Creative Writing Sampler: Joanna Szabo (’15) Shares Her “Subtotals”

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Joanna Szabo (’15), above, describes herself thusly: “I’m an English major who’s fallen in love with music, writing, teaching, books, and people. Three random things in my room: my Time-Turner replica, an antique teacup, and a fold-out map of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Do they describe me? You decide.”

Inspired by Gregory Burnham’s short story “Subtotals,” she recently wrote “Subtotals of Joanna” for EL 245:

Number of marriage proposals: 4. Number of dates: 0. Number of stuffed koalas owned: 7. Number of broken pencils, mechanical: 17, plain #2: 53, Ticonderoga: 4. Number of times I’ve been to church: 1,612. Number of times I’ve read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: 37. Number of times I’ve read the entire Bible: 0. Number of lies told, white: 759, black: 5. Number of siblings: 3ish. Number of bloody noses: 3. Number of mosquito bites: 308. Number of countries visited: 4. Number of canoes tipped over: 1. Number of houses: 1. Number of plane rides: 35. Number of jobs, paying: 1, volunteer: 3. Number of cups of coffee: 129. Number of Chinese restaurants: 9. Number of family reunions, awkward: 12, fun: 2. Number of grapes cut for fruit salad: 7,497. Number of olives spat back out: 83. Number of fights, verbal: 28, physical: 0. Number of black eyes: 2. Number of school pictures: 14. Number of childhood friends kept: 4. Number of beetle races: 16. Number of plates dropped: 1. Number of dreams, good: 146, bad: 691. Number of weddings attended: 3. Number of funerals: 12. Number of letters, sent: 30, received: 7. Number of essays written at night: 98. Number of missed school days: 16. Number of short phone calls: 213. Number of wrong numbers: 78. Number of best friends: 6. Number of promises, made: 951, kept: 944. Number of times I’ve cried, childhood: 12,438, adulthood: 3. Number of suicidal friends: 5. Number of rollercoasters: 6. Number of hours I’ve practiced viola: 3,089. Number of songs stuck in my head: 8,422. Number of beds slept in: 24. Number of cultural faux pas: 4. Number of flowers, planted: 114, killed: 8. Number of cigarettes inhaled: 376. Number of times visited the hospital, for myself: 0, for others: 32. Number of sunsets, seen: 46, missed: 7,164. Number of times I’ve been called beautiful: 31. Number of laughs, genuine: 153,432, forced: 152,970. Number of times my last name was mispronounced: 563. Number of scars: 5. Number of socks lost: 21. Number of blog posts, published: 26, deleted: 11. Number of journal entries, meaningful: 27, meaningless: 302.

Check Out Dr. Laurie Lamon’s Essay On Israeli Poet Dahlia Ravikovitch

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Dr. Laurie Lamon (above) recently published this article for Poetry Sunday at Women’s Voices For Change.

As the site editor describes, “Here, Laurie Lamon, whom we admire for the ‘fascination with the closely observed, hauntingly familiar distinctions of our daily lives,’ discusses an Israeli poet’s heartsickness at humankind’s passivity in the face of evil.”

Laurie, thanks for sharing Ravikovitch’s work with us.

Weyerhaeuser Young Scholar Diana Cater (’13) On Story and Science

Diana Cater (’13) is a senior, majoring in Biology and English, and hails from the wilds of the Willamette Valley, Oregon. This year, she has been doing independent research as a Weyerhaeuser Young Scholar on Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, and her paper has been accepted at the Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature (NUCL) and the St. Francis Literature Conference. After graduation, she isn’t sure if she wants to do science or write about it, but will likely find some sort of hybrid of the two. What she really aspires for is a pantry large enough to contain and organize the twelve-odd types of flour currently housed in a plastic bag on the floor of her broom closet.

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I’ve always been captivated by science. By age five, I was wearing out tape recordings of National Geographic specials, had a detailed understanding of poisonous rainforest snakes, and was wiping out vast populations of My Little Ponies with unremitting waves of cholera. Science stories enthralled me—in fact I credit fast-paced, nonfiction science narratives with giving me a love of reading in the first place, even though they’re unfailingly hokey. The scientists in the books I had read were as dogged as detectives, and I, the reader, had complete confidence and trust in their conclusions.

But when I tried my own hand at science, I found a completely different story. The unfailing confidence of SCIENCE! disappeared. I doubted everything, not because I didn’t trust myself (well, maybe a little), but because there were so many things that could go wrong, so many variables that couldn’t be accounted for, or that I didn’t even think of. And I found this to be true not only for me, but for professional scientists I spoke to about their own research. They qualified all concluding statements with clauses like “most likely” or “it’s reasonable to assume.”

What happens when we transform the slow, painstaking, and speculative practices of science into plot-driven narratives? Do we lose something essential? Or are we just highlighting the best parts of reality?

This is what I wanted to answer through my research in two ways: first, by understanding the typical patterns and themes inherent in nonfiction science narratives, and second, by examining a text that undermined those patterns. I chose Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, a thorough, 600-page nonfiction account of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Here, the confident scientist-hero disappears. Instead, Shilts’ book is inundated with fear, greed, and, most importantly, doubt. The book doesn’t follow a plotline; it follows a timeline. It doesn’t focus on a central character; it drifts from the perspectives of over 30 witnesses. It is not fun to read; it is more often painful and enraging. But I came to the conclusion that it is the narrative itself that creates confidence, not science. Narratives promise to answer the questions they raise. By stripping science of its story, Shilts sends the message that closure is never guaranteed.

That sounds like a bit of a downer, but as someone who hopes to write about science in the future, I am grateful to realize the power narrative has to sculpt our perceptions of what is certain. Science stories need to be told—even the hokey, plot-driven ones—because they make scientific knowledge interesting and accessible to just about anyone. Narrative is a beautiful equalizer. But especially when it comes to nonfiction, I think there’s value in remembering that science is not perfect, and providing a little room for doubt.

At least, it’s reasonable to assume.

Dr. Laurie Lamon Included In New Poetry Textbook

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Breaking news: Dr. Laurie Lamon has a chapter in the recently published Mapping the Line: Poets on Teaching, edited by Bruce Guernsey.

Quoth amazon: “Here are twenty classroom-tested exercises that really work, written and used by some of America’s best teachers and writers of poetry. Meant for the student and teacher alike, Mapping the Line is also meant for those who have never been in a poetry writing class but have, perhaps, been writing on their own or have been wanting to. This collection is a good place to begin, and to continue.”

Congratulations, Laurie!

2013 Chapbook Contest Winner Announced: Matt Comi’s “Biography of Early Living”

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Matt Comi (above) has won Whitworth’s 2013 Chapbook Contest. You may also remember Matt as the winner of our 2012 Chapbook Contest. He’s on fire! Matt wins $100, a small print run of his chapbook, and a spot as featured reader at this year’s Script reading on May 10. Congratulations!

Our celebrity judge, Tod Marshall, had this to say of this year’s batch of manuscripts:

The chapbooks that I read revealed a wide range of aesthetics that I found particularly exciting to encounter in student work.  John Taylor’s “Calyces,” J. Addison Martin’s “Lies,” and Matt Comi’s “Biography of Early Living” stood out among the manuscripts for their ambition, control of language, and unity of vision and theme.  Each of these three contained exceptional poems and moments of well-crafted writing.  Among the three, though, I chose “Biography of Early Living” as the winner. It blended genres in an engaging manner and maintained an ironic yet somehow vulnerable intensity that seemed a bit like Berryman, a bit like Pessoa, and a whole lot original.  The poems and prose pieces were sometimes funny, occasionally scathing, and, most importantly to my mind, unified in their intense exploration of the world and the persona—one “Matt Comi” of the “enormously wide shoulders.”

Marshall’s first collection of poetry, Dare Say, was the 2002 winner of the University of Georgia¹s Contemporary Poetry Series.  His second collection, The Tangled Line, was published by Canarium Books in April, 2009. He has also published a collection of his interviews with contemporary poets, Range of the Possible (EWU Press, 2002), and edited an accompanying anthology of poems by the interviewed poets, Range of Voices (EWU Press 2005).  He lives in Spokane, Washington, and teaches at Gonzaga University.

Our winner, Matt Comi, describes Matt Comi:
I’m in my third year here, and am at home in the Pacific Northwest. I write (mostly poems & essays) and make art (right now that means constructions made of wood, paint, and symbols printed onto muslin).

“Biography of Early Living” is a narrative root for these constructions: a process of decoupaging, or decorating my life with symbolic and often fictionalized identity.

Some of my artwork and projects can be seen at my internet-home-in-construction: mattcomi.com.

Here’s an excerpt from Comi’s “Biography of Early Living”:

THE FIRST GREAT TRAGEDY!
Matt Comi is three years old. He is very close with his lady friend, who while being both petite and delicate, is also adventurous and scarily beautiful. His lady friend’s name is Maggie. She has no second name like Matt Comi. While on a long walk together, near the back of the playground, she confides in him that she would very much love short hair. Matt Comi, being the gentleman that he is, readily agrees to cut her hair at craft time, where he will have access to the appropriate tools—scissors, napkins, and crayons. But before he can finish the deed, earn her love and the subsequent fifteen year after-school-make-out session that would have inevitably followed (and which would lead to their future marriage (at age eighteen they pause to say I do then begin kissing thereafter)) something terrible happens. The teacher, whose name he cannot remember, catches him. She totally misunderstands the situation, calls home, and, at Maggie’s parents’ command, the two remain estranged forever. So far apart that one could not hear the other. Even if the other was yelling at the top of his lungs.

MATT COMI ADMITS THAT HE CARES NOTHING FOR NATURE!
Because it has nothing to do with himself, and it cannot love him back. Except for dogs. He makes a special exception for dogs because petting a dog feels nice.

Thanks to Tod Marshall, Annie Stillar, Diana Cater, the Whitworth English department, and to all of our writers who entered this year’s contest!

Kelsey Bumgarner (’09) On How Majoring In English Prepared Her To Champion Student-Athletes

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Kelsey Bumgarner (above) graduated from Whitworth in 2009 with a degree in English (literature), followed by her Masters in Sports Administration & Leadership at Seattle University in 2011. She now lives in Portland, OR, and works in the athletics department at Lewis & Clark College.

Kelsey recently sent this update to the Whitworth English blog:

At the time I graduated from Whitworth, I knew I was headed to Seattle University to pursue my master’s in Sports Administration & Leadership. I had worked in the Whitworth athletics department for four years, culminating in a senior year internship that solidified my desire to continue working in collegiate athletics.
While at SU, I became an intern for the Northwest Conference office while also working in the Seattle U athletics department, first within the ticketing department for men’s basketball in their first full season at KeyArena, and then as an Athletics Communications Assistant, handling men’s and women’s cross country, swimming, and indoor/outdoor track & field.
My time in Seattle taught me many things, least of which was that my education at Whitworth trained me how to think in ways that many of my peers had never been introduced to. While I was never more grateful for the ability to write a 15-20 page research paper with ease (thank you Doug, Leonard, and Laura), the real value was in the components of a liberal arts education that gave me a holistic mindset and a set of skills that was easily transferable.
I am now in my second year as the Athletics Development & Sports Information Assistant at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, a position created through a grant from the NCAA. I gained this position through that annoyingly cliché yet oh-so-truthful push made by career counselors everywhere: networking. It was through my internship at the NWC office during grad school that I met athletics administrators at all levels in our membership colleges and universities, and with a little insider knowledge gained from my continued relationship with Steve Flegel in the Whitworth office, I was in the perfect position to contact the L&C department before the position had even been posted on job boards.
I love my job. I do a lot of things, but work mainly with alumni and parents through our booster club, the Pioneer Athletics Club, in putting on events structured around competitions to help the fundraising efforts that supplement our programs. The best part is I get to talk about something I love (our student-athletes and sports) with people who are already invested (in their children and Lewis & Clark), and aid the process of them not only staying connected, but recognizing the opportunity they have to make a significant difference in the L&C student-athlete experience through a financial contribution.
I wish I had a dollar for every odd look I get when people ask what I majored in during college, but the truth is I use my degree every single day. I write feature stories, compile newsletters, analyze information, and communicate with many departments across campus. I may not be studying the Romantic movement through Whitman or the moral dilemma facing Anna Karenina, but the same skills I learned in order to do well in Westminster I now utilize to do well in my career. I like to think I make my major work for me, not the other way around.

Whitworth English Department’s Got Talent, Especially on April 1

english department talent show 2013

If you’re a Whitworth English major, minor, faculty, alum, friend, spouse, suitor, crush, or associate, you’re invited to participate in Fool Me Once: A Talent Show on Monday, April 1 at 7:00 p.m in the HUB (MPR).

Please email Nicole at nsheets@whitworth.edu to be added to the evening’s scintillating program!

Admission the April 1 show will be by donation (suggested is $1 for students and $3 for everyone else). Proceeds will go to Project Hope Spokane.

Poster designed by the inimitable Diana Cater (’13).