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Featured Faculty: Tim Lockette Wins Whippoorwill Award

Tim Lockette, Visiting Instructor in the Department of English, was awarded the Whippoorwill Book Award for his novel Tell It True in summer 2022. This annual award recognizes the ten most distinguished young adult books with a rural setting and published in English during the past year.

Name: Tim Lockette

Pronouns: he/him

Hometown: Angel

Education

Bachelor of Arts from Jacksonville State University

Master’s in English Education from the University of Florida

Tell us about your book. What is it about and what inspired you to write it?

I wrote for newspapers and magazines for about 20 years, and for about half that time I was also an instructor for student journalists at the college level. Among the more difficult topics I covered was the execution of condemned inmates in state prisons in Alabama and Florida. It’s hard to fully convey the emotional impact this experience has on everyone involved. In a conversation with a former student who had covered the death penalty extensively, I came up with the idea of a book about a high school student journalist trying to cover a death penalty case. Young adult books seem to give us back the ability to be shocked by things that are indeed shocking, even after we’ve grown numb to the harshness of life.

How long have you been working at JSU? 

Since 2021. I left the newspaper business in part because I felt that this book would move me away from a traditional reporting role and more toward an advocacy role, at least on the issue of capital punishment. 

What courses are you currently teaching at JSU? Which is your favorite? 

Various first-year English composition courses, speech, and occasionally a course on young adult literature. The young adult literature course is a humbling experience. I have a master’s degree in this subject, more or less, and I’ve written two novels for kids, yet I still feel that there is quite a bit that I don’t know. My favorite class is probably the freshman writing studio course, in which students come in for 30-minute individual coaching sessions about their writing. 

What is your favorite part of your job? 

I love it when a student gets an individual coaching session and later gets an A – or even a grade of 100 – on a paper. I don’t grade the students I’m coaching, so a good grade is somewhat an objective sign that they’re doing a good job and that perhaps I helped.

What is your favorite thing about the English Department? 

On the first day of the school year, teachers stand in the hallways and help people find their way around Stone Center. In meetings, teachers sometimes stand up and give impassioned speeches about our students and the challenges they’re facing and the need to provide more support to them. There are committees working on secret plots to make EH141 more useful to students or make English composition a more engaging course. Everything is about inviting people into literature and writing.

Do you have any ongoing projects or academic activities you’d like to share? 

I’m always working on some sort of long manuscript. If I talk about a manuscript in too much detail, I may lose the desire to actually write it. 

Do you have any notable achievements you wish to share? 

Over the summer, my book Tell It True was named a winner of the Whippoorwill Award, which honors young adult novels with rural themes or characters. I don’t think I was aware that I was writing rural or small-town YA, but that’s the setting of most of my work. You write what you know. 

What do you do in your spare time? 

Did you know that you can see the Andromeda Galaxy quite clearly with just a pair of binoculars? I’m 51 years old and I’ve just learned this. There’s a nebula, quite easy to see, in Orion’s sword. I’m learning to spot things in the night sky that I’ve read about all my life. The Pleaides is a real thing, and quite beautiful. It’s not just something mentioned in Star Trek and old books. 

What advice would you give to a student of yours? 

Look at the Orion Nebula at least once before you mention it in a poem.

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