Nicholas Kristof and the Big Power of Small Acts

The Performing Arts Center was absolutely smack full on Monday night for guest speaker Nicholas Kristof.

Kristof is a two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner, New York Times columnist, and is–along with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn–the author of several books, including most recently A Path Appears: Transforming Lives Creating Opportunity. For him to visit the university was both a privilege and a treat.

Kristof was almost immediately recognizable as a writer–he was simultaneously soft-spoken and commanding, as well as passionate about human rights, a field he knows incredibly well as an international columnist. But he was not there to speak on writing. Kristof was instead interested with imparting on the students and faculty of Georgia Southern the idea that the world is a changeable place if we are willing to change it.

Speaking on the issue of humanitarian work, Kristof first used the example of the Gambian Pouched Rat, a rodent that can reach 3 feet in length and also possesses the ability to detect mines and clear an entire minefield in Angola with a fraction of the time and danger it would take a regular minesweeper.

Here is a Gambian Pouched Rat. Wikipedia tells me they’ve made deadly attacks on humans, so I feel confident in saying that the man in this picture was probably eaten shortly after it was taken.

This theme of the small being able to accomplish the big was the theme du jour of Kristof’s talk, and he had the numbers to back it up. According to Kristof, among the best ways to increase school attendance in developing areas of the world is through a few dollars spent on simple de-worming medication, which can double school attendance by children who will now be well enough to make it to class. It costs $350 per student to build a school in Africa. It costs $100 to buy uniforms. De-worming costs only $3.50 per child.

These facts were enlightening and encouraging, especially coming from a man who has managed to achieve so much in his life. Students left the event (which was put on by the Student Abolitionist Movement) electrified at the idea of what they could accomplish.

“If you are willing to bridge the empathy gap,” Kristof said during his his talk, “you’ll have a transformative effect on someone else that will have a ripple.”


Congratulations to George Brannen

We are happy to announce that Writing & Linguistics major George Brannen has two pieces published this month.

Congratulations to George.  This is not George’s first publication and it certainly will not be the last.

Enjoy George’s work at Synchronized Chaos:


David Levithan Reading at Georgia Southern University

David Levithan, award-winning author coming to Georgia Southern

Levithan Photo

David Levithan

David Levithan, the award-winning novelist of young adult (YA) fiction, will give a reading from some of his works on Monday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. in the Georgia Southern University Arts Building Auditorium. Levithan will be available for questions during his appearance on campus, and there will be a book signing after the reading.

The author’s novels include the groundbreaking Boy Meets BoyThe Realm of PossibilityEvery Day, andTwo Boys Kissing. His novel Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, written with Rachel Cohn, was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a film of the same name. His novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson, written with John Green, was also a bestseller, and recently spawned a spin-off novel, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, which will be published in March. Levithan is also an editorial director at book publisher Scholastic and a professor of YA literature at The New School in New York.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring David Levithan to Georgia Southern,” said Caren Town, Ph.D., professor of English in the Department of Literature and Philosophy. “I’ve taught young adult literature for more than 20 years, and I have rarely found an author who is so engaging and appealing to students.” Equally important, Town said, is that Levithan is a “champion of young people’s right to read and an ardent opponent of censorship.”

Levithan won the Lambda Literary Award for Boy Meets Boy in 2003 and in 2006 for The Full Spectrum. At Scholastic, he is the editor of the PUSH imprint, which concentrates on new voices and new authors.

The reading at Georgia Southern is sponsored by the Campus Life Enrichment Committee, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences’ Dean’s Office, the Department of Writing and Linguistics, the Department of Literature and Philosophy and the College of Education’s Dean’s Office and Department of Teaching and Learning.

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/Research University founded in 1906, offers 125degree programs serving more than 20,500 students. Through eight colleges, the University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs built on more than a century of academic achievement. Georgia Southern is recognized for its student-centered and hands-on approach to education. Visit:

I’m reposting this excellent article from the Washington Post.

If you want to read it on the original site, click here.


We don’t need more STEM majors. We need more STEM majors with liberal arts training.
The ability to draw from other disciplines produces better scientists.
By Loretta Jackson-Hayes February 18
Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes is an associate professor of chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis.
In business and at every level of government, we hear how important it is to graduate more students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, as our nation’s competitiveness depends on it. The Obama administration has set a goal of increasing STEM graduates by one million by 2022, and the “desperate need” for more STEM students makes regular headlines. The emphasis on bolstering STEM participation comes in tandem with bleak news about the liberal arts — bad job prospects, programs being cut, too many humanities majors.

As a chemist, I agree that remaining competitive in the sciences is a critical issue. But as an instructor, I also think that if American STEM grads are going lead the world in innovation, then their science education cannot be divorced from the liberal arts.

Our culture has drawn an artificial line between art and science, one that did not exist for innovators like Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs. Leonardo’s curiosity and passion for painting, writing, engineering and biology helped him triumph in both art and science; his study of anatomy and dissections of corpses enabled his incredible drawings of the human figure. When introducing the iPad 2, Jobs, who dropped out of college but continued to audit calligraphy classes, declared: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” (Indeed, one of Apple’s scientists, Steve Perlman, was inspired to invent the QuickTime multimedia program by an episode of “Star Trek.”)

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, credits her degree in philosophy and medieval history in helping her be the first woman to lead a high-tech Fortune 20 corporation. “If you go into a setting and everybody thinks alike, it’s easy,” she has said. “But you will probably get the wrong answer.”

I became a chemistry professor by working side-by-side at the bench with a number of mentors, and the scholar/mentor relationships I’ve enjoyed were a critical aspect of my science education. And it is the centerpiece of a college experience within the liberal arts environment. For me, it was the key that unlocked true learning, and for my students, it has made them better scientists and better equipped to communicate their work to the public.

Like apprentices to a painter, my students sit with me and plan experiments. We gather and review data and determine the next questions to address. After two to three years of direct mentoring, students develop the ability to interpret results on their own, describe how findings advance knowledge, generate ideas for subsequent experiments and plan these experiments themselves. Seniors train new students in the lab, helping them learn gene recombination techniques that depend on accurate calculations and precise delivery of reagents. Put simply, a microliter-scale mistake can spell disaster for an experiment that took days to complete. And while my students work on these sensitive projects, they often offer creative and innovative approaches. To reduce calculation errors, one of my students wrote a user-friendly computer program to automatically measure replicate volumes. He did this by drawing on programming skills he learned in a computer science course he took for fun. Young people stuck exclusively in chemistry lecture halls will not evolve the same way.

A scientist trained in the liberal arts has another huge advantage: writing ability. The study of writing and analyses of texts equip science students to communicate their findings as professionals in the field. My students accompany me to conferences, where they do the talking. They write portions of articles for publications and are true co-authors by virtue of their contributions to both the experiments and the writing. Scientists are often unable to communicate effectively because, as Cornell University president David J. Skorton points out, “many of us never received the education in the humanities or social sciences that would allow us to explain to nonscientists what we do and why it is important.”

To innovate is to introduce change. While STEM workers can certainly drive innovation through science alone, imagine how much more innovative students and employees could be if the pool of knowledge from which they draw is wider and deeper. That occurs as the result of a liberal arts education.

Many in government and business publicly question the value of such an education. Yet employers in every sector continue to scoop up my students because of their ability to apply cross-disciplinary thinking to an incredibly complex world. They like my chemistry grads because not only can they find their way around a laboratory, but they’re also nimble thinkers who know to consider chemistry’s impact on society and the environment. Some medical schools have also caught on to this. The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has been admitting an increasing number of applicants with backgrounds in the humanities for the past 20 years. “It doesn’t make you a better doctor to know how fast a mass falls from a tree,” Gail Morris, head of the school’s admissions, told Newsweek. “We need whole people.”

By all means, let’s grow our STEM graduates as aggressively as possible. But let’s make sure they also have that all-important grounding in the liberal arts. We can have both.

Soundtracking Your Writing Life

At some point in middle or high school, all of us took some sort of test to determine what kind of learner we were. Some of us ended up being aural learners–the kids who listen to lectures and regurgitate information after one go-around. Some of us were visual–the ones who most hoped that the teacher would stop talking and play a video. Still others would be classified as “hands-on” learners–the nice term for the kids who would tear the room to pieces the minute the teacher left.

If you, like me, found yourself among the former group–the aural learners–then your writing process may often find itself supplemented by your music library, if only ever to serve as white noise. While many of us work best in absolute silence, many of us prefer to work over the latest jams, the classic tunes, and everything in between. This is a good thing. We can pull inspiration from any number of texts, and music is no different. It can serve the poet in the same way that film can serve the fiction writer–as another manifestation of the same principles.

It’s often easy to ignore texts outside of our own medium, but chosing to tune in (*ba dum tish*) to things outside our spheres can improve our own art by degrees. There are some things to remember when building your writer’s playlist, though.

1. Music can stimulate more than just pleasure. So, you’re writing an angsty, post-modern diatribe-turned-plot-turned-actually-pretty-solid-piece about subjugation, objectification, and some other -ation. You don’t think Nicki’s The Pink Print or Coldplay’s Whatever Album Coldplay Put Out This Year is quite going to give you the moody vibe you’re looking for. Why not try something else? Something bizarre? Something haunted and unpleasant? Maybe someone like Sigur Rós (below) or Jenny Hval is for you right now.

Perfect for that piece featuring gas masks, made-up languages, and existential terror that you’re writing right now.

Are you writing a fantastical short story about a Barbarella-esque warrior woman and her journeys through some strange, pastoral landscape? Maybe consider listening to something that fills your head with those sorts of images (I would suggest Sleater-Kinney if you’re heavier on the warrior woman aspect, or Joanna Newsom if you’re looking to capture the idea of strange, foreign lands).

The point is this: sound can do so much more than lift our spirits. A great song can fill you with awe, dread, or even revulsion. Consider your own piece before attempting to complement your process with that new Bruno Mars track featuring that one guy.

2. Lyrics are important. It’s easy to forget that–just like literary poetry–musical lyrics can come in two (basic) flavors: lyrical and narrative. Are you looking to meander through the human psyche for a while, or are you looking to propel a group of characters through a sweeping narrative?

Figure out where you are going with your work, and demand the same of your playlist. Maybe Bowie’s story of Major Tom mirrors your own. Maybe listening to Fiona Apple ramble roughly about heartbreak and abuse will send new life through your own lyrical essay about the time your Siamese fighting fish died.

3. Lyrics are not that important. One advantage that music holds over traditional writing is the (you guessed it) audio component. It’s a medium filled with hundreds of elements: tone, tempo, progression, lyrics, structure, timbre, arrangement, technique, ability, technology, and volume, just to name a few.

Consider these elements. They drive music in the same way that the elements of writing drive our own work. If you can’t find any music that speaks to who you are thematically, then you may be able to track down something that speak to you on a baser, stylistic plane.

4. Know when to turn it all off. Even the most auditory learners need to find silence every once in a while. There is a reason why communications experts call extra input “noise”–our media consumption can easily overwhelm us, or worse, color our writing until it becomes something we did not intend.

Just like that one time you got lost in in downtown Savannah looking for that place you were supposed to be at for that thing you planned to go to, every once in a while, it’s time to turn down your radio so you can squint at the roadsigns around you and determine where you’re even going with yourself, even if it’s not totally apparent to you why you’re even turning the radio down.

Map of Savannah City Map, Georgia, United States 1885

You’ve been so very lost here so many times. Admit it.

Other mediums are great to dive into, but make sure you don’t drown in the glory of it all.

5. Completely ignore everything I’ve just said. We’re artists, after all. We have that freedom. Your process is your own, and no amount of suggestions from me or any other hoity-toity pseudo-critic like me will change that. If listening to German death metal helps you write your nature poem more effectively, then more power to you. Pursue the mediums and the genres that make you a more effective creator. discover what makes your creative metronome tick.

Jane Fonda as Barbarella Still 5

Just remember my advice when your Barbarella spin-off novel based on extended progressive rock listening sessions hits it big.

The Wisdom of Sholeh Wolpe’


This Wednesday February 4, Georgia Southern University and the Writing & Linguistics Department enjoyed a rare treat: a reading, workshop and q&a with poet, writer, and translator Sholeh Wolpe.

Wolpe’s very opening words struck the nostalgic mood of the reading and her subject matter: home is the missing tooth that tongue reaches for in the empty space.  An immigrant myself, I immediately recognized the core, complex truth of those simple words.  Wolpe left her home in Iran when she was thirteen years old, before the revolution that would eventually prevent her from returning, making her, in effect, an exile.

“An exile is someone who wants to  go home but can’t,” she explained candidly to a rapt audience.  Her early residence in Trinidad sprinkled her poems with vivid sensory images of a caribbean paradise, yet the longing for home permeates even the most uplifting poems.

“I finally decided,” said Wolpe of her long search for home, “that home is within the heart.  We carry it inside of us.”  She believes that if all people came to understand this, then we would all look to each other as “our people” and home would be everywhere. There would be no need for wars or separation based on religious or political differences.

“I’ve decided to make poetry my religion,” said Wolpe candidly.  I wanted to stand up and applaud.


sin-selected poems of Forugh FarrokhzadRooftops of Tehran The Scar SaloonBreaking the Jaws of Silence--Sixty American Poets Speak to the WorldKeeping Time With Blue HyacinthsThe ForbiddenTable & Pen--Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle EastThe Atlanta Review

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Guest Author Sholeh Wolpé

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This week at Georgia Southern we will be lucky to have Sholeh Wolpé as our guest author! She’ll be reading on Wednesday February 4th in the IT building, room 1005 from 7:00pm -8:00pm.

Sholeh Wolpe´ is a poet, editor, and literary translator. She was born in Iran and spent most of her teen years in Trinidad and the United Kingdom before settling in the United States. Recipient of the 2014 PEN/Heim Award, the 2013 Midwest Book Award, and the 2010 Lois Roth Persian Translation Prize, Wolpe´ is the author of three collections of poems and two books of translations. She has also edited three anthologies. Her most recent works are Breaking the Jaws of Silence – Sixty American Poets Speak to the World and Keeping Time with Blue Hyacinths.

For more about Sholeh visit her website or follow her on twitter at @Sholeh_Wolpe.

We hope to see you all there!

“Let cultures and people dialogue through poetry, not politicians.” -Sholeh Wolpé