An ethnographer’s work is metaphorically embodied; eye for detail and ear for story, to start, are crucial to writing about culture. Elaine Lawless, MU Professor of Folklore Studies in the English Department, shows us that ethnography also requires heart and nerve. Heart allows scholars to listen empathically to the perspectives and opinions of the people being written about, enriching scholarship with insider perspective; nerve for advocating social change makes scholarship ever relevant to the service of humanity.
The life of Speer Morgan is a literary playground where fictitious dreams come true. The author of five novels and a collection of short stories, Morgan’s writings have earned him national awards and bylines in publications such as Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly. Along with these accomplishments, he has been the editor of the renowned literary magazine The Missouri Review for over thirty years.
Ever since the third grade, when an assistant principal generously offered to teach him and two classmates French, John Miles Foley has been curious about how languages work. Starting with the early epiphany that language is always embedded in culture, Foley followed this line of thinking until it led to oral tradition, which the MU Professor of Classical Studies and English has now been researching for over three decades. It will surely be a lifelong journey, for the field far outstrips written literature in size, diversity, and social function. In fact, all the written literature we have, Foley is fond of saying, “is dwarfed by oral traditions.”
Sometimes, in order to see the status quo, it takes a little distance. When MU’s Peace Corps Fellows return to the United States, they bring their global perspectives to the University of Missouri campus in order to open the minds of students, staff, and community members. Nathan Jensen, Jennifer Keller, Amy Bowes, and Andy Craver are among this year’s fellows. Their work in distant countries has changed them, helping them grow. Now they’re sharing their experience and newfound attitudes with MU.
The fact that Nancy M. West finds herself focusing so heavily on the visual in her research and teaching may at first seem to be “a sort of a curious thing,” but for the associate professor of English this fascination for the visual extends all the way back to a childhood devoid of photographs. “I love thinking about what photography means to people. Having grown up with very few photographs in my household, I’ve always been drawn to them,” she admits. It was no surprise, therefore, that West stumbled upon her first book project while scrounging through the bargain bin of an antique store: “I came across all of these old Kodak ads from the turn of the century, and I thought they were amazing. The images were just breathtakingly beautiful. The captions were unlike those we see now in ads. They were much more elaborate, much more descriptive. They addressed the consumer in very interesting, clever ways, and I just fell in love with them.” And at that serendipitous moment, the idea for Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia (2000) was conceived.
As Professor in the Classics Department at MU, Daniel Hooley’s research includes Roman poetry, the classical tradition, and translation studies, about which he has written three books, including his most recent, Roman Satire (2006). Hooley first became interested in studying the classics through an “accidental journey,” studying the western classics as an English and Humanities graduate student at the University of Minnesota, where he focused his studies on modernism and wrote his dissertation on how Latin poetry was translated by American modernists such as Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot. The dissertation became his first book, The Classics in Paraphrase: Ezra Pound and Modern Translators of Latin Poetry (1988).
Professor Albert Devlin, a natural storyteller, sits back in his chair, crosses his arms, and proceeds to describe the fortuitous events that changed the trajectory of his professional life—that is, when in 1995 the estate of playwright Tennessee Williams placed the collection of his correspondence in the hands of Devlin and Nancy Tischler, professor emerita at Pennsylvania State University, giving them permission to edit these precious materials.
Dr. Elaine Lawless describes how she uses reciprocal ethnography and advocates for its use in other ethnographic research.
When Dr. Lawless was a PhD student at Indiana University, she met the Pentecostal women whose invitation to worship with them became the foundation for scholarship and friendship. One result of her work was the film Joy Unspeakable, which she worked on with folklorist Betsy Peterson.
Past interviewees describe the intersection of their teaching and research.
As with many writers, Morgan’s love for literature dates back to his childhood and an early fascination with books, even some that were too advanced for him to fully understand. The protagonist of his first book, Belle Star, is his favorite character and is based on stories he heard as a child.
When it comes to offering advice to aspiring writers, Morgan admits literature is a difficult form to master. But he also maintains that it’s pivotal to never give up. He had to write three novels before he sold his first one, and this was after he’d been writing for over ten years.
Morgan’s work as an editor affects his writing in several ways, and he notes that in the end being an editor has made him more realistic about the writing process.
When it comes to writing, Morgan admits that for him the process is time-consuming and slow. He also notes that his work as an editor has made him more self-conscious about his own writing.
Speer Morgan’s is justifiably proud of The Missouri Review’s dedication to writers: “We’ve discovered a lot of writers and helped a lot of writers early in their career by publishing accomplishment rather than reputation.” He’s also enthusiastic about the magazine’s incorporation of student interns. “I’m very proud of the fact that we have trained and helped so many young people in the business of both writing and editing.”
Morgan explains that each year he cherishes The Missouri Review’s student interns more and more. The magazine’s goal is to train young editors and writers by involving them in all aspects of publishing.
As a Curators’ Professor and Byler Chair in the Humanities, Foley is well known for his teaching, offering a number of courses in the Classical Studies and English departments, and occasionally in Germanic and Slavic. For example, he currently teaches courses on oral tradition, a seminar on Beowulf, and courses in Homer and Greek literature. Foley notes that the Beowulf seminar reads the entire poem—“all 3,182 lines”—in the original language of Old English. In fact, he adds, “we have a feast at the end of the semester, when we perform it aloud so that the students can get a feel of what it’s like in the original.” Regardless of the topic, Foley infuses students with an appreciation for the beauty and complexity of language and verbal art.
This year’s group of Peace Corps fellows spent time in West Africa, southern Africa, and Kyrgystan. Their experiences were as unique as the countries in which they were located. Nathan Jensen and Jennifer Keller worked as agricultural volunteers in Mali; Amy Bowes taught English in Lesotho; and Andy Craver taught English in Issyk-Kul. Craver’s comment that she “learned a lot more from them then they did from me” echoes the attitudes of all the volunteers.
Reflecting on “the ways in which personal interests affect the professional and how personal motivation often guides professional motivation,” West recalls a story about how she chose her career. “When I was in college at Rutgers University, I thought I would go to law school…. I was very committed to that…. Then one day it was career day, and a lawyer came and talked about her work. She looked so beleaguered and so unimpassioned. And she was followed by an English professor, who totally enchanted me. And that was it! I already had the law school applications and thought, ‘I can’t do this,’ and I told my professors. This was at one of the moments when the job market was just awful, and they told me, ‘Don’t do it…. You’re not going to be able to get a job in English. You’re just going to waste your time. You’re just going to end up really sad and disappointed. Don’t do it.’ I just thought this is a part of who I am. I just had an instinct that it was going to be okay. So I did it and I never regretted it.” Because of this life-changing moment, West tells students curious about pursuing English in graduate school, “You have a really hard road in front of you in terms of the job market, and there is a good chance that you won’t find a job right away. But if this is who you are, if it is part of your being, if you can’t imagine yourself not doing it, then you really don’t have a choice, do you?”
Dan Hooley first became interested in studying the classics through an “accidental journey,” studying the western classics as an English and Humanities graduate student at the University of Minnesota where he focused his studies on modernism and wrote his dissertation on how Latin poetry was translated by American modernists such as Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot.
Devlin discussess how he goes about researching and gathering content for a new project.
Devlin describes the content of The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams. Volume I covers the period from 1920 to 1945 (with the success of The Glass Menagerie), while volume II concerns Williams’ “major period” from 1945 to 1957, during which A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were introduced.
Devlin discusses work he is doing with others on campus, including his joint appointment in the Theatre department.