Archive for ‘Faculty Spotlight’

Varner comes out, guns blazing, with new book!

0 Commentsby   |  11.10.10  |  Faculty Publications, Faculty Spotlight

To see evidence that Abilene Christian University faculty members are hard at work, you need look no further than the list of books recently released by ACU authors. Among them is a title by  Dr. Paul Varner, scholar in residence and visiting professor of English. Varner’s latest book, Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature, was released on Oct. 15. Since coming to ACU in 2007, Varner has written three books on the literature of the American West. The books provide the latest information on scholarship, scholarly approaches, critical terminology, and essential information for scholars pursuing serious literary and cultural study of Western literature and critical analysis for the essential authors and novels of the West.

“I have always wanted to work with the literature of the American West because of its impact on who we are in Texas and Abilene,” says Varner. “Western literature has both shaped our culture and reflected what our immediate culture has been.” For more information on Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature, visit the Scarecrow Press website.

English Faculty and Graduate Students Present at CSC

0 Commentsby   |  07.09.10  |  Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

CSC participantsEight English faculty and graduate students attended the Christian Scholars’ Conference held at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 3-5, 2010.  The theme of this year’s conference was Beauty in the Academy: Faith, Scholarship and the Arts.

Highlights of the conference included plenary speeches by James Elkins, E.C. Chadbourne Professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; poet and critic Dana Gioia; and award-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley.  

Below are some of the papers and panels presented by English faculty and graduate students:

Nancy W. Shankle, Abilene Christian University, Convener: “Teaching Doubt

  • Mikee Delony, Abilene Christian University: Panelist
  • Barrett Huddleston, Oklahoma University: Panelist
  • Sherry Rankin, Abilene Christian University: Panelist
  • Steven T. Moore, Abilene Christian University: Panelist
  • Vickie Smith, Abilene Christian University: Panelist
  • John Williams, Harding University: Panelist

Mikee Delony, Abilene Christian University: “Monstrous Beauty: Contemporary Aesthetics of Beauty” (Session I)

  • Susan Jeffers, Independent Scholar: “Gross or Grotesque Beauty?: Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ”
  • Shelly Sanders, Abilene Christian University: “Who’s to Blame?”: Naming the Monstrous in Whale Rider”
  • William Carroll, Abilene Christian University: “The Apologetics of Clive Barker’s Monstrous Sublime”

Shelly Sanders, Abilene Christian University, Convener: “Monstrous Beauty: Contemporary Aesthetics of Beauty” (Session II)

  • Steven T. Moore, Abilene Christian University: “Monstrous Beauty in the Moonwalk:  Examining the Hidden Reality of Blackness in the Music Videos of Michael Jackson”
  • Mikee Delony, Abilene Christian University: “Evil Beauty: The Vampire in Contemporary Media”
  • Perry Harrison, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales: “Neon Gods: The Faded Humanity of Dr. Manhattan”

Jeremy Elliott, Abilene Christian University, Convener: “Issues in Social Justice”

Detective Work

0 Commentsby   |  03.23.10  |  Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

WadeCWdisplayDr. Chris Willerton is home from a successful research trip to the Midwest and New York. He’s on administrative leave during spring 2010, a reward after 25 years as ACU’s honors director, and is using the opportunity to continue his work in detective fiction and theology.

CW’s first project was interviewing detective writer Terence Faherty in Indianapolis.  Faherty has two series of novels, one featuring amateur detective Owen Keane, a failed seminarian, and the other featuring Scott Elliott, an actor who becomes a Los Angeles sleuth after returning from World War II. Faherty told CW that his Catholicism comes through most strongly when his characters suffer from unconfessed crimes. He puts in enough gunplay and rough language to satisfy his publisher but is most interested in the way his characters use little mysteries to find clues to cosmic mysteries.

CW’s next project was to present a paper, “Dorothy L. Sayers, the Trinity, and the Creative Reader” at the Northeast ConferenceWadeCWreadng on Christianity and Literature, in New York. This was the first CCL regional meeting to feature detective fiction, and it drew papers on Chesterton, Sayers, Collins, Chandler, and even J. K. Rowling.


The photo shows CW meeting the plenary speaker, Dr. Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. In between sessions, CW hiked across Brooklyn Bridge, visited the site of the World Trade Center, and saw an off-Broadway murder mystery, Perfect Crime.WadeCWbridge

Finally, CW spent three days in the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, reading manuscripts and letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and translator of Dante. Having written papers extending Sayers’s aesthetics with Reader Response theory, CW focused on her 1941 book The Mind of the Maker and her 1944 lecture “Towards a Christian Aesthetic.” As one critic puts it, Sayers was “highly intelligent, opinionated, and combative,” and CW ended each day’s reading woozy from both her handwriting and her argumentation.WadeCWDLS

WadeCWwardrbThe Wade is an internationally known research center for Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, Chesterton, Charles Williams, and others associated with the Oxford Christians. Its artifacts include desks used by Tolkien and Lewis and the wardrobe that helped inspire The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the photo, CW inspects an overcoat used by Maj. Warren Lewis (C. S. Lewis’ brother Warnie).

Photo credits: Wade Center photos by Rachel K. Mink, staff. Brooklyn Bridge photo through the kindness of strangers.

Faculty Spotlight: Writer in Residence, Albert Haley

0 Commentsby   |  03.01.10  |  Faculty Spotlight



Duncan, Oklahoma

Grew Up In: Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Alaska

Education: B.A. Economics, Yale University; MFA Creative Writing, U. of Houston

Short Stories: The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, and various journals

Books: Home Ground (short story collection), Exotic (novel)

Awards: John Irving First Novel Prize, Rattle Magazine Poetry Prize, James Culp Distinguished Prof. of English 2008-11

Recent Publication: “Take Nothing For the Journey Except a Staff: Teaching Fiction Workshop,” chapter in The Word in the English Classroom, ACU Press 2009.

Spouse: Joyce Haley teaches advertising classes in the JMC Department

Child: Coleman Haley is a middle schooler at Abilene Christian Schools, an omnivorous reader and a fan of multi-syllabic rare words

What Others Have Said About Albert Haley’s Work

HOME GROUND: Stories of Two Families and the Land

“It accumulates through self-contained narratives an ambitious near-novel rich in meaning…”  The New York Times

“…the best fiction we have about contemporary Alaska.”  Larry McMurtry

“I think Home Ground is terrifc.” Raymond Carver


Exotic takes off like a rocket.” L.A. Times

“It’s easy to see oneself in this novel…. Exchanges between the newly married pair echoed through my mind like conversations out of my own bedroom, laying bare forgotten pains.”  The Oakland Press

“Read as a fable of two fallible mortals who say no to some things and yes to others, Exotic is as sweet and satisfying as a papaya peeled and presented by the one you love.”  L.A. Herald Examiner

In the Beginning

On the porch of Wm. Faukner's house, Oxford, MS

On the porch of Wm. Faukner's house, Oxford, MS 2006

When Al and  Joyce Haley arrived at ACU in the fall of 1997, William Jefferson Clinton was embarking upon his second term as president. Princess Diana had died after being pursued by papparazi into a fatal Paris tunnel. Consumer Reports again opined that there had never been more reliable cars made than those bearing the Toyota badge.

In the world of American publishing three of the best novels Al has ever read appeared that year: Don DeLillo’s Underworld, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. At the movies the buzz was that director James Cameron had squandered a hundred million dollars on a romantic film that was bound to be a box office bust. Come December, Titanic would prove the cynics wrong.

As for Abilene there was no Cinemark movie multiplex or Old Navy. On the ACU campus plays were performed in the dark, grim echo chamber of Sewell Theater and, if students wanted to jog around campus, they took their chances navigating bumpy grass and dodging gopher holes; the Lumsford Trail wasn’t even yet a rumor. As for technology, student cell phones were as rare as West Texas rain. In the English Department computer writing labs Al noted instructions at each station telling students how to use the mouse.

Flash ahead a decade and a bit more and we’re well into the 21st Century. Much has changed at ACU and all of it is for the better as Al states in the brief interview that appears below.

AH No3Q & A With Al Haley

What the best thing that’s happened for you in your time at ACU? That’s easy. It’s been having the opportunity to help build undergrad creative writing to the level where we now have three different genre workshops each year (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction) and that the students coming out of the workshops regularly see their work recognized in national and regional contests. Just since 2002 our students have won 9 firsts and 13 seconds. Nothing gets me more excited than having students produce excellent writing and seeing others validate it for them.

As the Culp Professor what are you currently working on? I’m revising a novel with the working title of Evangel. It’s about four couples living in the suburbs who get together every Sunday night to share what’s happening in their lives and pray. The drama is that miraculous things seem to be happening to each of them when no one else is around. “Evangel,” by the way is the old way of referring to the four gospels collectively.

Do you have anything else you plan to write in the short term? Yes. I’ve written a few poems about extra-biblical moments in the life of Jesus. I’d like to write enough of these poems to have a whole book. My intention is to focus on the humanity of Christ which I think is often overlooked. At times he must have been dusty and had blisters on his feet. We read about his baptism by John in the river Jordan, but what was it like when Jesus had to take an ordinary bath?

How do you go about writing something? It begins at 5:30 a.m. with a cup of coffee while everyone else in the house is asleep. I almost always write about something I’ve already been going over in my mind. I may have a few notes at hand, too. I write pretty quickly on my trusty Dell laptop. A thousand words an hour? I’m not very conscious of what the exact words are that I’m writing. It’s only when I’m revising that I see some things and I’m surprised and think, hey, that’s pretty good, did I write that? More often I’m horrified—Oh no, how could I have gone off on such a self-indulgent, cliché tangent? Thank heavens for the delete key.

What are some inspirations for your work? For me it starts with Ernest Hemingway, all of whose books I’ve read and continue to read. Hemingway shows me how to activate the reader’s senses to make him or her feel like they are walking around in the story. That’s the effect I strive for, a sort of virtual reality in prose. I also love how the Russians (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy) wrestle explicitly with what the world means. My other inspiration comes from music. I love the grand passions of classical music. I’ve also absorbed the rhythms and the impolite attitude of rock ‘n’ roll. I like for my fiction and poetry style to be energetic and urgent as if I’ve got the reader by the lapels and I’m saying, hey, you’ve got to hear these words.

Tell us about the most recent book you read. I have to single out And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris because it just really wowed me. This 2008 novel is narrated by an anonymous “we” who tells the stories of various white collar workers at a Chicago advertising agency as layoffs are starting to affect everyone. It’s a bit like The Office, including some of the crazy things people do at work, but it has a hundred times more pathos. You realize how wounded all these people are and that the folks at work function as family. It’s just a masterful first novel. I’m happy to say it was recommended to me by one of my former students.

What are you really like? Honestly, I”m an extremely shy person. That’s why for the first four decades of my life I never imagined myself standing in front of 15-20 people, opening my mouth and telling everyone what to do. Because of my introversion I long ago fled to writing. I think of a Hemingway quote: “The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it.” When I wrote, I was free to be anyone I wanted; I could communicate in the boldest fashion possible. Obviously, I had to change my ways once I decided to become a professor. Without the help of God I don’t think I could even have done it. These days I still enjoy my time alone, but I now know what I was missing when I sequestered myself all those years and tried to avoid having much contact with people. And I have to say I really enjoy being around students–because of their energy and special perspective and because they don’t have their minds made up about everything.

What do you think is the most important thing in the Bible? For me it has to be love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself, but…  Lately, I’ve become enamored of Jesus’ final words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Not the “go ye into all the world,” but the absolutely final statement: I am with you until the end of the world. This is what I’ve seized upon, the idea that Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit is actually with me. Invisible but present. Whatever I’m going through, I can’t claim to be abandoned because he’s so close I can reach out and touch him.

In Memoriam, Dr. George Ewing

0 Commentsby   |  02.16.10  |  Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

George  Ewing

George Wilmeth Ewing, 87, of Abilene, passed away Tuesday, February 9, 2010, at Hendrick Medical Center. His service will be held at 10:00 am, Monday February 15th, 2010 at University Church of Christ, 733 E.N. 10th, under the direction of Piersall-Benton funeral directors. A visitation will be from 2:00-4:30 on Sunday at the fellowship hall of the church.

Upon his birth in 1923, to Pat and Genie Ewing in Robstown, he became a 5th generation Texan. He spent his youth in various communities of the lower Rio Grande Valley, eventually graduating from Corpus Christi High School.

With the advent of World War II he found himself in the U.S. Army Air Force teaching advanced electronic/radar courses in Boca Raton, FL. In nearby Ft. Lauderdale he met Mellisse Ann Miller, the love of his life and married, March 1, 1946.

Later that year they returned to Texas, where he completed his BA in Bible and Greek, Magna Cum Laude, at Abilene Christian University in 1948. Through the years with the support of his “Lissie” and family he earned MA and PhD degrees with English major and Greek minor at The University of Texas. He spent 37 years teaching English, including chairing the Department of English with ACU.

Daddy learned to work with his father and family early in his life in order to survive the Great Depression. His love of work continued throughout his life. He advocated that “there is honor in all work, that after all we are laboring for our Master, and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” He was a good carpenter, constructing his and Lissie’s home in Abilene. Additionally he loved to preach the Gospel and did so to more than 180 groups/congregations. Most recently here at the Coronado Nursing Home.

He was a member of numerous organizations including his beloved Texas Folklore Society since 1974 where he was President (1995-96) and member of the board. He published numerous folklore articles, as well as the book, The Well-Tempered Lyre: Songs and Poems of the temperance Movement, SMU press and edited and indexed John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity 1965 and still in print with the 1998 edition. In addition he wrote numerous poems, articles for Christian publications and several hymns including “Sin Sorrow of Six Thousand Years.” Great Songs of the Church ACU Press 1986. He read his last professional paper in 2005 at the Texas Folk Lore Society meeting in El Paso, “Folksy, But Devout, Bookkeeping.”

He was an eclectic man of great curiosity, whose activities included carving of wood especially custom walking sticks of all sorts, abstract paintings, rock and wood sculptures, ink and pencil drawings including his locally famous “doodles.”

George loved music of all kinds but especially vocal acappella music. He was a member of the A Club at ACU as an undergraduate, as well as a member of the A Cappella Quartet. He continued his interest in music throughout his life teaching singing schools, leading singing, and providing music for marriages and funerals.

He attributed his remarkable health (only one-half day of work lost to sickness, 1944-1992) to his varied diet and his dedication to exercise. He treasured his gymnastic performance with Ben Zickefoose. He quietly gloried in his weight lifting contest successes in 1950 (UT). His personal records at age 41 include 450 lb. squat, 525 lb. deadlift as well as a lock-out squat of 946 lbs. while he was a graduate student at UT. At age 73 he hiked 26 miles in one day!

He was preceded in death by his parents, two sisters and a brother. He is survived by his wife Mellisse Ann Ewing of Abilene, a son Tom Wallace Ewing (Julie) of Norman, OK, four daughters: Kathryn Ray Campbell (James) of San Antonio, Virginia Ann Whitmire (Mark) of Richmond, VA, Patricia Leigh Ewing Graves (Tim) of Austin and Stephanie Hope Ewing of Norman, OK and a grandson he raised as a son, Jason Tobias Ewing of Houston, TX. In addition he is survived by a sister Nina Sawey of Victoria, TX, sister-in-law Beth Ewing of Tupelo, MS and a brother-in-law Andrew Samo of Corpus Christi, TX, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.

Additionally, grandchildren April (Donnie McBride), Darcey (Clay Segers), Jonathan (Leslie Ewing), and Kevin Ewing (Tom’s children),

Sunshine (Shawn Stanek) and Brooke (Page Cole) (Kathy’s daughters), Brie and Elizabeth Whitmire (Virginia’s daughters), Courtney and Erin Graves (Patricia’s daughters), Jason and Chris Ewing (Stephanie’s sons).

Great grandchildren include Christy, William, and Joshua McBride (April’s children), Mycah Segers (Darcey’s daughter), Luke, Graham, and Blair Ewing (Jonathan’s children), Kirby and Campbell Stanek (Sunshine’s children), Bo and Jet Cole (Brooke’s sons).

Donations may be made in honor of Dr. Ewing to the Mellisse and George Ewing Vocal Scholarship Fund, Department of Music, Box 28274, Abilene, TX 79699 or to a charity of your choice. Condolences can be offered to the family online at

This obituary appeared in the Abilene Reporter News on February 12, 2010.

Chris Willerton

0 Commentsby   |  01.31.10  |  Announcements, Faculty Spotlight

WillertonEdinb09Dr. Chris Willerton came to ACU in 1970, fresh from his BA at TCU and his MA at the University of North Carolina. He went back to UNC in 1973 for doctoral work, returned to ACU in 1976, and hasn’t budged. In 1985 he became founding director of the ACU Honors Program. Having overseen its transition to Honors College, he phased out of administration in spring 2010 and continues as professor of English and Honors Studies.

His publications range over computer hypertext, honors education, Stone-Campbell heritage, and Texas writers. His conference papers and panels have dealt with honors education and with intersections of Christianity and literature. He has directed a creative writing circuit and served as president of the Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature and the Great Plains Honors Council. He has been subject to fits of performance poetry, presenting his work with photography, computer animation, and martial arts.

Lately Dr. Willerton has moved into popular culture, studying detective fiction and theology. His special-topics course “Saints and Detectives” (spring 2009) led students through Chesterton, Christie, Greene, Sayers, Eliot, and others and required students to write their own radio mysteries. His spring 2010 sabbatical focuses on Dorothy L. Sayers’ mystery novels and theological writings. After delivering a Sayers paper in New York City, he will study Sayers material at the Wade Center at Wheaton College.

Word in English Classroom

A good summary of his advice on teaching appears in The Word in the English Classroom: Best Practices of Faith Integration (ed. Dessart and Gambill). “All politics is local, said Tip O’Neill. So is teaching. The challenge of integrating faith and learning is always embodied in particular students in a particular place.” He goes on to show how his courses are “shaped by the clientele and the culture at Abilene Christian University.” His courses “Literature and Belief,” “Irish Genius,” and “Saints and Detectives” have alarmed some and pleased many by confronting modern literary works.

Dr. Willerton and his wife Sharon, a family nurse practitioner, love to travel in the UK and to visit their three grown children and one grandchild. They attend the University Church of Christ.

Hear Dr. Willerton read his poetry on Poet’s Corner


Nancy Shankle

0 Commentsby   |  01.22.10  |  Faculty Spotlight

Nancy 09aDr. Nancy Shankle, professor of English, is in her 20th year at Abilene Christian University, having served 5 years as Director of Composition, 2 years as Scholar-in-Residence, and 18 years as Director of Writing Across the Curriculum.  She is in her 10th year as Chair of the English Department.

Dr. Shankle began her university teaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M University—Commerce.  She also served as lecturer, Assistant Director in the Writing Center, and graduate assistant at Texas A&M University, College Station.

Transforming WordDr. Shankle completed her doctoral studies at Texas A&M University, studying early American literature, rhetoric and composition, and linguistics.  For her dissertation, she edited 3 sermons by colonial preacher George Whitefield and completed a bibliography of his extant sermons.  Dr. Shankle has also published in linguistics and grammar anxiety and co-edited The Transforming Word: A One-Volume Commentary on the Bible.

Married for more than 36 years, Dr. Shankle is now widowed.  She and her late husband John have two grown children and a granddaughter, Natalie.

Dr. Shankle worships at Hillcrest Church of Christ.  When Dr. Shankle is not working or caring for her family, she enjoys personal fitness, reading, and playing Words with Friends.