Literature Program Update
Believe it or not, the MSU Literature Program has jumped into the new semester energized by current events and ready to seize the opportunities of the present moment. While the circumstances around the Covid-19 pandemic are certainly not the ones we would have chosen, our faculty’s responses have been creative and thoughtful in the (sometimes virtual) classroom, enhanced by the wisdom and experience of our many excellent online teachers. Our program benefits greatly from the guidance of 2020’s recipient of the “Best Overall” Master Online Course Recognition Award, our very own professor of all things medieval, Jon Newman. With his support, many of our online literature classes are playing with the possibilities of technology, sharing tool ideas, and developing new teaching strategies.
Professors Making Changes
Other recent events have inspired even more new thinking about teaching. This summer’s renewed and amplified call—to Missouri State, to the Springfield community, to the nation as a whole—to reconsider the way that Black voices are heard or silenced, in our classrooms and across the country, has led some of us to update the personal canons from which we teach. Selecting our texts is one way we bestow or deny value to others’ experiences, even if unwittingly. We cannot teach everything, so what do we choose? The Black Lives Matter movement has enough important features to engage a wide variety of disciplines, but as literature professors we recognize that we participate in the conversation every time we write a syllabus. Shannon Wooden arrives at the fall with this observation: if the most fundamental part of reading literature is the hearing of others’ points of view, then the most fundamental parts of teaching it are the amplification of those points of view and the illumination of the various lessons they offer. Some professors, like Matt Calihman, teach and study Black writers as a matter of course, but even those of us trained in other fields can broaden our horizons. Professor Wooden’s ENG 282 Literature by Women was radically revised in mid-summer and now includes several new-to-her authors, like Nafissa Thompson-Spires and N. K. Jemisin, alongside greats like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood. (Thanks to our creative writing colleague Jen Murvin and Pagination Bookshop for the consistently great recommendations.)
More Than Teaching
But of course, teaching is not all we do. While literature faculty Linda Moser and Etta Madden steer the ship of our department through uncharted waters as Interim Department Head and Assistant Department Head, Distinguished Professor James Baumlin has spent the summer demonstrating what our scholarship may do in the actual world we share. With several projects in the works, he sets the bar for applied literary studies. In the earliest days of the pandemic, Professor Baumlin wove Covid-19 into a meditation on pandemic King Lear and Station Eleven. As Series Editor of the Ozarks Studies Institute, he is working with MSU faculty to create an anthology that looks at race relations across our region since the 1950s. And in an article he wrote over the summer, he offers a richly philosophical theory of ethos that considers cybernetics alongside cultural aspects of contemporary life to extend what was once “postmodern” into “posthumanist” theory—and concretely situates this abstract work in the world of Covid-19. As a citizen-scholar exemplar, Baumlin sets the bar to which we all aspire, as the tools of literary scholarship are never far from our thinking.
We are ready to make the best of a strange semester! We look forward to sharing it with you.