Hannah Brenneman (’14) On Sherman Alexie’s Recent Reading At the Bing

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9 October 2013, Bing Crosby Theater

The first thing Sherman Alexie said when he took the podium was, “It’s always good to be home. You can’t beat getting to relive unresolved childhood issues.” I knew after that lead in that I could expect witty cynicism and dry humor from this celebrated author, and I was not disappointed. He spent a large portion of his monologue making fun of everything from Republicans to male yoga teachers. But he balanced it out by mocking his own faults – his temper and narcissistic tendencies, and also his chest hair – to the riotous laughter of the audience. There was one particular anecdote in which he described his attempt to reach for a packet of peanut brittle that was only a few feet away without leaving his hotel bed. It was a simple story, but it was humorous and relatable, which allowed me to see him as a human being, and not just a literary mastermind.

As a reservation Indian, Alexie has a unique perspective that is rarely voiced, so it was interesting to hear his take on issues concerning religion, politics, and race. I also noticed a theme of identity throughout the stories he recounted. For example, he expressed his derision toward parents who name their children after themselves, which led into his declaration that adults should be able to choose a new name for themselves – a name that they have earned, not that they were assigned. I also liked Alexie’s use of the phrase, “algebra of identity” when it comes to describing ancestry. Alexie himself is 13/16ths Indian.

Alexie spent most of his stage time regaling the audience with jokes and comedic anecdotes, but he did read a few poems and one short story. My favorite was a grouping of poems called, “Possible Epitaphs for my Tombstone.” The one that stood out to me the most simply states, “An Indian’s life is a series of losses, but at least I died of natural causes.” This somber sentence reveals a heap of emotions – grief, guilt, anger, acceptance – and epitomizes a significant facet of Alexie’s identity.

Hannah Brenneman is a senior English major at Whitworth University. She originally hails from Colorado Springs, CO and spends much of her free time filling out crossword puzzles, playing the oboe, and watching BBC dramas.

Internship Spotlight: Josie Camarillo (’14) at SpokaneFAVS

josie camarillo photography

At the beginning of October, I wrote a post about my initial forays into a copy editing internship that I am doing for credit this semester. Well, now, I’m back to update you all on that same internship at Spokane Faith & Values.

I have continued to learn ever more about AP Style and Religion Style as well as about various faith perspectives. I have attended another mixer, at No-Li Brewhouse this time, and it was just as filled with interfaith dialogue and friendship as before. I have also recently invited my editor, Tracy, over for dinner at my house and used her as my guinea pig for a new vegetarian enchilada recipe.

Additionally, I finally visited the infamous Indaba Coffee for SpokaneFAVS’ most recent Coffee Talk. Indaba’s baristas make a mean chai with foam art hearts (see photo). I’m pretty sure that one of the baristas used to work in the Mind & Hearth coffee shop on campus, actually. Anyways, Indaba will be hosting the SpokaneFAVS Coffee Talks for at least another month or two. The next Coffee Talk will be at 10 a.m. on Dec. 7. I am usually one of the very few college students who attends these events and will be unable to attend the December one due to my obligations as a senior psychology major, so they’d love to have you!

The most exciting news that I have for the English Department’s lovely readers, though, is that I have been published on the website! Tracy has been coaching me on the skills necessary to turn long press release into briefs. Brief writing is an artful mix between copy editing and actual writing. The press releases that we receive from some places (like Whitworth, I am proud to say) merely need pared down, but other press releases use ill-conceived diction and grammar or just ramble on for pages. If you check out my author’s page on SpokaneFAVS, found here, you can peruse all of the lovely briefs that I have written in the last month or so.

Well, that’s all that I’ve got for you beauteous readers for now, but don’t worry … I’ll be back! I plan to check in at least once more with the English Department fan base before the semester gives way into Christmas break.

Happy Thanksgiving (a wee bit early)!

Josie Camarillo is a senior English writing and psychology double major at Whitworth. Her hobbies include horseback riding, writing poetry, drinking copious amounts of tea, and photography.

Lift Every Voice and Vote for Meredith Friesen (’14)

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As an assignment for EL 331W Southern Renaissance, Meredith Friesen, senior English major and current Westminster Round president, submitted her recitation of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson to the 2013 Norton Anthology Student Recitation Contest.

Meredith’s submission has been chosen as one of the top three finalists! The public and the panel of Norton editors will decide the winner, which means she needs your votes to win.

Vote for Meredith here! Deadline for voting is Dec. 8th.

The winner will receive a $200 Barnes & Noble gift card and will have his or her name featured on the acknowledgements page of a Norton Anthology.

Image from here.

NaNoWriMo Explored by Rosie McFarland (’14)

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NaNoWriMo is a rollercoaster, an exhausting rollercoaster that you have to power by a stationary bicycle set at a steep incline. One drop in pressure, one lazy day, and you are stuck in a sinkhole of deep doggy doo-doo. With a 20% success rate for participants, it’s pretty clear that most people get tired of peddling up and down that ridiculous rollercoaster. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. It is a challenge for people of all ages to write a 50,000 word novel in November. 1,667 words for 30 days. Approximately 2 ½ single spaced pages. Every. Single. Day. On top of whatever else you are supposed to be doing in your busy life. Break out the coffee and chocolate. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I have completed NaNoWriMo three times now. Well, I suppose that is a bit of a lie, since two of those were outside of November, but they still count. The first novel was during my sophomore year at Whitworth (2011), which was the first time I had even heard of NaNoWriMo. My English major friends were all doing it, so I decided to give it a try. I started prepping my plot and character in September, giving them personalities and outlining all of the plot developments that would crop up throughout the month. I was pretty stoked, but also extremely nervous because November is the last full month of fall semester classes leading up to finals. Regardless, I took the plunge and waited until midnight on October 31st with my friends in the dorm lounge, waiting with our humming computers to start writing as soon as November began. The anticipation was thrilling. 12:00 a.m. All at once it began, the sounds of clicking keyboards and soft nature music playing in the background buzzed around us as we tried to write as fast we could. Occasionally someone would ask a question, or make a joke, but it was pretty smooth writing for everyone.

After that, every day I would wake up early, around 5 or 6 a.m. and go to the lounge with my computer, notes, and headphones to write my daily 1,667 words. I got tired, and some days I wanted to get off that rollercoaster and just take a nice long nap, but I kept going. I didn’t want to give up. But I noticed, as the days went by, that my friends started to stop writing. One by one, they each gave up, choosing homework over their novel, which is a pretty reasonable choice. By the middle of the month, I was the only one left.

What kept me going was the challenge. It was a training exercise, a way to stretch my writer muscles. I had let my creative writing fall by the wayside for so many years; it was exciting to write again, but even more than that I wanted to finish. I craved validation and accomplishment. I wanted to finish this arbitrary rollercoaster and beat this test against my own inner critic telling me that I couldn’t do it. I wanted the prize. I needed the prize. My novel wasn’t so much a masterpiece that would revolutionize the writing industry as much as fodder to keep my creative juices flowing. My novel, to be frank, was and continues to be a piece of crap. This is because NaNoWriMo is not meant to create bestsellers, it is meant to inspire people to write outside of NaNoWriMo. Novels written in a month are the roughest rough drafts anyone will ever write. They are not ready to publish and sell to the general public. They need severe editing to make them decent to see the light of day. This is a “do what I say, not what I do” moment, since I did end up self-publishing my NaNoWriMo novel (Idonea), because that is the “prize” that NaNoWriMo offers its winners. But that was only after 6 months of editing, and even then, it is still a piece of crap. It is still a rough draft, and I am still editing it.

NaNoWriMo is tough, with the valleys of the writing rollercoaster sometimes greatly overshadowing the mountain peaks. It is exhausting, and it makes you want to give up. But if you want to finish, there is nothing keeping you back but you and your priorities. This is a writing exercise, and nothing more. And you can rise to meet the challenge. Step on that rollercoaster and start peddling that stupid stationary bicycle, because that is the only way you will reach the end.

Rosie McFarland is currently a senior English major who is torn between visual and written narratives. After graduation, she plans on backpacking around the UK before finding a job in the film industry. Check out her tutorial “How to Finish NaNoWriMo.”

Also, don’t miss Poetry and Pie hosted by Westminster Round THIS Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Mind and Hearth coffee shop.

Laura’s List: Calling All Book-Lovers to Take Part

“Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate.” — Jeanette Winterson

Books

In celebration of over 35 years of Laura Bloxham’s Summer Reading List, Whitworth University’s Department of English invites contributions for a single-volume publication titled Laura’s List, forthcoming April 2014.

Submissions should be brief (100-250 words), and they should explore significant reading experiences with titles from Laura’s lists or from your own selections.

Excerpts will be posted here, on the Department Blog, and then selected to create Laura’s List.  Entries may be humorous, poignant, playful or profound, but most importantly they should remind us of the pleasure of reading a good book at the behest of a wise friend and mentor.

To contribute, email submissions to lauraslist14@gmail.com by January 15th.

For questions, contact Jessica Weber, Editor [jweber14@my.whitworth.edu], or Pamela Corpron Parker, Chair, Department of English [pamelaparker@whitworth.edu].

The First Snow

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As a southern California native, I have not yet outgrown my fascination with snow, and I hope I never do. So, I believe the first snowfall of Whitworth calls for a moment of reflection:

“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.” –Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“Well, I know now. I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person.” –Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

“Before you love, learn to run through the snow leaving no footprint.”  Turkish Proverb

“I love snow, and all the forms
Of the radiant frost.”
–Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Song”

Be inspired.

Photo taken on my walk to school this morning.