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December 1, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Spriggs Has ‘a Toe in Literature, Creative Writing, and Rhetoric’

Dr. Bianca Spriggs, performing at a microphone

Dr. Bianca Spriggs

 

by Kristin Distel

The English Department welcomes newly hired assistant professor Dr. Bianca Spriggs, who comes to Ohio University from the University of Kentucky.

Spriggs earned a B.A. in history and studio art from Transylvania University, an M.A. in English literature and creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Kentucky.

Finding a Home at OHIO

For Spriggs, one of OHIO’s especially appealing features is its inclusivity of hybrid work.

“OHIO seemed like a place that welcomed diversity in scholarly and creative work. That’s what really caught my eye,” says Spriggs, who describes herself as “having a toe in literature, creative writing, and rhetoric.” She notes that the English Department’s interest in multi-genre work was a real draw. “I became so excited when I saw the ad for OHIO because it was very open-ended. I thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity to be my unicorn self!’” she adds.

She is especially grateful for the “generous and warm” welcome she has received from her new colleagues.

“Even during my first interview, I realized that these are people I really like; they are people I want to work with and from whom I could learn as a burgeoning scholar,” she explains. She notes that being in a department where colleagues truly excel at what they do has already proved a rewarding experience. “I’m here to learn,” Spriggs says. “Intellectually, I feel spoiled already!”

Poetry, Projects, and Playlists

This semester, Spriggs is teaching Introduction to Poetry and Drama, as well as an undergraduate poetry workshop.

“In Introduction to Poetry and Drama, we’re covering everything from Renaissance-era work to contemporary,” Spriggs explains. The first half of the semester particularly emphasized poetry and how to read it. Spriggs explains that the class learned how to talk about prosody, scansion, form, function, image, metaphor, and the purposes that these devices serve. The second half of the semester focuses on drama, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Paradise Lost, Faustus, The Crucible, and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.

Spriggs notes that with such a broad range of texts, it is important to show students how the works they have read actually have a good deal in common.

“We’ve been talking about excess, risk, intentions, making choices out of love or fear, and how these things manifest themselves in literature. We’ve discussed the ways in which we are having the same conversation about Paradise Lost and For Colored Girls,” she says

The students’ final is a creative project, which they will complete in teams that Spriggs describes as “squads.” Students will complete a creative presentation of an assigned play; their project might take the form of a podcast, a sequel, a short film, a movie trailer, or any number of creative endeavors. “For example, they might even include a 10-song playlist to accompany Paradise Lost,” Spriggs says.

“The point is for them to engage the text and defend their creative choices,” she notes. “Their papers need to be oriented around a product. If they have a product that they can make strong claims about, that seems to inspire students at that level of literary criticism.”

In the poetry workshop that Spriggs is currently teaching, the semester also started with extensive conversations about craft, what poems are, and what purpose they serve. This includes several weeks of genitive assignments. “I want to show them techniques and writing strategies they can do daily,” she explains.

The course then moved into an extended workshop phase, in which the students turn in their poems and comment on their classmates’ writing. They will also write a book review. The semester will culminate in a portfolio that features the students’ revised poems. “At the end of the semester,” Spriggs notes, “students will submit a thematically linked poetry suite with an introductory essay that articulates their aesthetic choices.”

Looking Ahead to Spring Semester

In Spring 2018, Spriggs will teach the English Department’s popular Women and Writing course, as well as a graduate poetry workshop.

Her Women and Writing class will focus largely on the writing of manifestos and reading literature about the body, including the work of the Combahee River Collective and Audre Lorde.

“There are many questions I want to explore with students in this class,” Spriggs notes. “What constitutes women’s rights, and how are women speaking about them? What is the role of anarchy? How are we speaking about our bodies? In a rapidly trans-aware setting, is the use of the erotic changing? What does it mean to be a feminist?” The students will also write a manifesto about themselves, she explains.

In Spriggs’s graduate poetry workshop, there will be a heavy emphasis on generating a large amount of new work. The course coincides with National Poetry Month, during which students will write one poem per day. “I’ll be writing a daily poem with them,” Spriggs says. “Poets have to fight for their voice. Those poems are already in them. I need to show them they can do it, that poetry is a companion. You can’t ever turn it off. I have to model that.”

Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach 

Spriggs, whose own work is multidisciplinary, brings the concepts of performance and creativity into her OHIO classrooms. “Since I have a background in performance, I believe it’s important to reach audiences wherever they are. Literature should sound as good as it looks, which means that language should not be confined to the page,” she explains.

In her classrooms, students discuss the roles and purposes of literature, including its entertainment value. They consider that the vehicle by which we receive literature is changing—including the popularity of documentaries and films. Spriggs notes that part of her role as an instructor is to make students aware of their role not only as consumers but also as producers of information.

“I like to say that literature is a contact sport. You have to make contact with it,” she remarks. Spriggs explains that it is important for students to be aware of how to engage with literature—and how they might use technology to do so. She describes herself as a “tour guide and facilitator” in the classroom, where she guides students toward strategies for wielding their intellectual and creative abilities.

“Like me, students are also responsible for creating a learning environment. They’re responsible for saying something new. It’s exciting to see their light bulb moments, when they realize that they can take the reins. They can wield the narrative; they have permission. I’m encouraging that and fanning the creative flames,” she says.

Co-editing Two Major Anthologies 

Currently, Spriggs is also co-editing two anthologies, Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poets (University of Kentucky Press) and Undead: Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! (Apex Publications).

Spriggs explains that The Affrilachian Poets Collective was established in 1991; she was initiated in 2004 as a second-wave member.

“I wanted to put together an anthology of the founding members’ work, leading up to most recent members’ poems,” Spriggs says of Black Bone. I want this anthology to serve as a family reunion, where we can explain how Affrilachian poetry has reshaped our ideas about people of color and the Other in the region. In some ways, the land shapes us just as much as our families do.”

She explains that the anthology’s poems consider the influence of the land in terms of food, politics, family, and education. In addition to poetry, the anthology also features critical prose—specifically, scholars considering the role and influence of Affrilachia. Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poets will be published in 2018.

Spriggs’s work on the Undead anthology in part grew out of her previous work as a poetry editor for APEX Publications.

“While I worked at APEX, I learned that there’s not much speculative poetry out there. The anthology features stories about the undead—stories we don’t usually hear or see. These authors talk about ghouls, ghosts, and our relationship to the undead. Why do we speculate about the afterlife? If our transgressions haunt and outlive us, then they live in the world after we’re gone—so are we really gone?” Undead: Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! will be published in 2017.

Bianca Spriggs is the author of The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor (Argos Books; 2016), Call Her By Her Name (Triquarterly Books; 2016), How Swallowtails Become Dragons (Accents Publishing; 2011), and Kaffir Lily (Wind Publications; 2010). She is the co-editor of Circe’s Lament: Wild Women Poetry (Accents Publishing; 2015). More information about her work is available at her personal website.

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