A teacher under the skin

ASU grad Truman Peyote has goals of teaching American Indian literature at the college level


May 3, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

“Chokma, chinchoma, saholhchifoat Truman Peyote, Chikashsha saya, aamintili Tishomingo, Oklahoma (Hello, how are you, my name is Truman Peyote, I am a member of the Chikashsha Nation from Tishomingo, Oklahoma).” Truman Peyote True Peyote, who holds a B.A. from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, graduates from ASU this spring with a Master of Arts in English literature. He recently defended his applied project titled “Queer Skinned: How I Came to Be Defined by a Gene,” which explored, using literature, what it means to be an Indigenous person in white society. Download Full Image

Peyote, who holds a bachelor's from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, graduates from ASU this spring with a Master of Arts in English literature. He recently defended his applied project titled “Queer Skinned: How I Came to Be Defined by a Gene,” which explored, using literature, what it means to be an Indigenous person in white society.

Peyote has goals of teaching American Indian literature at the college level, a departure from where he saw himself as an undergraduate.

“I attended school to discover myself, and not to procure some employment, as if university was some glorified trade school. Inevitably, everyone would say, ‘Well, so you must want to teach?’ And while I may not have known exactly what I wanted to do, I knew that I did NOT want to teach.”

But then life happened. Our interview picks up 20 years after he earned his bachelor’s degree and just prior to Peyote's change of heart.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: I had spent one half of my life working a myriad of jobs, all of which seemed interesting for a couple of months. However, at the age of 40, I became a police officer and discovered that I had a true passion for helping people. After I settled into the job, I specialized in the detection and prevention of impaired driving by alcohol and drugs. My passion for the subject led me to speaking with others about the subject, and I eventually began to teach DUI/DWI classes at my department and at the local police academy. Others noticed how passionate I was about teaching, and they continually related this to me, but I routinely dismissed them.

In April of 2012, I was involved in an altercation with a suspect, and I became injured. Despite surgery and rehabilitation, that injury forced me to retire in May of 2013. And just like that, I had lost the career from which I had expected to retire at the age of 62. Instead, I was out of work at the age of 47, with no idea of where to turn. My partner Sophia, one of the greatest women I have ever met, continually pushed me to consider returning to school with the goal of becoming a college professor. I knew that I would have to jump through some serious hoops to return to school after 26 years, and I quickly discovered that I was correct; however, I was lucky enough to meet with Dr. Lee Bebout (an associate professor in the Department of English). He was encouraging, and together, we mapped out a plan for me to achieve this goal, which I refer to as my “new life.” While I believe that ASU could do a lot more to accommodate the non-traditional student, I am a firm believer in individual passion, determination and endurance.

If I had an “aha” moment, it would be embedded in the simple guidance of a mentor like Dr. Bebout. It could be found in times of quiet reassurance and positivity from a fellow student. It may be the simplest of times, appearing almost unremarkable, when a loved one exhibits their unwavering faith in your ability.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: During my time at ASU, I have focused my research on American Indian literature, especially as it pertains to the ideas of race, ethnicity and the establishment of a personal, American Indian space within the public sphere of white America. While this inquiry is superficially established within a political realm, it is also firmly embedded in our relationship with the land. As N. Scott Momaday writes, “I am interested in the way that a man looks at a given landscape and takes possession of it in his blood and brain.” In my research and writing, I attempt to discover the manner in which storytelling serves as a process where a person searches for her/his relationship to the land.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Education is a lifelong pursuit, it requires total commitment, and it does not end with a degree, or a certification. It demands a high level of dedication that requires a belief in one’s self and a passion for the fashioning of a positive impact on the world. I have also come to deeply appreciate the idea of “Survivance,” a term that Gerald Vizenor originally coined as a representation of modern American Indian life, a life that is filled with survival, endurance and a rejection of dominance.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My goal for the future is to tell beautiful stories, elucidate myths that are filled with survivance, and relate ceremonies where a person may come to discover her/his own relationship with the land and with another; for I believe that it is only within art and literature that a person is able to truly find her/his humanity.

 

The Department of English is an academic unit of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

On wheels and wings

ASU grad Cass Murphy on a well-worded mission to save the planet


May 3, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

The kind of toughness Cassidy “Cass” Murphy exhibits is best summed up in two words: roller derby. Cass Murphy Cass Murphy will complete her bachelor's in English (creative writing) this May. What’s next? “I'm going to try my hand at integrating literary and genre writing in a series of high-fantasy wildlife/resource-management novels,” she said. Download Full Image

The Okemos, Michigan, native has participated on ASU’s Derby Devils club team for two years, and she points to it as a highlight of her time here.

But her athleticism is not her only defining feature. Murphy is also a well-rounded student-citizen. She’ll be graduating this May with her bachelor’s degree in English (creative writing); minors in applied biological sciences (College of Letters and Sciences), sustainability (School of Sustainability) and parks and protected area management (College of Public Service and Community Solutions); and a certificate in environmental humanities (Department of English). She has completed internships in both the biological sciences and with a literary magazine. In her rare free time, she enjoys birding. She hopes to combine all of these disparate passions in a future conservationist-author self.

It’s clear Murphy is on a no-nonsense, well-worded mission to save the planet.

Murphy told us a bit more about her time at ASU as well as her future plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: This kind of “prior-planning” question isn't going to get a very romantic or idealized answer. I checked the box for “English Creative Writing” when I applied to ASU after sitting at the kitchen counter for a few minutes trying to think what I was good at (or as I might say after four years of education, “while trying to think of at what I was skilled”).

I realized recently that I've had the good fortune to drift into a lot of things. And though this does make it difficult to plan for, say, the future, it has allowed me to have a variety of awesome experiences.

I took a theater production crew class during my freshman year because I was curious about playwriting. The play we produced featured a deaf actor, and I ended up learning some ASL (American Sign Language). I added two of my three minors after realizing I'd already taken some of the required courses. All of them have broadened my perspective more than I could have ever predicted while trying to wring qualifications out of my college experience. And I got the fantastic opportunity to intern with Superstition Review because a professor recommended me for it.

Probably the most “aha-iest moment” has been when I decided not to graduate last spring (I had my major, two minors and certificate completed) and planned another year to study applied biological sciences. That was a genuine “this is what I want to do, and I'm doing it” moment.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I have an internship in the ASU Natural History Collections, working in the bird collection identifying and cataloguing specimens. One thing that's surprised me is how interested I am in taxonomy. Previously, I would have called it an exercise in tediousness, but that was before I knew anything.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Another "prior planning" question. I was tired of being cold all the time; during Michigan winters I used to heat my breakfast cereal in the microwave so I could stay warm that much longer.

I also found ASU's website faster to navigate than UofA's. And I got a nice scholarship, which always helps.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Explore everything, but not so much that you waste your time. You never know what you'll find unless you look, but if you look too much you could miss everything.

ASU Derby Devils in 2015

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The Secret Garden, which somehow hasn't completely lost its secret-ness after all the press it's gotten.

While that's my favorite isolated location, I'd say my favorite experience has been skating in the Homecoming Parade with the ASU Derby Devils. (Yes, we totally have a roller derby team; I've skated on it for over two years. Shameless plug.) It's such fun hearing the astonished tendrils of conversation float by after the team has passed: “Roller derby still exists?”

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to try my hand at integrating literary and genre writing in a series of high-fantasy wildlife/resource-management novels, which I'm sure will bring scorn and ridicule down upon me from every conceivable perspective.

In the short term, I'm going to travel across the country and go birding. Yes, people actually do such things for fun.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: The eventual doom we're creating for ourselves via human overpopulation, species extinction and resource depletion.

On a cheerier note, I'd also start an organization to lobby for the protection of the endangered Oxford comma. [Editor's note: Sadly for Murphy, ASU Now operates under AP style, and thus all Oxford commas have been removed from this article.]

 

The Department of English is an academic unit in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

 

 

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611