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East magazine Summer 2008
From the Classroom


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Teaching the Truth about Fiction



By Sally F. Lawrence



 I

ntroducing students to North Carolina authors is especially satisfying for English professor Margaret Bauer, who edits the award-winning North Carolina Literary Review (NCLR). “Many students don’t realize that Jill McCorkle is from Lumberton or that Allan Gurganus is from Rocky Mount or Michael Parker, from Clinton. These authors have won national awards. Students then realize that eastern North Carolina is the stuff of great literature,” says Bauer, the Ralph Hardee Rives Chair of Southern Literature. “Students really respond to reading about their own culture, to identifying with the characters or the settings. Their culture is made of real life and people are writing about it.”

“What I want students to understand is that fiction actually tells the truth with a capital T,” says Bauer. Fox example, she says, “We look at [Literary Review] articles about the Wilmington race riots and Charles Chesnutt’s 1905 novel, Marrow of Tradition.The 2006 state report on these riots verified that Chesnutt’s novel was a more accurate depiction of what happened than the 1898 New York Times article published the day after the riots. Fiction records history in a way that lasts because it’s entertaining and captures far more than the facts.”

While students learn about their culture and their history in Bauer’s North Carolina and Southern literature classes, she gets her best research ideas from teaching. “I bet 90 percent of my conference papers come from class discussions. In a graduate class, I’ll take a research idea that I got while discussing a work with them and write an abstract to show them what one looks like. Then I help them write an abstract because writing a conference paper is one of the course requirements,” Bauer says.

“I did a seminar about William Faulkner and his influence on contemporary novelists, which then became my second book, William Faulkner’s Legacy: What Shadow, What Stain, What Mark. We’d read Faulkner and then a contemporary novel to help students understand why he’s considered the father of Southern literature. Ernest Gaines was influenced by Faulkner, who did include African-Americans in his novels, but as marginal figures only. Gaines realized that he could respond to Faulkner’s stories by giving the African-American characters the central roles. We had fun comparing and contrasting ideas,” she adds.

Bauer’s current book manuscript, Understanding Tim Gautreaux, is another author from that seminar and the Faulkner book. “Right now I’m teaching Women and Literature, so I’m discussing ideas relevant to one of my next books about relationships between women.” Bauer discovered Kat Meads, a North Carolina author from a review in NCLR. “I’m teaching her book, The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan, in this class and writing a chapter about it for my book.”

To start the class, Bauer leads the students through an analysis by asking about a character. “How did she change in the last part of the book? Why? What do you think motivated her?” She moves toward a responding student. As the ideas start flowing, she talks faster, tossing out more questions and acknowledging students’ insights and contributions with a smile and a “Yes, great idea. Exactly.”

ECU acknowledged Bauer’s successful integration of teaching and research with the Scholar-Teacher Award in 2004. She was recognized as one of the “Ten Women of Distinction” in 2007. This year she was one of only a few faculty to win the Five-Year Achievement for Excellence in Research/Creative award.

Combining class discussions and research is only one way Bauer teaches students. Outside the classroom, she helps graduate students and undergraduate interns develop research and editing skills while working on the Literary Review. “When graduate students write a class paper and can’t verify a fact about an author, they often leave that fact out. But, when we publish something in NCLR, we have to verify that fact. So, I teach these graduate students how to do hard-core research. It’s real research. It’s not just for a grade on a paper. They are going to see the product of their research in a bookstore and on library shelves and that makes an impression on them.
“When you harp on punctuation rules in a class, students just think you are being picky. But when students start editing articles and see how awkward some of the prose is, then they understand why these issues matter,” Bauer emphasizes.

Eugene Tinklepaugh ’08, an NCLR graduate student, explains that “as an aspiring writer, I can say working with Dr. Bauer is a truly rewarding experience, and all the hard work does pay off the moment the issue goes to print.”

Recognizing Bauer’s editorial strengths, the Council of Editors of Learned Journals awarded her the Parnassus Award for Significant Editorial Achievement for the “Commemorating 100 Years of Writers and Writing at East Carolina University” in the 2007 edition of NCLR. A former NCLR graduate student and current visiting assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, Melissa Remmel ’02 credits Bauer with setting high standards. “As a native of eastern North Carolina, I’m proud that NCLR is published by East Carolina University and that Margaret makes it a respected journal. Margaret also inspired me to continue my graduate education and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for.”

One of her former graduate students, James Anderson Jr. ’02, wrote a thesis about music in Southern literature but hadn’t thought about a getting a terminal degree. “I encouraged him to go on and get a Ph.D.” Subsequently, the University of Arkansas awarded him a fellowship. Deborah Welsh ’03 ’05, a Greenville paralegal, says “I write for a living and use the principles she taught me every day. She is uncompromising in her demand for excellence.”

Published annually by East Carolina in cooperation with the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association, the journal specializes in articles about North Carolina’s history, culture and literature. In addition to essays, NCLR features art, interviews, poetry, book reviews and fiction.


Books by ECU faculty

Humor in East Germany
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germans had come to accept that their Big Brother government spied on everyone and fed hardly anyone. They turned to humor to brighten their gray lives, as exemplified by this joke about a conversation between two government spies: First agent: “Hey, what are you thinking about?” Second agent: “Oh, nothing special. The same as you...” First agent: “In that case, you’re under arrest!” Or this one: How can you use a banana as a compass? Place it on the Berlin Wall; the east end will have a bite taken out of it. In Humor, Satire and Identity: East German Literature in the 1990s, professor of foreign languages and literatures Jill F. Twark offers the first book in English to survey the Eastern German literary trend of employing humor and satire to come to terms with unpleasant experiences. Twark analyzes 10 humorous and satirical novels for their literary aesthetics and language, cultural critiques and socio-political insights. Interviews the author conducted with five of the satirists are appended as primary sources and contribute to the interpretation of the texts. This isn’t a book of jokes and Twark treats her work as anything but a laughing matter.
Humor, Satire and Identity:
East German Literature in the 1990s
471 pages, Walter de Gruyter Books
$98.00


Harmful behaviors
Parenting an adolescent is a tough job these days, fraught with all manner of hazards. Smart parents would benefit from reading a comprehensive and holistic guide to adolescent issues, such as the new book by Dr. Mar. Stebnicki, a professor and director of the graduate program in rehabilitation counseling. It offers a new approach for the identification, early intervention, prevention and preparation of a variety of harmful behaviors. Readers are offered risk-factor threat assessments, experiential prevention activities, case studies, discussion questions and the critical pathways that are associated with a variety of adolescent mental health conditions
What is Adolescent Mental Health?
Helping Disconnected and at-Risk Youth
to Become Whole
264 pages. Edwin Mellen Press
$109.95