Archive for ‘Faculty Spotlight’

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.]

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!


George W. Ewing Folklore Lecture

0 Commentsby   |  04.09.12  |  Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

“Riddles and Puzzles, Cherubs and Kings:
Folkloric Elements in the Book of Ezekiel”

Dr. Mark Hamilton will deliver the annual George W. Ewing Folklore Lecture. Dr. Hamilton, Associate Dean of the ACU Graduate School of Theology, will explore the highly significant interface between folklore studies and the Old Testament.

The lecture series is a tribute to the late Dr. George Ewing, much loved ACU Professor of English and Folklore.  This event is open to all.

Thursday, April 19, 7:00 PM, in BSB 117

Mikee Deloney’s in the Spotlight!

0 Commentsby   |  01.29.12  |  Faculty Spotlight

Hey everyone, our own Dr. Mikee Deloney is featured in one of five spotlights on the ACU homepage, showcasing people ACU is proud to have in the community. We’re proud to have her in our department!

mikee delony

Dr. Mikee Delony | Assistant Professor of English

Mikee Delony did not start out to be an English teacher – or any teacher for that matter. In fact, she went straight from high school into the workforce, and it was years before she began to pursue a bachelor’s degree. But when she started, it seemed that she just couldn’t stop.

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.

Welcoming Returning Faculty!

0 Commentsby   |  09.21.11  |  Faculty Spotlight

Our department welcomed several returning faculty members this semester:

  • Grace Hall and Julie Barcroft both finished their master’s degrees in May 2010 and taught part-time last year; this year, we’re delighted to have them teaching with us full-time.
  • Steve Weathers, who left us last year, has returned to his position, as well, and it feels great to have him back.
  • Finally, Suanna Davis is no stranger to ACU, but she has been away for quite a while! We think she ought to have a proper re-introduction for the many who have yet to discover how great she is!

Dr. Davis spent her undergraduate years at ACU, double majoring in history and English and taking enough hours to qualify for a minor in biology. She went on to earn her master’s from ACU. Shortly after finishing her Ph.D. at Purdue, Suanna came back to spend four years teaching writing at ACU before leaving to pursue other adventures for a while—including raising her two sons (now 20 and 18) and teaching at various colleges around Houston.

Now that she’s back, she’s starting out by teaching composition and British Literature. But she was also incredibly productive over the summer. An abridged run-down of her accomplishments:

Mastering target practice at a Project Appleseed weekend.

  • Attended the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI, where she gave a paper on Beowulf in the 21st Century to a packed room.
  • Presented in Houston at the Johnnie Harris Writers’ Conference on “Who Is a Hero and How Do We Know?” She looked at Beowulf and The Aeneid in light of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth presentation in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
  • Wrote a chapter on Beowulf and The Aeneid for The Hero’s Quest from EBSCO. Her section is “Epic Quest II.”
  • Wrote a review of Bruce Thomas Boehrer’s Animal Characters: Nonhuman Beings in Early Modern Literature for The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.
  • Took part in a Project Appleseed weekend, where she learned to shoot her rifle better and discovered that even though she’s a history buff, there’s a lot about the Revolutionary War she didn’t know.
  • Moved herself to Abilene and started remodeling the new house she and her husband are making into home.

Suanna says that when she told her friends about returning to ACU as a professor, many of them responded, “Oh! Your dream has come true.” Apparently, she’s been very vocal about hoping to get back here. And we’re very glad to have her.

Welcome back, everyone. It’s going to be a great year!

The amazing kitchen was the biggest selling point of Dr. Davis's new house--if we're very good, can we come over for dinner?



PCA Award

1 Commentby   |  08.04.11  |  Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

Congratulations to our newest faculty member, Dr. Suanna Davis, who received the award for best Science Fiction/Fantasy paper at this year’s Popular Culture Association conference in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to this honor, Dr. Davis was also asked to submit her paper to Femspec, a feminist journal devoted to the science fiction and fantasy genres. Dr. Davis’ paper was entitled “Speculative Fiction Representations of Rape: From the Survivor’s Perspective.” 

ACU Faculty Work Together on Faith, Science, and the Arts

0 Commentsby   |  07.15.11  |  Faculty Spotlight

Fast Take: ACU professors in English, Theater, and Physics partnered this spring on an exciting project to promote interdisciplinary conversation—an important opportunity for both faculty and students.

* * *

For more than thirty years, the Christian Scholars’ Conference has hosted faculty from Christian colleges and universities across the country, welcoming rich conversations and important scholarship that those faculty members carry back with them to their classrooms. This year, the conference took place at Pepperdine University, themed around The Path of Discovery: Science, Theology, and the Academy. Keynote speakers included renowned physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes of Health (and even the Colbert Report).

ACU faculty from across the campus presented on panels and participated in discussions that considered critical issues in contemporary science related to their disciplines—everything from theology to music to theater to, yes, literature.

Nancy Shankle, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, chaired a panel of five other faculty members from ACU and beyond: Matt Hearn and Kim Reed of Lipscomb University, Lisa Siefker Bailey of Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, and Dawne Swearingen and Heidi Nobles of ACU. The panel, “The Uncertainty Principle: Teaching Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen,” promoted discussion of how faculty had engaged principles of physics in various non-science classrooms.

Nancy Shankle, Dawne Swearingen, and Heidi Nobles

To prepare for the conference, faculty members spent the spring 2011 semester teaching science-based courses in literature, writing, and theater. All the classes taught the play Copenhagen, a historical “what if?” drama playing with the science and metaphor of quantum physics in the WWII era.

At ACU, Dawne Swearingen and Heidi Nobles partnered to teach the play. Swearingen’s advanced directing students spent the early part of their semester directing scenes from the play for film and live performance; they then presented original and fascinating interpretations to Nobles’ first-year composition students. Nobles’ students grappled with the foundational elements of the play, including genre, characterization, and metaphor; many ended up writing research papers on issues related to nuclear physics and memory, two key elements in the play. A guest presentation from physics professor Paul Morris helped both groups of students better understand the intricacies Frayn works with in the drama.

The panel itself was the first time the faculty members were all able to sit down and discuss their experiences together. They compared successes and challenges and questions for the future. All emphasized the invigorating nature of taking on outside subject matter in their classrooms. Science and the arts are too often kept separate, but bringing them together allows for new grounding and energy in both.

The field of science writing itself is a rich one for students to explore in terms of career options. Schools like Johns Hopkins and MIT offer master’s degrees in science writing, and the job opportunities for strong writers who also know science well are fascinating—writers and editors are needed for scientific journals, research agencies, medical groups, and more. Based on job projections for the coming years (which reflect high needs for people working in the sciences, including in roles such as teacher and technical writer), students in the arts who also have facility in science should take seriously these interdisciplinary possibilities.

This panel opened up new opportunities for students and faculty to recognize those significant intersections, and we hope the work of the past few months will promote further scholarship from faculty and a new sense of possibility for students.

CCTE Awards

0 Commentsby   |  04.25.11  |  Alumni Spotlight, Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

Congratulations to Dr. Nancy Shankle, recipient of the Frances Hernández Teacher-Scholar Award.  Dr. Shankle was presented this award at the Conference of College Teachers of English luncheon on March 5, 2011, in Stephenville, Texas.

Each year the Conference of College Teachers of English honors the memory of Dr. Frances Hernández, longtime member of CCTE, with this award given to recipients who manifest the excellence in teaching, scholarship and service exemplified by Dr. Hernández herself.  Specifically, this award acknowledges recipients’ dedication to the profession through outstanding teaching; service to CCTE, to college or university, and to other professional organizations; and academic and scholarly achievement.

ACU graduate student (MA in English) Brent Dill won the William E. Tanner Award for the best rhetorical paper by a graduate gtudent. The title of his winning paper was “Ghostbook: A New Rhetoric of Grief.” His paper will be published in the 2011 issue of CCTE Studies.

ACU English professor Dr. Mikee Delony presented a paper on popular culture titled “Cinematic Guinevere.

Vickie Smith, 1948-2011

0 Commentsby   |  02.07.11  |  Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

Vickie Smith

Vickie Smith, instructor of English, passed away on Saturday, February 5, after a brief illness.  During exploratory surgery on January 24, doctors discovered widespread cancer.  Prof. Smith lived the last days of her life as she had all of her life, with a passion for the Lord.

Prof. Smith earned her MA in English from Abilene Christian University in 1992 and began teaching for the English Department in 1992 (part-time) and in 1995 (full-time).  She taught first-year English, sophomore literature, and Business and Professional Writing.

If you ever had a class with Prof. Smith, would you post a short remembrance?  We’ll use some of your comments in the memorial service.