Maggie Mitchell Reads from Widely Acclaimed First Novel

By Max Mason

“Everyone thought we were dead” is the first sentence of Maggie Mitchell’s first novel Pretty Is, which she read from in the crowded First Lecture Hall on the fourth floor of the Inman Center on Wednesday, March 15. Her reading was the first event in Belmont’s Deep Song Reading Series this semester.

The evening began with an introduction by Dr. Susan Finch, who said that she read the book during the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Dr. Finch’s time was precious, but she realized “that’s what I wanted to do with Maggie’s novel.”

The story’s narrative alternates between the two main characters Lois and Carly May, who are abducted at age twelve by a man who drives them across the country and keeps them in his cabin in the woods in upstate New York. The story follows the lives of the two women and is centered on their relationship during and after their abduction. As adults, Lois becomes an English professor and Carly May becomes an actress. Lois writes a novel based on the abduction, and Mitchell  includes excerpts of it in her novel to further the story.

The New York Times called her novel “A stunning, multilayered debut.” During the Q&A session, Mitchell shared that she had to make a chart of all of the character’s names because Carly May changes her name to Chloe when she is an adult;  there are completely different names for the characters in Lois’s novel; and there is even a movie made based on Lois’s novel starring two young actresses who are referred to by their own names.  But it is also multilayered because it delves deep inside the vulnerable psyches of these women, since the movie based on Lois’s novel forces these women confront each other and their dark history.

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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Finch’s Recent Accomplishments and Thoughts on Writing

by Charlsie Johnson

Nestled into her office on the third floor of the Janet Ayers Academic Center, Dr. Susan Finch and I chatted about her newest writing achievements, ongoing projects, and career as a writer. Finch teaches Creative Writing to undergraduates as well as graduate students for the English Department at Belmont, while also doubling as a successful published writer. Most recently she won the Special Topics Prize in the Crab Orchard Review for her short story, “Everybody Has a Flood Story,” and was named one of the six finalist for the Hamlin Garland Award in the Beloit Fiction Journal for her story, “Dear Second Husband.”

Finch expressed how she was excited to be selected by Crab Orchard Review this past December. She explained that the published issue this July, in she will be featured, is to be the last issue in print because of the move to publish online. The Special Topics Contest was called All about the Weather, and each submission had to discuss weather conditions in a creative way. Her work, “Everybody Has a Flood Story,” was the product of her research on the floods that occurred in 2010. “The research wasn’t to create factual truth,” said Finch. “The research was to give inspiration to my writing.” Her method for developing the story included listening to different accounts from those who were impacted by the floods. This sparked the creation of fictional mini stories with various narrators who were also victims of tragedy.

COR journal cover

“Dear Second Husband,” submitted to the Beloit Fiction Journal, was recognized as a finalist for the Hamlin Garland Award in February of this year. The Beloit Fiction Journal publishes the best in contemporary short fiction that is either traditional or experimental with its narrative. Finch explained that the story that she submitted for this journal is part of a bigger ongoing project that she is working on: a published collection of nine short stories, titled Dear Second Husband. Its structure is a mixture of the traditional short story and experimental elements that push the traditional boundaries due to its incorporation of letters,  the purpose of which is not revealed until part way through the book itself.

“For a lot of readers of short stories this can be really jarring because it does not follow their personal expectations of what a story should be,” said Finch. “But it’s a lot of fun to do because you get to break down the walls a little bit.”

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Tiana Clark To Read for Deep Song Series

The Deep Song Reading Series continues this spring with Tiana Clark, a Nashville-based poet who will read from her work in celebration of National Poetry Month.  Please join her on April 6th at 7:00 p.m. in JAAC 4094.  Student convocation credit will be offered.

Lovvorn Speaks on Persuasion in a Post-Truth Era

By Jacqueline Karneth

Last Friday, March 17, Dr. Jason Lovvorn treated Belmont students to a talk entitled “Persuasive Things (or) Is the World Trying to Tell Us Something?” In this second installment of the Spring Speakers series, Massey 100 was packed with students waiting to hear Lovvorn’s talk, many of whom learned about the concept of post-truth from a previous convocation speaker: Dr. John Duffy from the University of Notre Dame.

Despite a malfunctioning projector that caused his PowerPoint to cut in and out throughout the hour, Lovvorn never faltered during his presentation and never lost the attention of his audience. He began by introducing the concept of post-truth as it is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary and then tied it back to the idea of “truthiness” coined on The Colbert Report. As early as 2005 Stephen Colbert took a satirical approach to this topic by declaring encyclopedias and dictionaries as “elitist” and therefore, irrelevant to the ordinary person. Lovvorn explained that to say we live in a post-truth era is to realize that our current society tends to value individual beliefs and desires above objective facts. 

After hooking his audience with humor, Lovvorn described post-truth thought with reference to politics, media, and everyday life. Lovvorn recognizes elements of post-truth as they manifest themselves in all of our lives, not just in the lives of politicians and journalists. He describes this as a phenomenon that can be witnessed in both time and space. Through new online filters that can be applied to social media, we can cherry-pick the news and information that we are exposed to like never before. This results in the creation of an “echo-chamber” where the voices that we hear are only those that share our biases and predispositions. This extends beyond the world of internet news as Lovvorn notes that we often choose to spend time with people who share our interests and opinions. Studies show that we even go out of our way to live in neighborhoods where we will be near people who share similar mindsets as us.

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Living in a Post-Truth Society (A Second Take on John Duffy)

by Aleks Kojadinovic

“It’s too late for us to help Rush Limbaugh,” joked John Duffy, an Associate Professor of English at Notre Dame, during a convocation event. In his talk, titled “As a Matter of Fact: Ethical Writing in a Post-Truth Culture,” he discussed the use of a new language to combat the current state of public speech in our post-truth society and the toxic discourse that has evolved from it.

His Rush Limbaugh one-liner was included in an answer to a student asking how to respond to someone who denies your humanity, which is one of the principal problems of post-truth. Duffy explained that you will not be able to convert people to your way of thinking, but that civility should still be maintained.

Duffy defined post-truth, using the Oxford English Dictionary–which named “post-truth” its word of the year for 2016–as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The challenges that face society in relation to post-truth, according to Duffy, are that of the public forum and the quiet room, the former being how we respond as citizens of the U.S. when we are presented with post-truth and the latter how we respond when we are writing/speaking to the public from a private space. Post-truth, and the challenges it brings, cause a break in our communication culturally and politically. It makes discourse “poisonous, mean spirited, and corrosive.” So how do we combat post-truth? How do we maintain an ethical standing when discussing topics with others?

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Dr. John Duffy Hypothesizes Hope

by Manuel Lagos

Dr. John Duffy, Associate Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, presented a classroom full of Belmont students with many hypotheticals. “Suppose… I get on my Twitter account… and I say that I had a great time at Belmont. There were 5,000 people who came to the talk.” Dr. Duffy asked of the chuckling classroom audience, “What would you think about that?”

Continuing his hypothetical, Dr. Duffy then described the backlash he might receive from students as a result of his inflated number of audience attendance. And yet, his response to such backlash could be, “I was simply offering alternative facts.”

Dr. Duffy’s Feb. 20 morning convocation talk was aptly named, “As a Matter of Fact: Ethical Writing in a Post-Truth Culture” with the phrase “post-truth culture” being the focus. Although his initial hypothetical situation sounded straight from the headlines, Dr. Duffy wanted to be clear that his speech was not about any one political figure or party. Rather, Dr. Duffy was speaking about language. He was appealing to the audience’s very actions.

“We lack a language for argument that doesn’t involve name-calling,” Dr. Duffy pointed out when referring to the way that our culture now responds to each other through the often-anonymous Internet or the flame wars of Twitter. Despite this acknowledgment of post-truth discourse, Dr. Duffy does not believe that all is lost. In fact, he repeatedly stated his hope for the future of a post-truth culture.

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English Graduate Students Present at Conferences

Belmont Master of Arts student Lauren Santoru presented at the University of North Carolina Charlotte’s 17th annual English Graduate Student Association conference, “Gender and Diversity across the Disciplines,” held on February 3. Santoru’s paper, entitled “Hawthorne’s Metaphorical Pearl: Embodied Feminine Voice” was a feminist analysis of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

Jamey Wood, also a Masters student at Belmont, recently presented his research at the 2017 Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference, which took place February 15-18 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Originating from a project in a digital writing class, Wood’s presentation was titled, “A Dramatist Examination of John Prine’s ‘Sam Stone’” and was given as part of a panel discussion on rhetoric and technical communication.  Wood’s work has also been accepted to a conference that is scheduled to take place this June at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.