Category Archives: Events

~from Michaela Hayes

Rekindle the Classics Flyer

Recently, representatives from the CSU English department and the Poudre Valley Public library gathered to lead a discussion on Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel Beloved. The discussion was the first of the season for the Fort Collins book club appropriately named “Rekindle the Classics.”

Rekindle the Classics was started several years ago by CSU English professor Ellen Brinks. As stated by Lynn Shutters, also a professor of English at CSU, “The basic idea behind the program is that a lot of people are curious about ‘classic’ literature, but might be a little intimidated by it, or might want someone with whom they can talk about it, or might just want to have a regular monthly meeting to encourage them to actually read that book. Rekindle the Classics is a program for those people.” Rekindle now meets once a month during the academic year, always at the Wolverine Farm Letterpress & Publick House, to discuss a new (or old!) book.

Copy of Beloved the book and cup of coffee

Each discussion is led by a different member of the CSU English department, faculty and students alike. This particular discussion was led by Kelly Weber, an MFA student in the poetry program. After the meeting, Weber spoke to her love for the novel and how it has inspired her transformation as a poet: “It was the first book that really got to me. I think it’s the book that introduced me to real poetry before I liked poems.” As Weber led the discussion, her enthusiasm for the novel radiated from her in waves.

Lynn Shutters and Kelly Weber (top left) discuss Beloved with a group of interested readers

Lynn Shutters and Kelly Weber (top left) discuss Beloved with a group of interested readers

As a fellow English student, I understand this enthusiasm fully. There’s a very specific and very beautiful light that only a person talking about their favorite book can emit. We English majors live for it.

Rekindle the Classics will be meeting again in October, but with a different discussion leader and book. Next month, they will be discussing The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft. Anyone in the community who would like to come is welcome; the more diverse the group, the more lively the discussion. As put by Lynn Shutters, “ Everyone has something to bring to the table. Discussions are lively and fun, smart but highly accessible. I encourage anyone who’s interested to show up for a session and check it out.” This English major agrees.

 

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august

A powerful tale. ~Kirkus

Told in vivid, heartbreaking detail and filled with strong, developed characters, this novel tackles an important theme in a compelling way. In Kiri, young readers will find a protagonist who, although at times afraid, finds the courage to do what she believes to be right. ~Booklist

Earnest, heartfelt, and passionate, this book will likely inspire new environmentalists.  ~Bulletin

The Last Panther, Assistant Professor Todd Mitchell’s latest book, was officially released this week. A book launch party is being held tomorrow, Friday the 25th, at Everyday Joe’s Coffee House, 5-6:30 pm, (find out all the details here). Even though it’s a busy week for him, Todd was kind enough to take the time to answer a few of our questions about the book, his process, and his advice for aspiring writers.

Where did the idea for this book come from?
For years, I was looking for a book that could be used to discuss, with young people, our connection to the greater ecology, and the ways we can act to address some of the biggest environmental problems we currently face. I wasn’t able to find the sort of book I was looking for, though. Most novels that addressed issues like climate change, resource depletion, and species extinction were for older audiences. And the books I did find that addressed such issues were often apocalyptic and depressing. Then, one day, it hit me: Why not write the book I’m looking for? Why not create a story where I could explore, from all angles, the issues I care most deeply about?

It’s funny how long it took me to come to that conclusion. I think I spent a long time avoiding writing about the issues closest to my heart because I feared it would be too difficult to explore such issues in an entertaining way. I wanted others to shoulder the burden of figuring out how to tell such a story. However, writing this book wasn’t a burden at all. Once I gave myself permission to tell the story I wanted to tell, it became the best writing experience of my life.

You mentioned that you wrote this book with your daughter. How was that process different from writing your other books?
This is what made writing this book so much fun: I knew exactly who I was writing for. My daughter, Addison, was ten at the time I developed the first draft. Every night, I’d read a chapter to her and get her feedback on what she liked, what confused her, and what other ideas she had for the story. Then I’d revise that chapter, keeping her feedback in mind, and how she reacted to the story as I read it.

The book’s “co-author” Addison on the left.

I think having a clear audience in mind is vital for any writing project. This was the first time, though, that I was able to read to that audience on a nightly basis and get her feedback. I’m grateful for all that Addison added to the book (the pet rat was her idea, BTW. And she’s the one who named him Snowflake).

Is there an ongoing theme (or themes) in your books? Is there a common thread or message in the stories you tell?
I usually write books to explore questions that interest and trouble me. So if there’s a common theme among my books, it’s that every book began with a question I couldn’t stop asking myself. With The Last Panther, that question was “What is a species worth?” How far would you go to keep a species, like the Florida panther, from extinction? How far should we go as a society to do this? And how do we value other parts of creation? Each of the main characters is brought to a point in the story where he or she must decide what they value most. And each comes up with a different answer (sometimes this answer surprises them). Writing this book helped me to understand the deep, often unstated values that underly many of our current conflicts.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write the story you’re most afraid to tell. The difficulty here is that sometimes, you don’t even know what you’re afraid to talk about until you discover that something’s holding you back. I think it’s important to give yourself permission to speak and write about the things you care most deeply about, even if you sound ridiculous doing it. This is a hard thing to do, because we’re afraid to be criticized for what we care about, or because we’re afraid to explore what’s difficult, or because we’re afraid to put ourselves at risk this way. But as the poet, Lee Upton, put it, “Our risk is our cure.” This is how you find the stories that mean the most to you. And if you can do that, you’ll probably find stories that mean something to others, too.

 

Join us in congratulating Todd on his new book, and for the release party!

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~From intern Katie Haggstrom

august

The beginning of August means that fall classes start in less than three weeks. But there are still plenty of literary events happening around Fort Collins, both before and after school starts. From Fort Collins own Comic Con to a release party for English Professor Todd Mitchell’s new book, there are plenty of things to do between classes. Let us know if you’re going to a literary event not on our list! 

August 3 – Book Talk with Peter Maeck. Stop by Old Firehouse Books in downtown Fort Collins at 6pm. Visit the event page for more information. 

August 7 – Old Firehouse Books will host a book talk with Danya Kukafka. Kukafka, a Fort Collins native, will be discussing her new book Girl in Snow. The event starts at 6pm, visit the Facebook event page for more information.

August 17 – Summer Bike-In Cinema Series: “Get Out.” Bring your friends out to New Belgium Brewing from 6-10pm for a screening of the horror film “Get Out.” Tickets are $2 per person with proceeds going to Wolverine Farm Publishing. More information is listed on their event page

August 24 – FoCo Drink & Draw at the Wolverine Farm Letterpress from 5-7pm. The event invites people to “drink a few beers and draw a few pictures.” While some of you many see yourself only as writers, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your inner artist. Visit their event for more details. 

august

August 25 – Our own English Professor Todd Mitchell will have a release party for his new book The Last Panther. Come help him celebrate at Everyday Joe’s Coffee House in downtown Fort Collins, starting at 5pm. The Facebook event page has more information. Read our Faculty/Alumni profile to learn more about Mitchell and his works.

August 26-27 – Fort Collins Comic Con. All tickets proceeds go toward the Poudre River Public Library District. Spend the weekend celebrating your favorite book fandoms. Visit the Comic Con website for ticket and event information. Visit their Facebook page to get a sneak peak of who’s attending. 

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~From intern Katie Haggstrom

While the school year is over, there are still plenty of local events happening throughout the summer. The OpenSpace: A Music and Reading Series will have their next event this Saturday, June 17th at 7:30pm. The event will feature some familiar faces from the CSU English department.

Our own alumni Felicia Zamora will be sharing an excerpt from her new book Of Form & Gather, the winner of the 2016 Andres Montoya Poetry Prize from the University of Notre Dame Press. Zamora was also selected as the 2017 Fort Collins Poet Laureate.

Read our alumni profile for Felicia Zamora to learn more about her achievements and time with the English department.

Poet Joanna Doxey is also an English department alumni and will read from her Plainspeak, WY publication. As OpenSpace explains, this book “documents the brutally harsh winters of the Wyoming landscape and is a mediation of self as wilderness.”

What makes the OpenSpace series stand out from other poetry readings is that it combines poetry with music. Two musicians, Porlolo and The Ugly Architect, will perform alongside these poets. Porlolo formed in 2002 and has toured nationally, just releasing their EP, Everything Barely. The Ugly Architect will include various players from Fort Collins, and have set a strong precedent for the Northern Colorado indie-folk scene.

This event will take place at the Wolverine Farm LetterPress & Publick House in downtown Fort Collins. Visit their event calendar for more information on this event and other upcoming events held through the summer. 

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~From intern Katie Haggstrom


Recently the English department hosted a workshop, “Putting the Humanities to Work,” to help graduate students explore potential career paths. As the event description explained, “one of the things we don’t talk enough about is how your English graduate degree prepares you for a wide range of interesting careers.” The common myth is that English majors have a narrow career choice, forced to decide between writing or teaching. But the field, and the career possibilities, have only expanded with the increasing need for people who can think critically, write, and communicate, and do so effectively.

Using LinkedIN Professionally

To begin the workshop, representatives from the CSU Career Center went over some of the features and networking tools available on LinkedIN. Katie Russo and Barbara Valusek stressed the importance of using the connections you already have, especially the ones made through CSU.

A LinkedIN profile is a virtual way to show companies the different qualifications and skill sets you have. However, around 56% of hiring managers report that LinkedIN profiles don’t share enough information on their job descriptions. Hiring managers do value information that goes beyond your education, like volunteer experience. So take advantage of the digital format to provide extra information you normally couldn’t include on your resume.

In addition to working as an online resume, LinkedIN is a great resource for reaching out to alumni and finding job postings. First, the Career Center suggests searching by specific university to find other alumni. From there, you can narrow searches depending on degree, areas of interests, and even location.

LinkedIN is also the perfect space for gathering connections, ranging from peers to coworkers and professors. Once you’ve found connections, or people you know on LinkedIN, take the extra step and see who your connections are connected to. Using that web of connections will ultimately expand your own connection base.

If you’re graduating or beginning the job search, use LinkedIN’s job section to let recruiters know that you’re looking for a job. Click the “Update career interests” to share information about what specific skills you have and what type of jobs you are interested in, building off the information already provided with your profile.

 

MA/MFA English Alumni Panel

What can you do with an english degree? What do you do if you don’t want to adjunct or be a professor?

The workshop ended with a 9 person alumni panel from various graduate CSU English graduate programs. The panel included:

  • Whitney Dean, Owner/Head Coach, CrossFit Elevation
  • Lauren Feldman, Associate Editor at Active Interest Media
  • Shannon Dale, Assistant Director of Development, College of Liberal Arts, CSU
  • Nelly O’Connor, Academic Success Coordinator, College of Liberal Arts, CSU
  • Drew Nolte, partner at Agile League, application design/development
  • Felicia Zamora, Program manager, CSU Online
  • Jeana Steele Burton, Technical Writer, CA Technologies
  • Angela Sharpe, INTO CSU Instructor, co-founder of Mas Language Services
  • Shannon Zeller, INTO CSU Instructor, co-founder of Mas Language Services

MA/MFA English Alumni Panel

This informal panel opened a discussion between current and graduated MA/MFA students with important and valuable tips for moving forward with our degrees. Some of the key points from this discussion were:

 

Experience. Many alumni placed emphasis on internship experience and making connections. Even join an interest group to find people in the community you can connect with.

Ask for help. Take advantage of the resources offered to you while you are a student, like your advisors, mentors, department and the Career Center. Don’t be afraid to ask any one of these people for help, they are here to help you succeed.

Continue learning. Teach yourself new skills before a job interview. If you’re unfamiliar with a position you’re looking at, research it! As English majors, we are talented at researching and learning about new things. Use that to your advantage.

Persistence. Apply for things that you might not feel qualified applying for. Don’t give up easily and keep pushing for the things you’re passionate about.

Networking. Come from a genuine place. Ask someone in your dream position out for coffee. Be authentic with those connections and show your curiosity. Create a mutual relationship and even offer them to help them with a project they’re working on. This will form a relationship with that person. (English majors can be fairly introverted people, so think about these opportunities as part of your professional identity, and mentally prepare for those interview and networking moments.)

“Huddle your ducks.” This builds off the idea of networking. Through the connections you make, create a strong well of people you can ask for help. This also means recommendations! Speak and engage with mentors and professors who have helped you during your education. These are great connections for the future.

Find your passion. Some members on the panel took a pay cut to move over into something they’re passionate about. Think about your direction and where you ultimately want to go.

 

Getting an MA/MFA in English might feel like a graduate degree with a narrow scope of employment, but. But there are many interesting, and unsuspected, ways to put that degree to use.

Ultimately, the most consistent piece of advice was to continue building a network. We all have a well of people around us who are focused in different areas and pursuing different things. Maintain relationships with these people and constantly watch for unconventional ways to use your English degree!

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CLA Dean Ben Withers opens the Spring 2017 CLA Awards Ceremony

Recently, the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) held their annual awards ceremony. Five members of the English department were honored. Sheila Dargon received the State Classified Award, Zach Hutchins and Kylan Rice were awarded for Excellence in Teaching, Tony Becker was presented with the Faculty Development Award, and Bruce Ronda was presented with the John N. Stern Distinguished Professor Award.

When presenting the CLA State Classified Award to Shelia Dargon, Roze Hentschell said,

The College of Liberal Arts State Classified Award recognizes outstanding contributions and achievements by state classified employees. This year, the award goes to Sheila DArgon, who has been with the Department of English for the last 10 years. Sheila’s nomination letter celebrates her exemplary leadership in supporting faculty and students to ensure their success. She anticipates problems before they manifest, can handle a crisis with composure, and is a careful listener who guides students to make the best decisions about their academic careers and helps them feel welcome, comfortable and confident. She is the first point of contact for all students who come to the third floor of Eddy (thousands of students, since all Composition students come that way as well) and a fine example of the excellence of State Classified employees. Congratulations, Sheila!

CLA Dean Ben Withers presents Sheila Dargon her award

Sheila Dargon
Undergraduate Program Assistant

What brought you to CSU?

I moved to Fort Collins in 2005. My sister and her family had lived here for years and I needed to start over, so I came out here and started working for a temporary agency while applying for jobs everywhere! I remember when filling out the application for a job here at the University, that I really liked the energy of being on campus, and thought it would be a great place to work. I actually got the offer from the English department on the day I would have been hired by the company I was temping!

What’s your favorite thing about working in the English Department?

My favorite thing about working in the English department is that every day is different. Some days I see and speak to a lot of students and faculty, and the next, I am working on the computer.

What’s one thing you’d like students in the English Department to know about you?

I want English students to know that I’m here to help and really want them to succeed here at CSU.

What’s your secret? By which I mean: what makes you so good at keeping track of so much information and so many people?

I have no idea, I guess when you like what you do and the people you work with, it makes it easy.

CLA Dean Ben Withers presents Kylan Rice his Excellence in Teaching Award (GTA)

The Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes one outstanding teacher in each of the following categories: Tenured Faculty, Tenure-Track Faculty, Special & Temporary Faculty, Graduate Teaching Assistant.

CLA Dean Ben Withers presents Zach Hutchens his Excellence in Teaching Award

Zach Hutchins
Assistant Professor of English: Literature

Professor Zach Hutchins received the Excellence in Teaching Award for his hard work as a tenure track with the English Department since joining in 2013.

Associate Dean for Faculty and Graduate Studies Bruce Ronda introduced Hutchins’ award, calling him a “curricular innovator, brilliant scholar, dynamic classroom presenter, mentor and role-model” who is known for his “witty, relaxed and deeply informed teaching.”

From faculty to student support, Hutchins has made an impact within our own English Department. Bruce reminisced that his colleagues praised his “ease in front of the class “and his “invite interaction” coupled with “evident joy in teaching the class.”

But first person testimonials from his students speak louder than those. Bruce explained that these students “drew the attention of the Committee on the Liberal Arts.” One student said “Professor Hutchins is a no-brainer when it comes to being recognized as an excellent teacher in the College of Liberal Arts, and I’m all too happy to officially give him my personal seal of approval.”

This award will not slow Hutchins down. We were able to ask him a few questions about his time in the English Department and how he plans to continue doing what he’s doing.

 

What has been the most rewarding moment(s) at the English Department, or in Eddy?

I think my most rewarding moment here at CSU came in the spring of 2016, when students from my fall 2015 senior capstone course, “Your Success Story,” emailed me to say that assignments completed in the course had helped them secure the dream job they had targeted. I love to see student work find a second life, outside the classroom.

Do you plan on working on any projects this summer?

I’ve got too many projects this summer, but the most exciting is an essay on Herman Melville’s epic poem Clarel that will take me to London in June, for the International Melville Conference.

Who (or what) had the greatest influence on your career path?

Probably a high school teacher who was willing to talk books (and play chess!) with me after school—not just during class hours. He helped me see that literature mattered and that teacher/student interactions could be more meaningful than an exchange of paperwork.

In one word, how would you describe Eddy/the English department?

Energizing!

CLA Dean Withers presents Tony Becker with his Faculty Development Award

The Faculty Development Award, presented to Assistant Professor Tony Becker, provides support for outstanding research and/or creative activity, and is funded by participants in the Great Conversations Speaker Series.

Tony Becker
Assistant Professor, English: Applied Linguistics and TESL/TEFL

What do you enjoy most about working in the English Department or Eddy? 

Without a doubt, I enjoy working with our students. That is why I entered into this profession: to engage with students, to create knowledge together, and to strengthen the notion that they can make meaningful contributions to our world. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that we have relatively small (i.e., manageable) class sizes whereby we can interact very closely with our students and work with them to make connections between what we learn and what we experience out in the world beyond the classroom.

Also, it would be an understatement to say that I really enjoy the colleagues that I work in the English department. I have only been here at CSU for five years, but I have interacted with enough units across campus to know that the faculty and staff in the English department are among the most caring and collegial people at CSU. There is an incredible sense of community among many of the faculty and staff, and that resonates throughout our department, even to our students. It is easy to come to work when you know that your colleagues are genuinely interested in the happenings of your life and are willing to listen to what you have to say.

How do you plan to spend the summer? Is there a new project you’re excited to start?

Not surprisingly, I like my summers to be as stress-free as possible. I am hoping to devote a bit more time to getting outdoors with my wife and son, and just being more active in general (more than I typically am during the semester). We will take a short trip to the Gulf of Mexico this summer – nothing quite like the beach in the summer. I also like to do some hands-on projects when the semester finishes up. This summer, I am planning to replace the gutters on our house – how exciting, right!

In terms of my work, much of my summer will be spent on writing up my most recent research project. I am currently working on a project that examines the decisions that ESL students (approximately 50-75) make as they participate in a series of activities used to assess their writing (e.g., developing a scoring rubric, assessing peers’ work with the scoring rubric, and viewing the scoring rubric). Depending on the results of the study, I believe that the findings for this qualitative investigation can help to raise greater awareness regarding the importance of including students first-hand in the assessment process, resulting in improved writing performance and instruction.

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? Or what are you currently reading or writing?

I know that it is strange for me to say this, but, even though I am in an English department, I am not an avid leisure reader. It takes me forever to read things, especially when the sun is shining and there are so many things to do outdoors in Colorado; I get distracted easily. With that said, aside from reading children’s books with my son (although, secretly, I love them too!) and journal articles, I am hoping to finish Alan Moore’s Watchmen and then jump into one of his later books, V for Vendetta. I am a huge fan of graphic novels – must be all of the pictures that accompany the text!

In one word, how would you describe Eddy/the English department? 

Transformative

Bruce Ronda with his John N. Stern Distinguished Professor Award

Bruce Ronda
Associate Dean for Faculty and Graduate Studies

Bruce Ronda was presented the John N. Stern Distinguished Professor Award, which recognizes faculty who have demonstrated exemplary accomplishments in all aspects of their professional responsibilities over an extended period of time. As he’ll be retiring this year, we took the opportunity to ask him a few more questions about his experience at CSU and what his plans are for after.

What will you miss most about working at CSU?

Despite its many challenges and difficulties, colleges and universities like Colorado State are still very special places.  They provide an opportunity to reflect, create, analyze, propose, and converse in company with people who are also committed to those tasks.  So I will miss spending my days in the midst of such a community of thoughtful people: students, faculty members, administrators, and support staff.

Now that you’ll be retired, what are your plans?

I have several plans for the near future, some of which will start happening even before June 30.  I’m working on two book projects, one a biography of early-mid twentieth-century American poet Stephen Vincent Benet, the other a biography of Robert Coles, child psychiatrist and cultural commentator.  Then, I’ll be away for two weeks at the end of May for a trip to Scotland.  After I truly retire, I plan to keep working on those book projects, travel to Cape Cod for our annual post-Labor Day week there, see my family in Michigan, Oklahoma, and California some more, work in the garden, and spend more time playing the piano. . . and the banjo!

What wisdom do you have to offer about working and/or studying at CSU?

Maybe the most important advice I’d give to students at CSU is to appreciate and work with the faculty. We have amazing faculty members in English, in Liberal Arts, and throughout the university, and all the ones I know are eager to talk with their students. So: cultivate your teachers, talk with them about your questions, ask about their research or creative work, see if you can serve as a grader or intern in some capacity. As for working at CSU, I’ve found that the most important relationships to nurture have been with support staff. They are the true historical memory of our departments and colleges and are truly important contributors to the teaching/learning and outreach mission of the university.

Why do you think it’s important to study the Humanities?

I want to include the social sciences, too, in my response. This is a hard question, because it goes in so many ways. I’ll limit myself to two big reasons: the first is to understand better our “moment” in time by understanding history, economics, politics, society, and forms of expression in the arts. We come into a world not of our own making, and it’s enormously important to understand the forces that made the world the way it is and how those forces are expressed. Knowing where our “moment” comes from empowers us to live in it and change it. The second is to grow in empathy. While we cannot live in another’s skin or experience, we can grow in appreciation of the vast diversity of life, human and more-than-human. Here the arts and humanities have particular value, since they present us with the lived experience of people very different from us, and yet also strangely recognizable. Empathy, I’d say, is strikingly missing from our political and social discourse these days.

What project/paper/book have you most enjoyed working on?

All my projects have provided moments of pleasure and satisfaction, as well as frustration and anxiety. In many ways, my most recent project, the book called The Fate of Transcendentalism, has given me the most satisfaction because it brings together so many of my interests explored over many years.

What course have you enjoyed teaching the most?

That’s another hard question to answer, since courses differ so much in content, students, and the whole “feeling” of the course. Several CSU courses come to mind: a graduate authors course on Faulkner and grad topics courses on Hawthorne and Stowe, American Transcendentalism, and Terrorism and the Novel, and this most recent course on pragmatism.

What was it like teaching the Pragmatism course as your last course at CSU?

While it’s true that I’ve been thinking about this course for a long time, and reading in and about pragmatism for an even longer time, teaching it, of course, was something else again. I had wonderful students from the MFA and the MA lit programs—thoughtful, articulate, interesting people doing their own work and thinking their own thoughts. Their comments illuminated the texts in ways I hadn’t anticipated, so that was a real gift. It’s equally true that I taught this last course in a very different political and cultural moment than the one in which I planned it. The entire course was inflected with our awareness of the changes brought about, and the forces unleashed, by the presidential election. I think the election made us read Emerson and James, Stein and Susan Howe, in different ways. That was painful, but good.

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The TEFL/TESL Student Association (TTSA) had another successful year filled with professional development activities, social gatherings, and community building events. As a registered GSA, TTSA strives to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, both here on campus and in the larger Fort Collins community. They do this through many activities, including the Advocacy Week, a yearly event including engaging faculty presentations and student-led colloquia, a guest speaker, and community outreach.

This year, there were many presentations, including talks led by Dr. Sue Doe, Dr. Kristina Quynn, and Dr. Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala. There were also panel presentations led by graduate students and alumni, as well as INTO CSU faculty. The keynote address given by Dr. Eli Hinkel, “Teaching and Learning Vocabulary for Academic Writing,” wrapped up the week of events.

TTSA with Advocacy Week keynote speaker Dr. Eli Hinkel

For this year’s community outreach project, TTSA collected new or gently used paperback books to benefit the Larimer County Jail library. We are excited to share that thanks to all your help they collected over 100 books! TTSA thanks you for your support and donation during this project. “We hope to keep helping the community in the following year!”

 

This year TTSA also celebrated their 10th Anniversary, and their activities were featured in the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Newsletter — “Planting the Seeds to Grow and Nurture Future AAAL Leaders.” On May 11, 2017 the TTSA hosted their traditional end-of-semester picnic to celebrate the end of the school year and to say their goodbyes to graduating students. Congratulations, class of 2017!!!!

Class of 2017, and then some

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In Spring 2016, English major Alexander (Alec) Pearson did an internship where he researched department history. He graduated at the end of that same semester, earning his Bachelor of Arts in English with a writing concentration. Alec collected and wrote a lot of material that semester. One thing he did was interview some of our previous department chairs. One of his interviews just so happened to be with Bruce Ronda, whose retirement we are celebrating in a special gathering this week.

~from Alexander Pearson

Bruce Ronda, Professor of English and Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Colorado State University, March 30, 2015

Bruce Ronda was the English department chair from 2001 to 2011. He joined the English Department in 1991 as visiting faculty, and became a full-time member in 1995. Before becoming chair he started and ran a full American Studies program in the department, but it had to shut down when he became the chair since there was no one else to run it. As department chair, he moved to make the English department more interdisciplinary. He also oversaw the creation of many new initiatives and programs, such as joining the National Writing Project, establishing the Community Literacy Center, expanding the Center for Literary Publishing, and creating the Changing Climates program. Opportunities for non-tenured faculty to participate in the running of the department were also increased.

After leaving his position as department chair, he became the Assistant Dean of the Liberal Arts college, the position he’ll be retiring from this year. Aside from his academic credentials, his most distinguishing feature is his tie, which he habitually tucks into his shirt. In fact, at a speech made by one of his co-workers at the farewell party when he left the English department for his current position said that, of all the things his fellow professors said about him, the single most common was “What’s with the tie?”

Interview Transcript

Alec: So, out of curiosity, how did you join the CSU English department?

Bruce: I came in 1991, as what was then called a visiting faculty member, and I taught courses in English and I also started an American Studies program in the English Department. And then I became a full-time member of the department in 1995.

Alec: Could you tell me more about the American Studies program?

Bruce: So my doctoral degree is in American Studies, which is a combination of literature and history, usually, and I taught that in my first teaching job on the East Coast, and many universities have American Studies programs, sometimes they’re free-standing, and more often they’re housed in departments, and I was asked to start one here at CSU, so I did and we borrowed faculty from English and History and some other departments. And it flourished for quite a while, but then when I moved to English full-time, and especially when I became the Department Chair in 2001, there wasn’t anyone to take over the American Studies program. So it was suspended. But I thought it was an interesting and exciting program, and there is still an American Studies course, that’s in the University curriculum, and it’s taught by a faculty member in the English department.

Alec: Interesting. So, do you mind me asking what inspired you to pursue a career in English in the first place?

Bruce: That’s a good question. So I’ve always been interested in language, in literature, in reading, and then as I went through college and graduate school I was also very interested in history, in social history, and so I found that the way that literature studies were going in those days was towards a more interdisciplinary way of thinking. So that really confirmed me in my interest in literature. So that’s what I’ve been doing, all these years.

Alec: So, more in that vein, how has the English Department changed over the years you’ve been working here, both at the college and generally across the nation?

Bruce: So do you mean since the time I came or since the time I became chair?

Alec: Well, both, preferably first since you came and then as the department chair. Like, you said that English studies in general had been becoming more interdisciplinary, could you elaborate on that?

Bruce: Sure, sure. So when I came in 1991 the English Department here, like I think at many universities, was primarily literature based. So studies of American literature, English literature, literature in translation. So in those first years when I was here in the mid to late 90s most of the faculty members were literature faculty members. There were other programs represented, but the core of the department was literature. And that was, as I said, true of many other departments as well. What has happened I think, gradually in the late 90s and especially the time that I was chair, from 2001 to 2011, was that other parts of an English Department so Creative Writing, Composition and Rhetoric, English Education, Linguistics and then in the graduate program teaching English as a second language and all those programs grew up, in a sense. They became more mature, they had their own conferences, their own journals, so many English departments changed, ours included, to be not so much literature-centered but to incorporate those aspects of English studies into the department. So that was a huge change, in those years.

Alec: Very interesting. And while you were a department chair, were you involved in a proactive way with these changes? Were you pushing for that sort of change?

Bruce: Yes, I thought it was both necessary and important so we made sure that the committees of the department had representatives from these different areas, that the assignments of graduate teaching assistants were proportional to the faculty and student population of those different areas, so yes, I was very much encouraging that.

Alec: So other than the change in inter-disciplinary programs, were there any other significant changes happening in the English department at this time?

Bruce: Yes. Yes, there were a number of changes of new initiatives that I led, or encouraged, we became part of the National Writing Project, which is a nation-wide project that encourages writing at the secondary and university level. So we’ve founded the CSU Writing Project, which is still going. I was helpful in establishing the Community Literacy Center through funding from the department and elsewhere. So that’s still going. We’ve expanded the center for literary publishing. What else, we established the Changing Climates at CSU which is still ongoing during the time that I was chair. And we expanded the representation of non-tenure track faculty members by establishing a committee for non-tenure track faculty members and including them in some of the other committees of the department.

Alec: Could you expand a bit on the ‘Changing Climates’ thing?

Bruce: Sure, sure. So that’s been an initiative of two faculty members, Sue Ellen Campbell and John Calderazzo from the English Department, and they came to me sometime in their tenures, early on I think, having department support and college support for a program that would help educate our faculty, faculty across the university really, about how to communicate about climate issues to a sometimes skeptical audience.

Alec: That’s certainly interesting. So I think that takes care of the next question I was going to ask, so could you tell me a story about what working in the English department is like, an interesting anecdote of some sort?

Bruce: What it was like during those years?

Alec: Yeah.

Bruce: Well, perhaps first not so much an anecdote but the reality is that I came in in 2001 which was the year of the WTC (World Trade Center) attacks, I left in 2011 when we were just recovering from the Great Recession of those years, 2008 through 2011, so my time as chair was kind of bookmarked by these national events. And between that time there were two significant economic downturns, so a lot of what I dealt with during my time as department chair were these challenges that came from outside. Loss of faculty positions, changing administration, changing climate in the nation, so sometimes it felt turbulent to me and challenging. On the other hand, I would say that we made some wonderful faculty hires, some of my greatest successes as chair was to hire some of the wonderful faculty members who are still here, who have contributed a lot to the department.

An anecdote, well, I always liked to dress like this, you know, to wear a jacket and tie, and I’d tuck my tie in like this, (through the second button of his shirt) because, I don’t know, it drags in my lunch or something. But when I first started at the department several people asked me if I had been to a military school, like a prep school where young men, young women too, are encouraged to tuck their ties in, and I said that I hadn’t it was just something that I learned to do. So, in the last spring that I was department chair, the department organized a kind of farewell for me, a kind of reception, and John Calderazzo spoke at that and said that he had gone up and down the halls, asking people if they could say something about me during the time that I was department chair and several people said very nice things about my scholarship and my leadership, but several people said, “What’s with the tie?” So he had to explain that it was just sort of Bruce’s quirk, so when John was done he asked me to come up to the podium and say a few words, so I went up to the podium and tucked my tie in, and people laughed. So that was an amusing little moment.

 

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~from Jill Salahub

Tomorrow the English department will be holding a very special celebration. Bruce Ronda is retiring this year, and as sad as we are to see him go, we are sending him off with our best wishes at this upcoming event. To honor him here on the blog, I’ve been collecting memories and well wishes from a few people who studied and worked with him over the years.

I myself had the honor of learning from Bruce as a graduate student, taking one of my very first classes with him, and have enjoyed his company and his leadership as I stayed on to work in the department. At one point, he guided and supported me through a very difficult time, an experience that had the potential to end my career at CSU. With Bruce’s help it instead allowed a space uniquely suited for me where I could thrive, matching what I was good at with what the department needed, and I am forever grateful to him for that.

I will miss Bruce’s dedication, trustworthiness, wisdom, and kindness, and wish for him only the best of things as he moves on. What follows, in no particular order, are more memories and good wishes.

Bruce Ronda talks with faculty and staff at the first walk through of the Eddy Hall remodel

From Professor Matthew Cooperman: I was the first TT [tenure track] hire, under Bruce’s tenure as Chair. I will always be deeply honored by the trust he showed in me, and have thought of him as a paragon of integrity. He’s been there for me, and for my family, during my time at CSU. And he’s a helluva banjo player.

Bruce Ronda and Leslee Becker at an awards ceremony in 2015. Leslee says of Bruce, “I’ve been in his house!”

From Associate Professor Pam Coke: The poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy wrote, “We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”  Dr. Bruce Ronda will always have a special place in my heart.  He is a dreamer of dreams, and he helped make my dreams come true.

It was Christmas Eve, 2001, an era where few people had cell phones.  Suffice it to say I did not have a cell phone.  Bruce called me at my parents’ house, in Dubuque, IA, on Christmas Eve, to offer me a job as an Assistant Professor of English Education.  It was the best Christmas present ever.

I have never regretted accepting Bruce’s offer.  It has been an honor to work with a man as intelligent, as principled, and as caring as Bruce.

I have been reminded of this many times over the past fifteen years.

It was September, 2003.  I had requested to meet with Bruce to discuss “a situation.”  I was not sure how he would react to my news, but when I told Bruce that Ken and I were pregnant, he smiled and told me that I had just made his week.  In that moment, I felt less afraid, less unsure.  It had been a while since any women in the department had had a baby, let alone an untenured faculty member.  I was uncertain what that would mean, but with a warm smile and a gentle hug, Bruce let me know that everything would be okay.

That is one of his many gifts.  Bruce is an active listener and a compassionate leader.  He is ethical and humane.  He is wise and wonderful.

Bruce, you have been a mentor, a colleague, and a friend to me.  Thank you for all of your advice and support over the years.  I will always remember having a cup of coffee with you when you stepped down as English department chair.  When I thanked you for hiring me, you said, “It was one of the best decisions I made as chair.”  I will treasure these words for the rest of my career, as I will treasure you, Bruce.  I wish you every happiness in the years ahead.  Enjoy retirement.

Three department chairs: Louann Reid, Bruce Ronda, and Pattie Cowell

From Assistant Professor Todd Mitchell: Thank you for all your years of service, leadership, and inquiry. You’re a true scholar, and an inspiration to many. May you continue to inspire others to be their better selves in the next chapter in your life. Best wishes.

From Associate Professor Dan Beachy-Quick: One of the things I’ve realized about Bruce, trying to write an anecdote about him, is how the man himself feels immune to anecdote. That is, something about Bruce refuses—for me at least—to fall into a short moment remembered that captures some essence of the man. Instead, when I ponder the gifts Bruce has given me, they seem in their largeness and constancy to escape the confines of the form, and so it only feels apt, at this pivot in career and life, to thank him largely for large generosities. When I was hired at CSU Bruce was chair. Coming from an art school, I realized I had no idea about how academic life actually worked. I think Bruce sensed this, and in the kindest of ways, and in the subtlest of ways, became for me a mentor—and in that mentoring, showed me the importance of long vision and patient listening, of not making a show of oneself but helping others be more seen. On lucky occasions when we could both make time, we’d coffee or a beer, and simply talk—about what each of us working on, of course, but talked in a way beyond research agendas and publishing hopes. Instead, it was (and is) a conversation in which you get a glimpse of the intellect not as a resource but as a life. That’s a mentoring, too—to see what it looks like to be involved in one’s work outside of any other motive than to do the work. It’s a vision of happiness, or so it felt to me, and feels to me still. And I owe Bruce a large debt for the vision.

Bruce at John Calderazzo and Sue Ellen Campbell’s retirement ceremony one year ago

From Graduate Programs Assistant Marnie Leonard: Bruce Ronda is an exemplary scholar, a supportive leader, and a pleasure to work with.  These descriptions are deceptively simple, yet each encapsulates a wealth of experience and insight and each engenders confidence and trust. Bruce’s contributions to the Department of English and to the College of Liberal Arts have helped make our part of CSU the best place to be.

From Professor Barb Sebek: Bruce has been a supportive colleague and good friend since I first came to CSU in 1995.  At several crucial moments in my career, he provided much needed professional insight and encouragement.  I admire his commitment to producing fine literary and cultural scholarship while also fulfilling the many duties of department chair and associate dean in the CLA.  In addition to serving together on various MA projects, faculty searches, and departmental and college committees, I’ve borrowed from his syllabus and assignments for the graduate literary research methods course and benefited from his teaching advice on countless occasions.  It’s hard to trace the influence of a colleague that has been so pervasive and so reliable.  Beyond department life, Bruce has provided many happy occasions over the years for making music together—from Purcell, Mozart, and Puccini to Gershwin, Woody Guthrie, and Hank Williams.  Bruce’s great talent on piano and strings is matched by his knack for organization to keep his fellow musicians on task—binders and folders with song lists and lyrics, and, on some occasions, exquisite martinis to ensure a warmed up and appreciative audience.  I will really miss Bruce at CSU, but look forward to more musical adventures ahead!

Bruce in front of the fully remodeled Eddy Hall

From Instructor (Senior Teaching Appointment) James Roller: Professor Ronda was inspiring to me during my graduate studies in a spectrum of ways. His depth and breadth of knowledge in American Studies, his gentle guidance and academic patience, his enthusiasm for the growth of his students, and his continuing curiosity for his subject were at once mystifying and encouraging. He impressed upon his advisees that a world of fascination awaited discovery in every text and every new anecdote that lay beneath the leaves of literature and history. My favorite memory of Bruce Ronda spoke of his unparalleled work ethic. As I was finishing my master’s thesis, I recall sending Bruce a draft of some 120 pages of written research, only to be amazed when he returned it to me the very next day with comments on nearly every page! He is a model academic who teaches by example and shows us all what is possible with a lifetime of dedicated service to the academy.

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We’re coming to the end of National Poetry Month. It has been a challenge to limit ourselves to just a month’s worth of influential poets and poetic forms, while including space for CSU’s own poets. We’ve barely brushed the surface. If we’ve learned anything this month, it would be that poetry is a powerful magic, a potent medicine, and poets are the ones we look to when “she cannot find the words/for the nothing in her center.”

One of our favorite poets, Camille Dungy, reading some of her poetry.

One of our favorite poets, Camille Dungy, reading some of her poetry.

To end our spotlight this month, we are featuring the fourth of our CSU English faculty poets, Camille Dungy. We remain excited about the recent release of her new collection of poetry, Trophic Cascade, (March 2017). “Dungy writes about the world in which we must all survive in a time of massive environmental degradation, violence, and abuse of power.” Earlier this week, Poetry Daily featured her title poem, Trophic Cascade, a powerful piece that compares the change that happened to the ecosystem in Yellowstone after the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the personal transformation that took place for the poet once she became a mother, “After which, nothing was ever the same.” This single poem does what the rest of the collection does so well — telling beautiful and sometimes brutal stories of life, embodying both the personal and the natural world in a single unified narrative.

We recently featured Dungy on the blog during Women’s History Month. There’s also a profile we did when she first arrived at CSU. Rather than repeat ourselves, we decided this time to ask the poet herself to speak for herself about poetry and this new collection.

Can you tell us just a little about Trophic Cascade and your inspiration for this collection of poetry?

It’s often hard to summarize a book of poetry. Here’s what we say about the book on the book: “In this fourth book in a series of award-winning survival narratives, Dungy writes positioned at a fulcrum, bringing a new life into the world even as her elders are passing on. In a time of massive environmental degradation, violence and abuse of power, a world in which we all must survive, these poems resonate within and beyond the scope of the human realms, delicately balancing between conflicting loci of attention. Dwelling between vibrancy and its opposite, Dungy writes in a single poem about a mother, a daughter, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, brittle stars, giant boulders, and a dead blue whale. These poems are written in the face of despair to hold an impossible love and a commitment to hope.”

In terms of the inspiration for writing the book, I was beginning to write new poems in a moment when I was bringing a new life into this world. But I also happened to be losing loved ones, to old age and illness, but also (if I think more proudly about what and who I love) to environmental degradation, domestic and global violence, and more. Thinking about regeneration (oh joy!) in the midst of peril (oh no!) moved my writing in a particular direction, and eventually I produced the poems you’ll read in this book.

Since it’s National Poetry month, what is your favorite poetry collection? Or favorite poem?

I always have a hard time answering this question. I’m a poet and a professor of poetry. This means I read for a living and I read for pleasure. There is just no way I can narrow things down to one favorite. Because I know that this question is meant to help readers discover poetry they might love, I can give a list of five books I find myself returning to again and again.

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton (1965-2000). Boa Editions.
The Apple Trees at Olema, Robert Hass. (Ecco)
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay (Pittshburg UP)
Citizen, Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press)
The Verging Cities, Natalie Scenters-Zapico (Center for Literary Publishing)

Why do you think poetry is so important?

The great poet Audre Lorde says, in her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury”: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” I agree. Poetry is a path toward empathy. Poetry is a path toward a deep brand of knowledge. Poetry is a means toward inscribing beauty on a broken world. Poetry is a register of life. I could go on…

In one sentence, what advice would you give a student who is an aspiring poet?

Read more poetry.

 

And that seems like the perfect thing to leave you with at the end of this month of celebration. Consider this your charge for not just the next month but for the next 365 days: Read more poetry. (And if you need any recommendations, just ask us).

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