Six of Radford’s best poets recited their original work to a crowded room during the annual Nan Lacy Poetry Competition. The readings were held in Heth Hall on April 18, and the readers included the top three undergraduate students and top three graduate scholars chosen from an undisclosed number of submissions. Each winning poet was awarded a cash prize of $100, $50, and $25 for their achievement. Hosting the ceremony was Dr. Louis Gallo of the English Department who informed the crowd that Dr. Justin Askins, who in the past has co-hosted the ceremony with Dr. Gallo, would not be able to make it to the readings due to serious illness. Dr. Askins’s ill health was not the only bad news that night, however.
“I am sad to say that the Thomas Coleman Writing Competition, which has been held alongside the Nan Lacy for decades, was cancelled due to the low number of submissions,” said Dr. Gallo during his opening statements.
According to Dr. Gallo, whom I spoke to before the competition, the deadline for the Nan Lacy competition was extended in hopes that it would not meet the same fate as the Coleman. Dr. Gallo also expressed his concern for the state of the arts in today’s society as well his hope that the Nan Lacy would continue to be held for more years to come.
During the ceremony, each of the six winners read five original poems from the 10-page chapbooks submitted for the competition. The undergraduate poets included first place winner Ryan Alcorn, second place winner Austin Morgan, and honorable mention Ashley Dawson. The graduate poets included first place winner Kelly Nickell, second place winner Phelan Tinsley, and honorable mention Jessica Mattox. All contestants were met with applause from the audience, which included friends, family, peers, and several professors from varying departments. After the reading had begun, Dr. Askins finally arrived to listen to the majority of the poets and was met with warm regards by those around him. The annual Nan Lacy Poetry competition came to a close with a group photo of the winners taken by Dr. Gallo.
Life at Mr. Addison’s is conventional. Having been here for almost a month now, I am learning the daily goings-on of the house. For the past week, I have looked through the kitchen and noted everything I will get today on my trip to the market. Zach only eats organic foods, and they have to be farmed within a 300-mile radius of our home. The intricacies of his diet do not bother me; I think of it as exciting. I always loved going to the marketplace with Mother Ester, whenever she decided to take children with her. My treks to buy groceries remind me of those times.
Zach had told me, “My servants always have the best,” as his tailor measured my chest a few weeks ago. I leave the house on my way to the marketplace in my new purple knee-high sundress, with a sweetheart neckline. I feel so out of place, almost like I do not own it. The more I ponder, the more I realize I don’t.
Getting to know my fellow servants over these few weeks has been interesting. Philip, the butler, has worked at the Addison residence the longest, a few years before Zach was born. Rouge oversees cleaning the dishes and washing clothes for the residents. John is the mastermind behind the upkeep of the home, and he organizes everything Zach plans. Philip mentioned once that there were only male servants, which is nothing particularly unusual. It seems the late Mr. Logan Addison slept with the female servants when his wife was attending business elsewhere. Mrs. Malinda Addison never minded his infidelity; rather she minded his choice location, in the room to the left of Zach’s.
Philip spoke of Mrs. Addison’s hospitality, how she extended it to anyone who strolled into her castle. His voice trailed off while an unmistakable gleam shined in his brown pupils. He articulated more with his eyes than I have ever heard from any mouth. He would marry her if he could.
John pulls out an old bike to take to the market. I enjoy bikes far more than any stuffy car. With the beautiful weather and three-mile journey, the fresh air will be lovely. List gripped between my fingers, I leave eagerly for the market. Shopping combines relaxation and work. I always see people I grew up with, peculiar only because of the distance.
The smell of fresh bread and strawberry tarts replace the unmistakable stench of the roadside when I arrive at the marketplace. Walking around, looking at the fish and fruits and deciding on their quality, I can’t shake my mind from those strawberry tarts. I think I’ll buy some before I leave. I find myself surrounded by the separated booths of small businesses and bored, single women with riches to spare. Regardless of the disproportion in wealth, I’ve never noticed a difference in taste.
I keep to myself, showing my status as a servant. Mama Ester told me that you should never show any human emotion – wealthy owners know each other, and it’s dangerous if you upset the wrong person.
I’m unenthusiastic about going back to the Addison home after my charming day at the market. The open space is a breathtaking contrast to the jail cell feel of a home.
After setting the bike in the storage unit, I carry the groceries into the door closest to the kitchen. The bags are heavy, but I don’t mind labor; I’m used to it. Usually, when my hair gets into my face or I slam my head into the door frame, I just keep walking.
Walking into the house, I hear laughing from the sitting room. I know quickly it is Zach’s, in harmony with the laughter of a woman. I fear that I will not be working for a bachelor much longer. At 25, he is probably enjoying his evening with a woman he will marry and have too many children with. Then he will bombard the home with more servants like me. I’ll continue to hide in this lonely castle, or perhaps he will sell me before that happens. Don’t feel, don’t react, and don’t get attached to the stories told to me as a young servant. I sigh lightly and put my groceries in cabinets, remembering this mantra.
I’ve never experienced an attachment to anyone, except Mother Ester. You will always be attached to the woman who raised you. I know Zach is trying to make this a home for me, but this is not my home. My life is not a fairy tale. So lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed Zach standing next to me. He startles me when he says, “So, when did you get back?”
Looking over to him and placing a tomato on the counter, I reply, “A few minutes ago, sir. Not too long though.”
He nods his head and takes a seat on the counter, next to my groceries. He looks like a teenager waiting for advice from his mother.
In the unexpected silence, I continue to put away the food, his eyes following me as I travel along the spacious kitchen.
“You seem too comfortable doing this?” he says, breaking the silence with his curiosity.
I’m guessing by the sound of his voice he is confused why someone my age could be so comfortable shopping for a stranger, particularly after receiving nothing in return.
I retort with, “Well, I should. I’ve been doing this since I turned 15.” I don’t bother to look at his face; I already know it is one of absolute shock.
“But you were just a kid then, you couldn’t have possibly enjoyed your work?” Zach says.
I sigh and finish putting away the last of the groceries. One as affluent as Zach could never understand what I went through, just to end up someone’s servant. Taking this into consideration, I turn to Zach and say, “Look, I recognize you don’t understand. With no mom or dad to care for me, I was never a child. My life doesn’t seem perfect, because it’s not.” I place the grocery bags in a crate to be washed and used for the next market run.
“Please excuse me, Mr. Addison. I have much work to do,” I say to him and walk quickly to my room.
I collapse on my bed, realizing I had broken one of the rules.
It’s a cliche at this point; you’ve heard it dozens of times. The fatal moment when some well-meaning individual asks, “so what are you in school for?”
Tell them you’re majoring in english, history, fine arts, or a myriad of other liberal arts programs and you’re inevitably hit with the painfully overused “oh- so you’re going to be a Barista then?”
The notion that some fields don’t matter or are utterly pointless is a concept that’s proliferated through societies around the world over the past few years.
With the importance of STEM subjects, an acronym for the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math, politicians and policymakers across the nation have been criticizing humanities majors.
It’s not just Governor Scott either. In 2014 President Obama himself said in one of his speeches, “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”
To be a humanities major is to face contemptuous glances and long-winded diatribes about narrow job prospects and minuscule salaries. Little do the nay-sayers know is that 74% of employers would hire a liberal arts major, and that by the age of 56, those with degrees outside of the pre-professional sphere are likely to earn $2,000 more per year.
Sadly these statistics don’t resound on a global level.
Most recently, this September Japan’s Minister of Education, Hakuban Shimomura publicly urged the nation’s universities and colleges to downsize or completely shut down their humanities and social science departments. His logic being that such subjects did little to benefit society.
So far 43 universities have complied with his request, and no longer have programs ranging from economics to pre law to social work. Our current world view is catastrophic for the long term health of society.
With vital disciplines being stifled everyday the world loses a wealth of knowledge, and incredibly talented individuals are denied access to fields they can thrive in. Instead, people are being forced into professions they don’t enjoy, negatively affecting the quality of the work being produced and their mental well being.
A world full of engineers and no therapists is as doomed to fail as a civilization with only farmers and no doctors.
Let them joke about the geography majors, critique the political science experts, and deride linguists.
Let them try to tip the equilibrium under the false gospel that the study of human quirks is of less value than the study of machines.
We’ll take the tacky Starbucks jibes with a smile, knowing that without us, the world would be a much less interesting place.
Mike Allen is empathic. He spends his days off participating in the culture he spends his work days writing about. He doesn’t just make a living working at The Roanoke Times as a features writer covering the arts; he lives the arts.
Mike Allen is a voice. He is someone members of the community look to to help them spread the word about their projects. Whether that project is a play they’re producing or the release of a novel, Allen is there.
Mike Allen is, above all things, a genius. A genius in the sense that he’s managed to make a career composed of the things he loves; a career in which every day he is able to experience the very things he gets joy out of. How many people can say that?
After graduating from Virginia Tech and eventually obtaining his masters from what was then Hollins College (now Hollins University), Allen earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and a master’s degree in creative writing. After spending three years unloading trucks after graduation, he began his livelihood at The Roanoke Times as an editorial assistant.
“I started at the very bottom,” he said.
After establishing himself at the paper, Allen eventually began to work as a police reporter. Allen had a county beat for a while and then worked for four years as a court reporter, which required him to drive to dozens of surrounding counties covering court cases.
“That was a great beat and was kind of an exhausting beat, too … there’s also a way in which I would say it was a little soul destroying because it involved being confronted every week with the absolute worst [things] one human being could do to another.”
After four years of court reporting, he was given the opportunity to cover the arts; a position he had applied for a few times in the past. This was something long awaited, for the arts was well-known territory for Allen.
Even though Allen writes for The Roanoke Times and has his own blog “Arts & Extras,” he also has a background in the field. He has participated in the local theater scene and enjoys writing fiction as well.
“I’m a writer, and I mean I don’t just write for the paper. I’m also somebody who writes fiction and poetry,” Allen said.
In 2009, Allen was a finalist for the Nebula Award from The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He also finished the second draft of his novel.
“An oversimplified way of putting it is that it’s kind of an Appalachian ghost story,” he said. He enjoys writing about science fiction, fantasy and horror.
Because of his involvement with the arts, he is able to write about them in a way that appeals to the people within the community. Allen works not as a critic of the arts, but more as an advocate.
“The thing about the arts beat of course is that, though I’m technically supposed to be a neutral party, there is an aspect to the job that is promoting what is here,” he said.
Allen often has people ask him to write about a show they’re putting on, a fundraiser they’re hosting or a musical piece they’ve composed. It’s his job to decide which of these he is going to include in his articles and blog.
“I tend to experience this beat as a cascade of press releases and story pitches that are dropped on me daily. There are some people that are more skilled at that than others. One of the challenges of the beat is to try to make sure that at least once in a while the quieter people get through.”
When asked if he had ever been bribed by someone to write about them on his blog, the room was silent. It seemed as though the question was one Allen had experience with.
“I don’t know if I would call it bribing, but I do get offered things that as a reporter I’m not supposed to accept on a frequent basis. I’m constantly having to tell people no, I can’t go have an expensive lunch with you or accept those front row tickets to a play.”
People see his coverage as an excellent source of getting seats filled for their play, or copies of their novel sold. Allen’s ability to filter out personal gain and focus solely on what he sees as art worth writing about shows a true passion for his work. It’s something Allen has been able to perfect.
After working in many different fields of journalism, Allen enjoys his days of covering the arts.
“I’m very lucky that I get to write about topics that, to me, are very personally interesting. There’s almost nothing not to like about this job.”
If you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty big on trees. This is a shot taken in the suburbs of London that makes the tree look like it’s growing parallel to the sky. The type of tree is unknown, but the leaves grow in clumps like something from Dr. Seuss book. Crazy looking tree, huh?