Event Recap: Storyfest Fall 2016

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Storyfest Fall 2016 Schedule

The very end of fall semester 2016 saw the introduction of a little co-lab conference known as Storyfest. The purpose of Storyfest was to bring professors and students together to discuss the question: “what makes a good story?” Over the course of November 30th to December 2nd, lectures, group panels and films aimed to answer just that. Storyfest 2016 was filled to the brim with beautiful and intelligent student work—some projects even having developed over the entirety of the fall semester. This year’s Storyfest even featured well-beloved author Aminatta Forna (The Hired Man and several other works) along with filmmakers Scott MacLeod and Mike Burns (The Water of Life).

In my opinion, one of the largest benefits of Storyfest (and similar conferences) is that it allows the English major—along with other creative majors—into the public eye. I think it is fair to say that while class discussions bring the majority of students together, being an English major is a fairly solitary major. Storyfest remarkably brings both majors and non-English majors into the same room and opens up a conversation via lectures or group panels. By doing so, it creates a cross current of opportunity and understanding.

With each co-lab, the end of semester conferences continue to grow and improve. I look forward to what may come in the spring (potentially another Storyfest?) and I hope to see you all there—whether it be to present or part of the audience.

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Senior Brunch! (2015)

As the Spring 2015 semester eases into its end, the graduating English and English education majors shared a lovely brunch with the English faculty. This gave students a final hurrah! with the peers and professors that guided them through their undergraduate careers. The morning was lively with exciting conversation and tasty food; students reflected on their college experiences and talked about what is still to come. Senior brunch was the perfect opportunity to shake off a crazy—but memorable—semester.

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Dr. Karen Hellekson: Doctor Who and Fan Studies Presentation

Dr. Karen Hellekson is a renowned fan studies and Doctor Who scholar. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Kansas, where she also studied science fiction. She’s published several articles, two books, and coedited three books. Most of her work is within the science fiction and fan communities. Doctor Who Poster

Dr. Misty Krueger, a professor of English at UMF, calls Dr. Karen Hellekson “a database of Doctor Who knowledge.”

This riveting presentation, “Affirmational and Transformational Doctor Who Fan Videos,” illustrated a broader view of fandoms, fannish communities, and fan fiction than what many people are familiar. Moreover, as a whole, her career illuminates the modern day applicability and relevance of the English degree.

Fan fiction is broken up into two types of texts: affirmational and transformational.

Affirmational texts

  • Created by men
  • Restate the source material
  • Affirm the creator and/or producer
  • Fan sanctioned by creator

Transformational texts

  • Created by women
  • Twist and manipulate source material
  • Creator and/or producer are not relevant
  • Fans are unsanctioned by creator

Why transform?

It creates community, celebrates the text, critiques the text or culture, provides character studies, and positions text from the preferred fan meaning. Furthermore, transformational texts are a site of critique, often on women, gender, culture, or the text itself. The text is transformed to make a larger point beyond the source material.

Dr. Hellekson’s talk was part of the continuing Lectures in the Arts and Humanities Series at UMF, jointly sponsored by the Honors Program, the Humanities Division, and the department of Sound, Performance, and Visual Inquiry.


A brief and powerful interview with Karen Hellekson:

It’s really interesting that you’ve continued to do scholarship although your career path is not an academic one. I’m wondering if you would comment on what English majors who aren’t interested in teaching might do?

My day job is in publishing, which is a good field for English majors. I copyedit journal articles and books in the scientific, technical, and medical market, which I had to learn all about, as I do not have a technical background. I thought I wanted to be a college professor, so I got a PhD, only to discover that I did not enjoy teaching. However, I had already begun to publish and present in my field, science fiction. (I went to the University of Kansas specifically to study SF literature with Professor James Gunn, who is now retired). My interests then broadened to include fan studies, and I was able to leverage my background in both journal production and scholarship into editing a peer-reviewed academic journal in fan studies, “Transformative Works and Cultures” (http://journal.transformativeworks.org/).

Also, I’m guessing a lot of people are surprised when they find out you’re a professional fan and scholar of Doctor Who, because it sounds like it couldn’t possibly be a real thing, but rather the teenage fantasy of thousands… How would you respond to this? How did you turn your love of Doctor Who and fan fiction into a career?

I’ve loved Doctor Who since 1982! So it’s been a long time! It actually turns out that you can leverage pretty much anything into scholarship, because it’s all out there: all sorts of TV shows and films, all sorts of genres (SF, westerns, fantasy, cop shows…), plus all sorts of engagement with them. When I was at the University of Kansas in the 1990s, science fiction was just mainstreaming as a teachable form of literature; now I see the same thing happening with fan studies and video games.

Fan engagement and scholarly engagement are actually quite similar. In my talk I showed fan-created videos, and I argued that these videos are actually a form of criticism of the show. The videos are fulfilling the same function as an English paper about, say, a Shakespeare play. The critical impulse is identical: you want to make a point about a text. It’s just that the text you’re assessing is Doctor Who instead of a Shakespeare play, and the form that assessment takes is a video made up of clips set to music, instead of a written text. Of course the creative criticism doesn’t have to take the form of a video. It could also be in manipulated images, icon sets, GIFs, avatar blanks, freehand sketches, music, written fiction, or hyperlinked text/images/whatever. It could even be handiworks like knitting projects or homemade sonic screwdrivers, or costumes (cosplay). There are many, many ways to engage. And it’s likely that if you are in fandom, you’ll find a group with like interests.

Fans tend to spend a lot of time learning about their fandom, just like scholars spend a lot of time learning about their fields. It isn’t that much of a stretch to use the critical methodology, close reading skills, and modes of analysis I learned as an English student and apply them to other, non-written texts—texts that I was already paying a lot of attention to. Applying various modes of analysis is pretty easy.

Several other scholars are working on Doctor Who (and Doctor Who fans!) who are far better known than I am, including Matt Hills and Paul Booth. However, as an independent scholar (the term means only that I am not affiliated with or supported by a university), I’m almost unique. There are very few independent scholars out there. It’s kind of an expensive hobby, with travel to various places to give talks, plus memberships in organizations who publish academic journals, which you have to be a member of before they will publish your paper.

I’d love to be able to share the videos you presented on the blog. Is that possible? And, if so, would you link me to where they’re on your blog?

http://khellekson.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/worldcon-talk-2014-08-18/

You can link directly to the YouTube ones, but please don’t link directly to the fan-created ones, unless you obtain permission directly from the creators.

During the presentation, she explained that video creators, often times, consider their videos private; therefore, attaining permission to share them is important. She received permission to show the videos in her presentation.

Scholar Lisa Brooks at UMF

Lisa Brooks

Lisa Brooks

Wednesday, April 16 

11:45 a.m.,Thomas Auditorium

Lisa Brooks, associate professor of English and American studies at Amherst College and former UMF Libra scholar, presented a lecture entitled, “Finding Namaskonti: Native American History in Farmington Falls.” 

It attracted a wide range of people, including those from the community. Perhaps the local emphasis is what attracted students, staff, and community members alike.

Brooks’ historical discussion on the oral tradition and the  “last Indian” was interesting. In addition, her inclusion of local artifacts, such as Hannah Susup’s Basket, located in the Farmington Library, Farmington, ME, made the lecture more personal. 

Lisa Brooks, thank you so much for coming back up to UMF!  The community is wholly more enlightened since your lecture.

Encounters: UMF Libra Scholar Annette Kolodny

April 10, 2014

Q&A with English (and other Humanities) majors:

In an intimate setting, Annette Kolodny had a discussion with students and faculty about the opportunities available to English majors. Kolodny believes that lacking complexity is what holds people back. English majors, on the other hand, are capable of the higher order thinking necessary to succeed. She beautifully described the English major as an opening of new doors in communications, and within each is a different reality that facilitates higher thinking. She said that having an aptitude for empathy and analysis renders the English major versatile. 

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Libra Scholar Annette Kolodny

“Papal Bulls, Wishful Wonder, and the Many Fictions of the Doctrine of Discovery”:

Later the same day, students and faculty reconvened for Kolodny’s lecture “Papal Bulls, Wishful Wonder, and the Many Fictions of the Doctrine of Discovery.” 

“This lecture examines the language of the original papal bulls that set out the legal parameters for what became known as the ‘doctrine of discovery.’ I argue that the bulls effectively constructed the language and tropes by which early explorers claimed to have ‘discovered’ lands previously unknown (and unclaimed by) any Christian. In keeping with the linguistic constructions demanded by the language of the bulls, early explorers claimed firstness by asserting that they had been greeted with wonder and awe by the Native peoples. But in fact, a number of Eastern Algonquian stories of first contact with Europeans wholly undercut these descriptions of “wonder” and thoroughly undermine European assertions of first contact and so-called discovery. My remarks will concentrate on texts from the Penobscot Nation in Maine, including Joseph Nicolar’s Life and Traditions of the Red Man and a story that had previously remained only in oral tradition but was told to me by former Penobscot Nation chief James Sappier.” 

This riveting lecture covered a time span from A.D. 1000, Leif Eiriksson’s exploration of Vinland, to 1534, when European fisheries established from southeastern Labrador to Nova Scotia and Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Afterwards, students and faculty joined the conversation. Kolodny, an articulate and entertaining speaker, graciously answered each and every question. She ended her presentation by bringing her visitation full-circle; she said, “This is where an English degree can take you.”

As always we want to take the time to say how much we appreciate our guests: Annette Kolodny, thank you so much for your eye-opening presentations!

Miss the event? Download a copy of the handout below:

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Tribute Event for Annette Kolodny

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From left to right, Margo Lukens (University of Maine), Lorrayne Carroll (University of Southern Maine), Sabine Klein (kneeling, University of Maine-Farmington), Michael Johnson (University of Maine-Farmington), Jennifer Tuttle (University of New England), Annette Kolodny (Professor Emerita of American Literature and Culture, University of Arizona), Nancy Gish (University of Southern Maine), and Cathleen Miller (University of New England).

Held at the Maine Women Writer’s Collection at the University of New England, faculty from several Maine campuses gathered together to pay tribute to influential scholar Annette Kolodny, present in Maine to participate in a series of lectures at three UMaine campuses (USM, UMF, and Orono).

The Tempest at UMF

Students from multiple classes attended the recent UMF production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which provided material for a lot of good student writing about the play, including Delaney Klein’s review published in the Farmington Flyer. The online journal Knack, published by UMF students in the arts, also included multiple articles on the production, including interviews with the director, composer, and make-up designer, which includes a detailed look at the process of putting on Caliban’s make-up.

We’ve collected below several posts written by students in Honors 277 (Analyze This!!!!!!), touching on different elements of the production.

On the Opening Scene of The Tempest

by Samuel Bennett

In his introduction to The Tempest, David Lindley notes how many performances interpret the shipwreck in the first scene differently: “the subsequent stage history of the opening scene is characterized by oscillation between elaboration and simplification, realism and stylization” (17). I felt the performance at UMF combined these two approaches in a way that was effective and contributed to the play.

The scene began with a symbolic depiction of the storm, with Ariel leading several spirits to drive the waves. This recalled Ariel’s later statement that he would “divide and burn in many places” (127) – the spirits all seemed to be coordinated with his motions and moved as one, suggesting they were extensions of Ariel. The show’s rendition of “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” added to this effect – Ariel played music and gestured like a conductor while disembodied voices sang the lyrics. This established Ariel’s multifaceted, malleable nature by disconnecting his voice from his actions and having the lyrics be sung in different voices and intonations, suggesting there were multiple spirits that Ariel either directed or manifested as. I thought this was an interesting representation of an idea given in the text, and I was disappointed when Ariel’s other songs only used one voice.

Additionally, I thought the costuming and choreography of the spirits was effective – they wore white sheets and moved in wave-like motions, which both established them as embodiments of natural forces and represented the actual waves of the sea, giving the audience a sense of the stormy waters. Furthermore, my father (who I invited to the show) interpreted them as representing waves, whereas I saw them as the blowing wind. This ambiguity was likely intentional – Ariel is associated with both the sea and the wind; their costumes recalled both white rapids and the air; and their motions could easily be viewed as those of both waves and gusts of wind. The use of dance to represent the storm reminded me of the symbolic representations of the scene Lindley describes, which had “a huge puppet snake wind across the stage” (20). However, the actual dialogue and action of the opening scene was performed literally. I thought the actors depicted the storm effectively with the limited resources at their disposal – like the 1951 Mermaid Theatre production, “everybody acted high seas and hurricanes, and not a word was lost” (19). It was clear from the sounds of thunder, the flashes of light, and the frantic, panicked voices and motions of the actors that a storm was going on around them. The scene seemed chaotic and tumultuous because of how the performers played their parts and how audio-visual clues were used. I particularly liked how the gallery of the ship was represented by tying a rope to a pillar in the balcony – this set was obviously designed around the auditorium’s actual layout, but the balcony, with its railing and mast-like pillars, really did look like a ship, and tying the rope to the “mast” was enough for me to read it as such. This reminded me of Barthes’s idea of mythology – the balcony could resemble either a balcony or a ship, so simply tying a rope to the pillar produced a distinctly nautical image strong enough for me to view it as the latter without any other props or set pieces. All in all, I enjoyed The Tempest. It was fun to watch, and since I knew the complicated history of the play and its staging, I was able to get more out of it by seeing how the show was performed and how it impacted the presentation as a whole.

The Portrayal of Caliban

By Erika Burns

I thoroughly enjoyed UMF’s production of The Tempest. I wasn’t sure what to expect because there is so much open for interpretation. The use of lighting and sheets billowing in the wind of the storm provided an interesting and authentic portrayal of the shipwreck. The simple use of the upper balcony for the boatswain to climb down the rope also helped to create an image of an actual ship. I was very impressed by the storm scene as a whole.

I was most looking forward to seeing the depiction of Caliban in the UMF production. The Tempest casts him as an almost inhuman character, so far removed from society and enslaved that he has no regard for human social interaction or even human movement. Characters often refer to him as a monster so repulsive they do not even consider him to be a human. I didn’t think that UMF would come even remotely close to portraying him accurately, but I was quickly proven wrong. Caliban’s movement and dress made him seem very primitive. Putting him in a loincloth is the easiest way to convey a primitive look, but there were many added effects to enhance his look. Caliban’s make-up included hairy wart-like patches and animal print paint placed randomly on his forearm and leg. All of this – in addition to his facial make-up and greasy, tousled hair – created a caveman-like image. One foot literally had a monster’s foot attached instead of a human foot, which literally turned him into the monster that the play makes him out to be. Caliban’s movement is also distorted and not human. He was hunched over for the entire play, often resorting to moving around on all fours  to “walk” across the stage. For slight movement, Caliban’s right arm was always drooped, which created a hunched back and made him look more like an animal.

Caliban’s depiction was also enhanced by his interactions with other cast members. When he kissed the feet of Stephano, Stephano dissolved into laughter. He was mocking Caliban for being so desperate to serve him that he was willing to kiss his feet. The fact that Caliban did it again added to his desperation and, therefore, added to his mockery. It was clear to the audience that Caliban was never anything more than a servant and an odd creature to look at. Stephano recoiled every time Caliban drew near and he watched him in awe as he drank so desperately. Moments like these are not portrayed in the written play. Subtle nuances and movements cannot be accurately represented and aren’t written down as strict instructions for the actors to follow. Movement is left open to interpretation, and I think that the UMF production of The Tempest did a good job of showing Caliban’s lack of human characteristics (or at the most, very primitive ones). Doing this from all aspects was crucial in creating the desired effect. From Caliban’s make-up to his movement to his interactions with other actors, there was truly an animalistic air about him and the way others viewed him in the play.

The Portrayal of Ariel and Caliban

By Emily Cote

Ariel, being my favorite character in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is the figure I’d like to focus on. One of Shakespeare’s talents is creating characters for theater that can be interpreted in many different ways – ghosts, spirits, gods, and fairies are present among his works and their presence on stage have been portrayed differently over the years. Ariel is a character of similar complexity, and an interesting point David Lindley voiced was that: “Caliban is not only a slave and political rebel, but is also defined by his relationship to Ariel. How this relationship is characterised by critics and represented on stage has vital consequences for any interpretation of the play. The transformations in the two roles, indeed, have taken interestingly intertwined paths.” (58)

In UMF’s representation of The Tempest, there was an emphasis on making Caliban a sympathetic character from his apparent physical disfigurement, blatant from makeup and costuming (I liked his gruesome-looking foot) while Ariel was made impressively graceful – everything from the lithe in his step to his flowing lines gave him an air that separated him and Caliban. Some critics of other Tempest performances have speculated that Ariel should be portrayed as a figure from Heaven, while Caliban should be seen as a creature from Hell. Despite his “monstrous” appearance, I did not get the sense that Caliban was evil, but simply pathetic and primitive – he dislikes his master for a good reason, as the prejudice is apparent in the treatment of both Ariel and Caliban by Prospero. Caliban’s loincloth was also a good touch, but his dress evoked a “caveman” feeling rather than a “demon” one. Ariel, however, was given a god-like appearance, especially due to the fact he was included in the beginning of the play with his muses/spirits (the chorus). It has been long debated whether or not he should be seen in the beginning, because some say it takes away from the plot as Ariel is quickly revealed to be a slave to Prospero; however, I liked that UMF included him, as it added to the drama of the storm (it seemed he was commanding the muses, making him more god-like).

Posture and self-awareness are huge keys in acting that really influence how Caliban and Ariel appear. The actor that portrayed Caliban avoided eye contact and made himself seem beneath whoever he was talking to. Ariel, on the other hand, didn’t seem so much a slave but rather a helping hand who was indebted to a savior – this is especially apparent because Ariel appears much more humble and eager than Caliban. While I don’t necessarily believe the UMF cast portrayed Caliban and Ariel to be foils of good and evil, I do think they emphasized the difference between cultured and primitive, and between graceful/godlike and crude/enslaved. Even had we seen them simply dressed side-by-side without the context of the plot we would have made the distinction that one was elegant (Ariel’s costume was simple but did the part well – he had gossamer-looking frills that implied grace, though I would have liked to have seen wings) and one was a monster or outcast. Though Ariel’s costume didn’t really give away that he was a spirit, his implied magic comes alive when he instructs the music and chorus like a symphony conductor – easily my favorite interpretation of his power and grace.

 

 

Visiting Writers Series: Maria Flook

On Thursday, March 27th, author Maria Flook read her work to the community. She is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod and My Sister Life: The Story of My Sister’s Disappearance. Flook has been published in many genres including: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She considers herself a storyteller and is passionate about her craft.  

Flook has also published two collections of poems, “Sea Room” and “Reckless Wedding,” winner of the Houghton Mifflin New Poetry Series.

After the event, the students were able to meet and talk to Flook at a book signing.

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Encounters: Mary Louise Pratt

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Mary Louise Pratt

Monday, March 17th: Globalization and Language 

On Monday, students and faculty filled The Landing for scholar Mary Louise Pratt’s presentation on globalization and language. Pratt first became involved in the research of globalization and language when she felt there was, in her words, “nobody talking about it.” Languages are being lost at a faster rate now than ever before; every two weeks the last speakers of a language die.

There are five elements language learners must have to be successful: time, effort, desire, input, and opportunities to use the language. Lacking any of these is detrimental to maintaining a mastery of a given language. A good example of this can be found in the push for high schoolers to develop proficiency in a foreign language before entering college or the workforce; while the intentions are laudable, what often happens is that students, once beyond the classroom, are left without opportunities to speak the foreign language. As such, their proficiency in that language quickly diminishes.

On another note: Language is subjective; words and meanings count more or less for different people. And this elasticity, that human comprehension is capable of, can become problematic. To clarify, our ability to produce language is smaller than our ability to comprehend it. This creates a complicated dynamic between speaker and listener.

Furthermore, language is becoming murkier because of the production of translingual pieces.  For example, Pratt showed a video of the Bolivian rap group, Ukamau Y Ke, who mix languages in their works—according to Pratt this is a form of linguistic rebellion. Written literatures, compared to these highly transmittable aural forms, are limited because globalization does not increase the number of languages used in literature.

The future of global language is uncertain. But Pratt expressed in this eye-opening presentation the importance of embracing all linguistic forms and mediums—because of this uncertainty.

Wednesday, March 19: Workshop on Translingual Poetry 

Two days later, students and faculty rejoined Mary Louise Pratt for a workshop on translingual poetry. Participants were divided into four groups, and each group analyzed a different poem. For each work the following questions were considered:

  • How are the two languages brought together?
  • By what means are they brought together?
  • What relation is created between them?

This hands-on workshop served as an extension of her presentation on Monday, and it gave participants the opportunity to experience her work for themselves.

For those that may have missed the workshop and want to experience one of Pratt’s activities, continue reading: Click on the hyperlink of comedian George Lopez’s stand-up. Watch it and ask yourselves the following:

  • How many character do you observe?
  • What do the accents, bilingualism, and phonetics communicate?
  • What is the relationship of the two languages?
Mary Louise Pratt

Mary Louise Pratt

Thank you so much Mary Louise Pratt for an insightful and engaging look into globalization, language, and translingual poetry!

“The Waste Land” Performance

Some photos of the reading/performance of “The Waste Land” (part of the Why English? series at UMF).

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