about living fully, with steadfastness, compassion and resilience.

What have you been up to since graduation?
I’m still working as an attorney–I do a lot of writing in the area of criminal constitutional law. In my spare time, I love to swim. I’ve also taken up tai chi. Since lawyering and writing require a lot of sitting, it really helps to move around. I’ve also found some good community writing programs–the Cincinnati Writers Project, Grailville, library series. . .

You just had your chapbook, Down Deep, accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press.  Can you tell us a bit about those poems?  How did they come together as a collection?
Most of the poems were part of my capstone project with Kelly Moffett, and one came from the 2012 First West Retreat. To arrange them, I did what I once heard Billy Collins suggest–pull out the strongest poems and lead with those.

Three topic areas predominate in the collection–gifts and struggles in family, in the natural world, and in my faith tradition. To keep the collection dynamic, I mixed up these topic areas. I also mixed up poems from different time periods and those with different voices/tones. Somehow there’s an inherent, nonlinear kind of logic to it. Almost every poem has water in it. The collection starts with a childhood scene and ends at a grave.

What is your writing process like?
Something strikes me that I need to respond to–it might be a film, a letter, a life event or a leaf. I sometimes make a note of it on my phone. Then I ruminate for awhile, or put it aside and then revisit it. For the actual writing, I like to have long stretches of time–the Friday night before our CWP poetry group meets on Saturday, or a Sunday morning. Then I revise and revise over at least a couple of weeks. I like to get feedback from a critique group before writing the final draft or submitting it anywhere.

Who are you reading right now?
Edward Hirsch

Do you have any advice to the student-writers in our program? 
Take every chance to read your work to an audience–at readings, conferences, the radio, open mics. NKU gave me a lot of those opportunities. It helps to hear how your work sounds out loud–what flows and what trips you up. Readings also let you feel audience response in a way that doesn’t happen alone at your computer. Giving readings is also a good counter to the critical voice that says “you can’t really write” or “you’re just wasting your time.”

For many of the same reasons, it’s great to attend writing conferences and retreats.

Faculty Feature: Dr. Tonya Krouse

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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.)

Anything else?
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.

Alum Feature: Ashley Theissen

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Ashley Theissen (Spring 2009) shares how she decided to attend graduate school, her fondest memories while at NKU, and advice for current students.  She’s currently a PhD student in 20th century and contemporary U.S. fiction at Indiana University, and she maintains a professional blog at ashleytheissen.wordpress.com .

What are you doing?  What have you been up to?
I just took my qualifying exams in September. I will start working on my dissertation this spring. While I am still figuring out my project, I plan on working on fictional representations of marginal figures such as the homeless, addicts, and the mentally ill. I want to explore how these figures articulate with other historical reasons for marginalization in the U.S., such as race, class, gender, and sexuality.

After I graduated NKU, I spent 9 months working at Keystone Bar and Grill in Covington, my place of employment during undergrad. I decided to take a year to focus on applying for graduate school instead of doing so while I was finishing up my degree. I know now that this was the right decision! Not only did it give me the necessary time for the application process, but it also allowed me to spend time with friends and family before moving away. I also met the man who is now my husband during this “gap” year!

How did you know you wanted to go to graduate school?  What helped your decision to attend where you are now?
I think I was a sophomore in high school when I decided I wanted to be a professor. At the time, I thought I wanted to do history. When I started college (at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky) I decided to major in Political Science and Art. After a few semesters, I realized I was much more interested in my English classes! So I switched majors, but my professional goals remained the same. For me, graduate school was always a necessary step to get to where I wanted to go.

I applied during a very competitive year, so my decision to attend IU was partially based on the fact that I got in! with funding! If you are trying to decide where to go to graduate school, it is important to create that initial list with care. You may only get into a few places, even if you apply for 8-10 schools. So, for me, I only applied to programs I had thoroughly researched and felt comfortable attending. I was thrilled when I got accepted to IU, because it is a very strong program with amazing faculty.

What is one of your fondest memories of NKU?
I have so many. Really! Let’s see… Almost every memory I have of taking classes in the Honors House is a highlight. I was able to create documentaries for class projects, go on amazing field trips, and build a really cool community with students and teachers there. But I think my most important memory is one that has gained significance over time: it was in the final months of my senior year, and I had just turned in a mediocre draft of my senior thesis (on Kate Chopin and Virginia Woolf) to my advisor, Tonya Krouse. After reading the draft, Tonya set up a meeting with me. She told me I had two options: 1) do final edits and “call it” because I had already done more than enough work to fulfill the requirement, or 2) dig deep and find the energy to complete the project I had set out to write. This was a moment of reckoning for me. It does not sound like a “happy” memory, I know, and at the time I certainly was not happy! But over the years, when I have had, again and again, to dig deep and find the tenacity and persistence that I feel like I have lost, I remember that conversation. And I remember that I did choose option 2, and I did my best to produce the document I wanted to, despite the difficulty of my senior year. And a happier memory to end on: when I presented that same paper at the NKU Honors Colloquium, John Alberti asked me what I would change about transatlantic scholarship if I could. I began my answer “Well, if were in charge of English everywhere….” That’s all you need to know. The confidence of a undergrad!

What are you reading now?
Critical things to “fill in the gaps” about my exam period, so, at the moment, Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction (1987). I am also rereading everything Junot Díaz has written because he is visiting IU this spring and I love his work more than anything ever!

Do you have any advice for current students?
Study the fields you excel at and the ones you really love. Because I am now a teacher as well as a student, I find myself helping my students with letters, advice, career searches, etc. So many careers today require a degree, but not a specific one. So if you are worried about getting a job, the best thing to do is study something you can be proud of, and that you can talk about with grace and expertise. If you try to bet on the “right” major, but you get it wrong or it isn’t the right fit for you, it won’t make a difference anyway. So do what you love, AND work really hard to figure out how you are gaining the critical thinking, communication, cultural awareness, and other skills that will serve you throughout your life, no matter what your job title is or how many times you change careers. Take this time to learn about yourself and the world you live in, and no matter what, it will be worthwhile time spent.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were at NKU?
Graduate school is so much harder than I could have imagined! But everyone told me that… it is one of those things I could not have known then. And maybe that is for the best, after all.

Alum Feature: Jennifer Whalen

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Jennifer Whalen graduated May 2012 with a dual concentration in literature and writing.  She lives in Austin and attends the Texas State University-San Marcos MFA program—a highly competitive program that has visiting writers such as Jorie Graham and Sherman Alexie.  She also teaches freshman composition and acts as the public relations manager for the online literary journal, Front Porch.

How did you decide on a graduate program?
I had a lot of factors, but I wanted to go to a school that had a large focus on involvement within the writing community. I was impressed with the visiting writer series at Texas State, which brings in both up-and-coming and renown writers and we spend a couple days doing readings, Q&As, and workshops. There’s also a lot of involvement among the students themselves, between the literary magazine being entirely student run, as well as our monthly MFA student reading series.

Do you have advice for current NKU English students?
Take advantage of the experience. That sounds very freshman orientationy, but I mean it. Be involved and active in your education. Talk to people in your class. Share work with others outside of class. Meet with your professors. Be involved in a group or organization. There isn’t a day I don’t use some bit of knowledge I learned from either a peer or a professor at NKU. However, don’t spread yourself too thin. Know what you enjoy doing or where you excel, and give it your best effort, as opposed to giving a little bit of yourself to a lot of things.

Any reading suggestions?  Who are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins. I’ve also tasked myself with having more of a foundation within my reading list, so I’m reading John Berryman’s Homage to Mistress Bradstreet.

What is one of your fondest memories of your time at NKU?
One of my fondest memories is the first Loch Norse Magazine release party. It had all the excitement of a movie (the magazine was printed literally an hour before the event), which made the night that much sweeter when it went so magnificently. It was a year of ups and downs, and it was incredibly special to see the editing staff’s dedication and hard work come to life in printed, physical form. So many students attended the celebration, as well as professors, and it was a perfect way to end my time at NKU.