Sun-Times visit, Kass speech highlight Argus trip

This past Friday and Saturday I accompanied Argus staffers to Chicago, where we attended the 27th Annual Illinois College Press Association Convention. Though we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped at the annual awards, the staff enjoyed sessions on all aspects of journalism presented by working professionals in the Chicago area. One highlight was keynote speaker John Kass. The page two Chicago Tribune columnist inspired students with his tell-it-like-it-is advice. For those who want to go into political journalism he stressed, “Don’t become friends with these people. In politics there are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies; there are only permanent interests.” And for those wanting to break into the profession, period, he said they weren’t going to do it by blogging in their pajamas. You do it by reporting, Kass said, telling them they shouldn’t be trying to get a foot in the door; they should be trying to knock it down by working on their own stories on Sundays when everyone else is watching football, and keep pitching stories based on investigation and written in a voice that’s all their own, using plenty of detail. “But you see this?” he said, pulling out a reporter’s notebook. “Don’t use this like a weapon. Keep it in your pocket. Talk to people.” Though Kass said the business is changing right under his feet, he explained, “It’s not that news is dying, it’s just that the delivery system is failing.” He added, “It’s all about storytelling, and that never changes.”

Another highlight came before we even checked into the convention hotel. Argus alum Chris Fusco (’94) offered to give us a tour of the Chicago Sun-Times, where he’s an award-winning general assignment reporter. Duty called and he had to cover Pat Quinn’s press conference. We were left in good hands, though, and students appreciated being able to sit in on Editor-in-chief  Don Hayner’s editorial board meeting, during which time Metro editor Shamus Toomey left the room and returned to announce, “Breaking news from Argus alum Chris Fusco: Pat Quinn just called for Roland Burris to resign.” Students were impressed by how Hayner talked directly to them at times and explained the process as each section editor was called upon to report what they had going on. Hayner said their best chance of breaking in was to become multi-talented in an increasingly multi-media world, urging them to become proficient at photography and web programming in addition to their reporting skills. When Chris returned from the press conference, students got the chance to talk with him, too, about his job. “It’s a lot of stress,” he said, but quickly added that he loves it.

Congratulations to Chinny Ekwulugo for winning Honorable Mention in the Critical Review (Film) in the open category (all schools), and to Jessica Hinterlong for taking 3rd Place in the Sports Game Story category among schools with fewer than 4000 students. Here the staff poses for a picture at the awards luncheon: (back row, l to r) editor-in-chief Garrett Rapp, photo editor Erin Tobin, opinions editor William Hanzel, (front, l to r) chief copy editor Chinny Ekwulugo, managing editor Laura Spradlin, and news editor Nicole Travis.

Old school: Alums, students, faculty meet at AWP

IWU was well represented at the Associated Writing Programs conference in Chicago last week. Professors Alison Sainsbury, Mike Theune, Joanne Diaz, Lynn DeVore, and Brandi Reissenweber all attended, as did current students Jessica Block, Leila Whitley, and Andrew Dorkin.

A number of alums were present as well. At an off-site reading sponsored by a group of Chicago writers at Innertown Pub, Mike Theune reconnected with former students (from left) Cathy Gilbert, Megan Thoma, and Jac Jemc (who read earlier in the evening).

And what a surprise it was for them to see alum Diego Baez manning the table for the Rutgers-Newark MFA program, where he’s a first-year grad student.

Kudos to Mike are in order, because a short pedagogy paper of his (“Trust the Turn: Focusing the Revision Process in Poetry”) was named one of this year’s top 20 by AWP. 

Theune starts a poetry blog

Professor Mike Theune has joined the world of bloggers. His will be devoted to the elements and issues of poetry that he explored in his recent book, Structure and Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007). Here’s the link to get you started. You can also find a link on this blog page and on Mike’s faculty and staff bio page on the English department website. There’s some pretty fascinating stuff here!

Award-winning fiction writer reads here tomorrow

Andrew Porter, whose short story collection The Theory of Light and Matter won the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award, will read at Illinois Wesleyan at 4 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, in the Merwin Gallery of the Ames Art Building. Porter earned an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Trinity University in San Antonio. His visit to Bloomington-Normal is co-sponsored by Heartland College, where he’ll visit classes earlier in the day. 

Copies of The Theory of Light and Matter will be available for purchase and autographing. The event is free and open to the public.

New senior writing course offered

In fall 2008, English-Writing majors will be able to take a capstone writing course, if they so choose. The course, proposed by the department and approved by Curriculum Council and the faculty, gives writers a chance to work on a specific project their senior year. Here’s the description that will go into the next catalog:

401  Senior Writing Project  A capstone experience for English-Writing majors which requires thoughtful study of portfolio work assembled over the past three years and proposal and completion of an extensive, ambitious individual project that is both a logical extension of the student’s work and a new challenge. Because creativity knows no bounds, the course will bring together poets, fiction and non-fiction writers, and “new” journalists, with an emphasis on feedback and support. Offered annually

Professor Lynn DeVore will teach the course in the fall, but as with Senior Seminar (which English-Writing majors still must take), faculty will rotate. The writing capstone course is non-mandatory. 

Tributaries launch party slated for Sunday

The fall issue of Tributaries is finally back from the printer, and the editors are wasting no time. The launch party (complete with refreshments) will be this Sunday, February 8, 7-10 p.m. in the Underground at Memorial Center, just off Starbucks. People who have work published in the issue should come prepared to read. Copies will be distributed at the reading/party to all in attendance, after which students and faculty can pick up a copy in the English department office.

It’s contest time!

Illinois Wesleyan University student poets and fiction writers are invited to enter annual competitions for the Academy of American Poets University Prize and the Babbitt’s Prize for Short Fiction. The prizes, administered by the English department, are open to all currently enrolled students. In previous years, non-English majors and minors have won frequently.

Founded in 1955, the Academy of American Poets University & College Poetry Prize program has launched the careers of many promising poets, including Sylvia Plath, Tess Gallagher, Mark Strand, and Joy Harjo. The winner from each school receives $100 and a certificate, and is announced in the Academy of American Poets’ publications and news releases, with a chance for publication in a future anthology.

To enter the Academy of American Poets’ Prize, students should submit 4-6 poems, single-spaced, with the total length not to exceed 12 pages. This year’s judge is poet Jason Bredle.

The Babbitt’s Prize for Short Fiction (formerly the Clockwatch Review Prize for Short Fiction) began in 1997 as a way to promote and encourage aspiring fiction writers at IWU. The winner receives $100 from Babbitt’s Books, in downtown Normal.

To compete for the Babbitt’s Prize, students should submit up to 12 double-spaced pages of fiction—either a short story or a segment from a novel. Any style is acceptable—even genre, if it breaks the mold—but judges will be looking for literary quality, energy, innovation, interesting plots, memorable characters, dialogue that rings true, fresh language, and a sure voice. This year’s judge is writer John Keene.

All entries should be submitted to Julie Lappin, English department office coordinator, in the English department’s main office (on the first floor of the English House) by 4 p.m., Friday, March 6th. 

Above photo: Raymond Carver (from Miscelánea: Bellas Artes)

Award-winning poet to visit

Zach Savich, whose first book of poetry, Full Catastrophe Living, won the 2008 Iowa Poetry Prize, will visit IWU on Thursday, March 26, 2009 to read from his work. Savich, who earned a B.A. in English from the University of Washington and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, has recently taught at Kenyon College, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. Poems of his have appeared in such journals as Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, and Mid-American Review, and he’s included in the anthology Best New Poets 2008.

Savich’s visit is sponsored by Tributaries, IWU’s literary journal. The reading is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Turfler Room of Memorial Center. The event is free and open to the public. For more information about his poetry, check out this catalog page at the University of Iowa Press.

New Sigma Tau Delta members inducted

On Sunday, January 25, Illinois Wesleyan’s Alpha Eta Pi chapter of Sigma Tau Delta welcomed new members at their annual induction ceremony, with Professor Wes Chapman offering opening remarks and Professor Mary Ann Bushman delivering the keynote talk.

To be invited to join Sigma Tau Delta, students not only have to be English majors or minors who have taken Practical Criticism, they also need a 3.6 GPA or better in their English courses and they have to rank within the top 35 percent of their graduating class.  In a competitive school like IWU, this is a significant accomplishment and honor, especially considering that IWU earned the Outstanding Chapter Award from the International Sigma Tau Delta Society, with the chapter’s MUSE conferences prompting the International organization to invite IWU’s STD leadership to set up a display at the International STD convention to show other chapter’s what’s possible.

New inductees Mike Whitfield (’10, left), Teresa Sherman (’09, third from left), Kaelyn Riley (’09, fifth from right), and Laura Allen (’09, fourth from right) pose with the current executive board: Leila Whitley (’09, second from left), Sarah Sherman (’09) and  Emily Franzen (’09) (in front), and (r to l) Jessica Block (’09), Linda Martin (’10), and Michelle Bourgeois (’09). Not pictured are Amanda Swanson and Amy burns, who were also invited to join, but could not attend.