Tomás Q. Morín
Nov. 19th, 2019
Standing on East San Antonio Street and gazing across the lawn towards the Hays County Courthouse, an architect might realize that the building’s domes and coulomb-supported, peaked entrance are reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s neoclassical plantation house. Walking the downtown streets, that same architect might notice the many arched windows patterned with painted brick that decorate the businesses lining the square. Poet and professor of creative writing Tomás Q. Morín, who earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Texas State and is the author of the recent collection Patient Zero, says that, through exploring the “history, style, technique, and the interaction of [these elements] in design and culture,” one uncovers stories hidden within the details. He encourages students and young authors to read as writers, “mov[ing] through a book the same way an architect moves through a city.” Moreover, he says these young writers must experiment with the forms and techniques they find in the texts they read.
Among the texts Morín admires for their enlightening takes on craft and storytelling is Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, a nonfiction text he taught over several semesters at Texas State during his time as a Senior Lecturer. This text was originally written in German, an acquired language for its Japanese-born author. Morín appreciated the complexities of an author writing creatively in a second language, a subject the text explores. Incorporating a similar method in his own poetry, he brings his knowledge of the Spanish language and the Latinx community from which he comes to his writing. In his debut collection of poetry, A Larger Country, Morín explored “other countries, whether they be real or countries of the mind.” The manuscript was selected for the prestigious American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize from over one thousand entries, with the book being named a runner-up for the Joyce Osterweil Award from PEN America, which recognizes important literary achievement by emerging authors. In addition to his two poetry collections, he also has published a translation of Pablo Neruda’s The Heights of Macchu Picchu.
Morín today finds inspiration for his work at a window-side desk in Lubbock, Texas, where he has a view of the green foliage around him. In this space many of his recent poems have taken form, though the city he writes from has changed in the years since his time at Texas State. These poems comprise his recently published collection, Patient Zero, whose title poem was prompted by the question “if ‘Love’ were a disease, who is patient zero?” In this collection Morín explains the poems are written from a “persona” that fits the poem’s subject, rather than Morín’s own point of view. By contrast, the political, emotional, and cultural issues that impact his life and the lives of his loved ones inform his upcoming collection, Machete. Father figures, mental health, toxic masculinity, and the intersections of nonfiction and poetry are featured themes and concepts in both Machete and the memoir Morín is currently writing. Reflecting on the year so far, comprised of writing, revising, teaching, and parenting, he says the poems in Machete and the material in his memoir “may be [his] most personal yet,” featuring his investigation of his own father figures as he begins his new role as a father himself.
Now a Visiting Writer-in-Residence at Texas Tech University, where he is currently teaching undergraduate nonfiction workshops, Morín has found that his reading and research for his classes support the memoir he is completing. These nonfiction courses and writing, while not the poetry Morín is most experienced with, have allowed him to explore a new writing medium. To describe this change, he says, “poetry is focused on a much smaller canvas,” and he is enjoying making broader strokes through nonfiction.
Of his time at Texas State, he remembers the people he worked with and studied alongside most fondly. “These are the people I call on my weekend phone calls,” he says, describing his hobby of calling old friends and having long conversations over the phone. He delights that he can send them a poem to critique in a pinch “or even call them to talk about basketball,” having found true friends in his academic peers at Texas State who continue to shape his writing as much as they shape his life.
-Kennedy Farrell, English Major
Where modern architecture meets ancient neighborhoods, Master of Arts in Technical Communication alumna Chelsea Wunneburger witnessed the passage of time on her tour of Beijing. Wandering the city’s streets, she passed intricately ornamented doors and buildings painted in the lively red color that for the Chinese means luck. Later, she hiked the Great Wall of China, which was so steep at times that she had no choice but to hold on to a pole to continue climbing. The Forbidden City, formerly a palace complex barred to common people that now serves as a museum, was filled with beautiful buildings and lavish gardens. Many people dream of traveling the world, but Wunneburger took her dream of traveling to heights she never imagined for herself before she graduated from Texas State. Now she continues a years-long exploration of foreign cultures as she teaches English as a Second Language abroad.
In addition to her MATC degree, Ms. Wunneburger earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State. While in graduate school, Wunneburger took her first trip outside the U.S. with the English Department’s Texas State in Ireland study abroad program. One place that struck her as particularly beautiful in Ireland was the town of Killarney, in Kerry County: “Hiking out there, being on the beach, the fresh sea air and the Atlantic Ocean meeting you, it was just so gorgeous.” On top of the beauty of Ireland’s terrain, Wunneburger discovered the connection between literature and place as she read the works of authors like James Joyce and then saw the reflection of the texts in contemporary Ireland. Her experiences on this trip were enough to convince her that she needed to continue traveling, but a love of travel isn’t the only thing Wunneburger gained while at Texas State University.
Wunneburger’s degrees lend themselves well to the teaching of English, especially since she teaches writing in the majority of her classes and her Technical Communication classes focused mainly on different types of writing. “The main reason why I studied technical writing was because it’s like an umbrella of different types of professions.” As a student in the Technical Communication Masters program, Wunneburger had the opportunity to learn about grant writing, medical writing, technical writing in multiculturalism, and writing centers – all of which played a role in preparing her to teach writing. With the variety of writing classes she took and the different perspectives on writing that she explored, Wunneburger felt prepared to teach writing, even without any previous teaching experience. In fact, even now Wunneburger works to improve and maintain her writing skills, as she is constantly refreshing herself and furthering her own understanding of English communication to better educate her students.
In August 2014, when Wunneburger was on her flight to Spain to begin living and teaching abroad, she was terrified and filled with anticipation all at once. Like any person might be, she was worried about how well she would be able to integrate into and navigate a new culture, but she also was excited to learn. Because she didn’t have any previous experience teaching, her first classroom was co-taught with a native Spanish teacher, and she originally intended to work in Spain for only one year. She instead co-taught for two years before moving to an English classroom of her own. While teaching in Spain, Wunneburger did her best to engage students through interesting activities, like speaking games and charades, and cultural exchange. Among her cultural exchange activities was one in which students were asked to cook a simple dish of their choosing, filming and describing the process in English for a grade. Among the dishes the students produced were paella and tortillas, traditional Spanish dishes, and one of Wunneburger’s students even brought tamales wrapped in banana leaves (as opposed to the corn husk tamales Wunneburger was familiar with in Texas). The ability of students to participate in an engaging activity and share the fruits of their labors was important to Wunneburger because it connected with the students more personally than typical book-based work. She answered their efforts by sharing foods from her own culture, including the Texas staple, Dr. Pepper, as well as English slang words that brought more life to the English language for her upper-level students.
As much as Wunneburger loved her job in Spain, after four years there she realized that she was becoming too settled. “I knew that I thrived in situations where I was uncomfortable.” With this in mind, Wunneburger moved to South Korea, where she continues to share her culture with her students. To celebrate the end of the most-recent term, they brought in traditional Korean dishes to eat while they did their lessons. Cultural exchange has been an important part of Wunneburger’s experience abroad, and so she strives to make it a part of her student’s experience in her English classrooms. On top of wanting to make the language accessible to students, she always wants to help them succeed by exposing them to one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. “Living overseas constantly reminds me that I am lucky to be a native English speaker.” Wunneburger is preparing students for the global arena that she has spent so much time exploring, confident that the English skills she teaches them will serve them well in the future.
When she completes her assignment in South Korea, Wunneburger hopes to return to the U.S. to visit her family for the first time since 2016. Despite the physical distance, she and her family remain emotionally close, even closer than when she was still living in the U.S. “Because of living abroad I’m more frequently in contact with my family.” Unable to see her family whenever she wants to, she has grown to appreciate the time that they do get to spend together even more and values their time talking over WhatsApp and Skype. She and her father remain particularly close, and he occasionally contacts her across multiple different messaging platforms just to say hi or tell her that he loves her. Though Wunneburger doesn’t intend to move back to the U.S anytime soon, she looks forward to seeing her family in person again and sharing with them the many remarkable moments she has enjoyed abroad since she departed Texas State all those years ago.
- Claryssa Luera, English major
Dr. Terri Leclerq
Texas State alumna Dr. Terri Leclerq didn’t consider herself an activist when she heard about the torture techniques being taught inside the U.S. Army School of the Americas, but she felt compelled to do something about it. In 1998, she and her daughter flew to Fort Benning, Georgia to join four hundred and sixty-four other people to peacefully protest. “We filed in two by two, walked into an open army post, and were arrested for trespassing on a military installation,” says Dr. Leclerq. Sixteen of them, not including Dr. Leclerq or her daughter, were sentenced to six months in a federal penitentiary.
Letters from those imprisoned described inhumane conditions, including denied access to medication and punishment by being fed a diet of “green loaf,” a mix of vegetables and food scraps that met the minimum dietary requirements while being nearly inedible. When Dr. Leclerq, a professor of Legal Writing at UT in Austin, read these letters, she decided to write a Law Review article to expose these injustices. She spent years studying the Prison Litigation Reform Act and trying to understand the cases that litigated it. Upon its publication, she realized that people who taught Criminal Law already knew about the issues in prison litigation. Her article wasn’t helping those who needed it most.
To reach that ignored audience, she decided to cut her forty-page legal article down to a more accessible graphic novel. “I turned it into a graphic novel to teach the inmates. They’re the ones who needed to know this stuff,” she says. However, this decision posed a new challenge: Dr. Leclerq had little idea what a graphic novel was, let alone how to create one. Fueled by her conviction that she could change the world, one she realized during her time on the Student Senate while earning her undergraduate degree at Texas State, she set out on a decade-long project to create what would eventually become Prison Grievances.
First, she had to determine what exactly a graphic novel was, and then she enlisted the help of a student at LBJ to learn how to format one like a screenplay. After it was written, there was the issue of finding and paying an artist to do the artwork, and then a letterer to write letters in the speech and thought bubbles. When all of this was done, she discovered that publishers were uninterested in buying it, and so Dr. Leclerq also had to learn about self-publishing. Her friend offered to buy a copy for every prison library in Texas, and then the Texas Board of Criminal Justices had the book banned from prison libraries. “That was the lowest point, for me,” says Dr. Leclerq. “Their own authorities had helped me with the book.”
The finished product is a graphic novel titled Prison Grievances, a handbook for prisoners to navigate the grievance process. The novel follows a no-nonsense pro-bono lawyer named Mr. Dibs—an acronym for “don’t be stupid”—as he enters prisons to teach inmates about their rights while incarcerated. It also teaches them how to file grievances, which are complaints against unjust treatment of prisoners by the prison system; and warns against filing excessive or petty grievances. By doing this, it empowers inmates to have their problems properly addressed rather than overlooked due to a litigation error.
By offering this power, the novel has impacted many prisoners who have read and used it. In Dr. Leclerq’s office, there are plastic tubs crammed full of mail from inmates, and more mail comes in every day. Some of these people write to express their gratitude, while some write to express confusion as to why their grievance got rejected by the system. Dr. Leclerq replies to them, explaining what went wrong with their grievance. “Sometimes it’s too scattered,” says Dr. Leclerq. “And sometimes it’s a perfect grievance and they just got screwed.”
For the book, Dr. Leclerq has been awarded the 2018 Golden Pen Award, which honors those who make a significant advancement in Legal Writing. She is the first activist to win the award and hopes to represent fellow activists working in her field. Although her career has included many accolades and important publications, this one holds special significance. “We all need to do something about injustice,” she says. “This book was my attempt to do something.”
Moving forward, Dr. Leclerq has been asked by the Texas Juvenile Justice System to put together a book like Prison Grievances for children in the JJS. She’s excited that people understand “they need to change their approach to educating people who need it, to find a way to reach them without letting the legalese get in the way of the message.” She encourages everyone to use their voices to rectify injustices in the world, through whatever means available, to make a positive impact.
Dr. Terri Leclerq received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Texas State University and is a founder and active member of the Donor and Alumni Advisory Council for the Department of English at Texas State. The council works to create a bond between the English Department’s faculty, students, alumna, and donors. Dr. Leclerq offers insight into the legal community’s expectations for the English Department and its students.
-- Gloria Russell, English major
Dr. Courtney Werner
Dr. Courtney Werner grew up in a tight-knit family in a small town in the forests of Pennsylvania. During her undergraduate program at Moravian College, she worked at the school’s writing center. From this experience of helping people with their writing, she found her life’s work. After graduating, she decided to pursue advanced studies in the field in order to improve writing centers and make them more accessible to students and faculty. Her undergraduate advisor put Werner in touch with Dr. Rebecca Jackson at Texas State University, who was accumulating students for a new Masters in Rhetoric and Composition program that dealt with writing center theory. Intrigued by the possibility of studying writing centers at a graduate level, Werner decided to make the move from Pennsylvania to Texas She didn’t want to leave her family and her home, but she knew she needed to get out of her comfort zone if she wanted to fulfill her dreams.
The dramatic change in environment made Werner feel isolated at first. Separated by half a country from her family, Werner called her mother every day that first semester. When she returned for the second semester, though, she overcame her loneliness by introducing herself to her peers and bonded with fellow graduate students. After finding fellow classmates with similar interests, her sense of isolation and dependency decreased. “I learned that I could be an independent person,” Dr. Werner says.
With more confidence, Werner also rediscovered a love for computers and digital media while taking a class called “Computers and Writing.” She realized that she could combine her love of writing, her love of digital media, and her love of writing centers. To help hone her interests and skills into a thesis, she worked closely with Dr. Jackson. The two now have a close relationship, personally as well as academically. Dr. Jackson particularly noted Werner’s ability to “work in her field with compassion and heart.”
Werner graduated from the Master’s program and went on to Kent State University in Ohio for her PhD, where she worked as the Assistant Director of Digital Composition, helping faculty to integrate technology into their classrooms. In the meantime, she wrote her dissertation on how scholars and faculty in rhetoric and composition programs discuss new media. She realized that there isn’t a precise definition of “new media,” and as she says, “while there really isn’t anything new about it, we talk about new media in ‘new’ ways.” For example, where a web designer might focus on the form or layout of a website, Dr. Werner interprets design as a form of rhetoric. Specifically, a website with only videos conveys information differently than a website with only text. So, if a person goes to a writing center’s website and sees only videos, Dr. Werner asks, “what are they trying to convey to their audience with their layout?”
After spending time in her first teaching role post-PhD, Dr. Werner decided it was time to return to the East Coast to live closer to her parents. She found an ideal opportunity at Monmouth University, where Dr. Werner is now an assistant professor, teaching entry-level composition courses to incoming freshman as well as upper-level courses in digital media. In her composition courses, she teaches students the importance of writing for an audience. She also uses the different forms of writing, such as making and labeling charts, to challenge her student’s preconceptions of what it means to write. Dr. Werner argues that to write means to convey information, not just to adhere to certain written sentence structures. Although Monmouth is a private university, the interesting student population still offers insightful perspectives into the world of digital media.
For Dr. Werner, it all began when she decided to take a chance in moving from Pennsylvania to Texas. She had a lot to lose, but her choice ultimately paid off. Now, Dr. Werner has developed her passions and will continue to do great work in developing those different perspectives to help writing centers across the country.
--Gloria Russell, English major