African American Read-In

On Wednesday in the Multi-Media Room of the Bunch Library, students and faculty gathered to read and listen to literary works at the African American Read-In. This convocation was part of a national event, founded in 1990 by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English with the intention of making literature a major emphasis of Black History Month.


A wide variety of writing was read: James Baldwin to Ta-Nehisi Coates; Maya Angelou to Lauryn Hill; Margaret Walker to Elizabeth Alexander. More than 15 readers came forward to read literature by these writers and others: Toni Morrison, Terrance Hayes, Robert Hayden, Melvin Dixon, Jesmyn Ward, and many more. Though the room was hot because of library remodeling, we hope everyone left with a resolve to seek out and read these authors and their works!

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.


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.

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

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.

matto grosso

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.

matto grosso 2

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.