Hollins Professor’s Novel Wins Kafka Prize

As Close to Us as Breathing, a novel by Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Poliner, has captured the 2017 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize.

Established in 1976 and presented by the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and the Department of English at the University of Rochester, the Kafka Prize is given annually to a woman who is a U.S. citizen and has written the best book-length work of prose fiction, be it a novel, short story, or experimental writing.  Previous winners include such distinguished authors as Toni Morrison, Ursula Le Guin, and Anne Tyler.

According to the Kafka Prize webpage, the award honors its namesake, “a young editor who was killed in a car accident just as her career was beginning. Those who knew her believed she would do much to further the causes of literature and women. Her family, friends, and professional associates created the endowment from which the prize is bestowed, in memory of Janet Heidinger Kafka and the literary standards and personal ideals for which she stood.”

Poliner will participate in a reading, award ceremony, and book signing at the University of Rochester on November 2.

As Close to Us as Breathing is the story of a close-knit Jewish family that strives to cope following a tragedy. The novel is “vivid, complex, and beautifully written,” said Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World. “[It] brims with characters who leave an indelible impression on the mind and heart. Elizabeth Poliner is a wonderful talent and she should be read widely, and again and again.”

The Kafka Prize is the latest of several honors the novel has received. In May, the book was named a finalist for the 2017 Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award. Last November, As Close to Us as Breathing was selected as one of Amazon’s Top 100 Editors’ Picks for 2016 and an Amazon Best Book for March of that year.

 

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In Chronicle Essay, Hollins Dean Asserts Teacher-Scholars’ Crucial Role

In his commentary published August 7 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “How Teacher-Scholars Prepare Students for an Evolving World,” Associate Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Academic Services Michael Gettings argues, “As faculty, our research informs our teaching and benefits our students. One is not a teacher and a scholar, one is a teacher-scholar. Through scholarship, teachers model good learning and offer special opportunities for students. The benefits of this model for both teacher and student are maximized in the liberal-arts setting where students can build strong relationships with faculty.”

Gettings goes on to state that teacher-scholars help students develop the skills identified by developmental psychologists Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek as essential for the workplace of the future (“the six C’s”): collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creativity, and confidence.


Prof’s New Poetry Collection “A Book of Seeking, Beseeching”

Hollins University Professor of English Cathryn Hankla‘s new volume of poetry may be titled Galaxies, but don’t mistake it for an exploration of astronomy.

Mercer University Press, the publisher, instead describes it as “a book of seeking and beseeching. Galaxies forms a collective of connected but disparate things. Each galaxy grouping constitutes a gravitational system of concern, finding its own music and approach to what a poem can be. Together the poems create a spiritual pilgrimage, a sequence sending up an alarm for the earth, inviting the reader to walk a path to the heart’s center.”

Galaxies has already received considerable praise. Author Alice Fulton called it a “quietly mind-blowing book,” while poet and novelist Carol Moldaw said the collection consisted of “poems of lyric capaciousness, thoughtful, intricate, and enticing.”

Hankla will be discussing and reading from Galaxies during her upcoming book tour:

Tuesday, August 8
Bookworks, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, August 9
Collected Works, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 6 p.m.

Saturday, August 12
Tattered Cover, Denver, Colorado, 2 p.m.

Tuesday, August 15
Colorado Mountain College, Leadville, Colorado, noon

Sunday, September 3
Malaprops, Asheville, North Carolina, 3 p.m.

Friday – Sunday, October 13 – 15
Southern Festival of the Book, Nashville, Tennessee

Thursday, November 9
Eleanor D. Wilson Museum, Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia, 7 p.m.

Born in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, Hankla teaches in the Jackson Center for Creative Writing at Hollins and serves as the poetry editor of The Hollins Critic. She has published 12 previous books of fiction and poetry, including Fortune Teller Miracle Fish and Great Bear.

 


Three Hollins Authors Are People’s Choice Award Finalists

Books written by a Hollins University faculty member and two Hollins alumnae have been named finalists for the 2017 Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award.

As Close to Us as Breathing by Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Poliner was nominated for the People’s Choice Fiction Award, while Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy M.A. ’93, and Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith ’67, are finalists in the People’s Choice Nonfiction category.

“These awards, which are part of the Library’s annual Literary Awards celebration, recognize the finest among Virginia authors and works about our great Commonwealth,” said Amy Bridge, executive director of the Library of Virginia Foundation.

Truevine

Anyone can participate in the voting for the People’s Choice Award by visiting this link. Voting is open until July 15. There is also a ballot on the site that can be printed and mailed to the Library (it must be received by July 15 to be counted).

Dimestore

The People’s Choice Award winners will be announced at the 20th Annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards Celebration in Richmond on  October 14. Winners of the People’s Choice Fiction and Nonfiction prizes will each win a cash prize of $2,500.

In November, As Close to Us as Breathing, Truevine, and Dimestore were selected among Amazon.com’s Top 100 Editors’ Picks for 2016.


Expert Panel to Discuss America’s Political Party System

Political scientists from Hollins University, Roanoke College, and Virginia Tech will explore what the next few years may hold for the Democratic and Republican parties during the panel presentation “After 2016 – The State of the American Political Party System” on Thursday, February 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Niederer Auditorium, Wetherill Visual Arts Center. Admission is free and open to the public.

The panel will look at what has been happening both within and between America’s two major political parties, their future paths, and whether this is the beginning of the end of the two-party system.

Participants will include: Karen Hult, chair of Virginia Tech’s department of political science; Jason Kelly, assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech; Ed Lynch, professor of political science at Hollins; and Harold Wilson, director of Roanoke College’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research.

The event will be moderated by Jong Ra, professor of political science and chair of the department of global politics and societies at Hollins.

 


International Photography Magazine Profiles Professor Robert Sulkin

The latest issue of Black + White Photography magazine features “The Experimental Professor,” an extensive look at the work of Professor of Art Robert Sulkin.

A member of the Hollins faculty since 1980, Sulkin is an award-winning photographer who has been featured in more than 100 solo and group shows, including exhibitions at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

“He defines his career as a teacher as one of the biggest current influences on his artwork,” the article states.

“The teaching and artwork are symbiotic, then feed on one another,” Sulkin tells Black + White Photography. “I get excited when students do things that are good and that makes me want to go to my studio.”


Hollins Professor Cited for Exemplary Teaching in Mathematics

Hollins University Professor of Mathematics Caren Diefenderfer is one of three U.S. educators named winners of the 2017 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

Diefenderfer and fellow mathematics professors Janet Heine Barnett (Colorado State University – Pueblo) and Tevian Dray (Oregon State University) were cited for their teaching effectiveness, contributions to mathematics education, and influence outside their institutions.

“These educators exemplify the outstanding work of all our members, who demonstrate the MAA’s commitment to foster the next generation of mathematicians and elevate their potential,” said Francis Su, president of the MAA. “Their dedication to helping students see the history and interdisciplinary nature of mathematics, and to shaping the teaching of mathematics, is to be admired.”

Diefenderfer was recognized not only for inspiring her students in her classrooms and beyond, but also for developing and teaching interdisciplinary courses that help students develop communication skills. In the wider mathematical community, she has been a pioneer in Quantitative Literacy, a field of education whose goal is improving college students’ reasoning proficiency when using quantitative content.  A member of the Hollins faculty since 1977, she holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Diefenderfer, Barnett, and Dray were honored on January 5 in Atlanta at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, the world’s largest gathering of mathematicians.

The MAA is the largest professional society that focuses on mathematics accessible at the undergraduate level. Its members include university, college, and high school teachers; graduate and undergraduate students; pure and applied mathematicians; computer scientists; statisticians; and many others in academia, government, business, and industry. The mission of the MAA is “to advance the mathematical sciences, especially at the collegiate level.”

 

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Students, Faculty Give Flight to “Roanoke Wings” Art Installation

Hollins University students led by Associate Professor of Art Jennifer Anderson have constructed a new public art installation in downtown Roanoke.

“Roanoke Wings” is located in Market Square and features three sets of wings, each with their own unique design that ties into the history, charm, and people of Roanoke. The installation is free and accessible to anyone walking through downtown. Visitors will be invited to take pictures standing behind each Roanoke Wing and share them on social media with the hashtag #roanokewings. They are also encouraged to look closely and experience all that can be seen within these unique pieces of art.

“This project has been a crucial part of a public art class that I am teaching this semester,” Anderson said. “It’s given students the unique opportunity to create something that can be shared with the greater Roanoke community. Our goal was for the project to be colorful, engaging, and educational. And of course, we can’t wait to see the images that appear online.”

“Roanoke Wings” will remain on display through January 6, 2017, and is the result of a collaboration between Hollins, Downtown Roanoke, Inc., and the Roanoke Arts Commission. The installation is the first in a series of planned public art projects in downtown Roanoke.


Works by Hollins Authors Highlight Amazon’s Best Books of the Year

Books by Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Poliner, Beth Macy M.A. ’93, and Lee Smith ’67 are among Amazon.com’s Top 100 Editors’ Picks for 2016.

As Close to Us as BreathingPoliner’s novel As Close to Us as Breathing was an Amazon Best Book for March 2016. The story of a close-knit Jewish family that strives to cope following a tragedy is “vivid, complex, and beautifully written,” said Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World. “[It] brims with characters who leave an indelible impression on the mind and heart. Elizabeth Poliner is a wonderful talent and she should be read widely, and again and again.”

Published in October, Macy’s Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South is one of six books that have been selected in the Nonfiction category for the Kirkus Prize shortlist. Truevine has also been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence and is a New York Times Book Review  Editors’ Choice. The Amazon Book Review called ita multi-layered story that will captivate, haunt, and challenge you.”Truevine

In Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, Smith recalls how she became a storyteller while growing up in the Appalachian South, and discusses what later convinced her to embrace her heritage. “Smith delivers a memoir that shines with a bright spirit, a generous heart and an entertaining knack for celebrating absurdity,” noted The New York Times Book Review. “Although Dimestore is constructed as a series of personal essays, it presents as full a sense of a life as any traditional narrative.”


Hollins Faculty Foster Empowerment at MEPI Student Leaders Institute

Their roles were very different. But, as part of the U.S. – Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Institute this summer, communication studies professors Jill Weber and Vladimir Bratic shared a common goal: promoting peace through collaboration and an exchange of ideas.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State, MEPI offers support to groups and individuals seeking to bring positive change to the Middle East and North Africa. It’s designed to help the people of that region increase opportunity and enhance fundamental human rights. The Student Leaders program is one of MEPI’s signature projects, bringing roughly 120 undergraduate students each year from Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and West Bank/Gaza to the United States for an intensive six-week program.

Up to six U.S. academic institutions annually host the Student Leaders program. One of them, the University of Delaware, asked Weber to serve as both the opening and closing speaker, and Bratic to draw from his expertise in media and peace for a lecture presentation.

“My discussions were about time management, project management, and practical skills I’m focusing on in the class I teach on communication and well-being,” Weber said. She noted that she is launching a new business whose foundation is empowerment and social activism, “and I was asked to talk about that because many of these students are involved in organizations with that edge of changing their society.”

Weber urged students to embrace “the growth mindset instead of the fixed mindset. The idea of a fixed mindset is, don’t take risks. ‘I am smart, I was born smart, and anything that potentially challenges that notion of myself is scary. Any attempt to change that is something I’m going to stand away from.’

“Someone with a growth mindset focuses more on progress and development. They believe that attitudes, skills, talents, abilities, etc., can change over time. Research tells us that people with a growth mindset get higher grades and have higher levels of achievement.”

Weber believes embodying the growth mindset dramatically enhanced her own experience. “I owned my ignorance in terms of understanding Islam and Muslim traditions. I became the student and they became the teachers and that was wonderful. I made that conscious effort to come in and say, ‘There’s a lot I don’t know, and I know I don’t know, so if I’m saying something wrong or if I have a misperception, let me know.’ This was not to put the responsibility on them to educate me, but rather to let them know that I was going to ask them questions that were going to seem totally stupid, and I was okay with that. I learned a lot. In fact, I don’t know who learned more from being there.”

While Weber’s approach was to enthuse, motivate, and “power them up,” Bratic challenged the students’ ideas “about their own societies and the role of peace there. There’s this conventional way of thinking that is usually taken for granted. Whenever I sense that, my teaching focuses on pulling the chair out from underneath that. You say something controversial to get a reaction.”

When Bratic suggested to the students that the United States Army could be an agent for peace, the students responded negatively. “They could not wrap their minds around that. They see the U.S. role in Iraq as a huge failure,” he recalled.

The stage was set for a thought-provoking debate. He went on to explain to the students that “once the U.S. Army occupied Iraq, it was in their best interest to have a very specific kind of peace, not one that is interested in justice, but one that stops violent outbreaks. In the literature this is known as ‘negative peace.’ It literally means ‘cease fire.’ It doesn’t take care of the underlying causes of conflict or right the wrongs, but it is a precondition.”

By the end of Bratic’s lecture, he said some of the students remained unmoved by his argument, but others understood that “you need to be able to open yourself to the possibility that there is another option, another answer. So my teaching is to probe, to keep your eyes open and say your learning is not finished.”

Weber said it has been gratifying to bring examples from the Student Leaders Institute back to the classroom at Hollins. “I’m able to say, ‘While we have the rhetoric that divides us and suggests that we are so different, when you start to chip away at that, you can really see our similarities. They’re passionate just like we’re passionate, and they’re students just like you’re students.’”