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Creative writing program makes entire world "a text to be read"

May 3, 2012

Beth Feagan with Jennifer Miskec Dr. Jennifer Miskec (l) with Beth Feagan (r)

As an undergraduate at Longwood University, Beth Feagan '10, M.A. '12, knew she found her niche when she took Professor Jennifer Miskec's class "Literature of Diversity for Young Readers." The course taught her to look for gaps in a text's narrative, reading beyond the appreciatory model taught in high school to find greater meaning.

"I began to see that being a children's literature scholar was a bit like being a detective," said Feagan, who is now a Longwood graduate student in English with a concentration in creative writing. "You have to see what others don't see and put together clues to get at the hidden answers. It's addictive. Once you begin to think critically in this way, the entire world is a text to be read."

In addition to being a full-time graduate student at Longwood, Feagan is pursuing a second master's degree in children's literature from Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. A nontraditional student, Feagan commutes to campus each day from her home an hour away. She also works while caring for her teenage son, pets and an old farmhouse. Balancing multiple priorities didn't stop her from accepting a Longwood graduate assistantship that helps fund her education.

As a graduate assistant for Miskec, Feagan assists with research on early readers and guest lectures in literature classes. She also helps grade papers and assignments while keeping regular office hours. Feagan has also been able to build on her scholarly interests by presenting papers at four different academic conferences.

Every September, Feagan co-hosts the annual campus "Banned Book Reading," an event that celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.

"Students, staff, faculty and children gather in Greenwood [Library] Atrium and read banned books as part of National Banned Books Week," Feagan said. "The event gets people thinking and talking about the dangers of book banning, and often people are completely surprised and find it hard to believe that books are banned here in America."

Long a fan of literature and reading, Feagan worked in public libraries for years before returning to school to complete her bachelor's degree.

"When I came to Longwood, I found out my passion for books was even more fulfilled in the university classroom," she said. "In the library, I was happy to talk about books, but it wasn't the biggest part of my job. At Longwood, that's what we do all the time, and teaching has become the most exciting way to continue to have these stimulating conversations."

Feagan's goal is to complete her master's degrees and continue on to earn a doctorate in children's literature, with the hope of teaching both critical and creative classes in a university setting. She's already well on her way to accomplishing that goal.