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March 15, 2013
CONTACT: K. E. Schwab

Professors expand view of storytelling

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Like people, no story is an island. This is a maxim two Slippery Rock University English professors clearly understand since they served as editors and contributing authors to a new book on storytelling titled "Inhabited by Stories: Critical Essays on Tales Retold."

Nancy Barta-Smith and Danette DiMarco, SRU Professors of English, have reinterpreted the way in which literary critics discuss adaptation.

DIMARCOThe conventional wisdom is stories derive meaning over time and through relationship to other stories and texts, in an interdependent process referred to by academics as intertextuality. Historically, many people respond to adaptations of original stories or texts in a negative way, because they believe the original version to be the best.

"Rather than thinking in terms of master text and derivative tale, we emphasize how stories continue to live in us and influence readers and writers - influencing the experience of reading and writing," Barta-Smith said. "They create depth to a story for informed readers who hear the echoes of the intertextual references resonate. Sometimes stories are so powerful that they come to inhabit a writer and continue to live in her body of literary work."

Barta-Smith contributed the essay "On the Edge Between Hope and Despair: Lear as Guide and Consolation in the Life and Work of Wendell Berry." DiMarco wrote the chapter "Blakean Intertexts in The Year of the Flood."

BARTA-SMITHBarta-Smith essay focuses on Wendell Berry's writings using Shakespeare's "King Lear." Berry is an American author, cultural critic and farmer. Barta-Smith wrote about Berry's use of the scene in which Gloucester is saved from throwing himself off a cliff by Edgar, as an intertexual reference across several of his essays, fiction and poems, and as an image of the role of literature itself as a guide and consolation.

DiMarco said her chapter examines the Canadian author Margaret Atwood's book "The Year of the Flood." DiMarco analyzed the way Atwood uses the work of British writer William Blake to investigate uses of ecological imagination in contemporary culture.

The professors developed the book prospectus and began seeking a publisher during their spring semester 2010 sabbatical. They selected 16 additional essays for publication, winnowing down their selection from more than 50 submissions in response to their call for proposals. They completed two rounds of extended comments to contributors to help writers revise their essays in ways conducive to the framework of the book.

"We co-wrote the book introduction and six section introductions," Barta-Smith said. "We also had the help of a wonderfully able graduate student from our program - Jan Clark, who did an internship with us. We worked daily in person over two summers and often on Skype for several months. We laughed a lot and worked hard."

The duo said the story of their collaboration could be a book in and of itself.

"We have been planning courses that we both teach together for years and have written articles as well," Barta-Smith said. "We both believe in the spirit of collaboration and willingly share materials enriching our courses and our scholarship. Besides, I have an identical twin sister who moved to France. Dr. DiMarco is my 'alter' alter ego."

The professors said they wrote the book for other scholars and that the book could be used as a textbook to provide examples of intertextual criticism.

DiMarco said she has designed a course for SRU's curriculum called "Literary Pirates: Appropriation and Adaptation" which will be taught again in the fall. The book could also be used in Barta-Smith's "Literature Seminar" scheduled for spring 2014. The seminar will focus on Atwood and Berry.

"We think the volume could be an appropriate supplementary text and vehicle for course design in other courses on adaption, appropriation or why some stories develop an extended afterlife," DiMarco said.

The book cover shows the White Cliffs of Dover on the English coastline and came from Duncan Pepper, a retired professor of geosciences from Bristol, England.

"We discovered a photograph of the Cliffs of Dover for the cover of the volume, but the publisher did not want to use it since it was available through common licensing on the Internet, DiMarco said. "We contacted Dr. Pepper and found a photograph we liked even better, and he gave us permission to use it on the cover. He even offered to have friends go to Dover and take another photo if necessary. The world is a much friendlier place than we sometimes realize."

Barta-Smith, who joined SRU in 1995, teaches "Literary Theory," "Literature of the Environment" and "Interpreting Literature." In 2006, she received the President's Award for Excellence in Creative and Scholarly Achievement.

Her research findings have been published in "International Philosophical Quarterly," "Forging Radical Alliance" and "Literature, Writing and the Natural World."

DiMarco, the 2009 recipient of SRU's President's Award for Scholarly and Creative Achievement, teaches "World Literature," "British Literature II," "Literature of the Environment" and "College Writing."

Her scholarly work has published essays in "College Literature," "Mosaic," "Papers on Language and Literature" and "What Really Works!" She has an upcoming essay on visual pedagogy in a volume by McFarland Press on teaching American fiction in the 21st Century. She joined SRU in 1995.

The professors' book, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, is available at

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