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TWU professor of English publishes book, expands perspectives for students

Morgan speaking to faculty and staff.
Morgan speaks to faculty and staff at university reception.

 

Walking through the doors of Merner Pfeiffer Library on January 11, applause lifted from the floor below leading a few last-minute guests to their location. The group of faculty and staff gathered to celebrate the recently published work of associate professor of English, Dr. Shaun Morgan.

Dr. Morgan began the event commenting that he is “neither a narrative theorist, nor a critical race theorist.” At least, he wasn’t when he started. The journey to this moment began nearly seven years ago during his first year at Tennessee Wesleyan. Throughout the year, he couldn’t shake a question about narrative theory he received during his doctoral dissertation. This led Dr. Morgan to begin researching narrative theory, and like us all, he went to Google.

During the Google search, he discovered a program from The Ohio State University, Project Narrative. In Dr. Morgan’s words, “this is a collective of scholars that are all interested in different aspects of narrative theory.” He also learned of a two-week summer institute the program hosted during the summer for young faculty and graduate students. Being in his first-year teaching, Dr. Morgan believed this was a really good fit.

Morgan attends the summer institute

That summer, Morgan embarked on the two-week intensive led by leading narrative theorists Dr. James Phalen and Dr. Frederick Luis Aldama. Class discussions soon turned into afternoon and evening conversations with classmates. The more they read – the more questions they started to have. Ideas of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and politics began to arise, and how these ideas impacted narratives became the main topic of conversations of dinner for this group.

The new friends went back to their teaching positions, but these ideas and questions remained with them. Reconnecting through social media and email, they formed a supportive community where they could talk about their teaching and their writing. This would ultimately include revisiting their summer conversations. They also began discussing ways to expand their conversations and open it up to other scholars. So, in the fall of 2012, Dr. Jennifer Ho of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Dr. James J. Donahue of State University of New York, Potsdam, and Dr. Morgan began drafting a call for papers they hoped would reach scholars interested in the intersections between critical race theory and narrative theory.

Collaboration leads to professional connections and friendships

They believed that if they pooled their connections together, a collection of essays could be created where scholars would explore the issues of race, ethnicity, culture, and politics in narrative texts and theory. They received overwhelming support from colleagues who felt this could be an important contribution to the field of narrative theory

During the development of the book, the co-editors received more than 30 abstracts, and eventually, 14 were chosen for the book. To provide a thread that connected the essays, Donahue, Ho, and Morgan began to write the introductions and special commentary. Writing, reviewing and editing continued to the summer of 2014 when the full manuscript was sent to the Theory and Interpretation of Narrative Series at The Ohio State University Press.

Move forward to 2017, and Dr. Shaun Morgan can add published editor to his credentials. The process of creating Narrative, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States allowed Dr. Morgan to read topics he never would have before and connected him with, as he says, “a great group of people that I would have never met otherwise and who I can work with now.”

New perspectives for TWU students

It has also given him a new viewpoint on how and what he teaches in his classes. He’s paying more attention to all aspects of narrative, thinking more carefully about how race functions in narrative, and sharing those ideas in his classes: “As a result of my work on this book, I have incorporated a novel and a book of short stories written about in the collection on the syllabus of my course, Cultural Diversity and Narrative Form, and revised the way I teach some elements of narrative. That course as a whole is also an outgrowth of my work on the collection, and in it, I explore, with students, questions of identity including race and ethnicity and how such identities are represented in different kinds of narrative texts, from short stories and novels to graphic narratives.”

Dr. Morgan’s work with his co-editors and contributors makes him even more excited about studying and teaching English. “Language is the primary medium through which we come to know ourselves and the world around us. So, studying narrative and the way we use language in general, whether that means reading Shakespeare or analyzing the opening scene of the latest movie, is a truly rewarding experience because it can give you access to whole worlds of experience and knowledge. Whether students take a single literature class as a general education credit or an elective, take a minor in English, or decide to become an English major, studying literature can teach them about how people from the past and the present and all segments of society use the tools of language to understand, interact with, and in ways small and large, change the world.”

Finally, Dr. Morgan shares, “this collection solidified for me an idea that I consistently try to pass on to students, that careful attention to the form of stories can tell us about more than the stories themselves; it can tell us about the world in which those texts are produced and, therefore, about the world we live in.”