This week, the Ball State English Department continues the short series of new faculty profiles by featuring Liz Whiteacre. Continue reading below to see Liz’s interview conducted by English intern Tyler Fields. Also, be sure to check out the series’s first two posts featuring Drs. Miranda Nesler and Maria Windell.
I notice that you’ve taught a variety of courses ranging from composition to literature to creative writing. Can you talk a little bit about your experience teaching such a myriad of courses?
I was fortunate to attend a strong graduate writing program at Southern Illinois University (SIU), which prepared me to teach composition, creative writing, literature, and technical writing. I started my career at College of DuPage (COD) in Glen Ellyn, IL and had many opportunities to teach a variety of writing classes to freshmen, sophomores, and community writers in traditional, hybrid, and online classrooms.
What’s most interesting to me, no matter which course I’m teaching, is how rhetorical situations affect the ways we write. The challenges presented to us by a literature paper versus a poem versus a cover letter provoke us to engage with what we’re writing, strengthen our understanding of audiences’ needs, and figure out what we need to accomplish to get our messages across. It’s never one-size-fits-all in writing, and this variety keeps me personally interested in the course material and invested in the students’ work. It’s fun to puzzle out together the best way to proceed in a draft.
Based on your CV, I see some of your interests include disability studies in poetry, writing for publications, and technologies in composition. Can you expound upon these? I’d especially like to hear about disability studies.
I worked summers as a lifeguard and a swimming, water aerobic, and boating instructor, when I was getting my MFA. I suffered a spinal injury after my first year in the program, and it took about two years of therapy before I was able to walk again without aid. This was a profound experience. When it happened in 2000, I was unaware of Disability Studies. Eventually, I discovered there were other people writing about accident, injury, and disability, and I started to seek out those conversations and learn from those writers.
For over a decade, I’ve been teaching composition, and I’ve learned a lot about technology as a result. Students have many tools with which to write and disseminate their work. I incorporate technology in the classroom, so students are exposed to what’s out there and how it’s changing. The essay is evolving, and Ball State is responding—for example, its focus on producing multimodal texts in its composition sequence. Students write not only for a variety of rhetorical situations, but also for a variety of devices. They will be expected to communicate in reports, emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, and who knows what else by future employers. I feel it’s important we teach them netiquette and prepare them for different styles of writing using the tools available to us in English courses.
At COD, I developed a course, Writing for Publication, that introduced writers to the publishing process for a variety of creative genres. The goal for each student was to send a manuscript out for publication by the end of the term. We talked about processes to accomplish this and etiquette when engaging with editors and agents. We discussed how to research publishing venues, market ourselves using social media, network, and more. It was an exciting class; often, up to 90% of students in a term would be published, and they would leave knowing other writers in the college community who would help motivate them to continue sending work out.
I also noticed some interesting projects you were, or are still, on such as creative writing outreach and CreativeWriting@COD. Can you describe these for me? What is your involvement?
At COD, I chaired the Creative Writing Committee, which offered me many opportunities to work with talented writers on a variety of outreach projects. I think that when young writers decide they’d like to pursue publication, they can see it as a solitary act. It’s true that they have to put time in the seat, if you will, to write their first draft—no one can do that for them, but once they have a product they’d like to share, it’s important for them to realize that they aren’t alone in the publication process.
Creative writing students could take a variety of writing courses to strengthen their work, and we also encouraged them to get involved with the editorial staffs of our student publications, participate in award series, socialize with other writers in writing groups and clubs on campus, network with community writing groups, and participate in readings both on and off campus. COD is a commuter school, and staying on campus can be challenging for students who have a hefty commute, so we created CreativeWriting@COD on Facebook to help writers connect with each other, share news about their events/publications, writing prompts, and writing resources. I feel strongly that informal “apprenticeships” can exist, and unpublished writers can mature and become successful when they seek advice from published writers. Publishing is so subjective and there’s no one-way to go about it, so seeking a community of writers to help you negotiate the process can be beneficial.
Since coming to Ball State, I’ve enjoyed learning about the network put in place for writers here. We have The Broken Plate, the In Print Festival, The Visiting Writers Series, student organizations, internships, writing projects, the Writing Center—students who are interested in getting published some day have many resources to help them do so.
You have received many awards and recognitions including a Pushcart nomination, which I find very exciting. Is creative writing your focus (especially as it pertains to academia), or something you picked up after your other interests?
Thanks, Tyler. I signed up for a poetry writing class at Indiana University when I was a sophomore by mistake. I thought the course number was for fiction writing, and I was surprised when I was asked who my favorite poets were on the first day. Happily, I had an amazing experience, which lead to many more creative writing workshops. Later, I received my MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in poetry at SIU. Since then, I continue to write, teach, and edit creative works.
If you’d like, can you talk a little bit about any future projects you have planned?
Lyn Jones, a professor here at Ball State, and I are working on a project. We will be putting out a call to mothers of children with special needs who write about their challenges and joys. We plan to edit a collection of essays and poetry that explore motherhood through these mothers’ eyes, a perspective that’s often marginalized.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Finishing Line Press will be publishing my first chapbook of poetry, Hit the Ground, in the coming year. This collection explores my experiences with the spinal injury that dramatically changed my world—in the time it took to hit the ground.