Hot Damn and Academic Accolades

Micah Dean HicksMicah Dean Hicks
Rho Epsilon Chapter
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL

Winning a Sigma Tau Delta scholarship felt amazing. It also felt surreal. I remember hearing my name announced, and people clapped, and people looked at me, and I sort of felt like I was watching it happen to some other guy, squinting at him in the distance and thinking, “Hey, he sort of looks like me. Good for him.”

It’s hard to measure all the small ways the award, the money, and the recognition helped me arrive here, at the end of a Ph.D. program.

Part of what it gave me was validation. I’ve always been pretty confident about my fiction writing, but less so about my critical work. The academic essay is a form I struggle with. It always demands more. Whatever you think you have to say, it’s never enough. You have to say more, to make it matter, to convince people (and yourself) that what you’re saying is important. I found it exhausting, like clawing a tunnel through stone with my fingernails and just burying myself in a rockslide. When I teach critical essay writing, I see my students confused and frustrated like I was. I know how they feel.

So I worked pretty hard on this essay, for the class where I wrote it (thank you, Dr. Tucker). And then I worked on it again, hours or days or forever, for the scholarship competition. Winning wasn’t just the prize or the money, it was assurance that I could beat this form if I clawed at it long enough.

scholarship-picNot to say the money wasn’t appreciated. For one thing, it was something my extended family could understand. Dollar amounts translate in ways that other kinds of academic accolades just don’t. The difference between an “Oh, that’s nice” and a “Hot damn, son.”

And at the time, I needed it. I’d applied to seven graduate schools, at a cost of around $100 each. The place I ended up, a master’s program in teaching, was great in a lot of ways and I still draw on those tools (thank you, Dr. Dee), but it wasn’t where I wanted to be. So a few months later, I applied to schools again, twice as many this time, to finally end up in a master’s program in creative writing in Mississippi.

Having worked on the essay for the award helped me later, in a way I wouldn’t have expected. When it was time to apply to Ph.D. programs and I needed a good critical sample to send with my fiction, I looked at the work I had done as a master’s student and wasn’t happy with any of it. I’d learned enough to be frustrated with what I had produced. So I broke out my essay from a couple of years ago, the one that at least had been vetted by the award, and sent it to one of my graduate professors for feedback. She went back and forth with me on it for a week (thank you, Dr. Gehlawat). And now I’m here, finishing my dissertation, having relied on that essay all along the way.

Which reminds me. Thank you, Sigma Tau Delta.

Start your scholarship essay now. The Sigma Tau Delta deadline for the following scholarships is November 10. 

Scholarships Open to Undergraduate Students
Junior Scholarships
Senior Scholarships
William C. Johnson Distinguished Scholarship
Part-Time Undergraduate Scholarship
P.C. Somerville Awards for Future Teachers
Study Abroad Scholarships

Scholarships Open to Graduate Students
Graduate Scholarships
William C. Johnson Distinguished Scholarship

Scholarships Open to Alumni Epsilon Chapter Members
Alumni Epsilon Scholarship

Benefits of Studying Literary Theory

Emily Traylorby Emily Traylor
Southern Region Associate Student Representative, 2013-2014
Rho Gamma Chapter
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA

Truthfully, when I first walked into my undergraduate contemporary theory class, I was terrified. It sounds so intimidating and foreign, and it’s not at all like other literature. My theory anthology and I spent a lot of quality time together, mostly consisting of me reading the same passages over and over, hoping that it would all finally fall into place if I read it enough. With a lot of patience, faithful attendance in class, and a dedicated professor, most of the ideas started to click for me.

Literary Theory book coverStill, I’ll warn that this isn’t the type of subject matter that you can passively approach. It’s imperative to take notes, write down questions, ask them in class, discuss the theories, and ultimately apply them in your work, in order for the theories to really become a useful part of your education. I’ll admit, I probably couldn’t discuss, on demand, the finer points of Saussurian linguistics, but I noticed immediately that my theory background helped me when I read fiction. Even if you can’t explain every way that a literary work relates to a theory, studying theory gives you a sturdy background for research.

Generally, theory is remarkably dense and a bit esoteric at times. I was lucky enough to have Dr. Dorothy Robbins as a professor, who happens to be a theory enthusiast, and the class turned out to be my favorite as an undergraduate. Personally, I’ve had the best time writing papers after my theory class and trying out different approaches to see which genre of theory works best for me (feminism and gender theory are my favorites—so fun!).

At the very least, maybe one day at a cocktail party, someone will discuss the differences between Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis; it will be your time to shine!

A Reader’s Take on “From Sand Creek”

Robert Durborowby Robert Durborow
Student Advisor, 2014-2016
Pi Omega Chapter
Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY

Our 2015 Common Reader is by award-winning Native American poet and writer, Simon J. Ortiz, a native of Deetseyaamah, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. I can think of no more fitting work for our theme, “Borderlands and Enchantments.”

2015 Common Reader, From Sand Creek is a riveting collection of poems in which Ortiz, a featured speaker at the 2015 Convention, examines one of the most infamous episodes in American and Native American history—the 1864 massacre of 600 Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek, Colorado. Far from an angry rant or accusatory work, From Sand Creek offers a realistic view of the past and a hopeful, unified view for the future of all Americans, native or otherwise. Thomas McGrath (Letter to an Imaginary Friend) states, “In this work by Simon Ortiz, Sand Creek shines like a dark star over a continent of pain. . .” I can’t say it any better.

As a poet and former soldier in the American armed forces, I found the collection particularly significant and poignant. Ortiz paints vivid pictures in the mind of the reader, in hues of crimson and hope. I literally could not put the book down, compelled to finish the journey started at the front cover. I have never read more thoughtfully composed, moving work. A single stanza typifies the power of the poet: “Memory/is stone, very quiet/like this,/a moment clenched/as knuckles/around gunstock/around steering wheel” (23). Ortiz writes iron. To say more would be to ruin the reader’s experience. Get the book (you’ll thank me).

As we all begin preparations for the next academic year and the Sigma Tau Delta 2015 Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, why not start with a good, insightful, thought provoking read?

Related Information

Regents’ Common Reader Awards

The Regents’ Common Reader Awards provide an opportunity for individual chapters to organize and host a local event or activity based on From Sand Creek. Chapter members do not need to attend the convention to apply. Contact your Regent and you may receive $100 for your event or activity. View application guidelines.

Common Reader Convention Awards

Awards of up to $600 will be given at the international convention for critical essays or other genres of work that deal with the common reader. To be eligible, students indicate in the convention submission form that their work is in the common reader category (presentation type).