Al Haley III's Archive

Dig It! Dr. Paul Varner’s Latest Book is Released

0 Commentsby   |  08.06.12  |  Faculty Spotlight


A smoky jazz club in San Francisco, a tenor sax wailing, then fingers start snapping as a lonesome figure takes the microphone and begins to read poetry the likes of which no one has heard before…

Want to know more about the lives and works of the Beat poets and their literary descendants? Want to find out more about what exactly was behind everything about to happen in that jazz club and what it meant culturally and poetically?

You can make a start by turning to a new book just published by our department’s Scholar in Residence, Dr. Paul Varner. It’s the Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement (Scarecrow Press 2012).


Over the course of 400 pages Dr. Varner’s book covers the Beat movement’s history through a chronology, an introduction essay, an extensive bibliography, and a dictionary section with over 700 cross-referenced entries on significant people, themes, critical  issues, and the most significant novels, poems and volumes of poetry and prose that have formed the Beat canon.

Along with compiling hundreds of outside sources, Dr. Varner  also conducted a considerable amount of original research of his own, which further enriched the book.

Dr. Varner has published two previous scholarly volumes  under Scarecrow Press. These two books are titled Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema (2008) and Historical Dictionary of Westerns in  Literature (2010) and are part of a series of historical dictionaries.

The Interview

We emailed Dr. Varner and asked him a few questions about  his book and about all the work he did to compile such a voluminous wealth of knowledge.

Q: How long ago did  you start working on this book? How long has it taken you to complete it?

 Dr. Varner: I give myself two years for each of my books, which evidently is standard since  both my publishers suggest that time frame. So I finished my last book, on Western  fiction, in 2010 and began my book on the Beat Movement immediately. I try to  spend the first year in reading and research and the second year in writing.  I’ve already begun my next book—on Romanticism in Literature.

Q: How much work did you do on this book each day or week?

Dr. Varner: Of  course, I had two summers to work full-time on the book, but I also try to  arrange my teaching schedule during the school year so that I have at least two  full days a week to research and write.

Q:  What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing this book?

 Dr.  Varner: Obviously, there is always the  challenge as to what and who to include and exclude in a broad critical survey.  But probably the biggest challenge was whether I would limit the scope of the  Beat Movement to the early generation of the Beats—the writers who came to prominence in the 1950s—or would I expand to writers and works that came after the 1950s.

Most surveys of the Beats confine  themselves to the 1950s, to the Beat Generation. I decided to treat the Beats as a Movement that began in the 1950s but which continued into the 1960s and still exerts a powerful influence on postmodern literature right up to the present. After all, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published a poem just a few months ago on the Wall Street Protest Movement and Gary Snyder published a new volume  of poetry in 2011.

Q:  Who do you hope will read this book? 

Dr. Varner: My book is part of a series and is intended to serve as a handbook for scholars and students entering into serious academic study of a particular field of literature. My previous two books in the series of Historical Dictionaries have been on Westerns in Cinema and Westerns in Literature. These books survey the scholarship of their fields in general and establish the current scholarship for individual writers and major works.

At all turns I push forward and attempt to establish new ways of looking at the literature. So anyone doing serious work in Beat Studies should consult my book. But also anyone interested in the Beats for whatever reason will find much new in my book.

Q:How will this book be used? 

Dr. Varner: My Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement is a user-friendly handbook ready to be picked up and dipped into for whatever information readers are searching for. It has two lengthy essays surveying the movement and the trends in scholarship, an exhaustive bibliography of primary and secondary works. Then most of the book contains dictionary or encyclopedia type entries on the writers, their individual works, terminology, historical events, geographical places, and all sorts of other information. Major novels and poems get thorough treatments.

Check It Out…

Dr. Varner’s book on the Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement is  available now, along with the past two volumes of this series from Scarecrow Press. If you are interested in moving beyond the cigarette smoke and getting inside the head of that poet on stage, you can find it on here.

[Thanks to student worker/senior English major David White for his invaluable assistance in compiling this post! – a.h.]

English University Scholars

0 Commentsby   |  05.06.12  |  Advising Information

Left to right: Jordan Havens, Elizabeth Berhardt, Claire Hardin share their award with Dr. Bennett

On Friday, April 20, four English seniors were among those honored by the Faculty Senate as Univeristy Scholars: Allison Oden, Claire Hardin,  Elizabeth Bernhardt, and Jordan Havens

Each year this award is bestowed on no more than 50 ACU students who have:

  • achieved a GPA of at least 3.5
  • earned at least 90 hours by the end of the fall semester preceding presentation of the honor
  • been identified by their departments as demonstrating scholarship in their chosen field

Congratulations to Jordan, Allison, Claire and Elizabeth!

Dr. Dave Merrell Honored Upon Retirement

0 Commentsby   |  05.05.12  |  Advising Information

On Friday, May 4th a group of faculty, staff and friends filled the Brown Library atrium to honor the English Department’s Dave Merrell.

After forty-six years of teaching and service Dave is retiring. He leaves quite a legacy.

“One of the things I fought against was being another small Bible college that thought of itself in a provincial way,” Dave recollected.

By doing things like starting the Honors program, introducing courses including World Literature and Business and Professional Writing, initiating the freshman English exit exam,  and going out and raising the funding for the Culp Professorship, Dave was instrumental in leading ACU in new directions and making it more competitive with other institutions.

The stuff of legend is Dave’s grasp of every detail of the university, especially in matters of the curriculum.

One person said Dave’s memory for what courses are required for what major and how they came to be was like accessing a “human hard drive.” Another said, “I never asked Dave a question and heard him answer ‘I don’t know.'”

The many positions he held over four decades testify to the breadth of his influence:

  • Professor of English
  • Chair of the Department of EnglishDean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts
  • Director of Curriculum
  • Registrar
  • Director of Freshman Composition
  • NCAA Compliance Liaison
  • Golf Coach


After the cutting of the retirement cake and dipping into the punch bowl, a variety of individuals stepped forward to offer accolades. These included former ACU provost Dwain Hart; current English Chair Cole Bennett; former English Chairs Bill Walton and Nancy Shankle; Dr. Chris Willerton; and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Charles Mattis.

ACU legal counsel Slade Sullivan honored Dave for being a charter member of the NBA–the Noon Basketball Association, a group of young and old faculty and staff who for decades have been driving to the hoop in Moody in a friendly competition.

A special "NBA" gift for Dave--The Book of Basketball.

When his time at the microphone came Dave observed, “Well, now I don’t need a funeral!”

What’s next for Dave? First off, he says he’s promised he’ll take his grandkids to Florida. After that he anticipates doing some part-time work for ACU. We also suspect he’ll be doing a bit of reading with the new Kindle the department gifted him with. We wish him well!


More Grads Set to Go…

0 Commentsby   |  05.04.12  |  Advising Information

They’re taking finals next week, but already their eyes are set on packing their suitcases.

Two of our English seniors are anticipating exciting graduate school adventures.

Juliana Kocsis, after considering an offer from Oregon State with full funding, decided upon North Carolina State in Durham where she will study Comp/Rhet (fully funded).

She’ll see a familiar face among the saturated green landscape when she walks onto the NCS campus. English Department alum Bethany Bradshaw began her graduate lit studies there this year.

Claire Hardin will soon perhaps be singing the praises of the Trailblazers and Stumptown coffee. She is headed to Portland State, where she will study Technical Writing.  Like Juliana, she received other offers, but chose Portland State.


A Night of Detection, the Culp Professor Reading

0 Commentsby   |  04.26.12  |  Faculty Spotlight


Mr. Boddy was strangled by a short length of rope in the billiard room of his mansion. Who would commit such a heinous act? Why?

Thus Dr. Chris Willerton kicked off the Fourth Annual Culp Professor Reading on the evening of April 10th not with a clearing of the throat or shuffling of papers, but with murder most mendacious. And after that the ride got even better…



Sandwiched between discussions of his research into a possible Christian way of reading mysteries (along with short bios of crime writers he’s looked at so far), Dr. Willerton drew upon some weirdly capable fellow faculty members to present a live version of CLUE.

Alibis were heard. Suspects were questioned sharply. In turn suspects accused one another. It all ended in a vote by the audience. Who did they think had strangled Mr. Boddy?


As the new Culp Professor, Dr. Willerton has begun researching and writing about 6-8 detective novelists. He read excerpts from an article and papers on three of them.

Dorothy L. Sayers represented the Classical Age in detective fiction with her
hero Lord Peter Wimsey. In an excerpt from his article “Dorothy L. Sayers and
the Creative Reader,” Dr. Willerton linked her Trinitarian theory of art to later
Reader-Response Theory, the basis for his own study.

Ian Rankin is a contemporary writer Dr. Willerton is studying. In his article “Detective Noir and Christian Readers,” he has argued that Ian Rankin’ Edinburgh police procedurals (so-called “Tartan Noir”) are “hospitable” texts for many Christians. They use their violence, topicality, and detectives’ idealism to confront questions important to Christians.

John le Carre, who is still going strong into his 80’s, is another focus of Dr. Willerton’s research. In an exercept from “Detective as Spy as Detective in Novels of John le Carré” Dr. Willerton considered the use of genre in two early novels and how it enables readers to understand an ethically ambiguous universe—one where characters are pulled between ethical imperatives.


There was no youthful Charles Dickens in the audience taking notes of the proceedings, but had he been there to do so, he might have noted the following:


The Vicar (Stephen Weathers) was an oily character, both figuratively and literally. At the hour of the murder he claimed to have been with a “toothless bearded hag” who was dying. “I anointed her with oil,” the Vicar snidely intoned. “Lubrication is my specialty.”








Freelance editor Ms. Peddi Antry (Carolyn Thompson) offered perhaps the best alibi of all. She had been out of the country, editing a book.






Barclay Wells Fargo (Steven Moore) was another matter. The accountant kept flashing a $20 bill (a bribe perhaps) and insisted his handsome face was enough to deem him innocent. He said he went home after work and partied with some friends–on the Internet.


Thurman Zamboni (Al Haley), a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, spoke of working on his magnum opus which has consumed him for the past ten years. “At 8 o’clock I was in my study revising p. 732. At that time I took out a comma. At five minutes before midnight I put the comma back in. I considered it a good day’s work.”


After Zamboni vilified the vicar and accused him of being a closeted Rolling Stones fan and Barclay Wells Fargo again flashed his wad of green while Ms. Peddi Antry shot editorial daggers in every direction, the audience voted overwhelmingly that the guilty party was…


We almost forgot to say that The Culp Professorship is awarded competitively for three-year terms. Recipients have reduced teaching loads and a research budget and must pursue a major professional project. Previous recipients have been James Culp, Darryl Tippens, Gay Barton, Steve Weathers, and Al Haley.


Well, of course, it was that evil hearted representative of the 1%–Barclay Wells Fargo–who dunit!


Catch A Wave (With Jane Austen)

0 Commentsby   |  03.09.12  |  Announcements

"Shall we go surfing now? Everyone is learning how!"

Keep your sun tan oil handy.

Jane Austen Days are coming to ACU English the week after spring break.

To celebrate one of the British Isles’ preeminent writers and the ACU Theatre’s upcoming production based on her novel Emma, Dr. Joe Stephenson has involved his Seminar students in putting together a series of literary gatherings and delectations for your enjoyment. See below. [Please note that the tea in the Inkwell is THURSDAY, March 29.].


Job Opp for English Majors

0 Commentsby   |  12.10.11  |  Career Planning & Information

Dr. Bennett wanted to call the following to the attention of our recent grads or those who will graduate by May 2012: 

Summer Teaching Opportunities

The Institute of Reading Development is seeking candidates for summer 2012 teaching positions. We seek applicants with an undergraduate degree or higher from any discipline. We provide a paid training program and comprehensive on-going support.

Summer teaching positions with the Institute offer the opportunity to:

  • – Earn more than $6,000 during the summer. Teachers typically earn between $500 and $700 per week while teaching.
  • – Gain over 300 hours of teacher-training and teaching experience with a variety of age groups.
  • – Help students of all ages develop their reading skills and ability to become imaginatively absorbed in books.

The Institute is an educational service provider that teaches developmental reading programs in partnership with the continuing education departments of more than 100 colleges and universities across the United States. Our classes for students of all ages improve their reading skills and teach them to experience absorption in literature.

We hire people who:

Have strong reading skills and read for pleasure

  • Have a Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline
  • Are responsible and hard working Have good communication and organizational skills
  • Will be patient and supportive with students Have regular access to a reliable car

We invite you to submit an online application and learn more about teaching for the Institute at our website:

Bill Horn – Eye on the Ball

0 Commentsby   |  11.16.11  |  Faculty Spotlight

"Coach" Horn with his award

Well, things were looking pretty good for the playoff-bound ACU Wildcats football team last Saturday. In the fourth quarter, two minutes left on the clock, and the score firmly in blow-out territory (61-17), the Wildcats were seeking one more epic gridiron moment.

That’s when the nod went to English Instructor, Bill Horn. Chosen by student athletes for the honor of serving as “Guest Coach,” this was Bill’s big moment.

“We had a fourth and twenty from and our own five yard line,” Bill recounted. “The choice was clear. I knew this was the time to go for it. I told the punter to get back on the bench and I called an off-tackle run, what I call hack-tack-double-oh-seven…”

Wait, wait! That’s not right!  The part about calling an idiot play never happened. But Bill can appreciate a bit of good fiction. On his way to earning his Masters in English he took a creative writing class or two at ACU. More to the point, he prepared himself to become one of our most valuable teachers, one who brings his real-world experience as a coach, runner, triathlete, and recruiter into his writing and literature classrooms.

Bill tells how he often begins a class with a clip from a favorite film, Facing the Giants. He informs students, “I’m like the coach in this movie. I’m here to motivate you.” He makes them understand that he’s going to work them hard, very hard. But the upside is that “As long you’re giving me 100%, I’m going to be your biggest cheerleader.”

In classes like English 111 and Business and Professional Writing, Bill emphasizes skills that are relevant to success in life. This explains why when the student athletes voted for a guest coach their eyes turned in an unexpected direction, the English Department. English, really? Really. They had taken a class from a teacher who valued the same things they did: dedication, hard work, and excellence. The teacher was Bill Horn.

And what really happened when Bill was guest coach?

He and his daughter Emma joined the team at their Friday night dinner at Golden Corral and sat in on the subsequent team meeting. When Saturday rolled around they had sideline passes for the game against Incarnate Word at Shotwell Stadium.

The highlight for Emma came when she confessed to her dad, “I’ve always wanted to hug a football player.” There was one small caveat.

“Daddy, can you find me one that’s not too sweaty?”

Two players to hug and not too sweaty!

Mission accomplished.

And, no, Bill didn’t call a play. But if he had? We’re pretty sure he would have punted.

Brent Hines: A Journey to Global Writer

0 Commentsby   |  10.24.11  |  Alumni Spotlight

After 2 years in Armenia Brent enjoys a Texas H.S. football game with his sister

I  remember one of my students from the spring 2007.

First impressions: He was tall, had a winning smile, and was unassuming in demeanor. He was especially keen to receive ideas about how to improve his writing.

Even more I remember the pleasant surprise when he turned in his first piece for Eng. 323: Creative Nonfiction Workshop. “Stridulation, Wings on Teeth” was a meditation on crickets (which seemed to be everywhere at ACU the previous fall), a journey to Guatemala, and more. With the writer’s permission I sent the piece off to the annual Christianity and Literature student writing contest.

It took first place in the nonfiction category.

That was only the beginning for English major Brent Hines

A Chance to Write for a Living

A few weeks ago I heard from Brent that he had just landed his “dream job.” What would be a dream job for someone like Brent? As he puts it, “I’m actually getting paid to write.”

Brent will take on the role of Roving Correspondent for the American Refugee Committee. He’ll be based at the ARC’s headquarters in Minneapolis. From there he will travel to the places like Rwanda, Somalia, Thailand, Haiti, etc., to write, shoot film and photos, and generally create content for the ARC blog, twitter, youtube channel, and per Brent’s email, “just about anything else they need me to create.”

Wow. Pretty impressive!

From Blog to Dream Job

In December 2008, Brent got in touch with me.  He was working as a temporary stock room clerk at a college bookstore.  It wasn’t a career choice, but it wasn’t a bad gig either. He had found that some of his fellow employees were so interesting that it inspired him to write about them. Brent’s writing by then had gravitated from the page to a blog he had begun, Bread to be Eaten

Brent noted:

“I’m still struggling to make writing a part of my regular lifestyle.  It is hard to do without an audience.  I get the most thrill out of sharing my writing, out of the telling.  But, I get such a buzz out of the process that once I start I can’t stop.  So, whatever writing will be, it will definitely be here with me.”

Flash ahead to the summer 2009. Brent joined the Peace Corps. He went to Armenia for a two-year stint. 

Brent with Meri, his "little sister" from his host family

At that point, Brent’s blog took on a whole new flavor. One might say there was much more “bread to be eaten” and it was reflected in his remarkable posts and photographs.

The blog was so well done that it showed up in my classroom. In Eng. 323, besides our usual look at authors who brought a creative flair to nonfiction (e.g., Annie Dillard, Tom Wolfe, Loren Eiseley) I had begun to acquaint students with writing in the blogosphere and encourage them to create, let’s call them, “literary quality blogs.”

Brent’s blog became one of my Exhibit A’s.

After two years in Armenian and amazing opportunities to serve people and feel comfortable with a foreign culture, Brent was well prepared to pursue the ARC position. Plus, he had his ace in the hole, a tangible credential he could offer in the interview process. His blog. Solid evidence that he could write the kind of new media content that people will want to read.

So congratulations to Brent! We look forward to the stories he’s going to bring us from the most challenging places in the world, where people have been displaced and their very lives are threatened. I am especially proud that one of our own is going to share with the world these stories and bring more of the help that urgently needs to be extended to the “least of these.” – A.H.



As Big as Texas: More Student Wins

0 Commentsby   |  08.31.11  |  Announcements, Creative Writing

Image from

News of the best variety arrived in Writer in Residence Al Haley’s email in-box last week.

It was notification that two students he had nominated earlier in the summer had placed in their respective genres in the student writing contest sponsored by the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers (TACWT). Not second or third, but…

First place.

Tanner Hadfield in fiction.

Bethany Bradshaw in poetry.

This follows on the heels of ACU student wins in the annual Christianity and Literature Student Writing Contest (see post).

First place winners of the TACWT contest receive $100 and an invitation to read their work at TACWT’s annual meeting which this year will be held in Austin, Sept. 23-24.

“This is a wonderful result,” Prof. Haley said. “In TACWT we’re competing with schools that have established MFA and MA programs in creative writing like the University of Houston and Texas Tech.

“Often their undergraduates have worked with the graduate faculty who are numerous and many of whom are much published writers themselves. So for a school like ACU to come along and win two out of three first places makes a kind of statement about the caliber of our classes, teachers, and students.”

Tanner Hadfield’s story, “Snowing in Darling,” is a magic-realism sort of tale that he wrote in Prof. Heidi Nobles Fiction Workshop last fall. Tanner got the news at the University Colorado where he had just begun his first semester as an MFA student.

He wrote back that already he’s taught his first class of undergrads as a graduate teaching assistant, is  working on a novella, staring up an art-zine, judging a poetry contest for Subito Press, and tutoring. And, oh, yes he’s taking classes.

Out on the East Coast the news about her poetry win found Bethany Bradshaw beginning her first semester of classes as an MA student in literature at the University of North Carolina in Raleigh. In her email response she expressed excitement over the outcome and noted, “I am sitting with my books and coffee watching the rain soak our yard full of trees (not to gloat or anything). So yes, I am loving Raleigh.”

Prof. Haley concluded, “Combined with the student work  that place earlier this year in the Christianity and Literature contest, these results show that we have a very good thing going with creative writing at ACU. I encourage any student, regardless of his or her major, to take one of our three workshops. There’s something offered every semester and it’s a chance to meet the challenge to do quality work. And I think that’s what a lot of our students are really looking for. A serious challenge.”

For anyone interested, Eng. 320: Creative Nonfiction Workshop is offered in the Spring; Eng. 322: Fiction Workshop and Eng. 323: Poetry Workshop meet in the Fall.