Sisson Serves on Board of Nashville Children’s Theater

AMS-Photo-2014Dr. Annette Sisson, Professor of English at Belmont University, shares below her account of coming to serve on the Board of the Nashville Children’s Theater and conveys to Belmont’s English majors what this service means to her.  She also challenges these students to find creative ways to support literacy.

When I was a young mother and my son, who is now 26, was in the third grade, he wasn’t much of a reader. I mean, he could definitely read at grade level, but he wasn’t enthused about it. Since everyone in our household was a passionate reader, I bought my son books about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, books about soccer, books about dinosaurs and zoo animals—anything I could think of that he loved, hoping these niche books would turn him on to reading. Each time, he would dutifully read the book and then say, “Mom, it was fine.” But he was not excited.

Then one day he came home from the third grade and asked if we could go to Davis-Kidd Books—which for many years was the local bookstore in Nashville—to buy J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Rings trilogy. I demurred. I responded, “Honey, those books are kind of elevated in difficulty level. Why do you think you want to read them?” He informed me that that very day at school, a STORY-TELLER had come and done dramatic readings from the Tolkein books; he had re-told significant pieces of the story theatrically. My son was on fire! So we went to Davis-Kidd and purchased The Hobbit. I told him that if he finished that book, we’d buy more. Less than a week later, he emerged from his bedroom, brought The Hobbit to the kitchen, placed it in front of me on the counter, and asked, “Now, are we going to buy the trilogy one book at a time, or can we buy the whole thing?” Of course we bought the whole thing—and he finished those three books, too. Not only did reading come alive for him through his experience with a story-teller, but later in high school he realized his interest in theater as well.

In light of that personal experience, I agreed to serve on the Board of the Nashville Children’s Theater last August not only because I love theater, but also because I believe that theater for young audiences serves to encourage and support children and teen literacy. Because I believe in the power of story, whether read on a page or acted/seen on a stage, I feel privileged to dedicate my time to this organization.

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How does NCT promote literacy? Over 80,000 middle Tennessee children and teens, along with their teachers and/or families attend NCT productions, participate in NCT camps and classes, or do both each and every year. That’s a lot of young people! These students get to see stories come alive on the stage, and then afterwards they get to meet the actors that brought them to life. I have seen first-hand how thrilling this is! (All of you who have waited at the stage door on Broadway or in London’s West End know what I mean.) And when these children take classes or enroll in camps, they are empowered to bring stories to life themselves—to exercise their imaginations, to collaborate with one another, to offer their own ideas, and to get excited about what stories can become—and what they can do.

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As English majors and soon-to-be graduates, I hope you will consider how best to serve your communities. And I hope you will find new and creative ways to promote literacy—because I know that you also believe in the power of story; I know that you know, first-hand, that stories can change lives, transforming and enriching the people who write, study, teach, watch and perform them. Stories matter; they make us human. What could be more important?

— Text by Annette Sisson.  NCT photographs courtesy of Colin Peterson.

Gustke To Lead Book Discussion

betweenCharmion Gustke, Assistant Professor or English, in conjunction with the Black Student Association, will facilitate a discussion of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The author is a New York Times Best-Seller and 2015 National Book Award winner. Coates’ novel is an open letter addressed to his 15-year old son highlighting the incongruence of the Black experience with the “American Dream.” The discussion will take place 10:00 to 10:50 a.m. on Monday, March 21, in Massey Business Center, Room 103.  Academic Lecture convo will be offered.

English Club To Hold Bake Sale For Pine Ridge

m&mEach year Belmont English majors hold a bake sale in order to fund a literacy program for the children at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  This year, the sale will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 22-23) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the lobby of McWhorter Hall.  Both students and professors always bake their hearts out, so please show up to support their efforts and bring cash and an appetite!

Murray Reviews Book, Publishes Essay

doug_murrayDr. Douglas Murray, Professor in the Department of English, has reviewed Margaret Doody’s Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (University of Chicago Press, 2015) for the influential periodical Studies in the Novel; the review appears in the Spring 2016 edition.

In addition, Dr. Murray’s essay “Mobility in England, 1816:  Austen’s Emma and Humphrey Repton’s ‘View from my own cottage’ ” will appear in a volume of collected essays, Jane Austen’s Geographies, edited by Robert Clark-Majerus.  This collection grew out of a bicentennial conference on Pride and Prejudice, which took place at the University of Hertfordshire in July 2013.

Stoddard To Read For Deep Song Series

DeepSongLogoConnected to National Poetry Month and Belmont University’s Deep Song Reading Series, Christina Stoddard will read from her work on April 7th, 7:00 p.m. (location TBD). Stoddard is the author of Hive, which was selected by Lucia Perillo for the 2015 Brittingham Prize in Poetry (University of Wisconsin Press). Her poems have appeared in various journals including storySouth, DIAGRAM, and Spoon River Poetry Review. Originally from Tacoma, WA, she received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was the Fred Chappell Fellow. Christina is an Associate Editor at Tupelo Quarterly and a Contributing Editor at Cave Wall. Stoddard currently lives in Nashville, TN where she is the Managing Editor of a scholarly journal in economics and decision theory. She is online at:

Yeo To Address Shakespeare Association of America


Dr. Jayme Yeo, Assistant Professor of English, will present at the Shakespeare Association of America‘s annual meeting, held March 23-26th in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her paper, on 17th century female poet Mary Wroth, explores the role of love poetry in Britain’s transition from monarchy to republicanism.

Gustke Presents at SSSL Conference

charmion_gustkeDr. Charmion Gustke presented “The Charming and Untruthful South in Willa Cather’s Transcendentalism” at The Society for the Study of Southern Literature conference,  held March 10-12 at Boston University. This year’s organizing topic was “The South in the North,” and in this vein, Gustke examined Willa Cather’s conflicted relationship with the South. Her paper suggests that Cather’s experiences living in the Northeast led to her “split consciousness”—a subject position that juxtaposes Cather’s Southern upbringing, an influence that persists far beyond her Virginian childhood, against the worldliness of her adult life. According to Gustke, this double narrative, mirrored in Cather’s late return to the Shenandoah Valley as the site of Sapphira, shapes the Southern glance and competing ideologies of Cather’s transcendentalist philosophy.