Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet at the Troutt Theater

By Victoria Pan

Let’s be honest. I don’t have to try my hardest to convince anybody reading this blog in their spare time to go see a Shakespeare production. We all know how important it is to support the arts. We all can imagine what a difficult job it is to make Shakespearean language flow off our modern tongues and seem as alive and fresh as it was and still should be. We all know how difficult it is, in these days where I can pick any show I want from halfway across the globe (not just the Globe itself), thanks to the Internet, to keep audiences’ attention riveted on plays that no longer really need spoiler alerts. Especially audiences composed of elementary, middle, and high schoolers, which the poor folks at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival have been saddled with entertaining every day for the past two or three weeks.

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Despite all those budding Shakespeareans, this is not a watered-down production of Hamlet. Sure, this is not the place for anything too avant-garde, but it’s still Hamlet in all of its cerebral, philosophical glory. I could tell you about how masterful Sam Ashdown is as a Hamlet, and how he uses all of his not-inconsiderable energy to bring the full force of Hamlet’s conflict between emotion and reason to the stage. I could tell you about how urgent a production this is, how gripping and driven and tangled it is with all those competing ambitions. I could tell you how unexpectedly funny it is in its wittiest moments, and how tickled you’ll be once you realize you recognize some of Belmont’s own professors in the cast, if you’re familiar with our theater department.

I could tell you about how, even though I’ve read Hamlet countless times from middle school to college, as someone who knows some of those lines by heart (I’ve written on them! Multiple times!), I still felt tears threatening to spill by the end of the play.

But that’s beside the point. Continue reading “Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet at the Troutt Theater”

So Poe: A Dead Poet’s Society Get-Together on Edgar Allen Poe

On Friday, the 20th of October, a handful of English students and professors Curtis and McDonnell congregated for a Dead Poet’s Society reading in the gazebo near Maddox and Wright Halls. It’s the gazebo with a statue of a raven on the tip of its roof that, with its endless and forbidding croak, seems to beckon for a group of nerdy Poe-enthusiasts to read and geek out there. While I obviously attended the meeting, I was not one of those Poe-enthusiasts only because I haven’t read that much Poe. I’m not certain if my colleagues were Poe-enthusiasts either, but there was one obvious Poe-enthusiast, the same one who organized the event and came up with the idea of having a Poe-day and a Dead Poet’s Society, and this was Dr. Curtis. Before the reading started, Dr. Curtis informed us of Poe’s life, and more specifically his death, since this was, after all, Dead Poet’s Society.

On an October night in 1849, Poe had disappeared from the city of Baltimore. He had been visiting his family in Richmond, Virginia. But he then turned up—and most likely turned up—in Baltimore on election day and was found unconscious in a gutter and wearing ill-fitting clothes. Many people suspected that because it was election day he was being used to conduct voter fraud. People now think he died of rabies because he kept falling in and out of consciousness and Dr. R. Michael Benitez wrote an article that pieces together various accounts of his death and argues quite persuasively for the possibility of his dying of rabies. So he very well could have been bitten by a rabid dog, a raccoon, or hopefully a bat.

The first reading was the hardest to start because nobody wanted to go first. Dr. Curtis didn’t want to start because he knew that he would get too intense. He told us that after “The Raven” came out it became a performance piece. Poe made a lot more money performing it and his other poems than he did publishing them. Curtis told us that women and nervous persons were highly affected in accounts of the time by what Poe wrote and that he developed a celebrity status by performing his works. Thus provided the context for Curtis’s reluctance to read first: when he reads Poe, watch out. He performs. “Let the crazy man in the gazebo do his thing” he said. Continue reading “So Poe: A Dead Poet’s Society Get-Together on Edgar Allen Poe”

English Majors Devour Halloween Brunch


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A goodly gathering of English folk.

There was plenty of good food and geeky conversation as the English majors gathered for the Halloween brunch last Friday in Beaman A&B. Costumed professors and students, while not in the majority, were readily evident, and a good time seemed to be had by all.

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Dr. McDonald helps prepare the food table.
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Professor Trout’s cupcake hotel featured plenty of cleavers, bats, and skulls on red velvet cupcakes.
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Professors John and Trout dressed as the Grady daughters from “The Shining.”
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Ben came dressed as Maxx. Or did Maxx come dressed as Ben?

Deep Song Poetry Reading: Matthew Guenette

By Victoria Pan

A lot of people think of poetry as something loftier and more inaccessible than prose. Despite its relative concision, it’s somehow still intimidating, with its stanzas and line breaks organized in a way that makes some feel like they need a cryptography degree just to figure out what’s going on. Matthew Guenette used to feel the same way before he got into writing, calling all the poetry he read in school “old” and “faraway”.

Matthew Guenette

If that’s the case, then his poetry is modern and immediate, featuring everyday life in all of its questionable glory. Guenette’s first writing inspirations were comics, and it shows in his poetry. His is a humor that a more highbrow reviewer would call “earthy”, which really just means he’s not afraid to get elbows-deep into life’s sh*t, sometimes literally. Case in point: his new chapbook, American Busboy, is based on his experiences busing tables to get through college. It contains moments that personally, as someone currently working at a restaurant to get through college, made me say “Oh, my God” out loud.

Continue reading “Deep Song Poetry Reading: Matthew Guenette”

Ruta Sepetys Speaks to English Majors

On Tuesday, September 26, bestselling author and recent Carnegie Medal recipient Ruta Sepetys spoke to an intimate gathering of BU English majors. Over the course of ninety minutes, she regaled aspiring writers with inspiring stories of her transition from the music business into life as a hugely successful young adult novelist

Sepetys, the author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea, began by explaining how her 22 years in the music industry telling others’ stories through writing press releases and artist biographies led eventually to the realization that she had her own story to tell. As a child of a Lithuanian refugee who had fled from his home in 1940, she knew part of that story through her father, whose harrowing tales of last-minute escapes and of long years in refugee camps–and of their relatives who did not make it out alive–gave her a starting point for what eventually became her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, which has been translated into 37 languages and published in 53 countries.

The successful publication of her Between Shades of Gray, however, had its own long history, including the emotionally difficult research involving interviews with survivors of Stalin’s takeover; the 16 painstaking revisions she undertook before submission; the excruciating wait before hearing from publishers after submission; and the 4 year additional wait between selling the novel and its publication in 2011.

Sepetys also discussed the value of archives in historical research, but emphasized the importance in making human connections, like the garrulous retired New Orleans mobster she interviewed for her second novel, Out of the Easy. “Hunting for hidden histories,” as she termed it, also led her to the subject of her most recent novel, Salt to the Sea, which chronicles Germany’s Operation Hannibal during World War II and the single largest maritime disaster in human history.

For Ruta Sepetys, “telling stories for the true witnesses” has become her life’s calling. Throughout her talk and the question and answer session that followed, she emphasized finding her literary voice and rhythm; being open about what she is working on (it has helped her find people and resources she needed); revising continually, even while she is doing readings of her own work; and, most importantly of all for aspiring writers, “getting my butt in the chair” to produce good work.




Dead Poets Society Holds Inaugural Meeting

No, there was no secret cave, and no, it wasn’t just a bunch of sheltered prep school boys. But Whitman was read, and Lincoln was mentioned…

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Dr. Marcia McDonald reads from “The Wanderer”

Last Friday morning a group of students and faculty met to read poems related to the theme of “Home and Exile” in anticipation of the next week’s Humanities Symposium. After memorializing the building that used to sit on the site (our old home, Wheeler Humanities), Dr. David Curtis got the main event started by reading Edgar Albert Guest’s “Home.”

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Max Mason lays down some Blake

By the end of the 45-minute session, participants had read poems by William Blake, Edwin Arlington Robinson, William Butler Yeats, Claude McKay, Anne Sexton, Jack Gilbert, Emma Lazarus, Walt Whitman, Philip Larkin, Kenneth Burke, and even Abraham Lincoln.

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The next meeting of the Dead Poets Society will be in the old Aviary on October 20, when we’ll be celebrating the poetry of–and about–Edgar Allan Poe.

Local Event Highlight: 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop

By Charlsie Johnson

On Saturday, July 22nd, Writing Day Workshops hosted the annual Tennessee Writing Workshop at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Nashville Cool Springs. The summer 2017 event’s focus: “How to Get Published,” consisted of a full day of instructional meetings, pitch schedules, personal critiques with literary agents or editors, and an opportunity to not only ask questions about writing and publication, but also to communicate with 150 fellow writing peers.

The writing day was organized into five, one and a half hour sessions, split between three different conference rooms at the hotel. During these meetings, attendees were able to come and go in accordance to their personal pitch or critique schedules that they registered for online before the event. General admission includes attendance at any of the instructional meetings with the opportunity to pay extra for a 10 minute, one-on-one meeting with a literary agent to pitch original work, an in-depth critique of a one page query letter, or an in-depth personal critique of the first 10 pages of an original novel. All registration and pricing information can be found on the website, as well as an explanation for each critique option.


The 2017 schedule was jam-packed with very helpful and interesting sessions including: “An Overview of Your Publishing Options Today,” “The Art of Voice: How to Make Your Writing Come to Life,” “Writer’s Got Talent: A Page One Critique Fest,” and “Ten Keys to Writing Success.” Each session was led by a notable writer or representative from a publishing house that spoke about topics related to their experience with a specific aspect of craft or genre. Some of the speakers included freelance editor and author, Chuck Sambuchino, speculative fiction author, C. J. Redwine, and editor, author, publisher, Madeline Smoot.

The sessions covered many genres such as, Young Adult/Middle Grade Fiction, Memoir, Fantasy/Science Fiction, and Romance, while also instructing on helpful topics like, Self-Publishing, Agents and Query Letters, Revision/Self-Editing, and Self-Marketing your original writing. Participating in the event’s headline and most popular session, “A Page One Critique Fest,” were: Beth Phelan from The Bent Agency, Cate Hart from Corvisiero Literary, Mike Parker from WordCrafts Press, Lauren MacLeod from The Strothman Agency, and several other literary agents and editors. In this session, attendees were encouraged to print and anonymously submit multiple copies of the first page of an original novel they are currently working on, in order to receive conference-style feedback, without the pressure of a one-on-one meeting. This was an invaluable experience for those attendees that are seeking an honest critique from a number of literary agents and editors who represent literary agencies with different content focuses. Continue reading “Local Event Highlight: 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop”