These stories are different because they focus on issues as they relate to specific schools and to students, but they are similar in that they require the same sorts of investigative reporting, sources and citations. “In the Dark” required the most reporting, as shown in the timeline. I think the story on the stigma attached to menstruation and feminine hygiene products probably required the least, although even they did cite some studies as well. More reporting does lend more validity, but doesn’t necessarily make a better story, if the topic isn’t relevant or clearly explained. I actually like the stig story the best, because it took guts and it even included a boy’s perspective. If I could write it for Piedmont, I would try and find out who planted the “protect the panties” supplies in women’s bathrooms at the beginning of the semester, get a quote as well as thank them.
Fungalaxy skating rink, on Athens, Georgia’s East Side, is the home of the Classic City Roller Girls, Athens’ own flat track roller derby league. Last Saturday, at their usual practice time, 9 a.m., the latest group of new skaters took their first round of assessments, to test the skills they had learned over the past six weeks of “boot camp.” Their coach Gail Skateann was there to make them laugh and cheer them on, but it would be her last practice, at least for now.
“It’s been a year and a half of me hollering orders and torturing people every Saturday,” Gail said. “This rookie group was a good group for me to go out on. Almost every single person who started the boot camp is still doing it. Being the rookie coach, you know that people are going to come and go.”
Gail Skateann, aka Christa O’Neill, has been playing roller derby since May of 2015, when she entered her own boot camp. She knows exactly what she’s putting the newbies through. So to see so many of them stick around and see it through, she says, is enough to make a rookie coach proud.
“Derby’s a difficult sport to get into,” she said. “It’s hard, it’s hard on your body. It hurts at first. Learning how to fall is never easy. Derby stance is rough. It’s lower back pain for days. I’m just so proud of everyone who’s kept with it, who come and bust their asses. It requires a lot of time to get to get good, and the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it.”
Gail competed for only one season, in 2016. That summer she began feeling sick, but she pushed through and played hard, until she played her last bout on a Saturday in August.
“I competed in a bout with appendicitis,” Gail said. “It was ready to pop. I just thought that I was sick, and I knew it was the last bout of the season, so I pushed through. I went to the doctor and they were like, you need to go to the hospital.”
Complications with the surgery took a toll on Gail’s body, and she knew that competing would be difficult for her. The old rookie coach, Hogan’s Zero, was about to retire, and Gail saw an opportunity for her to take on a new role in the league
“I decided to carry on in her footsteps,” she said. “I knew I could carry on her legacy of positivity in coaching and stay involved in derby.”
One of her first rookies, Ender’s Game, says Gail was both intimidating and encouraging.
“One Saturday shortly after I joined CCRG, I was the only rookie skater who came to practice,” Ender said. “One brand new skater, staring at Satan on skates, waiting to see if I was worth a whole practice by myself. Gail just grinned and started a series of drills targeting my weakest skills.”
At first she was embarrassed, Ender said, but that quickly faded.
“Gail was right next to me through every stumble, always with a suggestion or a compliment,” Ender said. “Gail is all about building people up—strength, skills, and confidence. If you’re there to work, she’s there to work with you.”
Now Gail’s stepping down because her work schedule is too demanding, but she says she is proud of the work she and her rookies have put in together.
“To see people coming back continuously and trying so hard is a really big deal,” she said. “I am so proud of the dedication and the effort that everyone puts in. That’s not anything that I did. But I am glad I get to be the person to see that, to inspire people to push through.”
Classic City’s B team, the Bad News B’s, will head to Taylors, South Carolina on Saturday April 21 to take on the Greenville Derby Dames at 7 p.m., while the Classic City All Stars head to Baton Rouge for back to back bouts against Assassination City (Dallas) on April 21 at noon and Baton Rouge’s own Red Stick All Stars on Sunday April 22 at 10 a.m. The Classic City Roller Girls’ next home bout is June 30 at Athens Arena.
Dianne Roberts loves college football. She can tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t, but she cannot get away from it. It’s in her blood. She says she can’t resolve the paradoxes between Southern tradition and social justice, so instead she writes about them.
“I was born in Tallahassee, where you are in football no matter what you do,” Roberts said. “You went because you went. It was like church. Football was Saturday, church was Sunday.”
In her book Tribal: College Football and the Secret Life of America Roberts addresses the social problems that go largely unspoken in discussions of the sport, as well as the issues that any thinking fan should wrestle with. In a small upstairs classroom on a Friday afternoon, Roberts addressed the student staff of the Trillium, Piedmont’s fine arts and literature journal.
“One of the jobs of the nonfiction writer is to take the familiar and make it strange,” Roberts said. “What I was trying to do writing about football was to look at it as if I’d never seen it before, while simultaneously being in the middle of it.”
What she saw was the fierce tribalism of the teams, reinforcement of outdated gender stereotypes, denial of massive health risks, and the exploitation of young unpaid players, mostly young men of color, to build fortunes for old rich white men.
“’My boy can beat your boy,’ we still almost say that!” Roberts said. “The number of college players making it to the pros is less than two percent. We are exploiting them.”
And yet Roberts, who taught at the University of Alabama and now teaches at Florida State University, said it was important to her that she teach in a place that had high-quality college football.
“I am implicated,” Roberts said. “I have to think about that. How destructive is my love of this thing that is problematic, to me, to society, and to the people who participate?”
Roberts said as a writer, she struggles with the problems, but she doesn’t try to solve them.
“Paradox is your friend,” she said. “You are going to get something out of the contradictions you see. Don’t run off from them, don’t even try to resolve them. Just write about it.”
Trillium adviser Timothy O’Keefe voiced his unease with Roberts’ philosophy of living with such unresolved paradox. If she doesn’t reconcile the tension between her beliefs and her actions, how can her readers be expected to do so?
“It’s a troubling response,” O’Keefe said. “That could be a very dangerous position to take, especially when we are not talking about football.”
And yet, as a Southern football lover, a member of the tribe, Roberts may be in an ideal position to raise these issues. Her personal struggles of conscience may effectively inspire her readers to wrestle with the darker aspects of their own entrenched traditions.
“A trick of writing is actually telling people a whole bunch of stuff that they kind of knew but they didn’t put together,” Roberts said. “And then it makes perfect sense. They’re like, ‘Why didn’t I see that?’ It’s your job to tell the story. Make them see it.”
Piedmont’s own social justice heroine, Lillian Smith, wrote about the ugly truths of the American South in a way that the white people of her day couldn’t ignore. She lived the change that she wanted to see and inspired others around her to rethink the “the way things were,” empowering them to enact change for themselves.
“You can point out paradoxes that people didn’t even realize they were operating under,” O’Keefe said. “I think it is dangerous to give yourself an out, and say, ‘The world is full of contradictions.’ Not all contradictions are equally dangerous. I’m very wary of falling back on heritage and culture as a reason not to fight too hard against a thing. Huge swaths of people accept it as just part of their culture, something that is in their blood. The idea is personal ethics and where you draw lines… depending on how much it hurts others.”
The students on the Trillium staff took away the idea that the struggle should be spoken, even if it is not yet resolved, and even if our culture takes it for granted.
“I really liked that we were talking about things that most people choose to ignore,” said senior athletic training major Katelyn Woodward. “Football is such a strange activity. It’s something that a lot of people like yet can’t explain the exact reasons, it’s almost natural and many people do it just because the rest of their ‘tribe’ does it.”
Meeting minutes are not only dry, they are specific to the organization and the members who are represented at the meeting. If someone missed the meeting, they might need to review the minutes- but they won’t need any additional explanation, and they probably won’t be intrigued. Event coverage is for everyone, about an event that should not have been missed, by anyone.
These stories required a little extra reporting on the events that lead up to and informed the events themselves. It puts them on a timeline, and in context of cultural relevance. We need to know who the speakers are and who they represent, and why we shouldn’t have missed what they had to say.
These stories are written more like features. The events are special, and they need a little more “why” with the who, where, what, when and how.
Competition and performance were definitely highlighted, especially in the first story about Olympic gold. But most of these stories had at least one other facet of the sport to pique a reader’s interest who might otherwise scan for the scores and stats before moving on. My favorite article was about the non-regulation courts, how the players themselves had to point out the problem, convincing their coaches that something was off. This is interesting to me, a defined non-fan, because it seems that somebody had to know about this before the players got out on the court and figured it out for themselves. The story about James Washington was overdramatized to a ridiculous effect. I couldn’t take it seriously once it began making comparisons to biblical prophecy. In contrast, the one about the Cuban baseball players was almost under-dramatic. I had to follow the link to find out more about the passport-eating incident. I think knowing the sport is important, but not as important as finding what will make the story interesting to those who don’t know it.
Xenet Aliu stands at the computer in her office in the Piedmont College library. Her desk has been transformed by a leggy metal contraption into a heightened surface suitable for a more ergonomic version of the sedentary, if no less stationary, nature of office work. The metaphor is striking: she is stretching her legs in all sorts of ways.
Aliu’s debut novel Brass has received critical acclaim of the sort few writers ever see, including impressive reviews in The Boston Globe, O, the Oprah Magazine and The New Yorker, to name just a few. She admits that it was a mix of discipline, serendipity and arrogance that got her here.
“I do my writing before work,” Aliu says. “If you know that you only have two hours to get your work done, you can be really efficient. It doesn’t sound very sexy, but the fact of the matter is you prioritize what’s important to you. I choose this over getting my laundry done on a regular basis.”
Aliu says the characters in Brass began taking shape in her graduate thesis over 10 years ago. After regularly producing short stories, it was her first stab at writing a longer manuscript. It was also during this time that she realized, in grad school in Wilmington, North Carolina, that she had come from a background rougher than most.
“I thought everyone’s mom worked in a factory, and that it was the most common kind of middle class existence you could have,” Aliu says. “Until I realized, already into my mid 20s when I started my MFA, I actually didn’t grow up middle class.”
Waterbury, Connecticut, Aliu’s hometown where her novel is set, is consistently rated at the bottom of the list of places to live and work in America, Aliu says. She wanted to complexify the existing narrative about her hometown and the people who live there.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of fiction that I was encountering that dealt with lower income and working-class people in a way that let them keep their dignity and still have complete lives,” Aliu says. “I wanted to say, ‘OK, what happens if you already live in a place that has been called the worst place on earth. Can you still somehow thrive? Can you still have dreams?’”
Dreams and dreamers have been on America’s collective mind lately, and Aliu’s book about working-class immigrants in a failing factory town has proven relevant in 2018.
“So much about the book is… extraordinarily timely,” author Caroline Leavitt says in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Especially when it focuses on class and culture, and what they really mean.”
The popular narrative, Aliu says, separates blue collar workers, immigrants, even women, from one another. As if they are concepts, instead of individuals with human concerns.
“She’s been writing this book off and on for a decade,” Aliu’s friend and fellow Piedmont librarian David Gibbs said. “It’s fortunate and unfortunate, that the immigration issue is so hot right now, and that there is an insightful writer to humanize them, for people who haven’t had an opportunity to consider them as people and as fellow humans.”
Two themes in her book, immigration and class disparity, happen to be what the buying public is paying attention to, Aliu says. In many cases those things just don’t align.
“I recognize that there are forces outside of my control that had to do with the selling of this book,” Aliu says. “It wasn’t just because my talent was worlds greater than other writers who haven’t sold their books yet.”
But Aliu says she has had to have a lot of confidence in her work to make it this far as a writer.
“You have to have a level of perspective on your own work,” Aliu said. “But also a little bit of arrogance. It was a result of a whole lot of discipline, a whole lot of failing, many years of rejection, and just having the grit to say, OK I’m going to try again.”
The stories here go beyond the conventional review to critique not just the art itself, but the art as it relates to the cultural concerns of a particular moment in history. Namely, now. Radio comes full circle, to the realization that the original art form had something that has been lost in progress. Pedophilia and voyeurism are evident in works of art exhibited since a year in which it was blatantly denied, but we are not banning works of literature which explore these themes, and an artist who painted his way up a little girl’s skirt was being as honest as he was deviant. That story resonated most with me. The art cannot be separated from the artist, but neither can it be separated from the society which lauds it. And it speaks louder than we would like to admit. The subjective nature of art means that we will not all see every important thing, will not want to understand the meaning. But as a collective consciousness, the art we create and consume creates us.
I would think that the first story took the most effort to write and report, since the reporter for a Detroit paper had to go to Mexico for the interview and photos. The high school story might have taken the least, since all three kids featured attend the school. I was definitely least interested in the story about the football player, but the style was engaging and I read it easily to the end. The story about Yegon was much more interesting. I enjoyed the visual of him catching buses and running barefoot, the strength of his determination. It became tedious, though, at some point. It started strong, but it lost me about three quarters of the way through. I think to be effective in feature writing, you have to find ways to keep readers’ attention. There are so many things they could be reading with their time. Don’t save all your good stuff for the end, or use it up in the first half. Unfold the profile in a way that reveals little exciting things about your subject at a time, like getting to know someone in real life.
Piedmont students who plan to pursue advanced degrees after graduation will have to watch and wait to see what happens with the future of higher education in America. When the GOP’s proposed tax bill threatened to treat graduate students’ tuition as taxable income, students all over America organized to protest what would essentially end their chances at earning their masters and doctorate degrees. For most of them, that would mean halting years of hard work, planning and research, completely upending the trajectory of their lives and their budding careers.
In addition to taxing tuition, the bill proposed to end the tax break that grad students have traditionally received due to their student loans’ higher interest rates, as well as the “lifetime learning credit” which takes 20 percent off the first $10,000 of a student’s education expenses. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a rewrite of the Higher Education Act which would cap federal student loans for graduate students and do away with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which helps students who take government jobs, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, or who serve in the Peace Corps and in nonprofit organizations to avoid a lifetime of debt. It amounts to nothing less than an all-out attack on higher education.
For those of us who will depend on these breaks to make it through grad school, it feels like a personal attack. Even though those threats were ultimately avoided in the final version of the tax bill, thanks to the students who joined forces across the country to make sure their voices were heard, the fight is far from over. Our chances at completing advanced degrees are far from safe. Important research is at stake as well. Most students who receive tuition waivers are studying science, technology, engineering and math. And if those forward-thinking students’ paths are cut short by backward politics, America will be left in the dust.
Jamaica- and Atlanta- based artist Cosmo Whyte’s exhibition The Enigma of Arrival conveys the artist’s relationship with his two homelands and their scarred history. In “Red, Green, Blue and Black” a neon sign proclaims We Process VISAS AND GREEN CARDS here. Below, inside a broken porcelain bowl featuring America’s founding fathers, a portrait of Frederick Douglass is situated in a pile of sparkling indigo-blue sand, strewn with pieces of George Washington’s face across the floor. Pieces like this one make tangible the alienation and contention of colonialism, baggage the artist carries with him between worlds.