CHADRON – Chadron State College English majors Stephanie Gardener of Chadron and Rachel Dowling of Hampton, Nebraska, were selected through an online submission process to read their original compositions at the Sigma Tau Delta national convention in Louisville, Kentucky, March 29-April 1.
While at the convention, Dowling served as a voting representative for CSC during the High Plains caucus and Gardener was elected the assistant student representative for the High Plains Region.
Gardener’s piece, "Through the Closed Door," stemmed from an in-class assignment in Elements of Literature to convert a poem the class had studied into a short story.
She chose Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” because of how sound was incorporated into the poem.
“I really wanted to take the opportunity to play with sound in the short story. I was sitting at home on the couch, reading a book as I waited for my husband to get home. I started thinking about how I knew exactly what his car sounded like pulling up to the driveway. I knew exactly what his footsteps would sound like as he approached the door,” Gardener said.
Dowling presented her piece "Dear Mina," in a session titled “Spiritual Places in Creative Fiction.” She plans to publish it in the future.
She said there were several sources of inspiration for it.
“I had originally written the piece for one of Dr. [Steve] Coughlin's creative writing classes and it deals with a subject very close to me. Most of the inspiration came from interactions with friends who had dealt with many of the issues I talked about. My story deals with some heavy issues that we normal try to avoid in normal conversation and I wanted to give voice to those issues,” Dowling said.
Dowling said comments and questions from the panel attending her presentation provided her with insights into what others were seeing in her piece.
“Their questions gave me the opportunity to explain my writing process and how I was able to write such a personal piece without getting too emotional,” she said.
One of Dowling’s favorite sessions include classroom topics for English teachers including standardized testing, teaching English Language Learners, using graphic novels and text messaging.
Gardener said a session on world building in writing was memorable.
“The speaker gave us some general information about a city that had moved underground after the surface of the earth became unlivable. He had us develop this world using a Twitter hashtag. We all contributed different details about this post-apocalyptic city and created our very own universe. It was tremendously interesting and helped me to expand my perception of how world building functions in writing,” Gardener said.
Gardener also enjoyed the emotional honesty she experienced in the non-fiction panels.
“I realized that was something I want to do as well. I want to use my own experiences to illuminate the world we live in with my perspective. Having the chance to experience these readings has instilled me with a sense as to why it is so important that we speak from that place of emotional honesty, even if it is scary and even if it is not easy,” Gardener said.
Dowling plans to graduate in May 2018 with a degree in English education grades 7-12. She hopes to teach English and assist with coaching student in speech and drama.
She said she is grateful for the encouragement she received from CSC faculty to present her work at the national level.
“Many within the department have taken time to help us workshop pieces, or come to readings to provide feedback. Dr. Cox and Dr. [Steve] Coughlin specifically really helped us to prepare for the trip and get our pieces ready for reading,” Dowling said.
Gardener echoed the appreciative sentiments.
“I am exceptionally lucky to be studying in a department that has such genuinely caring professors. They have the unique ability to see their students as individuals, and to interact with them on that level with a great deal of mutual respect and consideration. The time Dr. Cox and Dr. Coughlin invested in me as I have pursued my education, potential scholarship opportunities and writing projects has been invaluable,” Gardener said.
After graduating from CSC, Gardener hopes to be accepted to an MFA creative writing program.
“While working towards my MFA, I hope to work in the field of publishing. Both higher education and work experience would help to prepare me for a career as an author and a professor. In my ideal future, I would love to apply for a position as a creative writing professor at Chadron State College,” Gardener said.
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