Those First Steps Toward Earning My Master’s Degree

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

It was on a late August day in 2016 when I strolled — somewhat intrepidly, but perhaps incredulously — down the walkway shown in the image below.

My destination was Stevenson Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. My purpose was to participate in the first class required to earn my Master of Arts degree in English.

On that August day in 2016, this walkway on the UIC campus was filled with people just like me — people wanted to learn and grow.

Since that class, the ENGL500 Masters Proseminar, I’ve successfully completed three writing workshops and four seminars, or courses based on literary genres or eras; plus I submitted a thesis (60 pages of a novel still-in-the works).

The outcome: I’ve earned my Master’s degree through the Department’s Program for Writers.

Today would have been the official commencement for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but the condition of the world in this place in history meant the in-person ceremony would have to be postponed. A virtual Commencement is scheduled for May 16.

In this space, I first announced in a “creative” July 2016 post my intention to earn an advanced degree.  Since then, I’ve chronicled my experience in the classroom over the semesters in several posts, including a May 2017 report on what I learned in a class focused on the works of author Vladimir Nobokov and “candid” perspectives on some classmates.

So, what did I learn?

Well, along with the subject of the required readings, I learned how to interpret literature, authors and theories and present a (somewhat) cogent thesis that later evolved into a scholarly paper. And, I learned that there are few, if any, absolute or definitive perspectives in the analysis or interpretation of literature: Your thoughts are valid, providing you can support them.

So, what’s next?

I certainly plan to continue reading fiction and non-fiction works, but now I want to explore works from other authors. For example, I’m now reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which at 695 pages requires a commitment. Also on the agenda: Completing my novel and revising short stories from my recent Fiction Writing Workshop.

So, who do I thank?

Of course the professors who prepared and led class and provided direction when I was at a crossroads, my classmates who challenged me and shared my commitment to learning, the administrators in the English Department who provided much-needed guidance, and my UIC colleagues, family and friends who offered encouragement when I felt overwhelmed. But most of all, I must thank my dear Susan, for her steadfast belief that I could, indeed, earn a Master’s degree in English.

So, what am I most proud of?

From an academic standpoint, I maintain a paper exploring modern poetry completed in 2018 for a course on modern and contemporary literature represents a high-level of achievement. Also, there’s a soft spot for this short essay on a street I called “a bastard thoroughfare,” still my favorite street in the world.

And, there’s one more thing: I only missed one class over the entire eight semesters, and that was on September 28, 2016, when I learned that afternoon that our dear mother, Sophie V. Bury had passed away.

On this Mother’s Day 2020, I’m confident our mother also is proud of what I accomplished.

 

 

 

Was Martin Luther Among the World’s First “Publicists?”

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

To provide some background into the question noted in the title to this post, let me share thoughts on the latest course I completed in my scholarly pursuit of a Master’s degree in English.

Was this guy really a “publicist?”

Since late August, I and a dozen or so colleagues focused studies on British literature from the early seventeenth-century, a period fraught with a civil war between royalist and republican forces and a half-century following one of the most divisive and explosive movements in western civilization — the Protestant Reformation.

We read primary texts (mainly poetry, epic poems and longer prose works) written by some of the English language’s foremost writers and poets like John Milton and John Donne, along with works by writers new to me.

And, there were the assigned secondary texts, scholarly essays and chapters from books and journals that center on philology and hermeneutics.  Big words, I know. Look them up if you need to.

For my first required paper, I wrote an essay that focused on the writings of the architect of the Reformation — Martin Luther. (You can read the essay here, but I must point out that this version has excellent comments and notes provided by my professor.)

My thesis centered on elements of propaganda in the crude and banal pamphlets Luther wrote and had published early in his role as a stalwart opponent of the Catholic church, which I contrasted with the more elegant, refined and — in my opinion — biased introduction to a collection of the scholar’s Latin works, a relatively short document laden with self-deprecating prose that chronicles his “Reformation breakthrough.”

The point I attempted to make: With the introduction of the printing press in around 1450, Luther and others who believed in the Reformation and its principles were able to disseminate printed messages across much of Western Europe. He started with cheap and simple pamphlets featuring with wood carved images that put the Pope and Catholicism in a negative perspective; this allowed the message to be presented to the common folk, many being illiterate. A few decades later, Luther elevated the message through his scholarly prose geared to the learned class.

In both cases, he followed a sound strategy: Craft compelling, definitive messages targeted to a specific audience and employ an effective communications medium. The same strategy is used by strategic communicators today, of course, but the medium includes broadcast and digital.

Now, back to my initial question. One of the sources I referenced for the paper is an excellent book, Printing, Propaganda and Martin Luther, by Mark U. Edwards, Jr. In this scholarly work, Edwards defined the printed works that promoted the Reformation cause as the world’s “first large-scale ‘media campaign,” and Luther as the the most prominent “publicist.”

My perspective: The Reformation was not a media campaign because the sources of the communications were not media companies; nor was Luther a publicist because the messages he and other Reformists (by the way, the Catholics issued their own anti-Luther/Reformation messages) shared in in the sixteenth century were clearly propaganda in nature.

As I maintain, a legitimate and honest media organization is predicated on ethical standards; and, the role of a publicist — which falls under modern public relations practices as media relations — is to generate positive media coverage for the client.

So, to summarize, the communications practices followed Martin Luther and others more than four centuries ago don’t equate to publicity, and those who originated the messages were not publicists. But the plans and courses of actions put into motion back then clearly have relevance today.

Okay: Your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

A “Novel” Approach to This Post

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Poetry. Drama. Short stories. Non-fiction works.

As I humbly learned, writing a novel can prove fleeting at times. Image courtesy of Academic Help.

All these forms of the written word challenge the writer of literature, commentary and criticism. But it’s the novel — that extended extended genre of fiction — that truly provides the examination and demonstration of the writer’s skill, dedication, drive and passion.

It’s with first-hand experience that I make this assertion.

Last week, I completed the “Novel Writing Workshop” course, another educational step toward earning a master’s degree in English.  Completing the course, however, did not equate to completing my novel.

Ah, the sound and connotation of those words, “my novel.” Yes, I am underway with an extended work of fiction, and I plan to complete a draft by August.

Hold me to that.

In my class, I was one of six fledgling novelists. Some already had works published, others were well into stories that spanned genres (a young woman growing up in a foreign brothel, a surreal account of spirits interacting with people), topics (detective tales, a search for a missing child) and continents (from North America to Asia.)  Me, I created a protagonist who to my knowledge has not been used before: A building engineer. From Chicago, as you’d expect.

More on my story soon.

Every class I’ve taken these past six semesters has culminated in gaining knowledge and understanding of the written word. And, all have improved my cognitive skills.

To summarize, here’s what I learned over the past 14 weeks:

  • First Person.  Writing in first person is harder than anticipated. I launched my work taking the narrator’s point of view, but the instructor and classmates wholeheartedly suggested I move to the third person omniscient. I did, and it really made a difference in the narrative.
  • Accepting Criticism.  At first I was somewhat stunned by critical comments, leading to defensive replies: “What do you mean there’s not enough conflict? Why do you find the dialogue too dense at times? So, what the heck does understanding temporal distance and free-indirect discourse have to do with writing a novel?” Every writer receives criticism; I learned to accept feedback and move on.
  • Map Out the Complete Storyline.  Before class started in early September, I drafted a two-page synopsis of sorts, but I really didn’t craft a solid plot or a conclusion. That led to a roadblock, one I’ve since overcome.
  • Point of View Characters. There can only be so many “POV” characters in a work for it to be intriguing and make sense. I learned to restrict this perspective to my protagonist and the guy who’s the villain.
  • Trust Your Instincts.  In light of the aforementioned, it will be my name below the title of the work. When the manuscript is completed, the results will be based on what I think is right.

And now, a sample. Here’s the first paragraph of the work:

“For Myron Jezmanski, here’s how it goes when everything is right, when nothing unexpected gets in the way, when he can count on the day being like the day before, and the day before that, and there’s no crap or nonsense that he has to deal with and he can close his eyes and just be thankful for what he’s built, what he has, and what he’s earned. First, the dog is still asleep when he awakes at 5:30 a.m., which means Myron doesn’t have to let him in the yard until he’s had a shower, coffee – one-half teaspoon of sugar only — and a bowl of Cheerios with fruit – dried fruit in the wintertime, fresh fruit when it’s in season. Hell, if he’s going to pay $4.99 for a pint of strawberries in January. If they’re out of Cheerios, he will eat his wife’s granola, even though he really doesn’t see the big deal in granola.”

What do you gain from these 157 words about my protagonist? Stay tuned for more.

By the way, the title of my novel is “The Way It’s Supposed to Be.”