Missouri State University
Department of English Blog

Student Invitation Reading will feature student work in fiction, poetry, nonfiction

Missouri State’s English department will host the Fall 2014 Student Invitational Reading at the Plaster Student Union Theater Friday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. The event, free and open to the public, will feature the following English students:

Fiction: Jason Brown, Shane Page and Kassandra West

Poetry: Elizabeth Alphonse and Angela Jones

Nonfiction: Jenn Jones

For more information

Contact English professor Mike Czyzniejewski by email or at 417-836-6565.

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English Professors Tackle Masculinity in the Movies: A Look at “Pixar’s Boy Stories”

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The English Department’s own Dr. Ken Gillam and Dr. Shannon Wooden are receiving attention for their recent book, Pixar’s Boy Stories: Masculinity in a Postmodern Age.

Boy Stories examines the depiction of male characters in fourteen of Pixar’s popular movies, including Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Cars. The book, which was released in April, was reviewed by SUNY scholar Tristin Bridges in the journal Gender and Society; Bridges later expanded on that review  in “Barrel Chest, Brawn, and Buffoonery: Controlling Images of Masculinity in Pixar Movies”, which was picked up by The Huffington Post in September.

“We have two little boys,” explains Wooden, “so we’re very sensitive to how they’re learning to be boys rather than just people, and men rather than just adults.”

In his original review, Bridges states that Boy Stories examines “patterns that quietly reiterate gender relations and inequalities that the Pixar collection is more popularly understood as challenging”. The result, according to Bridges, is a book which offers “an intriguing appraisal of mediated masculinities that begins an important conversation and will undoubtedly be of interest to scholars and students alike.”

According to Gillam and Wooden, the idea for the book originated several years ago when their older son was, like many young boys, obsessed with the film Cars. Listening to the film being played repeatedly from the backseat during long road trips prompted Gillam and Wooden to discuss how the storyline and characters depicted gender and masculinity. “We have two little boys,” explains Wooden, “so we’re very sensitive to how they’re learning to be boys rather than just people, and men rather than just adults.”

Those Cars discussions led to a published article in 2008, “Post-Princess Models of Gender: The New Man in Disney/Pixar”, which “argued that Pixar had privileged the more communitarian male rather than the alpha male,” according to Gillam. When the article was presented at a pop culture conference, it generated a lot of enthusiasm and discussion amongst the audience “and we realized that this could become a book,” said Wooden.

The 2008 article has since been anthologized in The Gendered Society Reader and Men’s Lives.

A close reading of the films show that it is these characters’ bodies, not their intellect or other traits, which prevent them from being successful.

The physical differences between Pixar's Mike (left) and Sully (right) are obvious to viewers. Photo Credit: Disney-Clipart.com
The physical differences between Pixar’s Mike (left) and Sully (right) are obvious to viewers. Photo Credit: Disney-Clipart.com

The focus of the book differs slightly from the original argument, Wooden states, because a critical examination of fourteen Pixar plots revealed that “the New Man” narrative was presented in conjunction with plots that “reiterated the privilege of a hyper-masculine physical form,” according to Wooden. For example, Gillam states, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and Monsters University “implicitly argue that your body must be a certain kind of body. They essentialize the body so that we only see a small variety of types as successful or even acceptable.”

Pixar’s Boy Stories is divided into six chapters which discuss the movies’ treatment of the New Man plot, body stereotypes, characteristics of villains, and the role of parents/mothers.

According to the authors, the films often depict villains who are physically small or otherwise fall outside the social ideals of manhood, but who also tend to be very smart and inventive. These characters, despite being given sympathetic back stories, are punished for the ways they physically fall short of societal ideals and, oftentimes, for their ambition. Similarly, says Wooden, protagonists such as Mike from Monsters Inc. and Woody from Toy Story are often depicted as small, inadequate, and physically awkward compared to hypermasculine characters such as Sully and Buzz Lightyear. A close reading of the films show that it is these characters’ bodies, not their intellect or other traits, which prevent them from being successful in their ambitions.

“We own and love and watch a lot of Pixar movies, but we talk about the issues in them with our boys … being literate in the messages pop culture sends is necessary. It’s important. It’s powerful.”

Lastly, Boy Stories examines how parenting – particularly motherhood – is depicted in the films. According to Wooden, characters who are depicted as being “bullies” and villains are often given a back story which includes placing the blame for their “villainy on a mother character”, (the abandonment of Lotso the bear by his owner in Toy Story 3 as being one example). Thus, while the movies celebrate the fatherly role of the New Man archetype, they simultaneously posit the idea that a mother’s absence or failure begets villainy, even evil.

Wooden stresses that the book does not argue against allowing children to watch the movies discussed. “It’s not about censorship,” she states. “We own and love and watch a lot of Pixar movies, but we talk about the issues in them with our boys.” Boy Stories, she explains, regularly expresses approval or fondness for many things that Pixar has been able to create and imagine. “What we want readers to understand is, you don’t have to dislike or protest a text in order to critique it,” she explains. “Cultural messages are insidious, so being literate in the messages pop culture sends is necessary. It’s important. It’s powerful.”

Gillam and Wooden were also featured in MSU’s Mind’s Eye in September. Click here to watch the interview.

Ken Gillam is Director of Composition for the MSU English Department. Shannon Wooden is an associate professor of English at MSU.

 

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Fiction Writer Michael Nye Will Visit Campus 10/17

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Michael Nye, Managing Editor of The Missouri Review and author of “Strategies Against Extinction”.

Ever heard of a little literary journal called The Missouri Review?

Chances are, if you are the kind of person interested in things like literary journals (i.e. English majors), then you know that The Missouri Review, published by our state’s very own MU, is highly regarded as one of the best journals around. They routinely present the best and the brightest in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. And their managing editor – the guy who is in charge of what gets into the journal and what does not – is coming to campus this month.

Michael Nye will be giving a reading at the MSU campus on October 17th. He will read from his collection of short fiction Strategies Against Extinction (Harper’s Ferry Press, 2012). Nye also has been at work on a new novel.

Nye’s short fiction and nonfiction essays have been published in acclaimed journals such as Cincinnati Review and Kenyon Review. He has given interviews on the art and process of writing for publications like Every Writer’s Review and  Fiction Writers Review. Nye’s essay “Why I Write”, published on Stymie, is available here.  You can also check out his interview with Braddock Avenue Books.

Interested in seeing what his fiction is all about? You can read his short stories “A Fully Imagined World” (Boulevard Magazine), “The Utility Room” (Atticus Review), and “The Ecstatic” (Hobart).

Nye’s reading will at be 7:00 PM in the Plaster Student Union Theater.

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Ozarks Writing Project to host teaching seminar

The Ozarks Writing Project will host its semiannual Writing and Thinking Seminar: Teachers Teaching Teachers in Cross-Curricular Writing on Thursday, Oct. 2, in Plaster Student Union room 314. Meeting from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the seminar provides an opportunity for educators from a variety of content areas to gain professional development and earn college credit.

What can be expected

Attendees will learn easy-to-implement ideas and writing and thinking strategies that will improve student learning in any content classroom. The registration fee of $50 per participant (or $150 for a team of four) will cover the cost of three sessions, lunch and parking.

Additional information

Although registration has closed for the October seminar, interested parties can sign up for the next one scheduled for Feb. 27. For those individuals attending both the October 2 and the February 27 conference, one hour of graduate credit is available at a reduced rate of $150. If interested, please view the syllabus and fill out the enrollment form, which can be turned in to the registration table on the day of the conference.

What is OWP

Housed in the English department within the College of Arts and Letters, the OWP is a collaborative program between Missouri State University and the National Writing Project (NWP). The NWP recently helped the University program acquire a $179,000 federal grant as part of its i3 College-Ready Writers efforts, offering professional development for rural teachers across the nation.

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Award-winning poet to read from recently published book

Moon City Press author, Debra Kang Dean, will be at the Plaster Student Union Sept. 27 to read from her recently published book, Fugitive Blues.
Moon City Press author, Debra Kang Dean, will be at the Plaster Student Union Sept. 27 to read from her recently published book, Fugitive Blues.

The English department will host a reading by Debra Kang Dean from her recent book Fugitive Blues on Friday, Sept. 26 at 7:00 p.m., and she will be available afterward for book signing. The event, located at the Robert W. Theater in Plaster Student Union, is free and open to the public.

About the book

Fugitive Blues, a Moon City Press publication, is a collection of poetry described by fellow author Sarah Freligh as “at once small and large, honoring the ordinary even as they consider the ontological.”

About the author

Dean has published three collections of poetry: Back to Back, which won the Harperprints Poetry Chapbook Competition, judged by Ruth Stone; News of Home, which was co-winner of the New England Poetry Club’s Sheila Margaret Motton Award, and Precipitates.

Her work has also appeared in many journals and a number of anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 1999, The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology, Urban Nature: Poems about Wildlife in the City, and Yobo: Korean American Writing in Hawai‘i.

She is on the faculty of the Spalding University brief-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program, teaches online through the UCLA Extension School’s Writers’ Program, and is a contributing editor for Tar River Poetry.

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Dr. James Baumlin named Distinguished Professor

The department of English is very pleased to announce that Dr. James Baumlin has been promoted to the rank of Distinguished Professor.

Promotion to the Distinguished Professor rank is the highest honor that the University bestows on a faculty member. It identifies a select group of faculty members who are leaders in their respective fields, as attested by national and/or international reputation, and who also have a sustained record of excellence in both teaching and service.

James has written and co-edited a dozen books and more than 100 articles, book chapters, notes, and reviews on subjects within seventeenth-century English literature, the history of rhetoric, critical theories, creative nonfiction, and composition pedagogy.

Congratulations to James for earning this well-deserved recognition.

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