Last month, Associate Professor of English Susan Crane-Laracuente, Ph.D., reached out to two of her colleagues with a rough idea for a panel proposal. Together, the three crafted “What Now? Millennial Writers Engaging the World” to be held at the Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) Conference.
The individuals who were invited to participate as panelists are Adjunct Professor of Journalism Denise Neil, alumni Matt Riedl and Rebekah Valentine, Newman freshman Matthew Clark, junior Courtney Klaus and senior Amy Emerson. Moderators of the discussion included Crane-Laracuente, Marguerite Regan, associate professor of English and Audrey Curtis-Hane, professor of communication.
Crane-Laracuente, who is a member of KATE and has participated in conferences for several years, said there were multiple factors that motivated her to propose a panel.
“It provides the opportunity to collaborate with an array of colleagues: Alumni, students and fellow faculty across disciplines,” she said. “It is the chance for some of our students, alumni and journalism instructor, Wichita Eagle writer Denise Neil, to come together and participate in the same conference as national book awardee and Kansas-born journalist Sarah Smarsh — right here in Wichita.”
A malfunction on Smarsh’s plane prevented her from attending the conference, however, she sent a personal letter addressing the crowd waiting to hear her speak. In place of the keynote speech following a luncheon, representatives of KATE read passages aloud from Smarsh’s book, “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.”
“When they asked about the importance of being able to tell stories in a narrative style as opposed to just merely argumentative papers, that resonated with me because of the story that I recently wrote for the Vantage,” Klaus, editor-in-chief of the Vantage, said.
Klaus’s article, written in a narrative style, features the story of Newman Director of Security Morris “Mo” Floyd. In September of last year, Floyd paid a visit to the doctor’s office after experiencing hearing issues with his right ear. This is when the doctors discovered that Floyd has a brain tumor.
Klaus interviewed Floyd and wove together a story that resonated with several students, faculty and staff on campus.
“I think narrative storytelling is such an important skill,” Klaus added. “I think that is one of the reasons that I love writing. So on the panel, one of the questions we asked was, ‘Do people still love that?’ It felt good to affirm that, yes, students still love to write stories.”
Clark added, “It’s nice to hear the voice of the literary community and how they are concerned for the next generation. It helps me believe that there are people out there who want to help me succeed and gives me hope that all the rest of us will and can become the next generation of writers and English scholars. That is just greatly comforting to me.”
Clark, who is nearly finished writing a novel of his own, was the youngest panelist of the session. He gave a few words of advice for those who may feel discouraged when it comes to writing.
“Never tell yourself that you can’t write,” he said. “Writing is not a skill that you are born with … Writing and interpreting literature is a gained trait, something that can be pulled from text and experience.”
He added, “Just because you write something and you don’t immediately feel like an astute author does not mean that you can’t someday be there. You can.”