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Authored by Undergrads: Peer-reviewed journal publishes UA student essays

Dr. Jolene Hubbs
Dr. Jolene Hubbs

The vision of Dr. Jolene Hubbs’ 400-level writing course is to take students from all kinds of majors, and, in 15 weeks, give them a pretty good shot at being published.

“Students always tell me that they’ve gotten good at ‘fluff’ and filling the pages,” Hubbs said. “But my goal has been to get them to purge the fluff because no matter what they go on to do, even if it’s not writing literary criticism, their readers will want clear, concise writing.”

Knowing that models are effective tools for students, Hubbs, a professor in the Department of American Studies, sought out a journal that the students could use as a guideline for their work. The short, 1,100-word essays from the peer-reviewed Explicator fit the scope of her class perfectly. All of the essays are close readings, which analyze a canonized text by looking at the details of the text itself.

In just five semesters, seven of her students have gone on to publish their own close readings in the very journal they modeled after.

At first, the students struggled to adapt to the new, shorter style. Will Flowers, the most recent student to have an essay accepted for publication by The Explicator, said that he received a D on the first of his three essays because he didn’t have a handle on how to write in the new format.

“I totally bombed it,” Flowers said. “And I don’t bomb things very often, but she wanted us to read small and write small—and that was something that I’d never really done. I’d only written papers for length.”

But for the second paper, Flowers buckled down.

“I’d write a draft of the paper, and I was consistently 200 or 300 words over the limit,” Flowers said. “So I’d have to rework it and cut it back. I learned to read closer, and that definitely helped my writing—both for the course and for my business classes.”

Flowers’ second essay, written about Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston, was in response to one of the articles he had read in class—a close reading by Shahara’tova Dente, one of Hubbs’ former students, who had published the essay in The Explicator years earlier. Flowers expanded on Dente’s analysis, and the resulting essay was accepted for publication earlier this year.

“Nearly half of our course reader is made of my former students’ work,” Hubbs said, “and some day it will be filled entirely with University of Alabama essays.”