Towards a Theory of Novelizing

Husband's copy of Star Wars novel, 1976 original edition.

Husband’s copy of Star Wars novel, 1976 original edition.

Earlier this week, I listened to this fascinating piece from an April edition of On the Media It discusses media tie in novels, focusing on what we more often refer to as “novelizations” of feature films. You know, the book that’s adapted from the screenplay and sold in every major bookstore. The segment interviewed many of the big names in media tie in authorship, including Alan Dean Foster, considered by many the king of media tie in novels and novelizations. I read a few of these adaptations in my childhood (for some reason, I remember reading the novelization of The Karate Kid), and was a big fan of the tie in novels for Star Trek: The Next Generation (Peter David definitely wrote the best ones). So I was interested to hear that Despite the record sales of these adapted novels, they are not granted much critical respect by literary critics or readership at large. Continue reading

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And So it Begins

Fall 2016, that is. Classes at my university start on Monday, but I don’t have a face to face (F2F) class meeting until Tuesday. As I often do, I am teaching 2 sections of my course load F2F, and 2 sections online. This is actually a really nice schedule for me, since it provides a decent amount of flexibility for me during the week, allowing me to set my workout schedule and research time pretty much however I wish.

Now I realize this sounds positively relaxing, but as a visiting appointment, the 4-4 load can be quite a challenge, and thus the half online/half F2F breakdown is helpful in providing work-life balance for me. Not that I am super great at that balance, but this schedule gives me a chance at it, anyway.

The start of the semester tends to be stressful, of course, and this year I feel somewhat in between stress and calm. I’m ready, and I’m not teaching any new courses, but because of that I haven’t really had the panic and pedal to the metal attitude that indicates true readiness. I am just hoping that, like muscle memory, teaching memory will take over.

I plan to set out some goals for myself on Monday, once I have a chance to face the Semester and see what seems reasonable to accomplish. I’ve been feeling pretty good about my CV, but there are conferences to attend and more to write. So let’s get started, shall we?

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Olympic Feminism

On the heels of my recent piece about intersectionality, I’m thinking a lot about Black feminism this week. African American women have been spectacular at this year’s Olympics in Rio, and their strength has been legendary. I wanted to highlight a few athletes as I think about how their example is not only inspiring me, but certainly inspiring a generation of young Black girls who can now see themselves more often on top of that podium.

Simone Biles – she has (now famously) said that she doesn’t want to be referred to as the “next Michael Phelps”, since instead, she’s “the first Simone Biles.” In a Twitter conversation on Friday, 8/12, Franchesca Ramsey was remarking on Biles’ skills and confidence to be able to even make such a declaration. And, naturally, there was plenty of mansplaining and whitesplaining about why Biles should just be so happy to be compared to Phelps, etc. So I chimed in to observe that we really don’t need another Michael Phelps. We have one already. He’s really good. We do, however, need the first Simone Biles. She and her teammate Gabby Douglas have shown the world Black Girl Magic time and again, and thus stand firmly on their own feet, in their own legacy. We don’t need to filter everyone through a white, male prism in order to make them relevant!

There was also another Simone at theses Games, the swimmer Simone Manuel. She is being hailed as the very first ever African American woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal. The barriers she’s breaking down are also remarkable. Swimming pools were (and frankly, still are) racially contested spaces in the United States. You can read more about that at the link in this paragraph. Manuel’s achievement is nothing short of ground breaking.

The third athlete I’d like to discuss is Michelle Carter, subject of this great profile in The New Yorker. She is the first American woman to win a gold medal in shot put, and she did so while looking fabulous. I noticed her during the shot put qualifiers when I was out at lunch and happened to notice a tv playing Oympics coverage. I admired her red lipstick and awesome hair and when I read later she had won the gold, I was so excited! It turns out that she is a professional makeup artist and believes in challenging society’s notions of what women should look like while competing. She sees herself as built for shot put, and she likes to look her best so that she feels confident when she competes. It clearly works.

(And women in track & field have been stylin’ forever, anyway. Remember Florence Griffith-Joyner’s nails? Or Sanya Richards-Ross’ hair?)

Women have to put up with so much garbage about their appearance on a daily basis, and can never win. You have to wear makeup to be taken seriously, but not too much. You really shouldn’t wear any makeup if you’re in a sporting profession or need to be seen as “one of the guys” in order to be taken seriously. If you’re too thin, you’ll appear weak. If you’re too fat, you’ll look unprofessional. Are you  muscled at all? That’s weird. Are you shorter than average, taller than average? Going gray at a young age? Dealing with a disability that might affect your appearance? Just try to hide all that.

That’s why Carter and these other women are so inspiring to me right now. They offer three different models of Black femininity, and three ways of being a bad ass that anyone can look up to.

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Grind & Rewind

I’ve been having a lot of trouble preparing a blog post for this week. There have been some interesting things happening in the news, but I haven’t found anything that really struck me as fascinating or blog worthy. Nothing has happened that intersects with my work or research or hobbies. And I’m finding this irritating–shouldn’t there be something I can contribute?

However, I realize that this Monday marks exactly two weeks until the start of the Fall 2016 semester, and, as always, I just don’t feel ready. And I think I’m feeling a bit intellectually frazzled, so generating a brilliant blog post just isn’t happening for me. Continue reading

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Intersectionality Required

You may have seen this editorial cartoon making the rounds after Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination last week: 2016 cartoon by Kevin Necessary, Scripps Media.

It features three panels, one with a white boy, one with a black boy, and one with a white girl. Each of them say “I could be president,” with the corresponding captions of “since 1789,” “since 2008,” and “since 2016.”

I’m sure this sentiment comes from a good, heartfelt place, and I am not writing this post to harangue or insult Kevin Necessary. What I do want to draw attention to is who is left out of this picture–women of color. While Hillary Clinton’s nomination and (hopeful) election are indeed groundbreaking, historic, and exciting, this cartoon illustrates why many women of color may still feel left out.

This is not to say that there aren’t many, many women of color amongst Clinton’s supporters, because there are. But it’s a familiar sight to see a white woman break through any glass ceiling first, dating back to First Wave Feminism, when white suffragettes kept Black women at the back of their marches and insisted that white women must lead the way in their movement. Black women have had to wait, wait, wait throughout US history. The first Black American to be President is a man. The first women President is white. Black men gain voting rights first. White women gain voting rights first. (And I realize this discussion isn’t even adequately touching on women of other races and ethnicities.)

This is why intersectional feminism is so critical. We must be aware that when we lift up only white women as the vanguard of women’s advancement and equality, we are erasing and ignoring every woman who is not white. And feminism which does not seek to encompass and encourage women of all ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, (etc) is not a worthwhile feminism. So remember that we need to stop seeing women’s equality as a “white women through the door first” movement. All women have the right to be President, to be treated equally, and to see justice done on their behalf. Period.

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Truthiness & Consequences

Chances are that you’ve heard something about First Lady candidate Melania Trump and her oopsie of a speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention. It already has a nice Wikipedia entry: Melania Trump speech plagiarism controversy.

There was much discussion in the media about whether it constituted plagiarism or not, whether her speech writer should be fired, or whether she even had a speech writer. An astute piece by Dr. Brittney Cooper, aka Professor Crunk, demonstrates why the response to her speech is a perfect example of white privilege in action.

As a professor, and one who teachers both composition and courses online, I am no stranger to student plagiarism. In fact, a student in one of my courses plagiarized just this week. So, I am familiar with what constitutes plagiarism, and Trump’s speech certainly counts. It was nearly word for word, and in some cases paraphrased, pieces from another source without acknowledgement. It did not seek to reframe the original words, or place them in a different context to highlight something interesting about a topic, nor did she perform the words in a funny or undercutting way. In other words, Trump’s speech was not a remix, a sample,  a satire, or a parody, which are some types of presentations that would not count as plagiarism. Continue reading

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Hannibal & the Ethics of Meat

HannabeeI’ve finally finished watching Hannibal, the television series created by Bryan Fuller that recently aired for 3 seasons on NBC. The show was particularly known for its lush, cinematic camera work and its focus on food–the preparation, the serving, and consumption of food. As Hannibal Lecter is known for his impeccable sense of taste (in everything, including fashion, which might be another interesting topic in itself), the series focused closely on his cooking, lingering over shots of Hannibal chopping, sautéing, tasting, serving, and eating lavish meals, typically with guests. Of course, Hannibal also serves his guests as the main course–not all of his meat is found at the local butcher.

As a vegan, it was interesting to watch these displays of meat–and “meat”–consumption within the series. A lot of ink was spilled over the “pornographic” quality of the meal prep on the show, how beautiful the food was, how intricate the recipes, etc. The series employed a food consultant to assist with the work of making the meals look gorgeous, despite their disturbing provenance.  Yet, for me, since meat itself is already off putting, I didn’t find the televised food as “delicious” perhaps as many did. Beautiful and artfully constructed, yes, but not particularly appetizing. So that got me thinking about the ethics of meat consumption as presented in the series. Continue reading

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Making Black Lives Matter

I don’t have a lot to say in this post this week–last week was a very difficult week for the US, and for our nation’s Black citizens in particular. At this point, it seems incomprehensible that concepts like white privilege, institutional racism, and intersectionality should still be difficult concepts for anyone to understand, but we still hear shouts of “all lives matter.” We see the tears of families and friends of the victims of police murders but still hear “blue lives matter.” We watch as police are gunned down by a man who was kicked out of Afghanistan for sexually harassing female soldiers, but still ask “what was she wearing?”

If there are those who do not yet see, I don’t know what would ever convince them. After all, never forget that our courageous elected officials wept for the 5 and 6 year old victims at Sandy Hook Elementary, but still DID NOTHING about gun restrictions. Even the worst shooting in US history at the Orlando Pulse nightclub wasn’t enough to motivate the pro-gun factions to do anything. Nothing, it seems, will be enough. And that is quite terrifying.

And yet, despite this reality, I remain committed to education. To teaching African American literature. To incorporating concepts such an intersectionality into all my courses. I don’t know any other way, and I do see it as a form of activism. It is not my only outlet, but it is a significant one. Even when weeks like this make me think that nothing will ever change, I can still do my best to educate students about this world in which they live.

Melissa Harris-Perry published this piece, “My Revolutionary Suicide Note,” after performing it at a live event on July 6. I think it is simply one of the most powerful, stark, and beautiful texts about Black Lives, America, death, and education that I’ve read recently. (I also love her opening discussion of Thoreau here, since when I teach Thoreau, the issue of privilege is always a central one that requires unpacking in class.)

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The Renaissance of Angels in America

I regularly teach the American Literature Survey in my department–all three parts of it. My academic expertise technically only covers the last two courses, which at our institution cover 1865-1914 and 1914-present, respectively. (But I actually love teaching the first part, beginnings to 1865, quite a bit. And we may be overhauling the surveys in the future. But that’s another post.)

In the final survey course, I always end with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. It’s a great ending point for my syllabus, which traces the broader stylistic genres of Modernism, Naturalism, and Postmodernism, along with the eras of the Harlem Renaissance and Beat Movement. Since Angels is one of the most postmodern American texts I can think of, besides The Simpsons, it also functions as a culmination for students’ critical reading and analysis skills.

Last year, I had the great fortune to see IUS’ own production of Part I of Angels, Millennium Approaches. This is a play that isn’t performed very often, and the campus production was wonderful and a great opportunity for my students. In this past spring semester, I was able to share with my students the story of how Roy Cohn, a major character in the play, and Republican candidate for President Donald Trump were close friends and colleagues. Cohn was a mentor of Tump’s, in fact, until Trump dumped him after the truth about Cohn being gay and having AIDS became public.

This summer, it so happens that we are coming up on the 25th anniversary of the play’s first production(s), and there is a host of material emerging that is going to enrich my syllabus for this fall. Here’s a roundup:

Slate’s Oral History – This is a comprehensive history of the play and its most significant productions, from the story’s conception in Kushner’s mind to the HBO film and the lasting legacy of the play in US culture.

PBS’ Great Performances Documentary – I actually haven’t watched this entire video yet; it was linked in the Slate article and can be viewed in multiple parts here at YouTube. What a great opportunity for students (and the rest of us!) to see firsthand the elements of production and interviews with the creative teams that made the play happen.

NatGeo: The Ozone Hole is Shrinking! – This is a fascinating, interdisciplinary resource that I will provide as “deep context” for students. The character of Harper is rather consumed with the hole in the ozone layer, and her anxieties about her own life play out in her anxieties about the end of life on earth due to the weakening ozone in the atmosphere. Her final speech recalls a dream she has about the hole in the ozone being repaired by the souls of those who have passed, and it brings her some measure of comfort as she leaves her husband to start a new life. I typically have to explain the issue of the ozone layer to students, as they tend to be too young to remember CFCs and why we don’t all use giant aerosol bottles of AquaNet anymore. (Or maybe that only reveals more about my teenage hairstyles than anything else.) This article gives a good background of the ozone layer and its slow repair, thanks to international cooperation.

These resources excite me because I am always stressing to my students that what we study in the classroom is not limited to the the four walls of that room. Our texts and analysis of them have reverberations in our daily lives and in the culture around us. Providing these sorts of connections makes that more clear to students and allows them consider texts in a larger, hopefully more relevant, context.


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Fast Take: Revise All the Things

The summertime is supposed to be one of rest, recharging, relaxing, and spending outdoors time with family and friends, or alone–whatever your situation requires. And yet, as academics, we too often find ourselves getting behind, despite the relative lack of semester deadlines, meetings, or conferences.

Of course, many of us teach over the summer, whether because it’s a major requirement of our position, or because we like the steady flow of paychecks through the year. For me, it’s a bit of both. We teach a lot of summer courses at our commuter campus, but since we get paid on a 10 month schedule, it’s nice to have a bit extra in the 2 off months.

Besides teaching 2 online courses this summer, I have some revision projects I need to either complete or get started on:

  • Online Course Revision – Intro to Fiction. I’ve already taught this course once this year, but I will be running it again in the Fall semester. It was also recently peer reviewed as part of an internal grant for course development, so while the grant contract has now been fulfilled (hooray!), I need to revise just a bit to improve the course for its 2nd round.
  • Book Review – nothing major, just a few revision suggestions from a journal to polish up a book review that will be out later this year.
  • Fall Course Revisions – I have an ambitious plan to more fully digitize course content (lecture notes, visuals, etc) so that I am not STILL writing things up on the board all the time. I mean, it’s 2016. What am I still doing writing up key ideas when I have perfectly good in class technology I can use?

Along with the above list, I need to get my General Education assessment in for the Spring courses, clean my office and purge old student work, and finish up one or two article drafts. Plus, take my campus Title IX training module.

So, that’s an academic summer for you. What are you all working on this hot summer, dear readers?

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