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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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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Stover Opens Spring Speakers Series

by Amanda Nicklaus

Dr. Andrea Stover opened the English Department’s annual Spring Speakers Series last Friday, Feb. 17 in Massey 103 with a presentation entitled “Virginia Woolf in the Age of Trump.”

Anyone who has taken a class with Dr. Andrea Stover can attest to her cheerful disposition, her passion for writing, and her love for Virginia Woolf. With this combination in mind, it would surprise no one that every seat in the room was filled last Friday, as students and faculty alike gathered eagerly anticipating Stover’s presentation.


Holding up a poster, Stover began by telling her audience of her participation in the recent Women’s March. On the poster was a quote by, of course, Virginia Woolf: “As a woman my country is the whole world.” The Women’s March, in providing a platform for minority voices to speak, prompted Stover to wonder about ways in which we can use our voices, and she turned to Woolf’s book-length essay “The Three Guineas” for guidance. Woolf observed that wealth promotes “power of some at the cost of others.” Guineas, Stover explained, were the currency of the slave trade, representative of the fact that Britain’s wealth and power were built on racism and slavery. Although she didn’t make any specific parallels, the audience was aware of the all-too-relevant reference to current events.

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Carl Blyth Addresses Social Reading and Participatory Culture

On Wednesday, September 21, Dr. Carl Blyth,  Associate Professor of French Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, presented, “What It Means To Read (And To Teach) in the 21st Century: Digital Social Reading and Participatory Culture.”   A recording of his presentation and a written overview follow.

E-reading devices such as the Kindle as well as websites such as allow people to read the same text, annotate the text and to share their annotations with the world. The resulting practice is referred to as digital social reading. This new literacy practice violates many humanists’ expectations of what it means to read based on a shared “print culture.” This talk frames digital social reading in terms of a new “participatory culture” in which interpretive practices long associated with the individual become a group activity. The impact of digital social reading has stirred much academic controversy. On the one hand, literature specialists claim that it jeopardizes close reading skills long associated with traditional forms of academic literacy. On the other hand, digital humanists argue that the real problem comes from equating reading with a narrowly defined and historically situated practice—the close reading of a printed text. Proponents of digital literacies note that the question is no longer how to teach reading but rather, which kind of reading to teach. Close reading of printed, literary texts? Hyperreading of digital texts? Or machine reading of databases? Or, put differently, how should humanists teach the multiple practices now associated with reading in the digital age?


Andy Jewell Unpacks Willa Cather Archive

On Wednesday, September 21, Dr. Andrew Jewell—Professor of Digital Projects at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries and Editor of the Willa Cather Archive—presented “Ain’t It Wonderful… How Much People Can Mean to Each Other?  Technology in the Service of the Humanities” about his work connected to the construction of the Willa Cather digital archive.

Building a new, digital edition of the Complete Letters of Willa Cather on the Willa Cather Archive requires the editorial team to be deeply engaged with technology, to worry over schemas, databases, markup and the shifting world of web-based design and publication. But all of the technological sophistication of the edition is meaningless if it cannot accomplish its basic function: it must be a way for people to learn about this great American writer, her words, her circle and her times. It must deeply connect readers to this rich part of our human culture. Drawing on years of creating digital resources and teaching a digital humanities course that connects teams of students with regional nonprofits, this presentation focuses on the power of emerging technology to connect people, engage with new audiences and demonstrate the value of a humanities-centered approach to solving a variety of challenges.



Amy Earhart Discusses “Small Data” Digital Humanities

On Tuesday, September 20, as part of the 15th Annual Belmont University Humanities Symposium, Dr. Amy Earhart,  Associate Professor of English at Texas A&M University, presented, “An Ethical Digital Humanities: Small Scale Approaches to Inclusive DH Projects.” As Dr. Earhart noted, the digital humanities has, as a field, been critiqued for high cost, huge projects that are often exclusionary by their structure, cost, technology application, and content. She discussed the limitations of such approaches to digital humanities projects and charted a long history of low entry point, accessible digital approaches—what she calls “small data” digital humanities.  Her talk can be viewed below: