Summertime

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North Carolina Coast–photo by Katie Winkler

Summertime and the livin’ is easy.

Sort of.

man using laptop on table against white background

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I have decided to teach an eight-week freshman composition course this summer that began yesterday. People have said it can’t be done, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps it is simply too difficult of a course to teach in eight weeks. We’ll see. However, I think it is worth trying because many of our stronger students could benefit greatly if they could get both freshman comp classes completed in one semester.

Despite taking on this experimental course this summer, I will still have some extra time that I hope to spend productively. First, I have been working on a novel for several years now and am determined to finish the rough draft this summer and have the work edited and ready to go out in the world to seek fame and fortune (Ha!) by the end of the year.

Second, I want to revise, edit, and polish some of my short stories that I have not found a home for yet. Last year, I totally reworked a story that had been rejected numerous times, and it soon, after some revision suggested by the editor, found a home with the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. It’s called “Pilgrimage” 

Another goal is to continue seeking and reviewing submissions for my literary journal Teach. Write.  When I first started the journal, four editions ago, I only accepted work from teachers of writing, but now I accept work from students of writing as well.

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If you are interested in submitting to Teach. Write. then see the submission guidelines for more details.  You can see the latest edition by clicking here. I love to see stories about teaching composition and learning to write, but I accept short stories, poetry, and essays on a variety of topics and themes. I would love to see your work!

As usual I keep busy, but never fear–I plan to do a great deal of sitting and reading on my deck with my feet up, sipping iced tea with lemon.

Ahhhhhh, summer.

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The growing importance of baccalaureate degrees in workforce development

battered posterMy new play about domestic violence inspired by Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book is called Battered. It makes its debut April 11-14 at the Patton Auditorium on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College. One of the best things about working where I do is the opportunity to collaborate with other departments and community members on developing art that addresses important issues in our society.

For this play, I collaborated with the director, student and community actors, technical theater students, student filmmakers, campus police, fellow professors of drama, English, psychology, and sociology as well as employees of various social service organizations in the area.

Because of having so much to do (I still teach a full load of English composition and literature classes as well, along with all of the grading, of course) I do not have much time to write, but I wanted to share some important passages from the conclusion of a white paper entitled “The Evolving Mission of Workforce Development in the Community College” by James Jacob and Jennifer Worth, published by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University:

As more jobs require higher skills, the education levels demanded by employers will continue to rise. This means that more community college workforce programs must assume that students should be prepared to complete a degree at a four-year institution or complete a community college baccalaureate. [my emphasis] Except for allied health areas, most career and technical programs lack consistent integration between the skills programs and their “foundation” or basic liberal arts and sciences areas. Most occupational programs do not require these courses for certificates, and even if students want to complete a degree, occupational faculty consider them add-ons to be undertaken after they complete their technical program sequence. This is a mistake because not only do survey data clearly indicate that most career and technical students wish to obtain a four-year degree, but the evolution of many of these occupations means they will soon require a four-year degree. [my emphasis] Even in work-based learning programs such as apprenticeships, particularly the younger students view them as a first step toward a four-year degree. The work of Anthony Carnevale at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has been very important in emphasizing that degrees in specific college majors lead to income gains, and his data support the belief that both specific degree skills and general skills matter in the long run for anyone attending a community college workforce program (Carnevale, Jayasundera, & Gulish, 2015). [my emphasis]

In many occupational areas where community colleges are strong—such as nursing programs—the employer desire for a four-year degree is already very apparent in most metropolitan labor markets. Moreover, the anticipated adoption of artificial intelligence by many sectors of the economy suggests
that there will be even less employment for those without a four-year degree. [my emphasis]

Thus, community colleges must continue to remain responsive to the unfolding
needs of their communities for more employees who have four-year degrees and/or possess the appropriate basic skills to obtain these degrees. Clearly there will be many students, primarily adults, who need to acquire skills quickly so they can obtain meaningful work. Community colleges need to continue to provide that opportunity, but they also need to indicate to students that they will need credentials of value if they are to be competitive in the labor market. [my emphasis] This challenge will continue to inform the future of workforce development in the American community college.

NOTE: A previous version incorrectly identified the location of the Community College Research Center as Cornell University. The Center is part of Columbia University’s Teachers College.

I made it! Barely.

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Glad to offer Volume II, Issue 2 of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. Once again, producing this journal right during this busy time of the semester, right before the premiere of my fourth play, has nevertheless been a joy. I feel like I get to know all of the writers who contribute by reading their e-mails, bios, and most of all, their writing. I thank them all for contributing, and I hope you will all enjoy this newest edition of Teach. Write.

Here is a link to the journal: 2019 Spring_Summer_Teach. Write.

 

The world premiere of Battered, a play about domestic violence inspired by Robert battered posterBrowning’s The Ring and the Book, will appear April 11-14, at the Patton Auditorium of the Henderson County campus of Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Over a period of two years, I have worked on the script along with the director and a hard-working cast and crew. My continuing collaboration with the head of the drama department allows us to provide real-world experiences for students, along with an opportunity to express themselves through their art.

At the latest professional development day, the keynote speaker talked about providing students with what he called peak moments, those educational experiences that provide lasting memories and shape our students’ future. My hope is that this production of Battered will provide such experiences for the cast and crew. I know it has for me.

 

 

April 11-14–World Premiere of “Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s ‘The Ring and the Book'”

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Yesterday, we filmed some of the flashback scenes for my newest play, Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s “The Ring and the Book.” If you are near Asheville, NC, in April, then I hope you will try to make it.

Here is more information about the production:

April 11-14, the Theatre Department at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina, presents the world premiere of English faculty member Katie Winkler’s drama, Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s “The Ring and the Book.” A story within a story within a story, the play takes place in a small theater during the read-through of a new play by a young woman, Julia, who has escaped from a violent relationship with her intimate partner.

Julia has chosen to write an adaptation of the Victorian poet Robert Browning’s masterpiece, The Ring and the Book, drawn not only to the long narrative poem’s subject of the real-life murder of Pompilia Comparini by her husband Guido Franceschini, but also to the story of the great love between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. As the main character in this play within a play endures the increasing violence of her tyrannical husband’s abuse, Julia begins to relive her own nightmare.

As in past productions, including last season’s Stories from the Table by communications instructor Joshua Bledsoe, Battered is a collaborative effort, involving Director Jennifer Treadway and the author, as well as Blue Ridge students and community members. The desire is to raise awareness about the ongoing issue of domestic violence and also celebrate the enduring work of two of the greatest English poets of all time.

Author Katie Winkler has taught English composition and British literature as an adjunct and full-time professor for over 23 years at the college. Previous productions of her work include the musical A Carolina Story, a literary adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the one-act comedy Green Room. She is an active member of the Dramatists Guild of America and is a recently named trustee on the board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.

Starring as the playwright Julia is well-known area actor Natalie Broadway, who has performed in several productions at Blue Ridge, including August: Osage County, The Taming of the Shrew, and Les liaisons dangereuses, among others. She also served as artist-in-residence at the college, performing the lead role in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children. Other cast and crew members include theater students, as well as students outside of the department, alumni, and community members.

Battered will be presented April 11-14 in the Patton Auditorium of the Henderson County campus. Other performance sites will be announced soon. Admission for students, faculty and staff is $5. General Admission is $7. Contact the Blue Ridge Community College Theatre Department for more information or to make reservations.  js_treadway@blueridge.edu.

Spring 2019 Edition of Teach. Write. Coming April 1

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Busy times for Mrs. Winkler! Besides grading like mad to catch up from unexpected eye surgery followed by a bad head cold AND putting the finishing touches on the play, I am currently putting together my newest edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. I am excited about this edition’s contributions and think you will be, too! Stay tuned!

 

Battered: A Play about Domestic Violence Inspired by Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book by Katie Winkler

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When I was in graduate school long years ago, I took a course in 19th Century British literature. I was already a huge fan of the period, fueled by an undergraduate class in the Victorian Era, so the course further entrenched my love of the time and its literature.

During the class, we were required to read The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning, the master of the dramatic monologue with its “silent listener.” Although many are not familiar with The Ring and the Book, others are likely to have encountered what is probably Browning’s most recognizable poem, “My Last Duchess,” a dramatic monologue, of course. Here it is:

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Lucrezia de` Medici by Bronzino

 

My Last Duchess

by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
The Studio

The Studio by John Liston Byam Shaw (c1900)

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
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Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

The Ring and the Book involves similar settings and themes. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, The Ring and the Book, at 21,000 lines one of the longest poems in English literature, tells the story of how Pompilia Comparini, a 17-year-old who has just given birth, is cruelly stabbed to death, along with her parents, by her husband, Count Guido Franceschini, and four assassins.

Browning based his novel-length poem, told through 12 dramatic monologues, on a true Renaissance murder trial chronicled in The Old Yellow Book, a collection of trial papers and hand-written notes. Browning had secretly married Elizabeth Barrett, the author of the renowned Sonnets of the Portuguese, in 1846; they had fled from England to Italy soon after for the sake of Elizabeth’s health and to escape her tyrannical father. After her health improved, at 43, Elizabeth gave birth to their son, Pen. Then, one June day in 1860 while wandering the streets of Florence, Browning came across the trial papers covered in vellum. Although fascinated with the story from the beginning, Browning did not write his masterwork until Elizabeth’s death and his subsequent return to England.

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Photo by Maegan White on Pexels.com

Back when I was a graduate student in that 19th Century British literature class, I first thought how I would like to dramatize The Ring and the Book, about how relatively few people still read and study this great work with its beautiful language and far-reaching themes of searching the heart for reasons why we do the horrible things we do (Hodell) or how we are able to endure when we seem so weak and frail.  I wanted, someday, to find a way to help people, especially those who may have never heard of Browning before, discover, or re-discover, his greatest work.

25 years later, I have been blessed with the opportunity to write a play that, I hope and pray, does just that.  And more.

~~~~~~

Stay tuned for more information about Battered, which is being produced by the Theatre Department at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, North Carolina, April 10-14, 2019.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about Robert Browning, dramatic monologues, and other Victorian Era works and authors, I highly recommend taking a look at The Victorian Web, a wonderful resource for you anglophiles out there.

 

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Too Busy to Write

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

 

Seems an apt quote to begin this new year. I hope 2019 brings us all closer together and united to pursue excellence in whatever we do. But in that pursuit, let us not be afraid to fail because somehow, some way, we will. But it is not a sin to fail–it’s not even a bad thing.

2nd day of registration here at the old college and getting ready for the new semester. Rested. Relaxed. Re-energized. Feeling good about the future. I was doing a rare thing today–going through my bookmarked pages–and found this interesting blog post about the value of a liberal arts education–one of my favorite subjects as those who follow my blog know.

Hope you enjoy reading it. Soon I will blog about my new play, which will make its world premiere in April. I will also have a new installment of “The Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing.”

Here’s the post:  http://sites.psu.edu/krb5476/2014/03/06/the-advantages-of-being-useless-ci-3/

 

The Second of Five “Easy Ways” for Students to Improve Their Writing

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It’s been a busy time for me, and I haven’t had much time to work on the blog, but I had a good response from my first posting about five easy ways for students to improve their writing, so I didn’t want any more time to pass before the next installment.

The first of the five easy ways was to eliminate the use of first and second-person pronouns in academic writing. I can hear someone saying right now, “Just like an English teacher, not following her on rules,” but I tell my students that there is a time and place for using the first and second person; however, with so many bad writing habits around, eliminating them altogether for a time often helps people to control their use. The time, I tell them, lowering my reading glasses to peer at them, is in my classroom.

The same is true for the next of the five easy ways: Avoid beginning sentences or clauses with “There” and “It.” When community college students, many of whom are unfamiliar with the process of revision, are encouraged to find words and phrases that should be eliminated or avoided, what tends to happen is that they will often need, or even want, to change much more about the sentence than just the one word. Sometimes they make their overall sentence structure much stronger and clearer by recognizing one or two things that need to be avoided.

Therefore, I ask students to avoid beginning sentences with “There or “It” rather than eliminate them, but elimination is best. In the paragraph assignment described below, I ask students to eliminate the words “there” and “it.” But I begin with a curious request: I ask them to write a paragraph where every single sentence or clause begins with “there” and “it.”  What?

Take a look!

For the next paragraph assignment, I want each student to write a paragraph on one of the following subjects, but here is the trick–every sentence or major clause should begin with either “There” or “It”–that’s right–every sentence or major clause. Doing this should make sense when we do the next assignment

Begin with a topic sentence that contains the main idea, and write five to eight sentences that support that main idea and then write a concluding sentence.  Be sure to use specific sensory language to create a dominant impression as explained in the text and on the video.

In your paragraph describe one of the following

The lake at BRCC

The Patton Parking Lot

A classroom at BRCC or some other room

The Patton Building

The General Studies Building

Since you are online students, you may not be familiar with these places, so choose a room, building or other feature of any school that you attend, your home or the city or town you live in. It should be somewhere near Blue Ridge, though.

Example:

General Studies 115

     It is a plain room that, in the end, is quite remarkable. There are four white cement block walls. There is one blank wall, one wall with a bulletin board and two walls with white boards.  There is a bulletin board in the back that has been there for over five years, its blue background fading. It once had bright red trim, now pepto-bismol pink. It has old flyers from long ago events tacked here and there. There are tables and hard plastic chairs, a few broken ones. There is no sound except the hum of the ancient data projector and the rattle of the ceiling vents. It is a typical old classroom in one of the oldest buildings on campus. It is without life, until the first student, back pack slung over his shoulder, wanders in and takes his seat.

After the students have turned in that paragraph, I assign the following: 

You probably have guessed what I want you to do. I hope so, anyway.

I want you to take the paragraph you wrote for Assignment 2.2 and eliminate all uses of “there” and “it.” Might be harder than you think, but the exercise will hopefully make you more aware of how much we overuse these two words.

NOTE:  Don’t forget your first lesson–No first or second person pronouns either. 

Use my rewrite as an example (I begin with the original paragraph, so you can see the changes that I made). Notice that I took out words, added words and totally rewrote some sentences to better conform to good descriptive writing techniques. You should do the same.

Original Paragraph: 

General Studies 115

     It is a plain room that, in the end, is quite remarkable. There are four white cement block walls. There is one blank wall, one wall with a bulletin board and two walls with white boards.  There is a bulletin board in the back that has been there for over five years, its blue background fading. It once had bright red trim, now pepto-bismol pink. It has old flyers from long ago events tacked here and there. There are tables and hard plastic chairs, a few broken ones. There is no sound except the hum of the ancient data projector and the rattle of the ceiling vents. It is a typical old classroom in one of the oldest buildings on campus. It is without life, until the first student, back pack slung over his shoulder, wanders in and takes his seat.

Revised Paragraph

Student Name

Katie Winkler, Instructor

ENG 111.202

13 January 2018

The Old Classroom

     The plainest of rooms in one of the oldest buildings on campus is, in the end, quite remarkable. Standing in the front, listening to the ancient data projector and ceiling vents hum and rattle, the instructor, a 23-year veteran, faces a bulletin board, mostly blank, with just a few outdated event flyers tacked on its faded blue background, its once bright red trim now Pepto-Bismol pink. Brown tables and hard plastic chairs in conforming rows stand silent, or languish in the corner–broken and of little use. Then, the room, and all its occupants, like old, loyal soldiers, come to attention when the first student, backpack slung over his shoulder, wanders into the room.

Note: The two bold words (its) are being used as possessive pronouns in this paragraph and are therefore allowed. The contraction “It’s” would not be allowed. 

I have only used this assignment for the past two or three semesters, but I have had excellent results. Do students continue to have issues with overusing “There” and “It”? Of course, but, after this lesson, they have two easy things to look for when tackling the required revisions of rough drafts.

The third easy way will be coming your way soon!!!

NOTE: I neglected to mention in the last post that I am indebted to the classic little book on composition The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White for the development of my Five Easy Ways series of lessons. One of the greatest, and most accessible, books on writing, The Elements of Style, practices what it preaches–be concise and clear, my dear.

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Do you teach English composition or have you had a positive writing experience with a gifted composition instructor? If so, please consider submitting a short story, poem, or essay to Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. Submissions are now being accepted for the Spring/Summer 2019 issue and will close on March 1, 2019. Click  here for submission guidelines.