Planning Multicultural Reading Day

Two of our concentration members, Danielle Melvin and Gera Miles, are planning a Multicultural Reading Day for Spring 2011.  Danielle writes, “The idea originated from the African-American Reading Day that we did Feb. 15, 2005.  We had a brief program and students and faculty were able to read a passage from their favorite Afro-American author, or recite a passage of their original work.  It was all followed by a reception.  We held the program at the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center.”  Danielle and Gera would like to see the readings be “more inclusive” of our different cultural literatures this Spring.  As soon as we have chosen a date, we’ll let you know.  A great turn-out would be an exciting way to celebrate who we are.

Our talented and diverse students

What an extraordinarily talented and diverse group of students we have!  I just heard from Joan Conwell, already a published scholar in the discipline–see, for example “Papa’s Masks:  Roles of the Father in Danticat’s The Dew Breaker” in Obsidian III (2005-2006).   Joan spent part of her summer in Argentina and Uruguay doing research on indigenous populations in the region.  She sends this bone-chilling image from an ethnographic museum: a “race kit” used for identification and eerily reminiscent of those used in Germany.

I was delighted to learn that we have a successful author of children’s books participating in our program.  Pansie Hart Flood’s biography from the website tells us that she “grew up in the heart of the South as the youngest of seven children. Fond memories of summer visits to her grandmother’s gave her the inspiration and vivid setting for her first book, Sylvia & Miz Lula Maye.”

First Contact

Good morning, everyone.  I wanted to share with you my welcome back message to the MTL faculty.  Here goes:  Although I’m still putting the finishing touches on syllabi, I gave my students access to my Bb sites and sent them a brief note of welcome.  It still amazes me how anxious students get about the courses–concerned about whether they’ll be able to do well, to manage the challenges, to stay organized.  Almost immediately I got emails back with questions about individual assignments, the sorts of prompts I’d give on the Discussion Board, and course content matters.  I replied that I would be back in touch with them with specific instructions about all elements in the course and that I would maintain contact, in fact more contact than they would’ve received in a FTF course.  Basically, I tell them to chill.  One then wrote back “Namaste,” which cracked me up.
Forgive the story, but it’s these little exchanges that are part of what makes this whole deal worthwhile–the human contact, the sense that we have something of enduring value to offer and (I hope) the skill to make a difference in these peoples’ lives.  In some measure, I dread the start of the school year because I’ve cluttered our little holiday with memories of meetings and administrative arguments and a hundred little problems to solve.  And then I remember what, to me, is the spiritual aspect of our work, and I’m once again thankful to be in this privileged position.  Have a wonderful year!

Summer into Fall

Greetings from the swelter of late July to all students and enthusiasts of multicultural and transnational literatures.  I’ve recently returned from our annual London program, which introduced twenty-three students to the culture, history, and literature of one of the most genuinely multicultural cities in the world.  It was a great privilege to read books such as Andrea Levy’s Small Island and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane with students, but also to live with them for three weeks among people from all over the world.  We were especially fortunate to be able to celebrate Refugee Week with Londoners and “citizens of the world” committed to learning about other cultures and sharing our experiences and hopes.  The opportunity to interact daily with people who came from Middle Eastern countries was especially enlightening for us.

The Department of English has a new chair, Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, whom we welcome to our faculty.  We hope, without being too overbearing, to let him know what so many of you already know:  how important these MTL  programs are in our lives and educations;  what distance education can offer those for whom traditional brick-and-mortar graduate study is not accessible or feasible; how MTL is distinctive in its approach and in its educational results.  Help us share the good news!

I look forward to a challenging Fall:  working with burgeoning enrollments in our courses and programs, incorporating the global classroom into our offerings, expanding our Study Abroad programs, hiring new faculty members—much to do!  Please keep in touch, and we wish you the best as you pursue your goals and experience the transformation that lies at the heart of education.

Thesis, Portfolio, or Professional Project?

The idea of a comprehensive assessment project is to provide what people in program assessment call a “capstone” experience, a chance to bring together the skills students have developed and the knowledge they have acquired in some kind of culminating synthesis that they can share with others and that demonstrates a degree of research skill and professional expertise in the area.  MTL offers three options to fulfill the requirement, and I want to give my opinion about the suitability of each option, given students’ different aims and life circumstances.

We’ve found the professional project to be a great choice for teachers.  The result, often, is a pedagogical unit useful not only for bringing together material studied throughout the program and critically examining and arranging it, but also for providing new curricular options for school districts, community colleges, and so on.

The portfolio is fine for those students who would prefer not to write a thesis and who would like to benefit from a careful critical review of the research and learning process in which they’ve engaged throughout the program. The disadvantage of this option, as with the professional project, is the fact that you have to select two additional courses to complete the degree.

The thesis is a great research and writing challenge.  For those of you with an intense interest in one aspect of your studies, and who love the challenge of producing a long (60 plus pages or so?), multi-chapter study of a topic within the discipline, this is the option.  Traditionally, it’s served as a kind of gateway task for doctoral study.  The disadvantage of this option is that, in the event you decide to abandon a thesis project you’re working on, you might find yourself needing two additional courses to graduate.  If this option appeals to you, take advantage of every course you take in terms of imagining possible thesis topics that could emerge from the material you are studying.  In your 7005 class, you will do a “mock thesis prospectus” which will give you an idea of the strategic thought processes involved in planning a thesis.

I hope this is helpful in getting you thinking about the different options and which might be best for you.

Going live

A special welcome to those of you just joining our M.A. concentration in multicultural and transnational literatures or our graduate certificate program.  It is exciting to see so much interest in our programs, as another cycle begins:  a couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of “hooding” quite a number of new M.A. graduates at our departmental graduation ceremony.  And it was with great pride that I signed and sent the add-on certificates earned by our students, many of them working professionals, who will apply what they’ve learned in their careers and–many of them anyway–who will go on to further graduate study.

Dr. Ellen Arnold, who advises our distance education students, and I have already been fielding questions from many of you, and we have been making plans for an extraordinary year ahead.  MTL is expanding its offerings to undergraduate students by creating new distance education offerings and focusing existing courses on multicultural and transnational writing.  We continue to benefit from the vibrant new approaches brought by faculty members new to our concentration, and our graduate students will appreciate the growing range and scope of our course offerings.

In less than two weeks, I will join several other colleagues in leading a group of students to London.  I’m teaching a course focused on the experience of those who immigrated to that city, particularly after World War II. In advance of our three-week visit, we’re reading novels such as Brick Lane by Monica Ali, Small Island by Andrea Levy, The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon, and Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta, as well as some plays and poetry.  Our concentration is committed to globalizing our curriculum:  incorporating more and varied study abroad and using ECU’s global classroom to connect with students around the world.

It’s a great time to join us!

Rick Taylor

Multicultural and Transnational Literatures

Welcome, students of multicultural and transnational literatures.  We’re setting up this blogsite to give you the latest news concerning the concentration, advising aids, opinion, and anything else we think you might find useful.  We hope you’ll bookmark the site and find it a valuable place to visit.  More soon!

Rick Taylor,

Area Coordinator,  Multicultural and Transnational Literatures

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