Alumnus Spotlight: Brandon Sneed

Landing a book deal was the culmination of six years of hard work and passion for East Carolina English department alumnus Brandon Sneed.

“Getting a book deal with one of the Big 5 publishers has always been a dream,” said Sneed, who describes the project as “a crazy, fun, top-secret project for HarperCollins.”

However, this top-secret project is far from Sneed’s debut as an author. In fact, it’s just one of many projects he’s embarked on as a full-time author and freelance journalist.

“I grew up absolutely loving reading and always messed around with writing funky stories as a kid, and I still love trying to write great stories now,” he said.

Sneed was raised right here in Greenville. He graduated from Barton College in Wilson in 2009 and moved back to Greenville in 2011 to pursue his Master’s degree at ECU.

“I liked that I could finish it in a year and a half, and I thought their English department looked great. Plus, Greenville is home,” Sneed said. “I wanted a master’s so that I could teach college writing and literature classes—I very well may end up getting my Ph.D. at some point—and I focused on Nonfiction Creative Writing because I majored in journalism as an undergrad.”

Sneed earned his M.A. in English with a concentration in Nonfiction Creative Writing. He said some of his favorite parts of the program were spending time with professors who were as passionate about good writing as he is, and working with other students who were improving their writing–“that was all really fun and invigorating.”

Since his graduation, Sneed has been writing full time as well as teaching writing classes at area colleges. He’s also been publishing “longform, in-depth narrative journalism” for a variety of outlets, including CNN/Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, SB Nation, Pacific Standard, Outside, and more. His story, “The Prospect,” was named a Best American Sports Writing 2014 Notable Selection.

And besides all that, he’s also been writing books. Aside from his current project with HarperCollins, he’s written The Edge of Legend (2010) and Behind the Drive (2015). Sneed put these books out via a small publishing company that he created with his wife.

Sneed has a lot of work to be proud of, and he’s happy with the path he’s chosen.

“It’s taken tons of time, effort, and sacrifice, and my goal has always been to write stories that entertain and/or inform, sure, but also offer something that can make people’s lives better.”

“I believe in moving stories that explore the stunning things human beings are capable of.”

People wanting to learn more about Sneed’s work can visit his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, and his personal website at brandonsneed.com, where Sneed posts regular updates there about his work, hosts monthly book giveaways, and offers interviews and updates about other people doing remarkable things.

May

Alumna Spotlight: Christina Eftekhar Mayr

ChristinaMayr2Christina Eftekhar Mayr

Alumna Christina Eftekhar Mayr is the President of a local chapter of Society for Technical Communication (STC) for the 2015-2016 term. She also recently won an Award of Distinction (and candidate for Best of Show) in the STC Carolina technical communication competition and an Award of Merit at the STC International Summit. Her current success in the field of technical communication is the product of years of hard work, determination, education and experience, many years of which came from her time in undergraduate and graduate programs at East Carolina.

Christina chose East Carolina because, out of all the colleges she visited, ECU “was the only one that felt like home.” Though she initially had some trouble during her freshman year deciding on a major, with some well-placed guidance from her friend and mentor, Dawn Keller, Christina quickly found that English was something she both enjoyed and excelled at. She graduated with her BA in 2006, and continued into the English MA program the following fall, where professors in the Technical Communications program helped her discover the greater potential of a degree in English.

Not surprisingly, Christina cites interactions with the English department’s passionate professors as the best part of her ECU experience, and time spent in the study abroad in England program and late-night discussions of Foucault rank high on her list of favorite ECU memories. She also highlights the importance of developing professional communication skills regardless of where you believe your degree may take you, those are the skills that will always be in high demand. For that reason, Christina recommends taking any available introductory courses in business and technical communication.

After graduating with her MA in English with a concentration in Technical and Professional Communication in 2008, Christina worked as a technical writer, developing her knowledge base by accepting a variety of positions across multiple fields. She believes it was majoring in English that taught her the many necessary skills to further her career. In her own words, “majoring in English taught me how to research properly, read for understanding, and think critically and logically, all of which have helped me learn and master new technologies quickly, a necessity as a technical writer.” Now she works as a technical editor, using DITA, an “XML-based open-source structured authoring architecture” for content management. She uses her knowledge and ability with DITA to enhance user experience and increase content availability as needed. Her recent award from the STC International Summit competition was for a book she wrote on DITA, called the DITA Dictionary.

Christina is grateful for the time she had at ECU, and invites recent graduates of the TPC program here to contact her at president@stc-carolina.org for more information about the Society for Technical Communication, for job search assistance, resume help, or for information about mentoring opportunities.

Alumna Spotlight: Jamie Johnson

IMG_9184Jamie Johnson

 

Jamie is a recent MA graduate who started ECU as an undergrad pursuing a major in nursing. Despite the seeming practicality of choosing such a major, Jamie soon discovered that her real passion was in English. After earning her BA, Jamie decided to further her education here at ECU, and enrolled in the English MA program. With so many years of experience to draw from, we decided to ask Jamie a few questions about her time at ECU.

Why did you choose ECU?

I completed my undergraduate career at ECU. I applied for several different schools for grad, but staying at ECU just felt right. I had such a great experience with my undergrad career that I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else!

What is the best part of the program?

The best part of the program is the support. I truly felt like everyone was on my side and wanted to help. The faculty was always encouraging and allowed me to explore areas of interest. The PhD students were like older siblings (the good kind) and could relate to my struggles and offer valuable advice. My classmates evolved into great companions; someone was always there to help me brainstorm, vent, or review one of my papers. Finally, the administrators and office assistants were always quick to assist me with making copies for my classes and answer any questions I had. I consider myself lucky; not many programs have such a great support system.

How has your major benefited you since graduation?

After I tell my story of starting as a nursing major and eventually getting my MA in English, sometimes people will assume that it wasn’t practical; but the opposite is true. The graduate program challenged me to think in different ways and apply my thinking to every situation. It has also given me the comfort of knowing I have lots of options; I could apply for PhD, I could teach at the college level, I could teach high school, or I could have any type of writing/communications job.

Is there any advice you’d give other students in the program?

I want current students to know that they deserve to be there. Sometimes when I was surrounded by extraordinarily bright people, I felt like I wasn’t good enough. But that wasn’t true for me, and it’s not true for anyone in the program. If you’re graduating soon, you have the right to feel incredibly proud of yourself and it is okay to be afraid of the next step. You’re never alone!

What were your favorite undergrad and graduate courses?

My favorite undergraduate class was English Grammar taught by Ms. O’Neal (rest in peace, Ms. O. You had a huge impact on me). It was my favorite because I went into the course thinking it would be easy and maybe boring considering the title. But I was actually very challenged in the course and learned several concepts I will use for the rest of my life.

My favorite graduate class Writing Systems taught by Dr. Aceto. There weren’t many students enrolled so the course was more like a conversation than a traditional instructor-led class. Similarly to my undergraduate experience with English Grammar, Dr. Aceto challenged my thoughts and taught me how to think critically. But you should know it’s hard to choose just one favorite graduate course. I had excellent experiences in every course.

What was the most influential work you read during you time at ECU?

The most influential work I read during my time at ECU were pieces by Christina Rossetti explored in Dr. Mallory’s British Literature course. I believe Rossetti was an early feminist and I can identify with her tones of sarcasm and wit in much of her poetry.

Jamie Johnson graduated in 2014 and has been working hard to build up her resume with teaching experience since then. Last semester, Jamie taught eight sections of English through four different schools, and though she would not recommend teaching more than six sections if possible, she appreciates the fact that teaching so many sections allowed her to work with a wider variety of students than she otherwise might have. She is also grateful for the early teaching experience she gained while in the graduate program.

Alumna Spotlight: Laura Wright

wright.lauraLaura Wright

ECU Alumna Dr. Laura Wright is the Department Head of English at Western Carolina University, where she currently supervises around 200 students and 30 faculty while teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in World Literature in English, gender studies, environmental literature, and postcolonial theory.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Appalachian State University, Laura came to East Carolina University to pursue her MA in Literature. After graduating, she continued into the PhD program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Since arriving at Western Carolina University, Dr. Wright has been the recipient of several WCU awards, including the Arts and Sciences Teaching Award, the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and this year’s University Scholar Award.  She is also a long distance runner and an ethical vegan with two amazing dogs and two lovely cat.

As part of the Spotlight, we also asked Dr. Wright about her time at 
ECU. Here’s what she had to say:

 What drew you to English as your Major?

I became an English major because I loved to read — and I was good at writing about literature.

I also chose English because that major gave me an immense amount of freedom to take courses that were interesting to me.  I had been a psychology major first and then a biology major, but I loved literature, and I made the decision to study it because it was the thing that I was the most passionate about.

What was the best part of the program?

Being in graduate school at ECU was one of the best experiences of my life.  At ASU, I had tried to carve out a niche for myself as a student who was focused on women’s literatures and minority literatures.  When I came to ECU, Dr. Gay Wilentz had just established the Multicultural Literature concentration in the MA.  I knew immediately that this was the focus that I wanted to pursue, so I studied with her, and she directed my thesis, which was on three works of African literature by women authors (Tsitsi Dangarembga, Flora Nwapa, and Buchi Emecheta).  I also got my first opportunity to teach at ECU, and I worked as an assistant editor for the student newspaper.  All of these experiences were incredibly valuable in terms of my future career.

How has your major benefited you since graduation?

Well, my MA and teaching experience at ECU helped me land a job at NCSU after graduation.  I taught as a lecturer there for four years prior to moving to Massachusetts to pursue at Ph.D.  At the University of Massachusetts, I focused on African literature and wrote a dissertation on South African author J. M. Coetzee.  My dissertation later became a book.  My experience at ECU gave me the foundation to do this work, and the faculty at ECU — particularly Gay and Dr. Roberta Martin — were amazing advocates for me in terms of my getting into graduate school and getting a teaching assistantship while I was there.

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Dr. Laura Wright has written three monograph studies and been the lead editor of another book; my next book is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press in the fall.

More information regarding her latest work can be accessed at:

http://www.ugapress.org/index.php/books/index/the_vegan_studies_project

Gary Redding

Alumnus Spotlight: Gary Redding

Gary Redding

When ECU Department of English alumnus Gary Redding took the stage at Saturday’s department Commencement, he was also just a week away from his own commencement–from law school. He will graduate with a Juris Doctor from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law on Friday (May 15, 2015).

During his address to graduates at the ECU commencement Saturday, Redding talked about his own life and what his studies at ECU have made possible.

After earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees here, Redding taught for three years in the Department of English and then in New York City’s community college and public assistance systems. He quickly excelled upon entering law school, winning his school’s Earl H. Davis Award for Clinical Excellence in Spring 2014.

During that same semester, he worked as a student attorney in the HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic. In his time at the clinic, he represented several clients including two elderly women seeking estate planning services, performed local and international legal research, produced several high-quality court filings, appeared in court on behalf of an indigent Spanish-speaking client in a family law case, and testified before the Council of the District of Columbia about the concerns of residents at a local homeless shelter regarding the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance program.

This spring, Redding has been working as an extern in the congressional office of Congressman David E. Price (D-NC). His duties included assisting Price in his role as the Ranking Member of the House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I attended and reported on hearings, edited speeches, took the lead in researching efforts to update the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program, and much more.”

During his time in law school, Redding also served as a student attorney in the Housing and Consumer Law Clinic and he completed two summer legal internships.

“I was a legal and policy fellow at the Rural Coalition, Washington, D.C.,” he said. “My fellowships afforded me the opportunity to write and submit written testimony to Congress on behalf of the coalition regarding updating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and making the process for reporting voting rights violations more straightforward and practical, conduct research and write policy briefs in support of a ‘full and fair farm bill,’ document oral histories of farmers and farm workers, and much more.”

Redding’s interest in this subject area stems in part from his background. He is a native of Tillery, NC, and a third generation “Tillery resettler.”

He explained, “The Tillery Resettlment was established in 1935 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.  There were 113 New Deal farm projects set up mostly in the south, and the Tillery Resettlement was one of fifteen set up for African Americans to purchase farm land and become independent landowners.”

His background also inspired his dedication to learning.

“My single mother inspired my love for reading and writing at an early age,” Redding said. “I grew up in a home without a bathroom and running water, but our walls were lined with bookcases filled with books rich in all kinds of intellectual and social commentary, and political persuasions. We were regimented to reading aloud for 45 minutes a day from texts by authors as varied as Aristotle, W.E.B. Dubois, and Zora Neale Hurston. We also wrote on a daily basis about our local community and travel experiences, including our trip to Stockholm, Sweden to see Nelson and Winnie Mandela on the first trip Mandela made outside of Africa following his release from 27 years of unfair incarceration.”

Redding continues to stay connected to his hometown. He currently serves the Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Concerned Citizens of Tillery (CCT). CCT has been a catalyst for positive social change across North Carolina and beyond, and celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary in 2014. Awards for their  work have included the First International Healthier Communities Award from the Health Care Forum and the Natural Community Champion Award from the Conservation Fund.

When Redding first arrived ECU, he majored in criminal justice. Later, he was persuaded by the late Dr. Gay Wilentz to become an English major. Redding earned his B.A. in English, and then his M.A. in English with a concentration in Multicultural Literature.

“After being deprived of opportunities to read literature by authors of color in the public schools I attended, with the exception of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in the 10th grade, I jumped at the chance to be immersed in classes on Native American literature, African literature, and other literature by people of color in college and graduate school,” Redding said. “In those classes, students led intellectually stimulating debates and discussions about the inclusion of multiethnic literature in the American literary canon, students presented on violence against women in literature and in society, students from Belize, Central America offered new insights on writing and neocolonialism, and much more.”

“My training in English studies at ECU confirmed for me the power of the written and spoken word.  Invaluable interactions with faculty and classmates around the department and during my English composition and literature courses reaffirmed for me the importance of effective verbal communication with diverse persons inside and outside of my evolving adult world, the value of researching and writing skills in law school and my professional life, the limitless possibilities of a multicultural education in a multicultural world, and much more.”

“Students considering coming to ECU to study English will have the opportunity to learn from a diverse and talented faculty, take classes with students from different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and through hard work can become skillful writers and researchers,” Redding said. “Additionally, students who major in English at ECU can successfully enter any field of endeavor that they choose.”

“Eastern North Carolina is much richer for having a local university that is not only convenient and available to local students, but also brings many parts of the world to the region.”

Will Franklin

Student Spotlight: Will Franklin

Will Franklin

Our first, of many more to come, ‪#‎ecuengl‬ ‪#‎StudentSpotlight‬ is President of the ECU English Club, Will Franklin. As a senior English major, Will’s favorite classes have been Shakespeare’s Tragedies with Dr. Wilson-Okamura and Lit Theory with Dr. Steen. During his time spent at ECU, he has served as the student representative to both the English Executive Committee and the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. When he is not involved with university affairs, he enjoys playing golf and starting his mornings with a 3 mile run.

After graduation, he plans to complete an internship with Disney, and gain work experience to help start his career in publishing. His dream job would be working with for The New Yorker as a part of the creative/editorial team.

“The real benefit of being an English major is that you learn how to think critically through reading and writing, communicate well, and express ideas clearly. I don’t know another major that accomplishes all three.”

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