Posted in Theatre

ENG 111: Becoming Lady Boyle

Arthur Przybyszewski (Peter Bost) and Lady Boyle (Jane Lucas) / Ken Burns

When I decided to audition for Superior Donuts, Lady Boyle was not on my radar. What had drawn me to the play was its writer, Tracy Letts. A few years earlier, I had seen a production of Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning tragicomedy August, Osage County and had left the theatre hoping that I would someday have the chance to perform a role he had written.

Then came Superior Donuts. As soon as I read the character list in the audition notice, I knew I wanted to read for the role of Randy Osteen, a woman Letts described as a forty-nine-year-old Irish American cop. (As a fair-skinned forty-eight-year-old, I seemed like a good fit.) After I auditioned for Randy, the director asked me to read for the other female role, Lady Boyle. I didn’t give her much thought until the cast announcement arrived in my inbox. When I read the director’s email, I was elated to discover that I had been cast but surprised that I wasn’t Randy. Instead, I was Lady Boyle, the seventy-two-year-old bag lady.

The role of Lady Boyle was appealing but daunting. An alcoholic living in her own alternate reality, she was a woman whose foul-mouthed nonsense unexpectedly gave way to moments of clarity and wisdom.  Often when I think of her, I am reminded of Letts’ decision to name her Boyle even though her name is never spoken in the play; the other characters simply call her “Lady.” For Letts, the name Boyle granted Lady her humanity, which is what I aimed for as I worked to become her. As I learned her lines and developed the mannerisms that would accompany them, I hoped the audience would see her as more than a type.

That’s how the other characters saw her, with the exception of the donut shop’s owner, Arthur Przybyszewski. In the second act, when Arthur asks about her children, he inquires not as a shop owner making small talk but as a parent struggling to reconcile with his daughter. As Lady Boyle and Arthur sit together at a table in his shop, she tells him that she has outlived three of her four children, and recounts their deaths:

LADY: One of ‘em got shot by the coppers in a gasoline station stick-up. One of ‘em had a grabber, mowin’ the yard. And one of them died in the crib with that disease. Where the spinal cord gets a mind of its own and decides it don’t want to live trapped inside those little bones no more. You know what I’m talkin’ about?

ARTHUR: I don’t think so.

LADY: Your spinal cord gets it in its head to go free and slitherin’ out into the world. That’s what killed my little Venus. Her spinal cord got its own notions. (44)

Delivering those lines of Lady Boyle’s—and finding myself speaking some of them through tears—sustained me during a difficult time. (As Lady Boyle would say, it “happens to all of us.”) My husband had been laid off from his job in Richmond two years earlier. We had landed on our feet in North Carolina, where he was working again as an editor, but I was an invisible adjunct longing for the full-time teaching job and the community of colleagues I had left behind.

Becoming Lady Boyle made me feel whole again.


Letts, Tracy. Superior Donuts. Dramatists Play Service, 2010.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Revising and Editing . . .

Today we will explore the processes of revising and editing and continue our study of Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

If you have already written your introductory blog post and published it on your blog, I recommend that you review it at least once more before the noon deadline on Friday. If you haven’t yet created your WordPress blog, please do so as soon as possible to give yourself ample time to troubleshoot. If you encounter issues, email help@wordpress.com

Revising and Editing

The processes of revising and editing aren’t the same. As the authors of A Writer’s Reference note, when you revise “you focus on clarity and effectiveness; when you edit, you check for correctness” (29). Before the noon deadline on Friday, set aside some time–even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes–to revise and edit your introduction.

Checklist for Revision

  • Is the paragraph unified by a main point?
  • If the introduction consists of more than one paragraph, is each paragraph unified by a main point?
  • Have you presented ideas in a logical order?

Proofreading

A Writer’s Reference presents excellent advice on proofreading, which I am including verbatim below. Note that I have added the boldface for emphasis.

“Proofreading is a special kind of reading: a slow methodical search for misspellings, typographical mistakes, and missing words or word endings. Such errors can be difficult to spot in your own work because you may read what you intended to write, not what is actually on the page. To fight this tendency, try one or more of the following tips.

Proofreading Tips

  • Remove distractions and allow yourself ten to fifteen minutes of pure concentration–without your cell phone.
  • Proofread out loud, articulating each word as it is actually written.
  • Proofread your sentences in reverse order.
  • Proofread hard copy pages; mistakes can be difficult to catch on-screen.
  • Don’t rely too heavily on spell checkers and grammar checkers. Before automatically accepting their changes, consider accuracy and appropriateness.
  • Ask a volunteer (a friend, roommate, or co-worker) to proofread after you. A second reader may catch something that you didn’t.” (31)

If you would like to receive feedback on your introductory blog post before Friday at noon, the Center for Academic Engagement offers a number of options for you. Those options are outlined on pages four and five of the syllabus.

Continuing Our Study of Maus

On Monday we examined the two-page comic that precedes Chapter 1. In my notes to you, I observed that “you might ask yourself why the first pages of the memoir are set in New York, thirteen years after the war” and that “[y]ou might also ask why those two pages precede Chapter 1. Why might Art Spiegelman have chosen to begin the memoir with the two-page story ‘Rego Park, NY c. 1958’?” 

“Rego Park, NY c. 1958” serves as the epigraph for Maus. By definition, an epigraph is a short quotation that appears at the beginning of a book, one chosen by the author to convey one or more of the book’s themes. 

Rather than offering a quotation as an epigraph, Spiegelman presents “Rego Park, NY c. 1958.” What story does the two-page comic tell, and what does it indicate to readers about the longer story that will unfold in Maus?

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 5.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.

In the two paragraphs that follow, I offer a summary of the epigraph and a short analysis that examines what the epigraph conveys.

In Art Spiegelman’s epigraph for Maus I, “Rego Park, N.Y., c. 1958,” he recounts the events of a summer’s day when he was ten or eleven years old. He and two of his friends are racing together on roller skates until one of Artie’s skates comes loose and he falls. Rather than waiting for Artie, the other two boys skate away, leaving him behind to be the “Rotten egg” (5). After Artie returns home, his father asks why he is crying. When Artie tells his father what happened, his father questions his son’s use of the word “friend.” He replies, “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week . . . / . . . Then you could see what is, friends! . . .” (6).

The cutting remark that Spiegelman’s father makes as he saws wood illustrates the communication breakdown between him and Artie. Spiegelman’s depiction of that gulf foreshadows the trials he will encounter: struggling to understand his father and himself as he aims to make meaning of their lives through his comics.

Notice how the first paragraph, the summary, does not express my opinion. By definition, summaries are objective. When you write a summary, you aim to convey a text’s main ideas in your own words but without offering your own opinion.

Analysis

In the second paragraph, I turn to analysis. I connect the father’s cutting, or unkind, remark to the sawing of the wood, which is itself an act of separation—a detail that I might add to the paragraph if I choose to develop my analysis.

Summary and analysis are building blocks of both academic and professional writing. We summarize to increase our understanding of texts, and we analyze them to demonstrate our ability to think critically.

For more information on summary and analysis, see pages 63-64 of A Writer’s Reference.

Writing about Maus in Your Journal

After you complete each reading assignment in Maus, summarize it in your journal. You are not required to analyze each reading, but you should make note of any questions you have and points that you would like to address in class.

What to Focus on as You Read Maus

As I noted on Monday, because Maus is a memoir and your first essay assignment for English 111 is a literacy narrative, a form of memoir, focus on this question: How can Maus serve as a model for my own memoir, my literacy narrative?


Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. 

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Writing the Introductory Blog Post . . .

Today we will focus on your Introductory blog post assignment, due at noon on Friday, and we will begin our study of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. An additional copy of the blog assignment is included in this post. (See the link and the small rectangle labeled download below.)

I am in the process of writing a model introductory blog post for you, which I will publish on my blog as soon as I have completed it, no later than Thursday.

In the meantime, I am including here for you a list of links to model introductory blog Posts that I wrote for my students in previous semesters. The first one in the list was written for my students last fall at Guilford Technical Community College. The second, third, and fourth posts in the list were written for my students at Catawba Valley Community College, and the fifth and sixth posts in the list were written for my students at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

To offer you additional models, I am including below a list of links to a few of the introductory blog posts written by my students last fall.

To prepare you to review and revise your own introduction, today we will examine two introductory blog posts from previous semesters.  (See the link and the small rectangle labeled download below.) Remember that you can edit blog posts after you publish them. If you have already published your introductory blog post and today’s exercise demonstrates that your post needs additional revisions, you can make those changes before noon on Friday, January 29.

If you would like to receive feedback on your Introductory Blog Post before Friday at noon, the Center for Academic Engagement offers a number of options for you. Those options are outlined on pages four and five of the syllabus.

Beginning Our Study of Maus

What have you learned about Maus already simply by looking at its cover and skimming its pages? The authors of A Writer’s Reference notes that “[p]reviewing–looking quickly through a text before you read–helps you understand its basic features and structures.

A text’s title, for example, may reveal an author’s purpose; a text’s format may reveal what kind of text it is–a book, a report, a memo, and so on. The more you know about a text before you read it, the easier it will be to dig deeper into it. (57)

With that in mind, consider the front cover. Near the top, below the name of the author, Art Spiegelman, the title appears in large red letters that run or drip like blood. For readers who do not know that the title, Maus, is the German word for mouse, the crouching figures in the bottom half of the cover offer a context clue. Above the mice looms a large swastika overlayed with a cat face marked by a Hitleresque mustache. Below the mice, near the bottom of the cover are the words of the subtitles: A Survivor’s Tale and My Father Bleeds History.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

From those details, you might infer that the author’s father was a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust (1941-45), the state-sponsored murder of six million Jews and others, including gays, persecuted by the Nazi Regime during World War II (1939-45).

Maus is a memoir, or a narrative of memories. Unlike an autobiography or a biography, which aims to  present a comprehensive account of a subject’s life, a memoir usually focuses on one period of a person’s life or one aspect of it. Maus I, focuses on the life of the writer’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, in the years leading up to the war and during the war and the Holocaust. 

Knowing that Maus focuses on World War II and the Holocaust, you might ask yourself why the first pages of the memoir are set in New York, thirteen years after the war.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 5.
Spiegelman. Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.

You might also ask why those two pages precede Chapter 1. Why might Art Spiegelman have chosen to begin the memoir with the two-page story “Rego Park, NY c. 1958”? That’s a question that we will return to on Wednesday.

In the meantime, as you continue to read Maus, consider that like Maus, your first essay assignment for English 111 is a memoir, more specifically a literacy narrative (a story about learning). Ask yourself what a close reading, or study, of Maus can teach you about writing a memoir. Though your memoir will be far shorter than Maus and will be told exclusively through words (rather than through words and drawings), Maus remains a valuable model for its presentation of narration and dialogue and for its development of conflict.


Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. 

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: First Week Follow-Up

Required Materials: A Writer’s Reference, a WordPress Blog Account, journal notebook. Maus, pocket portfolio, and loose-leaf notebook paper

As a follow-up to our first week of class, I offer these notes on the assignments, course requirements, and resources that we covered on January 11 and 13:

  • Last week, you should have read pages GT3-24 of A Writer’s Reference, reviewed the syllabus and calendar, and made note in your journal of any questions you have about the course.
  • The two short quizzes in Moodle (verify attendance and academic integrity) should be completed no later than 11:50 PM on Sunday, January 24. Almost all of you have completed those quizzes already. Thank you!
  • The Pre-Assessment, on the ENG 111 Pre-Assessment site, must be completed by 11:55 PM on Sunday, January 24. Most of you have not yet completed it. Please do so ASAP.
  • Create a blog in WordPress. After you have done so, send me the address by email to jmlucas3@gtcc.edu, or reply to this blog post. I will then link your blog to our class page, https://janelucas.com/english-at-gtcc/. Over the course of the semester, you will be required to post four assignments to your blog: your introductory blog post and the revisions of your three essays.
  • If you have issues creating your blog or publishing your first post, visit the support page, https://wordpress.com/support/. If you cannot find a solution there, email help@wordpress.com.
  • Look to the Titan Hub as a resource. Located on the third floor of the Learning Resource Center on campus, the Titan Hub is open 9-4 Monday-Friday. The Hub can help you with all technical matters related to your course work at GTCC. If you need to download and install Microsoft Word (you will need to type many of your GTCC writing assignments in Word), if you need help with MS Teams, or have trouble with your password, Titan Hub, https://www.gtcc.edu/student-life/tutoring-center-for-academic-engagement/titan-hub.php, can help. In addition to visiting Titan Hub on the third floor of the LRC, you can contact the hub by phone or email: 336-334-4822, ext. 50318, cae@gtcc.edu.
  • If you have any questions about navigating your first days of the semester, I encourage you to reach out to our class tutor, Catherine Titus, crtitus@gtcc.edu. Catherine has been at GTCC longer than I have, and she is an excellent resource. You have seen Catherine in our Teams meetings, and she will join us for our in-person meetings beginning the week of February 15.  
Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Letter on the Letter from Birmingham

Martin Luther King, Jr. in jail in Birmingham

Dear Students,

This morning as I reflected on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., I sent you an email message, encouraging you to read the letter that he wrote from jail in 1963 after his arrest for leading nonviolent protests in Alabama.

Although you could have listened to a recording of King reading his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” I recommended that you read it instead, or read along as you listened. As I noted in my email, King’s gift for oratory is well known, but for students of writing, closely examining his words on the page is a more pertinent exercise than listening to his voice.

What makes it an effective piece of writing? With that question in mind, consider these words in the eleventh paragraph: “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’” Here King is addressing his initial audience, the eight white Birmingham-area clergymen who criticized his protest as “unwise and untimely.” He suggests to those men that waiting to act isn’t difficult when you yourself aren’t the victim of injustice, when you haven’t, in King’s words, “felt the stinging darts of segregation.” The sentence is notable not only for the contrast it illustrates between King’s reality and the lives of his readers but also for the words that King uses to show that contrast.

Consider King’s sentence and the paraphrase that follows:

  • Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”
  • Maybe it is simple for people who have not experienced segregation to say, “Wait.”

King’s sentence is stronger than the paraphrase that follows it because of the “stinging darts.” Writing that someone has not “experienced segregation” is abstract. Readers do not feel the general experience in the second sentence, but they feel King’s “stinging darts.” Sensory details strengthen sentences by appealing to readers’ senses, and figurative language invigorates writing by making the unfamiliar familiar. King’s white readers have not been the victims of segregation, but his choice of words makes them feel the sting.

While King’s “stinging darts” sentence—a relatively short one—is laudable, the long, winding sentence that follows is nothing short of staggering.

It starts with these words: “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim.” King presents those atrocities in an introductory dependent clause, one whose full meaning depends on an independent clause that follows. But rather than immediately turning to an independent clause to complete the thought, King expands the sentence with this series of dependent clauses:

  • when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;
  • when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;
  • when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;
  • when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”;
  • when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you;
  • when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”;
  • when your first name becomes “n—,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”;
  • when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments;
  • when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–

The independent clause that readers have been waiting for, the statement that completes the thought is this: “then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” Those words could have immediately followed the first dependent clause, but instead King offers nine more dependent clauses, ten darts that sting his readers.

Ten dependent clauses connected by semicolons followed by a dash and an independent clause, a total of 316 words: That is not a structure I recommend for the sentences you write in English 111, but it’s a valuable model, nevertheless.

Now in the wake of the violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol, King’s message of civil disobedience may be more critical than ever. As a citizen, I hope you will read every word of his letter. As your writing teacher, I hope that you will return to the sentence that I have examined in detail here. Along with showing his readers why his nonviolent protests could not wait, that sentence of King’s demonstrates how to develop a piece of writing through the accumulation of detail—not just the when, but the when and when and when . . . .


King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birminham Jail.” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Instititute, Stanford University, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/sites/mlk/files/letterfrombirmingham_wwcw_0.pdf.