A frequent commentary chronicling the creative and intellectual
excitement of discovery at Washington State University.

Brought to you by Washington State Magazine

Posts Tagged ‘English’

WSU teacher helps investigate historical mysteries

Scott Rolle, Brad Meltzer, Christine McKinley, and Buddy Levy. Eric Ogden

Scott Rolle, Brad Meltzer, Christine McKinley, and Buddy Levy. by Eric Ogden

Tune in to the History Channel Thursday evening for the first episode of Decoded, which features a team of historical investigators including WSU faculty member Buddy Levy.

A ten-part series, Decoded will examine persistent historical questions, such as whether Meriwether Lewis really committed suicide and the location of the lost Confederate treasury.  With mechanical engineer Christine McKinley and lawyer Scott Rolle, Levy is sent out by history enthusiast and best-selling author Brad Meltzer to track down answers to the questions uncovered in the course of his research.

Levy is a clinical associate professor in the English department, teaching writing and literature.  He is also the author of Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs (Bantam Dell 2007) and American Legend: the Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett (Putnam 2005).  A forthcoming history, River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana’s Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon (Bantam Dell) is due for release in early 2010.

As a freelance journalist, Levy has covered adventure sports around the world and is a frequent contributor to a number of magazines.

Decoded premieres December 2 at 10 p.m. on History.

The Daily Evergreen ran a story on Dec. 1 about the show, including some interviews with Levy’s students.

UPDATE: The New York Times also has a good article about the show, “Searching for Clues in History’s Nooks.”

Watch the trailer:

Tod Marshall: A contemporary poet and his work

Visiting Writers Series, Installment #3—November 4, 7:30pm

It is Thursday evening, November 4, 2010, and the skies are clear with that definitive chill in the air that indicates it is fall in Pullman.  WSU faculty and students gather into Kimbrough 101 to listen to a reading given by Tod Marshall, the last visiting writer of the fall semester to participate in the English Department’s Visiting Writers Series.

Tod Marshall is the author of two books of poetry, including Dare Say (University of Georgia Press 2002) and The Tangled Line (Canarium Books 2009). These two books are filled with unique poems bearing titles such as “Describe KFC to Icarus,” “No Nightingales in Kansas” and “St. Jude and the Tomatoes.”  He has also published a book of interviews that he did with contemporary poets—Range of the Possible (EWU Press 2002)—as well as an anthology of poems by these same contemporary poets, which he edited—Range of Voices (EWU Press 2005). Tod received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in 1996 and currently resides in Spokane, Washington, where he is an English teacher at Gonzaga University.

Tod gives an hour long reading from his books, interspersed with some insight into the background and inspiration behind his writing.  He finishes the evening by reading from some newer poetry that he is currently working on.  Afterwards, I meet briefly with this local poet to get some insight into the creativity behind his writing.


Angela: Do you purposely go out into the world to experience unique things, or do you just let things happen to you? Where does the majority of your subject matter come from?

Tod Marshall

Tod Marshall

Tod: Well, I don’t think that I do anything exotic in order to go find poems out there in the world.  I think if you looked at my life on the outside you’d [see] kind of a boring life.  But I think it’s important not to turn down new experiences.  There’s that Eleanor Roosevelt quotation: “Try something every day that you’re afraid of,” or something like that.  So, I think that that’s important just to remind us that we’re alive, and to keep us fully alive. A lot of my poems come out of[a] combination of the normal things that I do and reading and things that I read about.  I steal things that I read about and blend them together so it’s all a blender that mixes those things, and hopefully comes up with something interesting.

Angela: In your book The Tangled Line (2009), you did a lot of juxtaposing of really bizarre things that don’t seem to go together [“divorce and martinis,” “custody and omelets,” “fly fishing and Marie Antoinette”].  Why did you decide to do that exactly?

Tod: The first reason I decided to do it is because I had just finished my first book and I was kind of stuck getting going on new poems, so I did it as an exercise.  I’m going to give myself this template that I’ve got to write poems within—“describe something to something else” [as in, “Describe divorce to Martinis”].  Eventually, after lots and lots of failed attempts—probably fifteen, twenty poems that just never really went anywhere— I started to find commonalities and threads. In the course of that book they describe a historical book.  I also think that description can be a form of containment—if we’re trying to describe something, we’re trying to get control of it.  Life doesn’t usually let us do that, so there’s [an] artificial control in [the] section of the book that has to do with Daedalus the maker. [He is] the grand artificer wanting to get control over all these circumstances that are really beyond his control.  There are lots of riffs there on different types of violence—from the violence of our country at war to the violence that happens in a custody fight over a kid.  You try to find ways to control your life when it’s out of control, and one of them is through coming up with a template.


Never Rush a Good Idea: Alex Hammond Concludes 34 Years in the Department of English

“Is shedding all these books synonymous with retirement?” I asked Alex Hammond. I was talking about the rows he had heaped in the Avery Hall Bundy Reading Room kitchen one day last spring. I walked by and saw the hundreds of paperback books stacked on the cafeteria-like tables. Everything from Philip Roth novels to Norton Anthologies to dated collections of feminist criticism. Attached to the door was a sign saying, simply, “FREE BOOKS.” Anyone walking by was welcome, even encouraged, to take them.

Alex Hammond's retirement cakeThese were Alex Hammond’s books, mingled with those from the office of Dick Law, another retiring colleague. Alex was in the midst of cleaning out his office upon his retirement from 34 years in the WSU English Department where he has been a teacher and scholar of American Literature, editor (along with Jana Argersinger) of the scholarly journal Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism, Undergraduate Studies Director, Vice Chair and Scheduler, Interim Chair, frequent commentator in the Faculty Senate, and a role model for how to be one of those people whom no one wants to see retire.

One day last spring, I sat down with Alex and asked him about his books. As usual, Alex answered my question by taking me on a journey.

One of the things the US Government hated about Northwest tribal groups was the potlatch, he told me, a ceremony in which members would give up all their worldly possessions. When the US was trying to get post-Civil War control of the country, one thing they tried to do is outlaw the potlatch, which they saw as very anti-capitalist. Alex likened his book purging to the potlatch. “But I’m not giving away anything that’s worth much on the used book market. It feels great, if people will take them,” he said.