Joshua Robbins Reading

On November 4th, the Whitworth English Department had the pleasure of hosting award-winning poet and alumni Joshua Robbins as the year’s Amy Ryan Endowed Poet. Mr. Robbins gave an incredibly lively reading—at times looking much like a symphony conductor—and shared memories of his time at Whitworth between poems. His poems, shared both from his collection Praise Nothing and from the collection he is currently working on, blend the urban and the spiritual in a way that made the rest of the room fall away while he read. 

Joshua Robbins

Mr. Robbins also visited several classes and ate lunch with a group of students in the Sodexo cafeteria. I had the privilege of attending that lunch and listening to Josh speak about mental illness, poetry, education, and many other topics. His passion for the written word was evident in the way he talked about both teaching and poetry, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy sharing his experiences both of writing in general and of his time in the Whitworth English Department. Personally, I found it fascinating to here about some of our senior professors like Leonard Oakland and Laurie Lamon in an earlier part of their careers. It certainly came as no surprise when Josh told us that it was our own Laurie Lamon who opened up the world of poetry to him for the first time. 

Joshua Robbins’ poetry dances the line between sacred and irreverent in a way that forces his readers to confront the divine in the mundane and the mundane in the divine. Several of the poems he shared during his reading are written in the voice of God. (Whether it is the Christian God or not was delightfully ambiguous.) Josh referred to them several times as his “little weirdos,” but the courage to attempt such a sensitive task as speaking with the voice of God shows a certain strength of poetic character. Poets are nothing if not audacious, and Josh Robbins shows audacity in spades. The Whitworth English Department is happy to have hosted his reading and proud to claim him as one of our own. 

Alanna Carlson

Alanna is a junior/senior in the Whitworth English Department following both the Writing and Lit Tracks and minoring in Medieval and Early Modern Lit and Editing and Publishing. When she’s not corralling her munchkin David, she’s busy being the assistant fiction editor for Rock & Sling or snuggling her pup Ruthie while curled-up with the best creative non-fic she’s been recommended in the past week.

Student Meetings With Chia-Chia Lin

Two weeks ago, several students had the chance to meet with Chia-Chia Lin, author of the New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice: “The Unpassing: A Novel”, and a Finalist for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. During these one-on-one meetings, Lin reviewed fiction pieces submitted by the students, and offered them feedback on their writing. The following reflections on those meetings are from just a few of the lucky students who had the opportunity to meet with her.

Chandler Wheeler

Chandler Wheeler, a senior English Major and Theatre Minor, described his meeting as an “encouraging and meaningful experience.” Chandler explained that Lin offered advice on how to improve “chronic tension… through fleshing out the relationships between characters” within his story, which is something he looks forward to applying towards other fictional writing. He enjoyed being able to talk to Lin about the vast amount of ways experience as a writer can be beneficial post-degree.

Gabriel Meek

Another senior English Major, Gabriel Meek, said that meeting with Lin was intimidating at first, as he did not know what to expect and often writes more poetry than fiction. He explained that Lin was very welcoming, and genuinely wanted to talk and give advice about his story. Gabriel is more commonly a poetry writer, and described a valuable conversation he had with Lin about how poetry and fiction go hand-in-hand. The advice Lin offered that he found most interesting and plans to focus on in the future involves ambiguity in his writing: “Let the central object be central.”

The personalized signing of “The Unpassing: A Novel” that Hannah had received from Lin at the reading.

Hannah Fookes, a Junior double Major in English Writing and Spanish Language and Literature, said that Lin “encouraged me and gave me her copy of my story with all her notes and annotations.” She almost forgot Lin was an author because Lin was so personable and friendly.  Hannah came away with the new view that “the more specific I make a character, counter-intuitively the more accessible that character becomes.” She plans to apply Lin’s advice to her creative writing in the future, as grounding is an integral access point for any reader.

All students agreed that her advice was more than applicable; not only to the pieces they had read, but to all forms of writing. We are honored to have had this opportunity for students to work with a published fiction author, and hope to offer more like it in the future. Lin encouraged students to continue writing, no matter where their lives and careers may take them after their time here at Whitworth.

The Huffington Post Featuring Dr. Kari Nixon

Last week, our amazing Victorian Literature professor and Medical Humanities specialist, Dr. Kari Nixon’s article, “I’m A Mom and A Vaccine Researcher. Here’s Why You Should Vaccinate Your Children” was published in the Huffington Post. Offer Dr. Nixon your congratulations when you see her and please read, enjoy and share her article, here!

Keep up with Dr. Nixon on her website, – which is currently filled with zombie content just in time for the latest release of Game of Thrones – and her twitter account, @halfsickshadows!

Poetry of Witness

Whitworthians, English lovers, alumni and friends,

As our local community, nation and world experience divisiveness, tragedy and uncertainty, it is imperative that we remind one another of the power of witness. Dr. Laurie Lamon and her creative writing students have aimed to add poetry to ethical conversations by writing poems of witness (some of which are featured, below). Please join the Whitworth English Department and Dr. Lamon’s students in exploring poetry of witness in this season.

Poetry of Witness is an enormous phrase that to me speaks to the core of the relationship between art and truth. Witness means that one is present to; that one is compelled to speak the truth. This is the definition, if there can be one, of poetry writing. But as a sub-genre, Poetry of Witness places the speaker in the space of the other, whether that be fellow human being or animals or geography.

Laurie Lamon
By Anonymous

For me, a poem of witness is a political poem, a poem that makes a statement about the world, and in which I urge the reader to reconsider or look at the world through a new lens. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically a bisexual person, inclusivity is very important to me, and I wanted this poem to reflect the importance of thinking outside of categorical boxes, and appreciating the world for what it is: a beautiful spectrum of diversity in all shapes and forms.  -Anonymous

By Elyse Herrera

For me, a poem of witness works to utter what there may otherwise seem to be no words for. Works of witness give an identity and a story to the person, thing or idea that is in need of advocacy. Poetry of witness aims at truth, and in doing so, evokes change. -Elyse Herrera

By Bryn Cavin

For me, poetry of witness means connecting moments of individual experience to the world outside of oneself.  Poems of witness have the responsibility of presenting truth in a way that cannot be disputed.  I wrote this poem after visiting the White House with the other Whitworth Smithsonian interns last semester.  The quote from the Secret Service agent stayed in my mind for a long time, and it sort of felt as if I had no choice but to put it into a poem.  -Bryn Cavin

By Hope Mallet

My poem of Witness is about a young boy I knew when I was 9 years old named Dylan. He was being fostered by my neighbors across the street who treated him so terribly that my family had to report it to child protective services after he already had one of the worst child abuse cases in all of the United States from his past. When the foster care system took him away from my neighbors who could never again serve as foster parents, we were never able to see or talk to him again. Thus, this poem is called “What Dylan Taught Me.” -Hope Mallet

By Aaron Slape

My poem kind of blends between being a poem of self in the world and a poem of witness as it has elements of both. The poem was about an encounter I had with a raccoon one night walking home. I find more subconscious themes in it each time I reread it so there is a lot going on. With that I think its one of those pieces that are really up for the readers interpretation. -Aaron Slape

By Hannah Mumm

This poem was written about my mother, who provides in-home childcare. Her work can be taxing and underappreciated at times, but hers is a labor of love. Through the years, she has been a second mama to countless babies -Hannah Mmmm

By Ashton Kittleman

Poetry of witness gives a voice to experiences and people that may usually be marginalized or forgotten. It’s a way of showing, rather than telling someone else of an experience. These poems provide a greater opportunity for empathy and understanding. -Ashton Kittleman

“Imagining Lasting Peace” with Dr. Andrews in the Spokane Community

In November 2018, the Spokane County Library District invited Professor Casey Andrews to give a lecture at a couple of local libraries related to the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. The talk is entitled “Imagining Lasting Peace: British Literature, War Memorials, and Armistice Day 1918-2018” and it integrates Prof. Andrews’s research in literature, peace studies, and political theology. One of the events in Spokane Valley was filmed for eventual broadcast on CMTV. Below is a link to the video on the library district’s YouTube channel.

Take Your English Expertise to Washington, DC!

It was such a wonderful opportunity for me to gain an insider’s view of all that it takes to run an institution like the Smithsonian.

Bryn Cavin

Did you know that Whitworth offers a semester-long study away internship experience in Washington, DC? The Smithsonian Semester gives students of all majors the opportunity to apply their area of study to an internship with The Smithsonian Institute! Read Bryn Cavin’s story from her time in Washington, DC below!

Hi blog readers!  My name is Bryn Cavin, and I am a junior English Literature and Writing major with a minor in Editing and Publishing. I spent the fall semester interning with the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC) in Washington, DC.  I worked primarily with the Advancement team, but the SLC is one of the smallest units within the Smithsonian, so I had the chance to get to know most people in the office quite well.

One of my main projects at the SLC was to write the language for the Thanksgiving and year-end campaigns, and help the staff prepare for the press event for the newly-announced Molina Family Latino Gallery at the National Museum of American History.  It was such a wonderful opportunity for me to gain an insider’s view of all that it takes to run an institution like the Smithsonian. I met so many amazing people, and I’m so thankful for the chance to have been a part of the work that they are doing across the Smithsonian.

Living in DC was a marvelous adventure.  I loved having the chance to explore and get to know the city.  I think I may have spent more time in the local theaters than in my apartment!  I traveled to New York City with my roommates (which was super amazing–I got to see Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway and I’m still screaming about it), heard Michelle Obama speak at the Capital One Arena on her Becoming book tour, and watched lots and lots of sunsets over the Capitol from the roof of our apartment building.  I had such a wonderful time in DC, and I miss it all terribly.

Dr. Casey Andrews on Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

In his article, “Too Much in the Garden: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed Dr. Andrews explores the theological, environmental and psychological turmoil of 2018 award-winning film First Reformed. A film which Casey considers to be a “crowning achievement” in its director’s decade-spanning career. The cinematic stillness of the film (Casey describes) is an intentional and powerful move towards holiness on its way to the film’s broader concern, transcendentalism. 

More from Dr. Andrews on his piece:

One of my favorite movies of the last year was Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, a crowning achievement in Schrader’s career. This film became a featured text in my Jan Term 2019 course, EL/WGS 222: Gender & Faith in Film & Literature, a course originally created by our friend and colleague Pam Parker. The film’s investigation of spirituality during despair makes it deeply relevant for us today. 

Dr. Casey Andrews

Visit The Cresset for Casey’s full-length commentary and analysis!

Los Angeles Domain of the Arts Jan Term, 2019

By Ethan Paxton

The national enthrallment with the modern entertainment medium may best be displayed in our culture’s fixation on the film and television industry, for the instantaneous accessibility of material goods such as these is a vital part of successful business today. Few cities host this booming industry more prominently than Los Angeles, so naturally an aspiring screenwriter such as myself had his interest peaked when a Jan Term opportunity down there was made known to me. My name is Ethan Paxton and I am a freshman at Whitworth University pursuing an English major with a Film and Visual Narrative minor. My fascination with these areas of study comes as a result of my desire to become a screenwriter, a dream held as a result of a lifelong appreciation of the artistic elements of good film. Unlike many of my peers or even my parents, I never watched a movie solely for the entertainment value it offered me. Rather, I sought to analyze it’s story, major themes, cinematography, dialogue, and all other elements that contribute to why people enjoy watching what they do. However, this trip revealed art to me in a way that surpassed my expectations and displayed how Los Angeles exists as a hub for more than just film and TV, but also all other kinds of art that occur on the west side of the United States.

I began to experience the city as soon as our plane descended far enough for me to see the expansive sprawl of Los Angeles, the buildings stretching deep inland from the ocean, weaving around and over hills, all interconnected by the tangle of highways, freeways, and streets. Though I have been to Southern California before, I had never been to Los Angeles until this trip, and despite my early presumptions, it was entirely unlike any other city I had ever been to. Prior to our arrival, Dr. Emerson had asked us to read part of a book called City of Quartzby Mike Davis, which provided a brief overview of important aspects of the city’s history and creation. One element that had been touched upon pretty heavily by Davis was the importance of the sun in the city’s creation, and for a western Washington native such as myself, feeling those first warm rays of sun beating on my face and heating up my jean-covered legs gave me the feeling that I had been transported to some unique paradise. Though “paradise” is a very naive way to describe Los Angeles, “unique” is remarkably accurate. The cultural melting pot of the city was apparent, and was showcased in the many collections of art we visited such as the Getty, LACMA, the Broad and Norton Simon, all of which housed a fascinating variety of art that allowed for them to all feel different than the one before.

One of the most interesting aspects of the city was also how prolific art was, for it was filling up every dull and empty part. Our street art tour of the Arts District taught me about the culture behind street art and how valuable it is to the city’s creative atmosphere. The sense of community that existed because of the common creative energy was very contagious and is showcased in the stylistic overlaps one can see when observing street art. There was also a multitude of architectural designs and sculptures, for even the buildings had an aesthetic that felt individual and creative. Watts Towers is an example of this, for it was this massive concrete sculpture decorated with bits of broken glass and ceramic that had been placed in the middle of a simple neighborhood. Beyond these detailed towers and structures that added vibrance to a basic area, this art further inspired creativity in the neighborhood. Across from the towers, the neighbors had actually decorated their concrete walls and fences with ceramic murals, and though this may seem simple enough, this is a prime example of the power of Los Angeles art. This is a city that brings out the artist in each individual, for all it takes is one piece to pop up, before inspiring others to create in their own way.

Of the multitude of experiences that we all had, my favorite places wer by far the Huntington Library, the art galleries and the Botanical Gardens. Leaving behind the bright lights of Hollywood Boulevard or the chaotic boardwalk along Venice Beach, the Huntington was the 206-acre property that I was wholly infatuated with. Since our guided tour of the grounds only briefly skimmed through the Huntington, I went back on my own about a week later to experience more fully everything that I had been so overwhelmed with. This second run through I had the chance to linger in spots I enjoyed, spend more time in the art galleries, and explore every beautiful part of the property. There was a certain peace present at the Huntington, a kind of peace that felt important and special because it is so rare in a society such as ours that is obsessed with progress and movement. This was a place where the beauty of art could be experienced apart from the rest of the outside world. For me, it was a simple paradise that afforded me a deep breath during the bustle of our travels.

Another powerful experience for me was the behind-the-scenes look at Warner Brothers Studio and The Voice. Though I did not know exactly what to expect going into the tour and viewing, the sensation I felt after experiencing the sets of these shows and movies was interesting and exciting yes, but also a little gross. It left a bad taste in my mouth, synonymous with a child discovering on Christmas Eve that Santa is really just their parents putting presents under the tree. I will never look at TV or movies the same, and though this has taken some getting used to, I don’t feel the magic is entirely gone. In fact, seeing behind-the-scenes gives me an even greater appreciation for the artistic process that producers of this kind of entertainment undergo. It is an artistic process unlike many others but gives me a newfound sensation when I experience a show or movie that affects me deeply.

As a whole, this experience has not only allowed my passion for the film industry to grow but has cultivated a curiosity and appreciation for all artistic forms and mediums, especially mediums that I had not had much chance to explore fully prior to this trip. Being back in Spokane has afforded me a chance to be more cognizant of the art that exists in this city, and to be more encouraging of my own artistic passions. Our trip consisted of a plethora of interesting visits, all of which in conjunction provided us with a positive, collective understanding of the city as a domain of the arts, a location which exists as a hub of people, culture, and ideas, ideas which can be best conveyed through the creative expression of each individual. Returning to school I now feel more educated but find so much more joy in any of my creative experiences because Los Angeles allowed me to appreciate the individuality of art much as I did when I was a younger child. It was a phenomenal experience and offered me teachings and memories that I will always remember.

Make sure you visit the Los Angeles Domain of the Arts’ blog to read more about their time away!

Dr. Jake Andrews, New Staff Member Overview

Give a warm, Whitworth welcome to one of the newest additions to the Whitworth English department: Dr. Jake Andrews!

DrAndrewsStarting out at Troy State, Dr. Andrews had an idea of what he wanted to do, and he wanted to major in English. He’s a lover of books and stories, the characters, and the act of reading; getting lost in other worlds and escaping reality. Because of his love for books, the lack of an English degree at Troy, and because he didn’t want to be a Journalist, Dr. Andrews transferred to the University of Alabama some time into his sophomore year. He began paving the way for his future through the hard work and dedication, which earned him his undergraduate degree in English and a minor in creative writing.

From University of Alabama, he took the opportunity to attend seminary in Birmingham, Alabama, because, as he said, he was a “pony-tail having, goatee having, Birkenstock wearing” youth intern in college. He led worship and was a worship singer for the campus ministry, becoming the youth director for 9 months of seminary. While Dr. Andrews was in seminary, he was given the opportunity to go to the UK for four weeks studying the English Reformation, when his wife and he decided they wanted to live in Britain. Someone had given Dr. Andrews the advice to apply for grad school in Scotland, and to major in theology and interpretation instead of majoring in the New Testament, which at the time he wasn’t finding very interesting as a path of study. He published his dissertation, Hermeneutics and the Church, and spent four years teaching and researching theology at the Universities of St. Andrews and Cambridge.

Dr. Andrews became an English professor because creative writing and literature gave him the opportunity to explore his faith through writing. He has always been a writer, and he can continue this theological pursuit through fiction. The draft of one of his fiction pieces got him into the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Leaving England, he began his next chapter of life in Iowa, where he finished a novel and received an honorable mention award and began teaching English and creative writing as a lecturer for Iowa State.

So why did Dr. Andrews transition from Theology into English? He is still very wise in the Theological aspect of his education, an ordained deacon in the Episcopal church. Dr. Andrews loves reading and writing. He didn’t just pick one, he brought the two together! Theology and English are two parts to the same identity, blending them together and boosting more interest, exploration of one by using the other. Any student interested in this different way of viewing faith, or that wants to try this way of approaching faith and discovery, should feel free and confident to reach out to Dr. Andrews. He is always willing and ready to have a conversation about either topic of fiction writing, or about Theological texts and understanding. He really is a Jack of Many Trades, a very wise and well-educated individual that the Whitworth English department is proud to welcome!

New Faculty Overview

Give a warm Whitworth welcome to a new faculty member, Dr. Courtney C. Barajas!

After high school, Dr. Barajas left her family and home in Texas to study at University of Arizona where she earned her B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Dr. Barajas entered the Old English literature program at the university. The Old English course that she was enrolled in for her first Medieval class was the hardest class she says she has ever taken, and she loved it! Within a few weeks more than 20 of the students had dropped the class! She already knew that she wanted to be an English teacher, she wanted to teach at the college level, and this class made her realize that she wanted to continue pursuing this program and teach the aspects of Medieval literature that are both challenging and thought provoking.

Once she finished her undergrad degree, (which she completed a year early), she went straight into graduate school at the University of Texas After five years she earned her Ph.D. and an M.A. in English at University of Texas at Austin. Six years later, taking an extra year at University of Texas she was given the opportunity to be a professor as a postdoctoral lecturer for the English department there! Now, she has joined the Whitworth English department as our newest Early Modern and Medieval Literature professor. Dr. Barajas left her family to pursue her dreams and reach her goals in educating young minds about the importance and impact of Medieval literatures and worldviews.

Dr. Barajas is a very charismatic, intelligent, and connecting person, looking only to share the wonders of Medieval literature that she finds so compelling. She is very interested in the world today, current events and what other people see and think. Using her degree not only to teach curious students about the past, but using historical values to look at the world from a different angle and learn about the world today, how we handle the current events, and our responses to concepts that challenge us as a community. Students more interested in this perspective should feel free to reach out to Dr. Barajas because she fits right in with the kindness and courtesy of the Whitworth English department. Her goal is to assist students with any pressing questions or uncertainties!

Enjoy some fun facts about Dr. Barajas:

  1. Dr. Barajas loves cacti! She has 10 cacti total, her favorite being named Frida, after Frida Kahlo. She packed all her lovely plants from Texas in a milk crate in the back of her car. (She was happy to drive them up because the moving truck wouldn’t haul live plants, and she couldn’t figure out how to sneak them onboard).
  2. The professor that educated Dr. Barajas on Medieval literature was a student of Tolkien himself!