Welcome, Dr. Heather Finch!

The English Department is excited to announce that Dr. Heather Finch, currently a Faculty Fellow here at Belmont, will be joining the faculty as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2019.

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Dr. Finch received her Ph.D. from Auburn University. Her research and teaching experience and interests include Early American and African American literature with a specific emphasis on the fragmented narratives of pre-nineteenth century enslaved women.

Good Lunch!

BU English faculty and students gathered in JAAC 3058 for a brown bag lunch on Friday, October 12. The mood was jovial, as everyone was anticipating the next week’s fall break. If you couldn’t make it, there will be another one on November 9. See you there!

Nikki Giovanni at the JAAC

by Rachel Stallings, BU English Major

Poet, activist, author, and professor, Nikki Giovanni, addressed a full house on Monday, September 24, with an engaging and heartfelt Humanities Symposium presentation. Students filled the room of JAAC 4094, with many having to sit around the walls of the room, packed in to listen. She covered everything from her own personal life (followed by a flawless reading of her poem, “Tennessean By Birth”) to her desire for people to learn to love themselves, to her disdain for the story of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer (it encourages kids to bully each other!), to a final charge for those in the room to accept one another and end the hate that fuels racism.

Nikki Giovanni

Giovanni captured the audience with her lively presence and fluid approach to storytelling. She is a wonderful speaker and her readings of her poems flowed so naturally between personal stories that it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between her natural spoken rhythm and her poetry. She approached each topic with a no-nonsense attitude, covering issues of environmental impact, racism, sexism, and rape, and even took strong political stands against many of the politicians currently in office. Despite the seriousness of her subject matter, her wit and sense of humor brought lots of laughter to the crowd and she even joked that she “wouldn’t get invited back” to speak after all of her strong political statements.

She made it a point to remind those in the audience to take care of themselves, telling the crowd that making mistakes is just a part of life and we ought to have more grace with ourselves. One example she gave was of weeds; they’re often seen as a nuisance, but in reality, they are something many people just “haven’t figured out what to do with yet.” She encouraged those in the crowd to never consider themselves as less than others because they don’t see themselves as a flower, but instead find a way to use their individual strengths to be the best version of themselves they could be.

After her animated and high energy presentation, she fielded a few questions from the audience. One student asked how Giovanni might respond to someone who disagrees with or feels victimized by her strong political views, and she encouraged the student to open up her perspective and understand that all of us are part of one another, we’re all connected in some way. She kindly explained that we must learn to love and accept people if we hope to end all of the hate in the world, which was a fitting end to her presentation.

Image credit: Sam Simpkins, University Photographer

Hutchins Award Winners Read at Humanities Symposium

Hutchins contest winners 2018
L to R: Liam McDermott, Lauren Cottle, Jacqueline Karneth, and Gabriela Gonzales.

This past Sunday, these smiling people were celebrated as winners of the Sandra Hutchins Humanities Symposium Writing Competition. The awards are named in honor of a retired Belmont English faculty member, Dr. Sandra Hutchins, longtime creative writing professor and advisor to the Belmont Literary Journal. Below is a list of the winners and the titles of their work.

Poetry:
First place: “Instead” from Jacqueline Karneth
Second place: “Island” from Liam McDermott

Fiction:
First place: “Words Words Words” from Gabriela Gonzales
Second place: “Their Drunken Boat” from Jacqueline Karneth

Creative Nonfiction:
First place: “The Oil Spill” by Lauren Cottle
Second place: “We Thaw” from Jacqueline Karneth

Image Credit: Susan Finch

“Matto Grosso: The Last Terrestrial Frontier

by Henry Gregson, BU English Major

There are many unheard of adventures inspired by famous explorers of previous eras such as Ronald Amundsen (leader of the Antarctic expedition) or James Cook (British Naval captain). In Dr. Eric Hobson’s presentation at the Belmont Humanities Symposium on September 21st, he illuminated one of these overshadowed yet groundbreaking events in his discussion about the Brazilian Matto Grosso expedition. He laid out the historical context and setting of the late 1920s and early 1930s then presented the story chronologically. The room drew closer to Hobson as if he were pacing in front of a campfire about to relay a horrific tale instead of casually engaging with students and conveying the importance of this pioneering event.

The idea of the Matto Grosso expedition was spearheaded by wealthy descendent to E.R. Johnson (co-founder of the Victor Talking Machine Co.), E.R. Fenimore Johnson. The idea was that the era of groundbreaking explorations into unknown territory and wild adventures in the jungle were coming to an end, but this area of Matto Grasso was considered one of the last unexplored frontiers with native languages and cultures. Johnson was a filmmaker in his spare time and he told newspapers that the expedition had a far more scientific intention than to just explore. The party members wanted to create the first film with synchronized sound as well as film the infamous adventurer Sasha Seimal spearing a jaguar.

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Hobson related the wild misadventures of the inexperienced crew and how they poorly navigated through the jungle and crafted a make-shift coliseum to film their long anticipated jaguar fight, only to realize their film equipment wasn’t fast enough to capture the jaguar’s speed. Some of their other equipment got wet on the journey and molded, so the filmmakers eventually abandoned their secondary idea of an action-adventure, Hollywood movie.

What they did produce was the first “talkie”, on-site documentary film – Matto Grosso: The Great Brazilian Wilderness (1933). Unfortunately for the crew and Johnson, they returned from their wild expedition soon after the stock market crashed and the entertainment industry was very selective about which films to publish. While the film’s budget was not even close to recouped, Johnson and the crew accomplished many ‘firsts’ in history.

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During the making of the documentary, the crew helped the first ever Brazilian general to fly. The film itself was the first with synchronized sound and revolutionized the way audio was reproduced in a film. Furthermore, the crew showed that even naïve “explorers” could make history. Hobson’s casual, campfire-style presentation of the historical event made it far more appealing to a student audience and I would look forward to hearing what else Dr. Hobson knows about these unsung adventurers.

Ending the Cycle of Canonical Silence

by Gray Bulla, BU English Major

At 5:00 on Thursday, September 20th, the room was full of chatter as people found their seats. At the front of the room, six people prepared for the performance they were about to give, with instruments such as the lute and a Baroque-period flute.

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The interesting choice of instruments was because the audience would be hearing music throughout history, composed and performed (mostly) by women. The symposium was called “Listening to Voices Unheard,” and it was a fitting title: women, throughout the history of music, have been denied entrance to the musical canon.

Yvonne Kendall–playing the recorder and flute–told the audience her reason for this performance. She explained that “years ago, I bought a book solely because it existed.” That book was The Historical Anthology of Music By Women. It spans the Byzantine era all the way to the mid-1980’s. Kendall said that it angered her, that she spent so much time in school and yet studied so little music by women. It wasn’t a case of women not composing music, but of the sexism that has pushed women’s voices out of the musical narrative.

This sparked a decades-long project for Kendall, who researched the women discussed in the anthology, learning more and more about their lives and the music they composed. “The cycle of canonic silence would stop,” she proclaimed.

The program was a part of her life-long commitment to those women (and the men who helped raise awareness for them), but the commitment, she said, is no longer fueled by anger, but by celebration of the strength, wisdom, talent, and determination of these women.

The program performed music by women from all different eras–the Renaissance, Byzantine, Medieval, Romantic, and so on–as well as places–France, Scotland, Prussia, and others. Commentary, before each piece began, offered the composer’s name, a brief biography, and occasionally a story relevant to the song. The music they performed ranged from slow, melodic, and remorseful, to upbeat, joyous, and celebratory. The arrangement of each piece was almost as varied, the performers switching vocals, instruments, and even who read the composer’s introduction.

The performers were Yvonne Kendall on recorder and flute, Sarah Cote on viola, Tammy Rogers King on violin, Deidre Emerson on cello, Angela Carr Forsythe as soprano vocals, and Francis Perry on two different kinds of lutes (one of which, he joked, is “what it looks like when that other grows up”), in association with the Nashville Early Music Festival.

Nietzsche’s Philosophical Understanding of The Historical Past And Its Significance

By Wes Bullington, BU English Major

Dr. Paul S. Loeb is a philosopher and writer who has been a guest speaker at Belmont’s
Humanities Symposium for several years. Dr. Loeb spoke on Thursday September 20 at 4:00pm.

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Dr. Paul S. Loeb

He began his talk by establishing why Nietzsche is important and how personal history has shaped his philosophical outlook. Nietzsche was not originally welcome in the philosophical community. His writings were seen as literary works, which gave him influence in that community. Later in his life, his political influence would rise above that of his literary influence in the face of a growing authoritarianism in Germany. It was only towards the end of Nietzsche’s life that he was finally seen as a philosophical great. Much of Loeb’s lecture came from direct analysis of Nietzsche’s writing. His book “On the Uses and Disadvantage of History for Life,” first published in 1874 and later revised, focuses on the growing sickness Nietzsche sees around him in Germany and the dangers of historical obsession. Nietzsche begins by establishing his credibility. He criticizes his own German culture and history. He claims that this right is given to him since he knows history. He studied the Greeks in antiquity and even further criticizes the Germans by comparing them to the Greeks. According to Nietzsche, Germany has studied itself in excess and now begins to lose its own culture.

He argues that humans are happy when they forget. In a state of happiness, the mind does not worry or think of the past. Everything in life is in flux and humans are the only creature capable of noticing and remembering this truth. Humans naturally forget but must make an effort to remember. Nietzsche argues that humans could not sleep and could not live if they were constantly remembering. Finally, Nietzsche presents a solution: youth. He believes that young people, the next generation are the only hope for mankind. He argues that an excess of history and science will only destroy what makes humans happy. Nietzsche supports religion and art, even if he does not personally believe in God, because these disciplines are crucial for the human to forget and just be. His argument condenses when considering knowledge or life. Nietzsche concludes that life must be chosen over knowledge since there would be no knowledge without life.

The audience at Belmont’s Symposium was extremely interested in Dr. Loeb’s talk.
Every eye was focused of Dr. Loeb and every ear carefully held on to each word. Students were diligently taking notes to follow the complex philosophical argument being made. The topics raised during the talk were provocative and after the lecture, many people hoped to ask questions to clarify points of the argument. Reactions were mixed considering the controversial topic. However, academic respect and support was clear throughout the Symposium.