Graduate English Faculty


The graduate English faculty at Sam Houston State University are teachers, scholars, and creative writers with a broad range of accomplishments, interests, and training in literature, language, and writing disciplines:

ROBERT ADAMS (PhD University of Virginia), Professor, teaches graduate classes in research and bibliography, Early and Middle English literature, the Renaissance, and eighteenth-century British literature. An accomplished textual scholar and editor, Professor Adams has produced electronic variorum editions of William Langland’s Piers Plowman and a translation of Raymond Lull’s The Book of the Order of Chivalry. His publications include a recent book on Piers Plowman, Langland and the Rokele Family (Four Courts Press, 2013) and numerous articles on Langland, Chaucer, medieval drama, and Browning. Dr. Adams is former Director of the International Piers Plowman Society. 

KIMBERLY BELL (PhD Georgia State University), Professor and Dean of the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College, teaches graduate classes in Early and Middle English languages and literature, history of the English language, and the classical tradition. Her research interests are in epic and romance, genre and game theory, and manuscript study. She has published articles and book chapters on medieval romance, hagiography, and history, and Homeric and Virgilian epic. She has also co-edited two collections of essays, The Texts and Contexts of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 108: The Shaping of English Vernacular Narrative (Brill Academic Publishers, 2011) and Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). She is currently working on a book (Framed Games: Metaliterary Game Strategies in Middle English Narrative) and is finishing a new transcription of the Havelok fragments. Professor Bell is the 2010 recipient of the University’s Excellence in Teaching Award. 

TRACY BILSING (PhD Texas A & M University), Associate Professor, teaches graduate courses in 20th-century British literature and the modern novel. Professor Bilsing, whose scholarly and pedagogical interests include Kipling, Woolf, Bowen, Mansfield, Lawrence, and other World War I-era British authors, is currently researching Mary Butts and the home front culture of England during the War. She has published on a range of topics (literary and visual) with war as a backdrop: the use of WWII airplane nose art as propaganda; the break in the masculine community because of WWI in Lawrence’s short fiction; and Kipling’s deeply fractured sentiments about the Great War, the impassable divide between his jingoistic public propaganda and the private guilt and grief he felt at the loss of his only son in the War. 

BRIAN D. BLACKBURNE (PhD University of Central Florida), Assistant Professor, teaches graduate courses in college composition theory and pedagogy as well as in technical and professional writing. As both instructor and professional writer, Dr. Blackburne has worked simultaneously in academia and industry since 2000. His experiences as a professional writer have involved web design, usability studies, process documentation, product development, marketing, and digital-media production. Similarly, Professor Blackburne’s research interests span a broad range, which currently includes pedagogy in traditional and online writing courses, the effects of style on everyday documentation, and issues of professionalization in students’ writings. He presented scholarly work at the 2012 annual meeting of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, where he discussed the issues of professionalization and their implications both in the classroom and within the broader university community. Most recently, he received the award for Departmental Outstanding Online Teaching from the Sam Houston State University College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

BILL BRIDGES (PhD Florida State University), Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of English. Formerly English Department Head at New Mexico State University, Dr. Bridges served as Chair of English at Sam Houston State University for ten years before returning to full-time teaching in Fall 2009. He teaches the practicum required of all graduate assistants and classes in rhetoric and composition and 19th-century American literature. With his colleague Ronald F. Lunsford (UNC-Charlotte), he is co-author of The Longwood Guide to Writing, now in its fourth edition.

PAUL CHILD (PhD University of Notre Dame), Professor, teaches graduate classes in Restoration and 18th-century British literature, the early English novel, and research and bibliography. He has published on Jonathan Swift, the Scots physician George Cheyne, and the teaching of medical literature and has presented conference papers on 18th-century literature and the social history of medicine. In 2007, Professor Child was an NEH Fellow at the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. He is Director of Graduate Studies in English at Sam Houston State University. 

LEE COURTNEY (PhD Emory University), Professor, specializes in fiction of the 1880s and 1890s and teaches graduate classes in Victorian and early 20th-century British literature. An authority on the late Victorian/Edwardian novelist and essayist George Gissing, he holds, privately, that all of the past one hundred years were “Post-Edwardian.” Professor Courtney provides a valuable service to the English Graduate Program as the administrator of the written comprehensive examinations.

MICHAEL DEMSON (PhD The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York), Assistant Professor, teaches British, European, and transatlantic Romanticism, literary theory and criticism, print and visual culture, and world literature. He is particularly interested in the Shelleys and the Godwins, and currently his principal area of research is transatlantic agrarian politics of the 1790s. Dr. Demson has published articles in Romanticism, European Romantic Review, and the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, as well as in collections of essays, and has published a non-fiction graphic novel, Masks of Anarchy (Verso Publishing, 2013). He was the recipient of a prestigious ACLS Fellowship Award for the 2014-2015 academic year. When not teaching or researching, he likes to walk his infuriating puppy with his wife and daughter. 

ROBERT DONAHOO (PhD Duke University), Professor, teaches fiction and poetry of the 20th-century American South, the novel, American drama, and research and bibliography. A specialist in the works of Flannery O’Connor, Professor Donahoo served for five years as the president of the Flannery O’Connor Society after editing Cheers! The Newsletter of the Flannery O’Connor Society. In the summer of 2007 he was a Fellow in the NEH Summer Institute, “Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor,” and during the summer of 2014 he co-directed an NEH Summer Institute on O’Connor hosted by Georgia College. Dr. Donahoo has published scholarly articles on O’Connor, Tolstoy, Horton Foote, postmodern American science fiction, and Cyberpunk and has several creative works in print. With Avis Hewitt of Grand Valley State University, he is coeditor of a collection of essays, Flannery O’Connor in the Age of Terrorism: Essays on Violence and Grace (University of Tennessee Press, 2010). Professor Donahoo has contributed some two dozen reviews to academic journals ranging from American Literature to The South Central Review, and he has a long record of service in professional academic organizations, including terms as President of the South Central College English Association and President of the Texas College English Association. He also served for three years as Director of Graduate Studies in English at Sam Houston State University. 

DIANE DOWDEY (PhD University of Wisconsin-Madison), Associate Professor, teaches graduate classes in multicultural literature, 19th-century American literature, and 20th-/21st-century British literature and has a wide array of research interests, including writing center theory and administration, composition pedagogy, American literature about the Civil War, and gender issues. Professor Dowdey has published two freshman composition textbooks and articles about writing across the curriculum and the rhetoric of science in such scholarly publications as the Journal of Technical Writing and has presented dozens of academic papers. She has also published creative work and translation. Dr. Dowdey formerly directed the Freshman English Program at the University and the Sam Houston State University Writing Center.

JULIE HALL (PhD University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Professor, teaches graduate classes in American literature, women’s literature, and the novel. Her fields of teaching and research interest are 19th-century American literature, transatlantic Romanticism, and Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  She currently serves as Assistant Editor of Nathaniel Hawthorne Review. An authority on Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, Professor Hall guest-edited a special issue of Nathaniel Hawthorne Review on Sophia Hawthorne in Fall 2011. She co-edited Reinventing the Peabody Sisters, which appeared in 2006 (University of Iowa Press), and has published articles in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, and other books and collections. 

HELENA HALMARI (PhD University of Southern California), Professor and past Chair of the Department of English, teaches graduate courses in English linguistics and the history and development of the English language. Professor Halmari, whose research interests include language contact phenomena, discourse analysis, and syntax, is the author of Government and Codeswitching: Explaining American Finnish (1997), the co-editor (with Tuija Virtanen) of Persuasion across Genres: A Linguistic Approach (2005), and the translator (with Scott Kaukonen) of the Finnish novel Pet Shop Girls, by Anja Snellman. She has published some forty articles in journals like Linguistics, Applied Linguistics, and Journal of Pragmatics, as well as in edited volumes. In addition to her PhD, she holds an MA in linguistics, an MA in English composition, a Master’s of Philosophy, and a Master’s of Social Science. Professor Halmari has taught in the linguistics departments at the University of California-San Diego, Rice University, the University of Florida, and Åbo Akademi University, Finland. The editor-in-chief of the Journal of Finnish Studies, she is also an invited member of the Kalevala Society, devoted to researching and disseminating knowledge about the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, and to preserving Finnish cultural heritage.

DARCI HILL (PhD Texas Women’s University), Professor, teaches graduate classes in the Renaissance, the classical tradition, and rhetoric. A specialist in the philosophy and history of rhetoric and in 17th-century British literature, with an emphasis in the metaphysical poets, Dr. Hill also has research and teaching interests in medieval literature, the Oxford Inklings, the intersections of faith and reason in literature, and the hero in literature. Her critical book, All Homer’s Children: Ten Authors in the Heroic Tradition, is under contract with Edwin Mellon Press. Aside from presentations at professional academic conferences, Dr. Hill frequently gives invited lectures on her various research interests for community cultural groups and weekend seminars. She has also directed literary tours for students and community members to England and, in the summer of 2009, led a group to Italy to study Dante. Not least among her accomplishments, Dr. Hill has been a finalist for the University Excellence in Teaching Award eight times in her twenty years at Sam Houston State. 

SCOTT KAUKONEN (PhD University of Missouri-Columbia), Associate Professor and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Sam Houston State University, teaches graduate fiction writing workshops, the novel, narrative theory, and the editing and publishing practicum. His debut collection of short stories, Ordination, received the 2004 Ohio State University Prize for Short Fiction and was published by OSU Press in 2005. A short story from that collection, “Punnett’s Squares,” won the 2004 Nelson Algren Prize from the Chicago Tribune and was recently republished by the Tribune as part of its Printers Row Journal fiction series. His fiction has appeared in the Cincinnati Review, Pleiades, the Normal School, Barrelhouse, Louisiana Literature, Third Coast, and elsewhere. Dr. Kaukonen recently completed his first novel, The Martyrdom of Katie Deeds. With Helena Halmari, he translated from the Finnish Anja Snellman’s novel, Pet Shop Girls (Ice Cold Crime, 2013). He is a former AWP/Prague Summer Fellow in Fiction and a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Prose.

DOUGLAS KRIENKE (PhD University of Toledo), Professor, is Associate Chair of the Department of English. A specialist in Tudor/Stuart drama and Shakespeare, he teaches graduate courses in the Renaissance and the classical tradition. Professor Krienke, who is compiling an anthology of Tudor/Stuart drama, has also edited Man and the State, a text used by the Ethics in Western Civilization & American Traditions (EWCAT) cohort at the University. Recipient of the Sam Houston State Excellence in Teaching Award in 1990, he was honored with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences College-Wide Teaching Achievement Award in the fall of 2009; the following year, he received the CHSS College-Wide Service Achievement Award.

NICK LANTZ (MFA University of Wisconsin-Madison), Assistant Professor, teaches graduate poetry workshops, poetic theory and prosody, and the editing and publishing practicum. Professor Lantz is the author of two recent collections of poetry. His first, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (Graywolf Press, 2010), won the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and the Larry Levis Reading Prize. His second collection, The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), was selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky for the Felix Pollak Prize. His third book, How to Dance as the Roof Caves In, was published in March 2014 (Graywolf Press). Professor Lantz has received fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and his work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Poetry Daily, Blackbird, jubilat, and FIELD and has been featured on the nationally syndicated radio program The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. He has taught creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gettysburg College, Franklin & Marshall College, Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop, and Queens University’s Low-Residency MFA Program.

AUDREY MURFIN (PhD State University of New York at Binghamton), Assistant Professor, researches and teaches in the areas of Victorian literature, the history of the novel, Gothic literature, and 18th-century literature. She is particularly interested in realism and its challengers and the intersections between literary and popular culture. These interests have informed publications and conference papers on Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charlotte Brontë. Her most recent work is on the Pacific writings of Robert Louis Stevenson. Dr. Murfin was awarded a generous 2014-2015 Enhancement Research Grant for work with Stevenson. 

CARROLL FERGUSON NARDONE (PhD New Mexico State University), Associate Professor and Interim Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, teaches graduate classes in technical/professional writing and rhetoric. Professor Nardone’s ongoing archival project in early American scientific texts uses cultural and critical theories to analyze the means through which texts develop and transmit disciplinary knowledge. She has published in the areas of critical thinking and pedagogy; visual rhetoric; writing assessment across the disciplines; and hybrid writing practices. Dr. Nardone is also co-author of the textbook, Technical Communication as Problem Solving, and has presented scholarly work at numerous national and international conferences. Her current collaborative project with Dr. Tracy Bilsing theorizes the differences in physical and digital spaces as sites for the social construction of knowledge.  Additionally, she directs the Writing in the Disciplines initiative at Sam Houston State University.

JASON M. PAYTON (PhD University of Maryland), Assistant Professor, joined the faculty at Sam Houston State University in 2013. His areas of scholarly interest include early American literature to 1865, Atlantic Studies, the history of piracy, and sea-fiction. He is currently at work on a book on the literatures of piracy in the early modern Atlantic world and has had his scholarship published in journals such as the New England Quarterly and Early American Literature.

DEBORAH PHELPS (PhD University of Delaware), Professor, Professor, specializes in 19th-century British writers and women’s literature, along with creative writing. She has published on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, issues of pedagogy and gender in technical writing, hiring and curriculum shifts in the profession, and women in academe. Professor Phelps is also the author of Deep East, a collection of poems that won the Small Poetry Press 2001 Select Poets Series chapbook award. A new chapbook, Rodeo Perfume, will appear in 2014. Her creative work has appeared in numerous journals and reviews, including Southern Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Plainsongs, and Louisiana Literature. Professor Phelps has presented both scholarly papers and creative work at some twenty conferences. 

PAUL RUFFIN (PhD Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi), Distinguished Professor and Sam Houston State University Writer in Residence, teaches fiction and poetry writing and the editing and publishing practicum at SHSU. Professor Ruffin, who founded and edits The Texas Review and directs Texas Review Press, has published over a hundred pieces of fiction, ninety essays, and a thousand poems. He is the author of two novels; four collections of familiar essays, the latest, Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur, released by the University of South Carolina Press in 2011; seven collections of poetry, the latest, Paul Ruffin: New and Selected Poems, released by TCU Press in 2010; and four collections of short fiction, the latest of which, Jésus dans le brouillard, was published by 13E Note Editions in French translation in Paris in 2012. His fifth collection of short stories, Living in a Christ-Haunted Land, was published by Louisiana Literature Press (Southeastern Louisiana University Press) in 2013. Professor Ruffin has also edited several anthologies and co-edited scholarly books on John Steinbeck and William Goyen. He writes a weekly column, “Ruffin-It,” which appears in the Huntsville Item and Conroe Courier Online, and he has done numerous feature stories, such as pieces on Katrina’s impact on the Mississippi Coast and New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, drug trafficking along the Rio Grande, and high-profile executions. His work has been featured on National Public Radio, and he has read or conducted workshops on over a hundred university and college campuses in this country and in England. A past recipient of the Sam Houston State University Excellence in Research Award, Professor Ruffin was appointed by the State Legislature as Texas State Poet Laureate from 2009-2010. His website is, and his new blog site is 

REUBEN SÁNCHEZ (PhD Cornell University), Senior Lecturer, has taught graduate courses in Milton, Donne, the metaphysical poets, 17th-century poetry, Shakespeare, and children’s literature.  He has taught at Fresno State, Texas A&M, New Mexico State, and other universities. His areas of expertise are 17th-century literature, Milton, Shakespeare, children’s literature, and Latina/Latino literature. He has published Typology and Iconography in Donne, Herbert, and Milton: Fashioning the Self after Jeremiah (Palgrave Macmillan), and Persona and Decorum in Milton’s Prose (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press). He has also published essays in Milton Studies, Explorations in Renaissance Culture, Studies in American Humor, Children’s Literature, and other journals. 

APRIL SHEMAK (PhD University of Maryland), Associate Professor, teaches graduate courses in postcolonial literature, Caribbean literature, and women’s literature. In addition to these areas, her teaching and research interests include U.S. ethnic literatures, feminist theory, and refugee discourses. She has published articles on such writers as Edwidge Danticat, Pauline Melville, and Cristina Garcia in Modern Fiction Studies, Textual Practice, and Postcolonial Text. Professor Shemak was a recipient of a Faculty Research Grant in 2006 and two Enhancement Grants for Professional Development, in 2007 and 2008. Her first book, Asylum Speakers: Caribbean Refugees and Testimonial Discourse, was published in December 2010 by Fordham University Press. This work examines the relationship between refugees and testimonial narratives in Caribbean literature and U.S. public discourse. Dr. Shemak is currently at work on a second book, which examines the cultural discourses surrounding humanitarianism in the Caribbean. Her essay “Re-membering Hispaniola: Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones,” originally published in Modern Fiction Studies, was selected for inclusion in the volume Postcolonial Literary Studies: the First Thirty Years (Johns Hopkins University Press). She also recently published an essay in the MLA volume Teaching Anglophone Caribbean Literature. She is currently an associate editor of the forthcoming Blackwell Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies. In addition to her PhD, Dr. Shemak holds a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies. 

KANDI TAYEBI (PhD University of Denver), Professor, teaches graduate classes in literary theory and 19th-century British literature. An authority on the Romantic poet Charlotte Smith, Professor Tayebi has written and published articles on an array of literary and pedagogical topics, including Smith, Margaret Atwood, environmental literature, computers in the classroom, and assessment methods for students with disabilities; she has also published creative non-fiction in The Georgia Review. She has presented some thirty papers at regional, national, and international scholarly conferences and has received over $4,000,000 in federal grants. Professor Tayebi, whose research interests include not only her teaching fields but also women’s and ecological literature, was the feature editor for a volume of the Academic Exchange Quarterly on teaching environmental literature. She formerly directed the Graduate Studies Program in English and was Chair of the Sam Houston State University Faculty Senate. Dr. Tayebi served as Dean of Graduate Studies and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Sam Houston State University from 2009 to 2015.

LINDA J. WEBSTER (PhD Texas A & M University), Professor, teaches graduate courses in women’s, multicultural, and 20th-21st-century American literatures. A specialist in modern Southern women writers, with particular interests in feminist spirituality, Professor Webster has published extensively and presented numerous scholarly papers on the contemporary novelist Lee Smith, with whom she is closely acquainted. Her book on Smith, Dancing in the Flames: Spiritual Journey in the Novels of Lee Smith, was published by McFarland in 2009. Professor Webster has also published articles on Kate Chopin and Mark Twain and has presented conference papers on such writers as Steinbeck, Woolf, and Hurston. Her personal interview with Lee Smith appears in the Fall 2009 issue of The Southern Quarterly, and a chapter on Smith will appear in the forthcoming collection Writers of the Rough South, (University Press of Mississippi).

GENE YOUNG (PhD University of Tennessee), Professor of English and past Dean of the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College, teaches graduate courses in early, 19th-century, and 20th-century American literature. He has scholarly and pedagogical interests in literature of the American Southwest and the fiction of Cormac McCarthy. A past editor of the CEA Critic and the CEA Forum, Professor Young has published scholarly articles on William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, American folklore, technical writing, and rhetoric and composition and has presented numerous papers at national, state, and regional academic conferences. Formerly Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages at Sam Houston State University and, before that, of the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Philosophy at Morehead State University, Dr. Young has also served as President of the American Studies Association of Texas, President of the Texas Association of Departments of English, and a member of the Board of Directors of the College English Association. For the past several years, he has served on various national and statewide committees and task forces examining testing and curriculum standards in secondary and post-secondary education. 



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