Friday, February 24, 2012

Meet Our MFA's

Beau Ewan

MFA track: Nonfiction

Estimated graduation date: Spring 2013

Where have you lived?
There have been too many places. I was born in a small town along the Jersey shore. I spent my freshman year of college in Vermont before transferring to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. From there, I moved out to Hawaii to teach for five years. Now, I’m back in Florida for my MFA. Needless to say, I’m really good at packing and unpacking boxes. If anyone in the program is moving and needs some help, drop me a line!

What are some of your favorite places in Florida?
I really like St. Augustine. It’s the oldest city in the country, so the architecture is amazing. Also, it has a small town feel to it.

What does your writing space look like?
I write at a desk in the corner of my living room. I keep a lot of my favorite books around. The wall is covered with photos of the many places I’ve been and the amazing people I’ve met. I actually keep my writing space pretty neat. I can’t get the writing polished if the space around me is chaotic.

Are you a pen/pencil, typewriter, or computer writer?
For me, it has to be a computer. From a craft standpoint, fiction and nonfiction are more similar than people seem to recognize. The only overarching difference is the truth. So for that reason alone, research is crucial. Therefore, my computer is clutch.

When did you first realize you have a passion for writing? Describe the experience.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but my passion was born while I was living in Maui.  I’m a big surfer, so when an enormous real estate corporation had threatened to ruin our island’s most renowned surf break with a proposed development of 40 luxury homes and a golf course, I felt compelled to write about it. I worked with some environmental activists and Hawaiian cultural practitioners to write a piece that was published in both Maui Time Weekly and Surfing Magazine.  Eventually, the developers pulled their conceptual plans. Today, the delicate bay remains intact. I found a passion for writing when I learned it could help make a difference.

What’s a book you’ve reread and why?
Ever since it was first published, I’ve loved Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. It’s well researched, and the narrative takes a complex shape to reveal a tragedy that is simply inspiring.

What advice do you have for a graduate student in his/her first semester?

“Never, never, never, never give up.” 

~Winston Churchill

Friday, February 3, 2012

Positively Crustaceous by Mary Ann Hogan

I was reading my final student compositions, laughing so hard I nearly spit out my coffee. Not for the reason you might think. I liked them. They were funny.

My students had become lobsters.


“My claws are tied together, and there are more lobsters around me here then I have ever seen in one spot (even more than when I went to the LMAs – the Lobster Music Awards) … Before all this, I lived in the Atlantic Ocean off of the coast of Maine where I was a professional singer. I have no idea where I am being held captive now, though if I do recall, the last sign I read said ‘Red Lobster’ (whatever that is).”

The text was David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster.” Students had a choice: either a regular ENC 1102 essay arguing this or that, or, a creative piece, inventing the persona of lobster or hungry human, maybe writing a dialogue, maybe a combo plate.

The results as rich as melted butter:

“Seafood Department: Oh boy! It looks like we have a talker on our hands.

“Lobster: Put me down, you jerk! First my ‘claws are pegged and banded’ to keep me from beating up the other lobsters. And now you are sending me away to get eaten (Wallace 8)? Put me back I say!

“Mrs. Brown: A talking lobster? Umm is that…

“Lobster: Of course it’s possible! This isn’t a dream, lady. I would pinch you to prove it but I have a bit of an issue with my claws.

“Seafood Department: Shut it, Lobster!

“Lobster: It’s Homarus americanus to you, Dude.”

Of 20 students, four chose the usual essay. Eighty percent went lobster. They chose the creative path, choosing excellent words, writing well, producing superior text-author citations and cogent (sometimes side-splitting) arguments. When the students came in for their final send-offs, I asked, What’s going on? Each offered a version of, “I felt like I got to be myself/ use my own voice/ didn’t have to worry about sounding ‘academic.’ ”

This means boatloads for us as Composition instructors. There is ample evidence that creativity and composition can co-exist, from Randall R. Freisinger’s 1978 “Creative Writing and Creative Composition” to Wendy Bishop’s more recent declaration that adding creative writing to Composition ignites the writing fire. When that happens, Bishop says, the switched-on students can see “the flexibility of the essay in all its permutations.”

So, why don’t we let more students become lobsters? Comfort with the old? Fear of the new? Both? Something else? The answers might depend on how one defines composition. In my orderly dictionary, one must travel down to item number ten to get to “An essay, esp. one written by a school or college student.” More precisely, composition is “the nature of something's ingredients or constituents; the way in which the whole or mixture is made up.” In our Rhet-Comp classes, our student compositions are made up of a hopeful jumble of paragraphs with a title and a works-cited page inching (we pray) toward academic acceptance.

As David Bartholomae put it in “Inventing the University,” Comp students are “trying on the discourse” even though they don’t “have the knowledge.” Too often this leads them to flat assemblages with all the character of a composition floor than to the word’s best definition – “the act of producing a work of art.” Such art can excite, dare to be different, use creative language and ideas beyond the bland purpose of being “correct.” It can have claws. It can be fun.

I, for one, have been chastened by the crustacean. I plan to sprinkle creative writing throughout the semester, in responses, in-class writing, or a bit of flexibility in essay assignments. The writing is better, the students are more excited and it feels so good to laugh.

Mary Ann Hogan is frantically working on her MFA in creative nonfiction at Florida Atlantic University. She cooks and raises ducks. She doesn't cook the ducks. She has axed lobster from her diet.