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”


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

michael nye
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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Dr. D. Leigh Henson Leads Issue of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association

DLHenson5-14-350wThe lead article in the recently published issue of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (JALA) is an 11,000-word composition by D. Leigh Henson, professor emeritus of English at Missouri State University. The title of the article is “Classical Rhetoric as a Lens for Reading the Key Speeches of Lincoln’s Political Rise, 1852–1856.” JALA “is the only journal devoted exclusively to Lincoln scholarship.” JALA, published twice a year by the University of Illinois Press, selects only a few article submissions, and articles published have been revised by their authors according to critiques provided by several anonymous scholars. Henson, a native of Lincoln, Illinois, attended Lincoln College and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in English at Illinois State University.

Henson’s article discusses communicative elements in several of Lincoln’s speeches just before, during, and after he began his celebrated, second political career in 1854. Lincoln returned to politics after his undistinguished one term in Congress ended in 1849, so that he could oppose efforts to expand slavery into new territories and the free states. Lincoln’s return to politics involved him in helping to establish the Illinois Republican Party in 1856. His party leadership in turn led to the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, then to his 1860 presidential election. 

The communicative elements Henson discusses in Lincoln’s speeches derive from classical rhetoric—the work of Greek and Roman writers who established the field of study dealing with the theory, practice, and instruction of discourse. Henson explains that familiarity with classical rhetoric enables readers to gain a better understanding of how Lincoln adapted the content, organization, and style of his speeches to suit his political purposes and audiences. Some of Lincoln’s key speeches of this period refute Senator Stephen A. Douglas’s position that local governments in new territories should decide whether to allow slavery. Lincoln argued that slavery is a national, not a local, problem. Lincoln found the solution to slavery grounded in the principle of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Lincoln insisted that slavery should be confined to Southern states, where the Constitution allowed it and where it would eventually die out. Lincoln’s political rhetoric benefited from his lawyerly ability to expose contradictions and fallacies in his adversaries’ positions.

This article pays special attention to Lincoln’s strategies of organizing his arguments. Henson explains that Lincoln’s two-hour, 1854 Peoria address is a textbook example of how to organize a political speech according to classical rhetoric. Lincoln’s subsequent speeches of this period demonstrate flexible use of classical organization to suit his message and audience. These speeches were the first indication of Lincoln’s growing communicative power that enabled him to advance to the White House. His presidential writing eventually distinguished him as a statesman and world-renowned man of letters. 

This article also explores sources of classical rhetoric that may have influenced Lincoln’s communicative knowledge and skill during his life-long efforts of self-education. Those sources include textbooks and anthologies he read in his youth and the speeches he later studied of Senator Daniel Webster, whose formal education included the study of classical rhetoric. Henson also notes that today’s students continue to study rhetoric as an academic field to help them analyze, evaluate, and create written and spoken discourse, including communication on the job. He maintains that this study benefits from the use of writing models with traits derived from classical rhetoric. 

Henson is a fourth-generation link in a chain of historians and Lincoln buffs from Logan County, Illinois, who passed their interest in Abraham Lincoln to the next generation. As a student at Jefferson School in the early 1950s, Henson heard stories of the Lincoln legend told by E.H. Lukenbill, county superintendent of public instruction. Henson’s interest in Abraham Lincoln further stems from a course he took as a freshman at Lincoln College in 1960–61. That course on Lincoln’s life and times was taught by the renowned historian James T. Hickey. For many years Hickey was the curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Illinois State Historical Library, now the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Hickey was a protégé of Judge Lawrence B. Stringer, author of the encyclopedic History of Logan County, Illinois, 1911. It features a chapter on Abraham Lincoln’s legal and political activity in central Illinois that has been cited by major Lincoln biographers. Stringer drew upon the friendship and reminiscence of Robert B. Latham, one of the three founding fathers of Lincoln, Illinois (1853)—the first namesake town. Abraham Lincoln was the attorney for the town’s founders, and the town was founded before he became famous. Latham was also a founder of Lincoln University, now Lincoln College. Latham was a personal and political friend of Abraham Lincoln and a Union colonel in the Civil War. Stringer was the first major benefactor of the newly relocated and enhanced Lincoln Heritage Museum of Lincoln College. 

The Lincolnian seed that Lukenbill and Hickey planted in Henson’s education lay dormant for forty years. It did not germinate until after he had completed his formal education at Illinois State University, had taught high school English for thirty years in Pekin, Illinois, and was well into his fourteen-year career of teaching technical communication at Missouri State University. In 2004 the Illinois State Historical Society gave a Superior Achievement Award to Henson’s community history website of Lincoln, Illinois. In 2008–09 he was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of that town. He researched and wrote the play script for the 2008 re-enactment of the 1858 Republican rally in Lincoln the day after the last Lincoln-Douglas debate. Lincoln delivered a stump speech at the rally, but no copy of it has been found. Henson’s play script features a “reasonable facsimile” of that speech and rally, including give-and-take with the audience. The re-enactment was accomplished through collaboration with Paul Beaver, professor emeritus of history at Lincoln College; Ron Keller, director of the Lincoln Heritage Museum; and Wanda Lee Rohlfs, civic leader.

In 2008 Henson proposed erecting a statue of Abraham Lincoln the 1858 Senate candidate and a corresponding historical marker, both to be installed on the lawn of the Logan County Courthouse, where the 1858 rally took place. Presently a local committee is raising funds for those purposes. In 2012 Henson’s book titled The Town Lincoln Warned: The Living Namesake History of Lincoln, Illinois, received a Superior Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society. In 2013 he proposed several additional statues of Lincoln in Lincoln to expand its namesake heritage, strengthen civic pride, and increase heritage tourism. Also in 2013 the Lincoln Elementary School District #27 honored Henson as one of four distinguished alumni. Henson continues to research Lincoln’s political rhetoric. 

Henson is an elected member of the Society of Midland Authors. He is also a member of the Illinois Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress. He shares information about his Abraham Lincoln research, Illinois history, historic preservation, and heritage tourism on social media at Facebook and LinkedIn. His LinkedIn site has links to his various online publications: http://la.linkedin.com/pub/d-leigh-henson/16/1a5/923. Access the JALA website athttp://www.abrahamlincolnassociation.org/Journal.aspx. JALA publishes its articles online six months after they appear in print. Access an overview and pictorial supplement to Henson’s article about Lincoln’s rhetoric athttp://findinglincolnillinois.com/dlhjalaarticle.html.

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