English department faculty members and students share research insights, creative talents for Festival of the Creative Arts

By Molly DeKraai

Florida State University’s Office of Research commences its second-annual Festival of the Creative Arts on Friday, Feb. 2. The campus-wide collaboration aims to highlight the university’s creative and talented student and faculty voices.

Several Department of English faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students are contributors to this month-long celebration of research and the arts, spotlighting their work and scholarship under an artistic lens.

"The festival includes representation from a large number of departments in the arts, humanities, and sciences and is inherently interdisciplinary,” says festival director Iain Quinn, an FSU College of Music Associate Professor of Organ and Coordinator of Sacred Music.

Participants from the English department include Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professors of English Maxine Montgomery and David Kirby, Senior Lecturer and Distinguished University Scholar Barbara Hamby, and Professor Barry Faulk.

English-Creative Writing doctoral candidates Nicholas Goodly, Olga Mexina, Olivia Sokolowski, and Natalie Tombasco, and English-Creative Writing undergraduate Sean Faletti are featured in the programming as well. English alumna Tana Jean Welch, who earned her Ph.D. in literature in 2013, joins a symposium focused on arts and health.

“The interdisciplinary work of the English department intersects with several other fields, and so it is wonderful to be able to celebrate these collaborations and the scholarly work of the department,” Quinn says.

Kicking off the festival on Feb. 2, taking place in FSU's Claude Pepper Center from 3-4:30 p.m., is “Science and Words,” a panel exploring how science fiction both challenges cultural norms and offers us a glimpse into the future. Montgomery, who also is an FSU Distinguished Research Professor, joins Huan Chen, research faculty for FSU’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, and Adrienne Stephenson, associate dean of FSU’s graduate school. Undergraduate students Ana Pereira, Tony Psulkowski, and Faletti also are on the panel.

FSU’s Director of Faculty Development Peggy Wright-Cleveland, who earned her Ph.D. in English-American Literature from FSU in 2019, initially contacted Montgomery to ask if she would participate in the panel, which asks the questions “Why do we read science fiction? How does it challenge and nurture our culture in ways other fiction might not? What do scientist think about this fiction?”

“[Peggy] contacted me in light of my recent book, The Postapocalyptic Black Female Imagination, a project that examines how contemporary black women writer-creatives envision the future,” Montgomery says. “Through an interrogation of biblical and mass media representations of an apocalyptic end of the world and its aftermath, my project examines a range of works in fiction and visual culture with a view to examining the ways a non-hegemonic perspective influences images of futurity.”

Montgomery says her interest in this topic stems from her overall scholarship as well as the insights she gained from working on her recently published book.

“From Octavia Butler to Beyonce, black women across the African diaspora engage in a conversational exchange surrounding the end of an old social order and the creation of a new world order involving erased social hierarchies and gender binaries,” Montgomery says. “My aim is to share insights from my book and explore how black women envision idealized worlds where the boundaries between the body and the realm of technology or science, or the body and outer world, no longer exist.”

The Feb. 3 programming showcases English graduate students in FSU School of Dance’s “Odes to Dance” performance, which takes place in FSU's Nancy Smith Fichter Dance Theatre from 5-6:15 p.m. This event features a collaboration between faculty and students involved with dance, music, poetry, and the Magnet Lab. Alongside numerous other contributors, Nicholas Goodly, Olga Mexina-Bykova, Olivia Sokolowski, and Natalie Tombasco celebrate the 90/60/20-year anniversaries at the School of Dance.

The scene is like a mishmash of Macbeth’s three witches and Guadagnino’s Suspiria, where these moonlit women dance around the hearth cooking up spells and deciding the fate of their prisoner, the King (Shakespeare).

— Natalie Tombasco

Sokolowski explains that each author will read one of their works during the 75-minute event. School of Dance and School of Music students will follow the reading with a performance inspired by the poem that combines original choreography and musis.

Tombasco, who also is editor in chief of Southeast Review, shares that she is excited to read among her peers and is eager to watch how their literary works will be “adapted through movement and music.” Tombasco’s poem “King Hunt” is being performed, a piece she describes as a “five-act verse drama that communes with The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, and Macbeth by weaving together Shakespeare’s diction, stage directions, and direct quotes.

“The scene is like a mishmash of Macbeth’s three witches and Guadagnino’s Suspiria where these moonlit women dance around the hearth cooking up spells and deciding the fate of their prisoner, the King (Shakespeare). I can’t wait to see the Odes to Dance’s version that they titled 'The Coven Emerges.’”

Goodly will recite their poem “The Cave,” followed by a dance performance, “They came from the woods,” that is choreographed to a musical composition titled “I Want to Be Full.”

For Mexina-Bykova’s reading of her poem "A dance manual for the resurrected," the accompanying dance is performed to the musical composition “It’s the Overview Effect.”

“Ode on Dance,” Sokolowski’s selected poem, is supported by “Gardenias,” a dance piece set to “Um Saudade pra Bailar.”

Full information on this festival session, including the poems, can be found here.

The Festival of the Creative Arts takes place from Feb. 2 through Feb. 28, and future events feature English department representatives. The performances spanning the weekend of Feb. 23-25 all include English faculty members. Those happenings will be previewed in upcoming articles.

Molly DeKraai is a senior double majoring in English-Editing, Writing, and Media and in Media Communication Studies.

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