Alumni Profile: Ara Vito

Ara Vito Belmont English Major Alumniby Manuel Lagos

Ara Vito graduated from Belmont University in May 2016 with a double major in Theatre and English. For her Theatre senior capstone project she wrote a stage adaptation of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” entitledAlice.” This play was not only a success at Belmont but it went on to receive multiple awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). Before “Alice,” Vito had no idea she wanted to be a playwright, yet it would seem that she found a home in playwriting by merging her two personal interests—theatre and literature.

Both “Alice” and Vito’s second play “Antigone,” stemmed from interests she picked up in the classroom. She says, “[the plays] were inspired by specific literature and literary genres—such as the Southern Gothic genre—that I developed an even greater passion for while studying them in my English classes at Belmont.” Not only did Vito’s studies provide her with knowledge of genre, she also claims to have picked up the tools of her craft along the way, saying, “English majors are constantly encouraged to think beyond the surface of any piece of writing and to focus not only on what the authors says but how he or she tells the story. Learning how to analyze structure, theme, tone, imagery, historical context, author’s intent, etc. has helped me immensely.” Her ability to identify each element at work in the source material, allowed her to leverage those aspects of writing in her adaptations.

Alice Belmont University Theatre

Always finding Vito’s work at the intersection of her personal interests, anyone who has seen her plays knows that her adaptations take on new life from the source material. Vito says, “my adaptations have come down to honing in on what these stories mean to me and what they say about the human condition, and working with those central ideas while still being creative.” Through this lens, “Alice” was performed with an all female cast and act breaks were hidden through creative transitions. “Antigone,” a Greek tragedy, becomes a Southern-Gothic tale. Vito’s plays take on fresh and relevant meaning because she makes the source material meaningful for herself.

By creating works that resonate with her personally, Vito’s plays hit home for her audience too. KCACTF’s recognition of “Alice” landed Vito a summer spent studying at the Kennedy Center, which she classified as “a dream.” Vito’s success with “Alice” has even taken her into the business world, saying, “‘Alice’ is being produced by other theatre companies and I’m learning the ins and outs of contracts and author’s rights.” Vito isn’t kidding when she says that her plays have opened doors for her.

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Approaching a year since graduation, Vito has a world of options available. “I will definitely keep pursuing playwriting… I’m considering looking into publishing as well. I will be thinking about grad school later on down the road and continuing to write new material.” Yet the possibilities of these options are not daunting to Vito, to her they seem welcome. By finding a new interest in writing through her adapted plays, she seems to possess a sense of solidarity. Summing it up, she says “I might not know exactly what I’ll be doing a year from now, but I do know that I’ll always love writing, and I really am so appreciative of all the ways the Belmont English Department has encouraged me in that.”

Photos of “Alice” and “Antigone” by Rick Malkin Photography.

Manuel Lagos is a Senior majoring in Motion Pictures and minoring in Writing.

Former Grad Featured

featuredBelmont MA alumnus, Kristi Galligan, was profiled in The Wilson Post for her work on African-American history and segregation. Kristi received her MA in English in 2016. Check out the article here: http://wilsonpost.com/woman-of-wilson-kristi-galligan-cms-89164

English Masters Students Continue Educations

Three grads who earned their Masters degrees in English at Belmont are continuing to develop their professional, scholastic identities through additional graduate study:

  • Sam Orr will enter the University of South Carolina this fall and work toward a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature.  Orr was awarded both a teaching assistantship and a Presidential Fellowship in his graduate offer.
  • Kristina Kirk will enter the University of Texas, Dallas to begin a Ph.D. in literature.
  • Jennifer Delmolino, in addition to taking a full-time, autism teaching position at King’s Daughters’ School in Columbia, is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Special Education at Lipscomb University.

Alumni Feature: Eric Detweiler

by Dylan Loggins, Belmont English major

detweiler copyEric Detweiler, Belmont alumnus, currently co-produces the “Zeugma” podcast, a media channel that features University of Texas graduate students who discuss “rhetoric, digital literacies, literature, and linguistics.”

Detweiler’s interest in these topics grew out his early experiences as an English major at Belmont University.  In his first semester of college, he took a writing course with Dr. Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, who had just begun to teach at the university. From this class, Detweiler developed an interest in rhetoric. “That course was my first brush with rhetorical approaches to reading and writing,” he recalls, “and [she] convinced me to switch my major to English with a writing emphasis.” Detweiler also cites Dr. Linda Holt’s Theories of Writing, Dr. Cynthia Cox’s Advanced Composition, Dr. Robbie Pinter’s Writing and Spirituality, and Dr. David Curtis’s Senior Seminar as influential classes. “They taught me to think about language’s social, political, historical, scientific, and theoretical dimensions,” he says. “The reading and writing I assign undergraduates, my interest in the politics of language education, my belief in the importance of developing a vocabulary to talk about and reflect on your own writing and others’—all those things are deeply influenced by what I learned and studied at Belmont.”

Post-Belmont, Detweiler immediately found a new home at the University of Louisville, where he jumped straight into a master’s degree program. “I had a notion that I would become a creative writer,” he said, “but U of L’s program had great faculty in rhetoric and composition.” In addition to taking courses from them, Detweiler also spent two years teaching classes of his own, as an adjunct, at various Nashville campuses, Belmont included. He found himself in UT’s PhD program soon after. “Engaging with students and working on their writing was, I realized, a practical extension of what I’d liked most about my studies at Belmont, plus I realized I was not great at writing fiction and poetry,” Detweiler remarks. “Scholars working in rhetoric and composition also have a deep commitment to teaching–one I’d seen embodied by my professors at Belmont–that I respect a lot.”

In discussing the Zeugma podcast, Detweiler noted that, while podcasts are not his preferred medium for discussing information, it is a platform in which he feels both “very comfortable and constantly disoriented.” He explains, “There are fewer established conventions for using audio in academic settings than there are for academic writing, and so podcasts can offer opportunities for experimentation, invention, and sheer weirdness that are sometimes closed off when you’re writing. I also like the way you can incorporate different voices–their rhythms, inflections, worldviews, and so on–into audio work.”

Detweiler was willing enough to “risk a couple of predictions” on the future of rhetoric. He feels that rhetoric, at the undergraduate level, will be taught differently, as he believes that we will see some decrease in first-year writing requirements at four-year universities, as community colleges dual-credit programs in high schools start to pick up some of that work. He also believes that rhetoric and writing faculty will begin to shift their focus toward building majors as opposed to teaching general-education classes. Citing Rutgers professor Jim Brown as an influential voice in this regard, Detweiler notes: “At present, ‘digital humanities’ or ‘digital rhetoric’ is still somewhat specialized work, but as more and more of what we compose and the ways we compose happens in digital spaces, it seems likely to me that ‘digital rhetoric’ or ‘digital humanities’ will become less distinguishable from ‘rhetoric’ or ‘the humanities’ more broadly.”

For more information on Detweiler, his team, and the Zeugma podcast, visit:  http://rheteric.org/