Six OBU students presented creative and critical papers at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in Portland, Ore., March 20-23. They included Matt Baker, Bethany Jackson, Rachel Maxwell, Amie Morvan, Leah Palmer and Caroline Reel.
OBU's Sigma Tau Delta chapter is co-sponsored by Dr. Sid Watson, professor of English, and Dr. Ben Myers, associate professor of English. Watson, who serves as immediate past president on the national board of Sigma Tau Delta, will chair next year's convention in Savannah, Ga.
Baker, a senior English major from Muskogee, Okla., received the second place Original Fiction award for his short story, "Poetic Justice." Baker developed his story from a workshop activity in a fiction writing course taught by Dr. Brent Newsom, associate professor of English. The piece is about a man who loses a very public trial regarding the death of his wife. He devises a plan to take revenge on the woman who killed her, but the decisions he makes ultimately build up to a moment of tragedy.
"The recognition Matt's story received speaks not only to his talent, but also to his hard work and dedication to the craft of writing," Newsom said. "I'm very proud of Matt for this well-deserved accomplishment, but also because he approaches writing with equal parts seriousness and creativity, a combination other young writers can learn from."
"It's also gratifying to see such fruits as evidence of a growing, supportive and culturally engaged community of writers at OBU, a trend I hope continues with the expansion of the Creative Writing minor and the creation of the new Creative Writing major," Newsom said. "One way Christians can honor the Creator is by processing experiences and engaging our world through creative expression; this is a very exciting time to be doing so on Bison Hill, and Matt sets a good example of doing so with excellence."
Bethany Jackson, a senior English major from Benbrook, Texas, presented a semi-biographical critical essay about Thomas Hardy's poem "The Convergence of the Twain (Lines on the Loss of the Titanic)." Jackson argues that Hardy's poem is an attempt to reconcile his naturalist worldview -- that nature is indifferent to humanity and the world is inexplicable/does not rhyme -- and his passion for poetry, an internal conflict inspired by the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
"Because Hardy is one of my favorite poets, and his worldview of an unsympathetic and unpredictable cosmos seems to contradict the purpose of poetry and human feeling, I selected this particular poem for my research paper in the spring of 2012, which happened to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the Titanic tragedy," said Jackson.
Rachel Maxwell, a senior education major from Clinton, Okla., presented her critical piece, "Marlow's Metaphorical Steamer: More Than Just a Boat." The submission is a condensed and shortened research paper over Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" from a previous course. Maxwell's paper focuses on the connections between Marlowe's commitment to the steamer and his journey of understanding about human depravity. The thesis asserts that Conrad uses the steamboat imagery and Marlowe's occupation with the steamer as a symbol for the degenerative nature of work as a way to avoid immorality.
"I was inspired to write on this topic because imagery has always been one of my favorite elements of literature, and I am astounded at how masterfully Conrad uses imagery when English was not his first language," said Maxwell. "I also think I just got a kick out of drawing symbolic connections between the steamboat and the deeper issues of human depravity. So, imagery and symbolism, two things I love to look for wrapped up in a completely brilliant, yet bleak, story"
Amie Morvan, a junior education major from Haltom City, Texas, presented her critical piece "Truth vs. Facts and Their Relation to Trauma in the War in Vietnam." Morvan's piece focuses on "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), commonly experienced by soldiers returning to America from the Vietnam War. She discusses the ways the book portrayed PTSD truthfully, both in the narrative itself and in the way it was written.
"'The Things They Carried' is fiction but reads like fact in a lot of ways, so the interplay between facts and fiction is pretty interesting," said Morvan. "I tried to think about specific ways the book portrayed the Vietnam War experience accurately; PTSD seemed to jump out at me."
Leah Palmer, a senior English major from Oklahoma City, presented her original work, "Smoke." The creative piece features a young man, Collin, reflecting on the first time he purchased a pack of cigarettes. He struggles with the loss of his mother to an illness, has difficulty connecting to a depressed father, and subsequently struggles with accepting the notion of a benevolent God. The story is bookended with descriptive scenes of him smoking on his front porch as he experiences flashbacks of moments that shaped who he is.
"I spent a number of days watching my some of my friends smoke cigarettes, pipes and cigars, noting their movements," said Palmer. "After repetition, the process of smoking - preparing the cigarette, striking the lighter, burning the cigarette's end, drawing deeply, inhaling, exhaling - becomes instinct for a practiced smoker. I was fascinated by the number of complex actions people unconsciously do each day, and set out to play with the idea."
Caroline Reel, a senior orality studies major from Tishomingo, Okla., presented a short research and analysis paper on a section of "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In her critical paper, Reel analyzes Fitzgerald's use of the "Valley of Ashes" as a metaphor for the deadness and lack of substance underlying the upper-crust of society.
"I was prompted to write the paper during a fiction class with Dr. Watson, in which we read the Great Gatsby and discussed and analyzed Fitzgerald's masterful handling of the medium," said Reel. "I was particularly intrigued by the aforementioned reading of the 'Valley of Ashes' because I had never considered it before or run across it in critical material."
The Sigma Tau Delta International Convention attracts more and more students every year, making the submission process increasingly competitive. Any student who is a member of Sigma Tau Delta may submit a paper to the conference. The convention's judges follow a blind submission process, meaning they have no information about the student and must make their judgment on the basis of the quality of the paper only.
"It reflects very positively on the quality of our English programs that all of our students who submitted papers to this year's convention were accepted," Watson said. "In particular, Matt Baker's award suggests the excellence of the creative writing faculty, Drs. Ben Myers and Brent Newsom, and of OBU's creative writing programs."