The Echo of History & The BlacKkKlansman

Amidst the cultural events on the UMF campus, the New Commons Project has been off to a radical start this spring. Beginning with lectures on hip hop and Kendrick Lamar’s latest album Damn to most recently with a screening of BlacKkKlansman this past Friday, February 8. Focusing on cultural events having to do with race and racial equality, the New Commons Project followed the BlacKkKlansman screening on Friday night with a symposium day of lectures on Saturday, February 9.

Directed by Spike Lee, the BlacKkKlansman came out in 2018 and is based off of a true story which was originally a memoir written by Ronell Eugene Stallworth that was published in 2014. Stallworth wrote this memoir based on his experience working as a cop for the Colorado Springs Police department in the 1970s.

Lincoln Auditorium in the Roberts Learning Center was packed on Friday night with only a handful of empty seats. The main character in the film, Ron Stallworth, is a young African American that joins the Colorado Springs Police Department to infiltrate the local KKK chapter. In the film, Stallworth’s actions and interactions with the KKK chapter are a wonderful paradox. First, Stallworth calls the chapter on the phone to pretend to be interested in becoming a member and then is partnered with a fellow cop, who is white to be the white Stallworth that interacts with the KKK in person. It isn’t until the end of the film that David Duke, the KKK leader, learns that Ron Stallworth is in fact African American. No one knew that he was black because of his white partner — Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver — and all of the KKK members began to accept him and eventually nominated him to be one of their leaders.

Ron Stallworth’s two-part character presents us with the ultimate racial duality or double consciousness. Firstly, Stallworth’s character is an African American in a mostly caucasian police department. Secondly, Stallworth risks his life and his partner’s life (character, Flip Zimmerman) by pretending to join the KKK in order to learn more about the violent and racist organization.

The film screening was followed with a panel discussion with several professors from UMF and our partner University of Le Mans, France. UMF faculty Sarah Maline, Associate Professor of Art History; Andre Siamundele, Assistant Professor of French; and Michael Schoeppner, Assistant Professor of History were led in discussion by UMF’s Libra Scholar Delphine Letort. Professor Letort is visiting UMF from Le Mans University. The panel members shared their thoughts on the film. Professor Letort commented on how Spike Lee reversed the message of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation of white people being afraid of black people to the reality that it is black people that are more rightfully afraid of white people. UMF’s Professor Schoeppner was really taken aback by the film and shared with the audience his observation that “history doesn’t repeat itself, it echoes.”

This idea of history echoing itself was brought up again in Saturday’s symposium. Audience members of students and faculty talked about how violence against race keeps on happening, why it keeps happening, and what we can do about it. It was agreed by many that there is no immediate or sole solution, that there is no one film or work of art that can change the world, no matter how moving it may be. The change is with the people and the people — us, me, and you — need to keep the conversation going. Talking about racial injustice issues in academics and in our everyday lives will help to keep replacing ignorance and fear with education and open-mindedness.

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Some Sentences From “Persuasion” – A New Commons Project Talk

RP101-0701Daniel Gunn, professor of English at UMF gave a talk last Wednesday December 5, 2018 in the Emery Community Arts Center on Some Sentences From ‘Persuasion’, a Jane Austen novel. This talk took the form of an academic reading journal of the profound intricacies that fascinate professor Gunn in Austen’s Persuasion. This talk was part of the Jane Austen series put on by the New Commons Project.

Kristen Case, associate professor of English and colleague to professor Gunn, prefaced the audience for what they were about to experience. Professor Case described professor Gunn’s investigatory research as slow, quiet, and “attentive to really understand the meaning of another’s words and sentences.” It is not every day that one pays such meticulous attention to the functionality of another’s writing. Professor Gunn is truly “Austen’s ideal reader,” affirmed professor Case.

It is the language at the sentence level in Persuasion that fascinates professor Gunn. His unusual, experimental readings of individual sentences captivated the audience in the Emery last Wednesday as professor Gunn took us all on a journey through his mind of the inner workings of Austen’s language. Gunn spoke with such passion and excitement as he shared his discoveries with us. “The narrator’s voice is not always the narrator’s” and “the withholding of the last phrase of the sentence is powerful” in select sentences throughout the Austen novel.

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If there is a heaven, Austen would have been smiling down upon professor Gunn last Wednesday. Among linguistic and grammatical investigation, there was also immense praise of Austen’s genius on Gunn’s behalf. He claims that her “arrangement [of syntactical elements] as brilliant” and the “sequences of phrases as ironic.”  One such example: … a dead young lady, nay, two dead ladies, for it proved twice as fine as the first report, gives the notion that Persuasion is “Austen’s saddest novel,” claimed Gunn. He also believes that the work is “a reminder of how precise Austen is to the natural world.”

Gunn delivered his discoveries with passionate understanding and appreciation of Austen’s technique. He continues to dissect her sentences, looking for more meaning, that Gunn knows is there, awaiting to be unpacked. At the conclusion of his presentation, professor Gunn called “the novel itself a ‘tender sonnet’ with a sense of loss.”

IMG_5869Upon hearing the enthusiasm in professor Gunn’s talk and learning about the profound inner workings of Austen, I felt a deep need to acquire a copy of Persuasion and save it for the day when I can read and experience for myself the inner workings of Austen’s genius.

Professor Gunn’s deciphering of thirteen select sentences from Jane Austen’s Persuasion can’t help but excite the mind of the listener. We discovered, with and through professor Gunn, the relevance and significance of Austen’s inner workings, truly a rare event.

For more information on upcoming New Commons Project events, please click here.

Special Event: Anthony Davis on John Coltrane’s “Alabama”

In early November I went to Anthony Davis’s talk “Race, White Backlash and the Spiritual Quest: Jazz Responds to the Struggle for Civil Rights” on John Coltrane’s “Alabama”, which was written in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing that resulted in the deaths of four young African American girls in 1963. Davis discussed, in depth, the history of the event and of jazz during his talk. What interested me was the way he broke down how the composition of “Alabama” allowed any listener at any time to feel the grief that was the response to the bombing. While listening to the details of the song, I thought about our discussion of Josh Kun’s Audiotopia and how it applied to “Alabama”.

Kun defines songs as audiotopias when they “[function] like a possible utopia for the listener…[and] is experienced not only as sound that goes into our ears and vibrates through our bones but as a space that we can enter into, encounter, move around in, inhabit, be safe in, learn from” (Kun 2). When Kun describes the idea of an audiotopia, he thinks about songs as being separate from music, which allows them to embody this quality. However, I think here we can see that “Alabama” functions in this way without having (or needing) lyrics.

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Coltrane’s “Alabama” is not, however, a utopia, even if we use the definition Kun gives which is the central quality of having “no known location” (Kun 2). The song is clearly dealing with a world in which four children are killed because of their race. In other words, not an ideal world. Further, it truly is about a particular place. It is about Alabama. It is about racial tensions in the United States. On this level here, we can understand the song as an audiotopia because the song becomes the place. Any listener from any location and time is transported into the Alabama of 1963. The listener is emotionally transported to this moment in time, and the listener is allowed to move around in this space.

Davis shows us how “Alabama” does all this. Although I am not overly familiar with musical theory, I do understand that different musical keys can give different experiences to the listener. When Coltrane used his particular jazz key in this song and with his minimal instrumental arrangement, he provided a specific voice, and this voice was somber. Because of the bareness of the arrangement, each instrument can be heard clearly speaking its mind. Of course, as I describe it here it sounds simple, as though anybody could write a song within a key and create a mood. But one thing about music is that it is never just notes on a page. The performance itself is the most important part. It was very interesting to be able to watch the performance and also see how the music lined up with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in response to the bombing. The performance and the notes themselves all work to create this audiotopia–this place where listeners are brought back to this moment in time and gain something from each listening experience.

Belanna Morales is a senior English major at UMF. This post was originally written for the UMF Literary Theory 2018 blog, which is used by students in ENG 455 Literary Theory to write about course reading material and sometimes to apply the ideas from course readings to events on campus. The Anthony Davis talk was scheduled as part of the events organized by the New Commons Project at UMF.

Today’s Music Through Activism: Performance by Anthony Green

On November 20th, 2018 I went to see Anthony R. Green’s performance Today’s Music Through Activism in the Emery Performance Center at the University of Maine, Farmington. It was a solo performance, with various music, sounds, media, and even audience voices involved. I didn’t know anything about Green before the performance started besides one clip we watched in class of him, that confused me more than anything else. But Today’s Music Through Activism was on a whole new level.

The entire production had a focus on bringing the experience of being black in America to light. Recent events, like police brutality and unlawful shooting of black people were included, as well as the history of the black experience, shown through “WE CANNOT BE AFRAID/KINDNESS RECITATION” a performance on a lynching. Music, and by extension, sound and performance, has always been an expression of identity and experiences. Not all of Green’s identity or experiences were shared by the audience in rural Maine college with a 60% female attendance, but that’s why it’s important that we did watch and participate.

This reminded me of a section in Josh Kun’s Audiotopia on Whitman’s I Hear America Singing. Whitman’s experiences of supposedly listening to all of America singing neglected to hear the voices of anyone that wasn’t a straight, white, upper class, and predominantly male person. This was obviously a case of selective hearing on Whitman’s behalf, because it wasn’t as if black people were invented after he made all his money. To contrast this, Green’s performance was all about being black: being black in America, showing black creativity, being a black performer, a black singer, and a black person. This was his way of expressing his identity and imagination through sound. He sung, stomped, talked, played piano, choked, hummed, and screamed through the set. Each sound was purposeful and chosen as a way to express his message.

I would say that Green’s creativity is something that I would have previously considered “unique” or “a little weird”, but the message and his efforts really hit home for me when we were invited to sing along with him in “Rest in Pow’r: a Song for Survival Echo Round”. It was then that Green sung the three lines over and over, then played the melody, and had us sing along with him. I think it really brought us in a new place and experience on being black in America, by literally having us in the form of our voices part of the performance. We can be part of the problems, or the solutions, but in that moment, we were singing with him, and echoing what he was singing: for those dead by violence against black people, may they rest in power.

Hailey Wellington is a senior at UMF, with a major in Secondary Education-English. This post was originally written for the UMF Literary Theory 2018 blog, which is used by students in ENG 455 Literary Theory to write about course reading material and sometimes to apply the ideas from course readings to events on campus. The Anthony Green performance was scheduled as part of the events organized by the New Commons Project at UMF.

 

 

Humanities Spring Reception

The Humanities Division at the University of Maine at Farmington recently help its annual spring reception to celebrate the end of the school year and the honor the the past year of accomplishments by students in the Humanities. At the ceremony, we recognized a variety of student accomplishments:

SIGMA TAU DELTA (English Honor Society) newly inducted members:

  • Thandiwe Andrade-Foster
  • Tegan Bradley
  • Carrie Close
  • Christina Kouros
  • Heather Leet
  • Wenyi (Nyx) Lu
  • Dale Rappaneau, Jr.
  • Alison Turtlott
  • Sarah Veilleux
  • Henry Wanat

SIGMA TAU DELTA members who are graduating:

  • Jessica Casey
  • Nicholas Cross
  • ​Christina Kouros​
  • Elizabeth Thompson
  • Alison Turtlott
  • Hannah Zimmerman

 

SIGMA TAU DELTA officers for 2018-2019:

  • Aurora Bartley (President)
  • Tegan Bradley (Vice President)
  • Curtis Cole (Secretary)
  • Thandiwe Andrade-Foster (Treasurer)

WILSON FELLOWS AND SCHOLARS:​

  • Curtis Cole (Wilson Fellow), faculty advisor Daniel Gunn
  • Hannah Calkin (Wilson Scholar), faculty advisor Shana Youngdahl
  • Richard Southard (Wilson Scholar), faculty advisors Michael Johnson and Steven Pane
  • Lauren Stetson (Wilson Scholar), faculty advisor Eireann Lorsung

RECOGNITION FOR LIFE-LONG LEARNING: Dorothy (Dot) White

SUCCESSFUL GRADUATE SCHOOL APPLICANT: Cassidy Marsh (pursuing an M.A. in English at the University of Maine)

VARIOUS WRITING ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

Alice James Books Director’s Chair Fellowship for fall 2018: Carrie Close

Islandport Magazine Writing Contest winner: Aimee Degroat (for “Where He Ain’t”)

University of Maine at Augusta Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival Poetry Contest:

  • Third prize: Gail Bello
  • Second prize: Billie Rose Newby

​Urban Apprenticeship Grants​ (funded by Proctor and Gamble):

Tegan Bradley

Zoe Stonetree

BFA SENIOR AWARD:

Fall 2017: Willy Doehring

Spring 2018: Hannah Calkin

BETH EISEN MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Dale Rappaneau, Jr.

HONORABLE MENTION FOR ACCOMPLISHMENT IN THE FIELD OF ENGLISH (finalists for Parks Award and Wood Scholarship):

  • Jenna Arcand
  • Conor Crandall
  • Ashley Forshaw
  • Joshua Heath
  • Meagan Jones
  • Elizabeth Kane
  • Emily Marquis
  • Dale Rappaneau, Jr.

MAUD L. PARKS AWARD: Annie Moloney

ELEANOR WOOD MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Belanna Morales

UMF Discusses Get Out and the Politics of the Oscars

Prior to the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony, UMF hosted a roundtable discussion on Jordan Peele’s debut film Get Out and the discourse the film would bring to the Oscars.

Get Out was nominated for “Best Picture,” “Best Original Screenplay,” “Best Actor,” and “Best Director.” The film ended up winning the “Best Original Screenplay” category, but the main focus of controversy was for its nomination as a comedy film for “Best Picture.”

Hosted by professors Michael Johnson, Ann Kennedy, Dawn Nye, and Sarah Maline, the panel immediately jumped into the controversy surrounding the Oscars and their treatment of Get Out. The comedy nomination sparked outrage among Twitter users, though this is not uncommon. Horror has been an overlooked genre in the Academy, with other horror films being entered in the drama category in years past. Although horror films have been nominated for “Best Picture” throughout the years, Silence of the Lambs was the last horror film to win this specific category in 1991.

Although the panel was met with a small crowd, every member of the audience had something to contribute to the discussion.

“Are you young people still watching the Oscars? Are you watching closely?” Nye asked the audience. Every person offered a response along the lines of “no,” with many opting to follow along on social media, namely Twitter.

“Who decides what is the ‘best picture?’ How do they decide? If my opinion doesn’t matter, why should I watch?” one student inquired when thinking about why younger audiences do not tune in.

Get Out is not the first film to generate this kind of discourse about what constitutes the “best picture;” foreign films have also inspired similar conversations.

“People try too hard to make blockbusters,” Maline said. “They often think to themselves, ‘what will the U.S. find charming about our culture?”

All of these elements lead us to the question at the center of this controversy: what do our Oscar nominations say about the U.S. as a society?

“I think it’s interesting that Hollywood is trying to remain neutral on industry politics,” Kennedy said. “Actors and actresses are chastised for standing up and making things political, but are they really speaking?”

Kennedy referenced the #metoo movement in this regard, noting that “the men stayed silent so women could have a chance to speak. The problem is, they lose nothing by staying silent.”

Johnson showcased a clip from the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony, in which a young woman named Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage in place of Marlon Brando after winning the award for “Best Actor” in The Godfather, to decline the award and instead give a speech on the unfair treatment of Indigenous people in the entertainment industry and in the United States in general as an example, calling it “one of the first instances of politicizing.”

Bringing the presentation back to Get Out, the panel and the audience analyzed various elements of the film that also contribute to this discourse and reflect the tumultuous political air surrounding the ceremony.

“White audiences don’t understand how uncomfortable the humor is,” an audience member said.

The overall consensus of the group’s analysis was that protagonist Chris Washington was an African-American man entering a white man’s world, and that world involved a sense of invasiveness, down to the way his girlfriend Rose’s family commented on his physical appearance and artistic abilities.

“Just the fact that Chris is a photographer, the white characters sort of look at that and assume art is a physical talent and not intellectual,” Johnson said while commenting on uncomfortable (and sometimes unconscious) attitudes the film forces viewers to confront.

“When this [controversy] started, Jordan Peele took to Twitter too,” Johnson said. “He tweeted, ‘Get Out is a documentary.’”

“Film is always political, whether it ignores it or embraces it, both are political statements,” Nye said at the end of the presentation.

UMF Student Theatre Celebrates Shakespeare with Performance of Hamlet

The lights dimmed as two guards, Bernardo and Marcellus, emerged on top of the ramparts of the castle Elsinore. Suddenly, the stage floor was blanketed in a bright green fog, as the sentries, now joined by Horatio, bore witness to the ghost of King Hamlet.

Hamlet was one of the UMF’s biggest shows ever produced, and the cast boasted several English majors and one professor. English major Julie Guerra portrayed Laertes, the brother of Ophelia, and Professor Dan Gunn took on the role of Polonius, a chief counsellor of the King and the father of Laertes and Ophelia.

Guerra has been in many shows during her time at UMF, including Wait Until Dark, Letters, and a student directed play called Home Free. Hamlet was her first Shakespeare performance, but she’s been a fan for years.

Laertes and Claudius

English major Julie Guerra as Laertes

“It was senior year high school that I had a really great class with a teacher who loved Shakespeare,” Guerra remarked with a chuckle. “Since then, I’ve really loved Shakespeare too.”

A member of Student Theatre at UMF (STUMF), Guerra knew going into the auditions that she wanted to play the part of Laertes.

“I wanted to get involved with the sword fighting!” she exclaimed. “The combat was weird to learn because I’m not a very angry person, but [after] stepping into the character and learning, it became muscle memory and it was really fun.”

Guerra showcased this combat training particularly well during Laertes’s and Hamlet’s final duel before Claudius and Gertrude. She was also able to demonstrate her understanding of Laertes’s emotions and motives as the poison tipped blade was thrust into Hamlet’s chest, in order to avenge the deaths of Ophelia and Polonius.

Unlike Guerra, Gunn’s first theatre performance experience consisted of scenes from various Shakespeare works with the UMF honors program, directed by Jayne Decker, who also directed Hamlet.

“About 15-20 years ago, Jayne Decker wanted to do some scenes from Shakespeare with the honors program and she thought faculty involvement would be fun,” Gunn said. “[There were] three or four faculty members, the students. I played the part of Hamlet’s Ghost in those days.”

Polonius

Dan Gunn (second from right) as Polonius

In addition to playing Polonius, Gunn served as the dramaturge for the cast. The dramaturge is someone who knows about the play, teaches the cast about the play, and meets individually with actors to go over lines and reflect on their meanings.

“During rehearsal, I would talk to people about lines, or people would ask me questions,” Gunn said. “There was a funny moment; when we rehearsed the part where I die on stage, the actors were struggling with capturing the sense of madness. Jonas [Maines], who played Hamlet, stopped to ask a question. I got up to explain and then laid back down to keep playing dead,” he recalled with a fond smile.

Guerra and Gunn both agreed that performing Hamlet as opposed to simply reading it helped to further their understanding of Shakespeare and the art of theatre as a whole.

“Actually performing it is so much more emotional, less cerebral. Hamlet especially is full of emotional shifts and deep and complicated feelings,” Gunn said. “Teaching [Hamlet] as though it were a poem, I look at it more cerebrally, thinking about the cold art of it, whereas it just seems more connected to feeling in the body with me now since I’ve had the experience of acting some of these parts.”

“I think there is a difference between just reading Shakespeare and performing Shakespeare,” Guerra said. “It is a different view of the work, and you start to love the characters a bit more, especially when you work with them for such a long time.”

In addition to understanding the play on another level, Guerra also appreciated the opportunity to work with professor Gunn outside the classroom.

“Dan Gunn is great; I had a class with him. He would meet with us to learn lines, and then he played my character’s father on stage,” she said. “It was cool to interact with professors in a way that wasn’t super academic. There’s camaraderie in being cast mates as opposed to just seeing each other in class.”

Although Guerra and Gunn stated that their educations in English gave them tools to work with in regards to deciphering Shakespeare’s language, it was still a learning experience for both.

“A lot of [English] majors are into theatre, and I think Hamlet and Shakespeare is what drew them to participate,” Gunn said. “I feel it is an honor to perform Hamlet because of how crucial it has been to the English literature since the 17th century, and I think a lot of English students felt that importance as well.”

“There really isn’t a limit to what English majors can become involved in,” Guerra said. “English majors are pretty open to anything.”

Julian Saporiti encourages UMF students and faculty to reflect on stories of Japanese Internment during WWII

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Julian Saporiti tuning his guitar after a performance of a song about Vietnam

Recently, UMF welcomed musician and phD student Julian Saporiti, who presented a multi-media presentation entitled “No-No Boy” on the history of Japanese internment camps across the United States during World War II, inspired by his doctoral research at Brown University. “No-No Boy” is a term used to define Japanese Americans who refused to pledge loyalty to the United States after World War II and refused to sign up for the draft.

The internment of Japanese Americans came after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes (especially in California and along the west coast) and relocated to internment camps across the west and midwestern United States.

“After Pearl Harbor, anti-Asian sentiment really began to grow,” Saporiti stated during a presentation to a UMF English class before his Emery Arts performance. “There was a lot of racial fear and economic competition.”

Saporiti’s work mainly focuses on the individual stories of Japanese Americans who lived in these internment camps. He has overall talked to 60 people and fully interviewed 30. For Saporiti, it is more important to get the details of these stories right and let them send a message on their own, rather than trying to push a political agenda.

“I don’t have much of a political message except ‘know your history,'” said Saporiti. “I go for these individual stories because for me, those have a bigger impact. It’s a lot easier to feel sympathy when you can actually put a face behind a label or a movement.”

To tell these stories, Saporiti employs another principle element of his work: music. Stating that he studies history through music, Saporiti has written several songs that describe the life and atmosphere of an internment camp, while also telling the stories of individual people he’s met there.

One of his most notable stories comes from a dear friend referred to only as “Joy,” a now 90-year-old woman who was sent from Los Angeles to the internment camp “Heart Mountain Relocation Center,” in Heart Mountain, Wyoming at age 15. When telling Joy’s story, Saporiti discussed an instrumental part of her time: her involvement in the George Igawa band, a jazz band made entirely of Japanese Americans who wanted to continue to pursue their passion and take their minds off of their situation.

“They were allowed to pursue this dream because jazz music was considered incredibly American,” Saporiti explained. This story led to a song about Joy and the George Igawa band called “The Best God Damn Band,” one of several pieces he performed during his presentation.

Saporiti also has a personal connection to these stories and this research as a result of being Vietnamese American and growing up in Nashville, Tennessee. Some of his works reflected his thoughts of Vietnam and immigration

The audience was engaged and thoroughly interested in what Saporiti had to say on many topics, including how the treatment of Japanese Americans is reflected in today’s modern racial and political climate, with the new target of fear and hate being the Muslim community.

“When I tell the people I interview that I do talks like this at colleges and perform these songs and tell their stories, I always ask them if they have a personal message they’d like me to tell you guys,” Saporiti said. “And they all say pretty much the same thing: don’t let this happen again.”

To find out more about Saporiti’s work, listen to more music, and learn more about Japanese internment, visit his website at nonoboymusic.tumblr.com.

UMF English Department kicks off the new year with Fall English Barbecue

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English majors and professors discussing classes, the food, and literature

On Friday, Sept. 15th, the English faculty and several English majors gathered at professor Daniel Gunn’s house for the inaugural Fall English Barbecue. Set in the perfect backdrop with a comfortable breeze, trees with fiery leaves of red, orange, and gold, and an endless soundtrack of classic and indie rock, the event was an opportunity for current faculty and upperclassmen to meet incoming English majors and discuss the life of an English major at UMF.

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Professors and students discussing favorite books and authors

Incoming English majors had the opportunity to meet and talk to English professors about the different classes they offer, bond over literary puns and apparel, and enjoy a scrumptious barbecue dinner and dessert, thanks to professor Gunn and his wife.

Upperclassmen attended as well. Along with catching up with old professors and acquainting themselves with the unfamiliar ones, they also talked with the new students about classes, homework, and campus life around UMF in general.

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Professors and students had the chance to bond over various literary jokes and apparel

The barbecue lasted well after the skies turned black for the night. The English department looks to keep this budding tradition alive for years in hopes that new English majors will feel welcome in their new community.

Noisy, Wild, and Fire-Breathing: a Discussion on Dragons, Westeros, and Storytelling

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On September 4th, “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Lectures in the Arts and Humanities” kicked off the new school year with an engaging discussion about the smash hit HBO series Game of Thrones, based off the series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George RR Martin. Presented by UMF English professors Eric Brown, Kristen Case, Daniel Gunn, and Michael Johnson, the panel and the audience joined in a rigorous analysis of the show’s narrative, storytelling, and its mysterious appeal to a vast audience; comparing these elements from past seasons with the current season.

Beginning with Johnson, he expressed that his favorite part of the show was its tendency to draw on multiple genres. Case explained that she is not typically a fan of fantasy, however, Game of Thrones drew her in with its exploration of power (powerful characters, power dynamics, etc.), as well as their fight scenes. She claims that Game of Thrones fight scenes are “compelling,” adding that “the cinematography, the music, the imagery, it all builds tension and you can feel the anxiety that comes with the action.”

Gunn enjoys the excess that comes with Game of Thrones. As a reader of the series before watching the show, he was thrilled to see the excess of the world of Westeros brought to life on the screen. Like Case and Johnson, Brown was also interested in the layers of genre. He appreciated that the first season was lowkey on the fantasy register, allowing fans outside of the genre to approach it easily. He went on to say that the series “has advanced beyond the books,” which he would go on to explain is both a good and bad thing for the series as a whole.

The audience chimed in with their own responses to how they got into the phenomenon. Many agreed that it was the compelling storylines that drew them in, and others enjoyed that the world of Westeros felt immersive and complete. However, fans who read the books argued that this translation is lost in the show.

One audience member explained what he feels is the biggest downfall of the series, with which everyone agreed: “Martin wasn’t done when the TV adaptation started. He gave them an outline to work with, he’s nowhere near done the books. What people like about Game of Thrones is the expansiveness, but now Martin has to wrap up the series in two books.”

Case reiterated this point, stating that the narrative was “slightly clumsy this season” because they need to tie things up. The storytelling and consistency has suffered as a result: for example, travelling across vast distances now happens in a matter of an episode instead of a season. Brown agreed, arguing that at this point, “the series is spinning out plot after plot, it’s going too fast to keep up with.”

Despite this season’s fall in storytelling, the panel and audience agreed that the characters and cinematography come together to create an intensity that draws audiences closer to their screens. “We really see the characters transform, like Jamie [Lannister], who went from kind of a lazy heartthrob into this respected war hero,” Case claims, “and Daenerys, who at the beginning was a child sold into marriage, and she’s now the Queen of Dragons. The character arcs are compelling.”

As Game of Thrones comes to a close next season, our panel and audience will be glued to their screens to see how it the epic adventure ends. According to Johnson, whenever that end may come, “we plan to be back in Lincoln for another discussion!”