In episode 11 of Knights Do That, we speak with Martha Brenckle, a writing and rhetoric professor in the College of Arts and Humanities. Brenckle shares her expertise and love for writing, her involvement within the Orlando arts community, her role as treasurer for the LGBTQ+ History Museum of Central Florida and more.
Produced by UCF, the podcast highlights students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni who do incredible things on campus, in the community and around the globe.
Martha Brenckle: I think we have to keep in mind that diversity and inclusion are very different because diversity is, do we have all of these people here and how many and percentages. But inclusion isn’t just having people here and tolerating them, it’s letting them into your life and then them letting you into yours. And so inclusion is really messy and it’s a lot harder to do. So I often think of that inclusion as being very aspirational. We are working to have this, and I think UCF does a really good job at that constant drive to make it better.
Alex Cumming: As someone who loves everything about Orlando, I am really excited to share my conversation with UCF Writing and Rhetoric Professor Martha Brenckle with you all. Martha is deeply involved with the Orlando community as the treasurer for the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida, one of the founding members of UCF Pride Faculty and Staff Association, and was a 2021 Orlando Poet Laureate finalist.
In this episode, Martha shares how writing and rhetoric can create meaningful change, what it meant to be in Orlando Poet Laureate finalist, and how others can get involved in the Orlando arts community and learn about the LGBTQ+ history right here in Orlando. Let’s get into it.
You’re one of the founding members of UCF’s Pride Faculty and Staff Association and an active member with LGBTQ+ organizations, such as Equality Florida, here in the Central Florida community.
Can you talk about what drives you to be so active in the LGBTQ+ community? Both on and off campus?
Martha Brenckle: Working for equity is still very important to me because a lot of people still think that because same-sex marriage is legal everything’s fine. But there’s still an awful lot of problems with workplace rights and adoption rights and things I found out, like if you had a child and married a man, he automatically can make legal decisions for your child as a stepfather. But my wife can’t do that with my children, which really surprised me. So we have lots of work to do. That’s part of it.
And I think too, a lot of it’s been trying to convince people who aren’t in our community, that we’re not evil. That we’re people and we have the same problems they do, and the same joys that they do. And we have so much to add to the community, so marginalizing us is a big mistake. So that’s probably the most important part to me.
Alex Cumming: UCF has such a diverse and inclusive campus and it’s so important to keep letting people know, keeping them aware of how UCF works to ensure that everybody feels comfortable here on campus.
Martha Brenckle: Yeah, it is a lot of work. But I think we have to keep in mind that diversity and inclusion are very different because diversity is the numbers game that we have to play, it’s do we have all of these people here and how many and percentages. But inclusion isn’t just having people here and tolerating them, it’s letting them into your life and then them letting you into yours. And so inclusion is really messy and it’s a lot harder to do. So I often think of that inclusion as being very aspirational. We are working to have this, and I think UCF does a really good job at that constant drive to make it better.
Alex Cumming: That speaks to an interesting point that you can’t force anything, it has to be a genuine growth, a genuine connection, a natural desire to want to understand and to want to have more ideas around you. You know you can’t push that.
Martha Brenckle: No, you can’t.
Alex Cumming: Which is such the catch-22 of it all.
Martha Brenckle: Yeah, it really is.
Alex Cumming: So you’re the treasurer for the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida. For those who don’t know what that is, can you share what the museum is and how people can access it?
Martha Brenckle: It’s been here in Central Florida, I think for 15 years now. It started as a table at a Pride Parade and it has since grown. We have an online virtual museum. It started with people just donating artifacts to us, photographs from events, all kinds of different documents. Then we started collecting oral histories. So we have oral histories of a lot of interesting people, like Billy Manes, who wrote for the Watermark for years and years. Patty Sheen, who was our first gay council person in the city of Orlando, and we have interviews with her. So it’s really a place when you go in there that you can get a real sense of what it was like probably from the ’70s till now about what life was like for the LGBTQ community. And we’re still adding to it.
At this point, all of our archives that are fragile and by that, I mean anything that’s paper, photographs, newsletters, all these newspapers. is now going to be archived at UCF. They have taken us on in their Special Collections. We’re so excited about this. And we’re working with David Benjamin in the archives and all of it will be searchable on the worldwide web and in all the library systems. So if somebody is doing research and we have materials, they will be able to either come here and look at the originals or look at a digitize version. And that’s something that’s been really preying on us because unless we put that out there, people [don’t] know what we had and you can’t use it for research. You can’t use it for your own personal growth. I mean, it just doesn’t work.
Alex Cumming: That’s very cool. As Orlando has grown into this massive very accepting, open, progressive-thinking city that it has become over the many decades, UCF has been here for that growth.
Martha Brenckle: Yes.
Alex Cumming: UCF has been here for that development. So I think it’s very important for UCF to house the archives for this because as long as Orlando has been growing into this major metropolitan, accepting, forward-thinking city that it is, UCF has been right there.
Martha Brenckle: It’s been there. It’s been a good partner, what I think. It’s been a very good partner to us at the museum. We have had history MA students that have been our interns who have just done so much good work for us. We have two faculty members from the history department that are on our board. And that sort of helped bring us into, I hate to say, a real museum. But honestly, when it first started we didn’t know how to archive things. We didn’t know how to label things. We didn’t know how to tag photographs. We didn’t know how to do any of that. So we’ve worked really heavily with UCF and it’s been wonderful.
Alex Cumming: Yeah. It sounds it — again, UCF is so important to the city and the history of it all — [like[ the two can’t be separated from one another; from what the university has meant to Orlando and Orlando has meant to the university, how they call it Orlando’s hometown team.
Martha Brenckle: I should give you the website in case anybody wants to go and look at what we have. It’s FloridaLGBTQMuseum, all one word, .org (FloridaLGBTQMuseum.org].
Alex Cumming: Alright. So Pride Month is celebrated in June, LGBT History Month is recognized in October. Sometimes the two observances can get confused. Could you briefly explain the significance of LGBT History Month? And do you have any suggestions for how to celebrate or honor the month?
Martha Brenckle: Well, part of the reason that we collect this history is because you don’t learn it in school. And you don’t learn it from your family. I mean, both of my parents were straight, go figure. And so, I never learned any of this from them and it’s often been hidden away because people were afraid. And so I think it’s very, very important to start recognizing that we have a history and we have famous people who were gay, who made an impact on all of our lives locally and nationally and worldwide. And I think it’s important to raise awareness of that. And so having a month where we can do different things nationally and also locally to make people more aware of queer history is very important.
Alex Cumming: Yes, again, it’s something that I don’t want to ever see put on a back burner. To put [it] as something that has to be taken off the shelf and brought down to be aware of it fully, to recognize it, to understand it. To touch on a previous point to have it happen in a natural and honest way that it’s not just being shoved down your throat.
Martha Brenckle: So when you’re doing Orlando history, there may be something from someone, from our community that was involved in a particular event. So that’s there too. We don’t want to remain separate, like there’s this separate history, we really want to integrate right in there with all the other history. I mean, there’s a student group at UCF and we have all of their history as well. And that should be in our library, I think. So if anybody wants to look that group up and see what they’ve done, they can.
Alex Cumming: It’s important to have an archive, to be in the library going forward, so that at any moment, somebody can look back and reflect on the growth, the way that UCF has played into it and the notable individual who come from UCF to promote the ideology. It’s all very important.
Martha Brenckle: Very.
Alex Cumming: So Martha, you are writing and rhetoric professor. How did your interest in this subject to develop?
Martha Brenckle: I’ve always, always loved language and I used to walk around rhyming things when I was little. And apparently there’s a couple of grandparents that just could not stand being with me because I would walk around saying things like, “Reindeer, it’s raining deer.” And just go on and on like that. I can see how that would be annoying. But it’s sort of the sounds of language. And as I got older, realizing that things put in a certain way in a sentence or paragraph can influence others. That you can persuade people about things, you can call people to action. Writing does things, you know, in the world and makes things happen. And so that’s why I started studying it. And it was mostly for this idea of civic rhetoric. You know, how can regular people get involved in a democracy? Writing is one way they can do that and make their voice heard.
Alex Cumming: When you want to reach out to a local politician and he says, “Oh, write your congressman, write your mayor.” You know, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Martha Brenckle: You don’t know if the congressman or senator ever sees it. You know what I’m saying? Because you know there’s aids, but I think if you’ve written it really, really well, it’s more likely to get passed up the. So that’s what I keep telling my students.
When I lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, my daughter was still in elementary school. I have a daughter who’s special needs. She’s autistic and cognitively delayed. And the teacher she had only really liked high-functional Down syndrome students, and she even said that to me one time. Well, Nikki fell and got hurt in her class and she never noticed, and I picked Nikki up and I saw this brown on her shirt. It was dry blood. So anyway, I wrote a letter finally to the school superintendent because nobody would do anything. And when he called me, he actually said, “We’ve gotten a lot of complaints about her, but your letter was so well-written I thought I better call.”
Now think about that. I mean, that’s how important it is to use language, right? And to make your voice heard. And I tell my students that story a lot and I go, “You know, if I just slap something on a postcard, he probably would have just tossed it in the waste basket.”
Alex Cumming: Yeah. Well with that, how can language and writing help foster community and support for each other?
Martha Brenckle: Yeah. In fact, we’re working on that in my essay is cultural commentary class. We’re looking at what are our biggest divides and how can they write op-eds that pull those two divides together. What’s missing that people are not listening to each other, they’re not being open-minded, they’re not, cause politics right now are so divisive. So it’s kind of, how can they use language to pull people together and then work on problems? How do we find common values with language? Common needs? It’s hard for me to believe that as we’re arguing, arguing over masks in school and who should be vaccinated, that I can’t think of anyone that I bet I could walk up to anyone on the street and say, “Do you want children to get really sick?” they’re going to say, “No, of course I don’t” because children are something wereally value in this country. And taking care of them is very important to us. So education is very important. Making people remember their values and what holds them together. And so you can do that with language
Alex Cumming: When something like you just said is written out and is well put together and has proper prose, it’s harder to ignore that than just somebody thinking of a conversation or argument off the top of their head when it’s written down. Now, that’s why, every major historical document in history, written out or revised, re-edited, [has] gone through group think, and other people so it can be written out in the ideal way. So there’s nothing left to interpretation or left vague, which oftentimes conversations and speech can leave things sort up in the air.
Martha Brenckle: And what I think is so important about our democracy is that it’s always growing. It’s always pulling in more people. Well you figure when the Constitution was first written, not everyone could vote. Women couldn’t, Black people couldn’t vote. And slowly, slowly, slowly through unfortunately a civil war and lots of debating we’ve managed to encompass more people. And I think and we’ve changed, how we look at democracy has changed. So I’m hoping that even though we’re kind of in a chaotic moment right now, I am hoping that it comes out the other end in a way that makes our democracy even stronger.
So that’s kind of what I work on with my writing students. Even in first year composition you know you’re a citizen, this is your duty and your responsibility.
Alex Cumming: It is. It sounds like you’re speaking about importance of growing pains. You know, America as a country has gone through many growing pains
Martha Brenckle: And it’s going through them now I’ll tell you.
Alex Cumming: To well beyond my generation, but it’s important because then you can look back and reflect and say, “This is how this played out. How can we avoid that? Or what can we learn from that going forward to avoid stumbling on ourselves?”
So you’re very active in the Orlando art scene, which, I’m very fond of the Orlando art scene.
Martha Brenckle: I’m sure you are.
Alex Cumming: A lot of fantastic people in that community. You’re performing poetry to winning awards at film festivals, and you’ve been doing it many years. What does your work focus on, would you say?
Martha Brenckle: Well that changes. I mean, I get interested in different things. Some of my work is very political. Right now I’m written a lot of poems about immigration and immigrants. I have one called Border Quilt that won an award. And then the project I’m working on now actually is about Marie Curie and discovering radium. And then it works its way through the dial painters who became very ill and most of them died from radiation poisoning. So it sounds really like a very joyful subject, but I’ve gotten so into the science and the physics of it and how radiation poisoning works and how it attaches to your bones. It’s just really been fascinating to me, but I hope other people like reading it. And turning it into poetry is not easy because you can think of science being this dry subject, but it’s really not because it’s people doing the science.
Alex Cumming: I often speak with my friends who are in STEM and their passion for chemistry and bio.
Martha Brenckle: Yes.
Alex Cumming: It’s the same as my passion for theater, arts, entertainment. And it’s the same sort of drive that pushes us all, but it’s just the different direction that it’s focused. And so I totally get where you’re coming from with all that. That’s very cool. So how important are the arts to building community and expressing your identity?
Martha Brenckle: Well, I think that when you think about theater and music and art shows and then teaching people to make their own art, nothing pulls people together more than that. And I think arts education is so important.
I’m really always happy that I’m in a college that has an art gallery, that has theater space, and that I can go to things and watch students perform or look at their artwork, listen to their music. It’s just so wonderful. It speaks to so much of what makes us human beings. And we have to remember that might help a little bit with all the political decisiveness. We remember that we are human beings and there’s so much beauty in the world. Especially now during the pandemic, when you tend to get a little bit stressed and anxious and depressed, to just remember that, oh my God, I just listened to this piece of music and I was so moved or I looked at this painting and I can’t get it out of my head. I really think that makes a huge difference. And we’e lucky in Orlando, we have such a huge theater scene. There’s all these different places I can go to see a play. And we do it all the time. My wife and I love theater.
Alex Cumming: I love being at the theater building and I love that right across from the PAC is the art gallery of who we see the students’ works. And there’s just something so electric about being in a space where in every single room there’s somebody working on a different project and that they’re all creating something, building something, sharing ideas, sharing stories, they’ve written play ideas, dance, singing, a song. Almost every day, when I walk in, I can hear people in the music side of the PAC, I hear, tubas going off or violins. It’s just so cool. And I love the energy that you get in a place like that, which in some parts of campus, it’s a little quieter, there aren’t tubas going off, but they have their own energy of people, working, grinding to get solutions and ideas. UCF is so fantastic for that for always having something going on, which is one of the coolest things about this place.
Martha Brenckle: It’s funny. One of my first graduate courses that I taught at night, and that was with the old Colburn Hall, and the rehearsal hall was right across and music was on the first floor. And I’m teaching the class and all of a sudden they were practicing. I don’t know what a whole band, I don’t know how many people were there, they were practicing music from “The Music Man.” And everyone just slowly stopped talking. And the next thing I knew, we were all singing, “Seventy-six Trombones.” It was so much fun. And when it ended, this kid goes, “Maybe they’ll do this song next.” I said, “No, we actually have to have class. I’m so sorry.”
Alex Cumming: That’s so cool.
Martha Brenckle: But it was great. I loved it.
Alex Cumming: Even this past weekend, thinking about the UCF band, the pride of Central Florida, my goodness. Outstanding. When they performed with the Bethune-Cookman band.
Martha Brenckle: Yes.
Alex Cumming: That was something else.
Martha Brenckle: I have no idea who thought of putting the two bands together like that, but it was brilliant. It was genius. I mean, I was looking at it again today on YouTube because I couldn’t get over it. And I kept thinking, I wish we had enough money to do that all the time. But most away games you can’t afford to bring the whole band. At least they were down the road in Daytona, so it was doable. But I hope if we play like FAU again that we do something like that because the place just collapsed so much. It was unbelievable how much people got into it.
Alex Cumming: You’re not kidding. That was, it was something else. It was very special for those who were there and able to see it.
As we’re recording this right now, you are an Orlando Poet Laureate finalist. All three of this year’s finalists are Knights and UCF alumna Susan Lilly was appointed the inaugural Poet Laureate in 2017. How does it feel for yourself to be nominated?
Martha Brenckle: I was thrilled. I really, I just was jumping up and down in joy. I just felt so honored because I know how much talent there is in this area, incredible amounts of talent, just in poetry, nevermind all the other arts. And so I was really excited, really excited.
Alex Cumming: How did you become a finalist?
Martha Brenckle: You just apply. They have questions for you that you answer. They want to know what your experiences have been in Orlando? What kind of public speaking have you done? What you’re involved in the community, because that’s part of this. Because you’re going to be representing Orlando and you’re going to be expected to actually write poems for certain events. So you’re immersion in the community is really important. So I was asked about that on the application, and then you send them three poems. And it was all online. It was very simple.
Alex Cumming: There’s so much in Orlando that, you can draw and you can take from. Orlando is such a beautiful city with so much going on.
Martha Brenckle: And there’s so many wonderful characters, even in just our history that you could write about it forever. Really.
Alex Cumming: There’s so much going on. Which is why UCF fits in so well here, cause there’s always something going on.
Martha Brenckle: Yeah. Actually the reason I took the job here was because everyone was so excited about their work when they interviewed me. Even though they weren’t all young, they all seemed young and vibrant. I had three job offers and I said, “You know what? This would be the most exciting place to be.” So I took this one.
Alex Cumming: Yeah. That sounds like that’s a pretty good reason. The place is electric.
Martha Brenckle: It really is.
Alex Cumming: No kidding. How does the nomination build on your love for the arts in Orlando?
Martha Brenckle: Well, the nomination really made me feel like part of the arts in Orlando, that I have things to offer. I would love to work with musicians and artists, with my poetry and make some interesting collaborations. I just thought it would give me a lot of opportunities to also work with really young kids in writing. I have this thing that somehow between middle school and high school, they start hating poetry. And yet when you’re a kid, you love it. You think all the kids’ books, they all rhyme. And yet they lose that love. And so I think some of it is that they’re not creating themselves. And so I think more opportunities for that would be really good. So it would give me an opportunity to do that and just representing Orlando, which is such a wonderful city.
Alex Cumming: Amen. I totally get where you’re coming from. There’s so much musicality in children’s books. There’s so much of this natural rhythm that goes into writing a children’s book and the most iconic children’s books. And where along the way do young adults, do teenagers, do they sort of lose that passion for —
Martha Brenckle: Yeah. They’ll stick with fiction and non-fiction, there’s so many good young adult novels out now. They’re brilliant, but they seem to lose all that fun of poetry and all the things that you can really say in a poem that you can’t say as well in prose.
Alex Cumming: I like that about poetry. That’s not a hot take. But I just like how you can take big ideas and condense them into such a straight-forward idea.
So for those looking to get involved with the LGBTQ+ community in Orlando and the art scene here or both. Where would you say they should start?
Martha Brenckle: I think if they go to The Center on Mills Avenue there is a whole group of artists there. There’s an art gallery there. And that would be a wonderful place to sort of learn about the queer art that gets made in this area. And to meet some of the artists and talk to them and try to get involved in the community that. They also have lots of really good cultural things that go on, reading groups and writing groups, and they get involved in Fringe. And so that would be like a really good place to start, I think for anybody.
Alex Cumming: You mentioned Fringe and I love Orlando Finge and have for some time now. Fringe is fantastic because you get people from all over Orlando, people who are as deep as they can get in the Orlando theater scene, and then people who just have no idea and just want to see a weird show and have a beer. And it’s this beautiful hodgepodge. And I’ve brought friends to Fringe who’ve been like, “Whoa, I haven’t experienced nothing like that before.”
Martha Brenckle: Oh, it’s wonderful.
Alex Cumming: There’s nothing I’ve experienced like Fringe. I’ve done a handful of shows at Fringe and just how kind people are if they like your show, they will not hold back. They will let you know how much they enjoyed your show and then they hangout with you. And there’s also very good food.
Martha Brenckle: And it’s cool because it gives people an opportunity to do that. Normally you go to a theater and you could plot at the end and you leave. But you don’t get to actually talk to the actors and get to know them, and why do they do what they do, and all that exciting stuff you don’t really get to do. And so that’s why I like Fringe. Cause I talk to — cause most of the people write their own shows too — and so I get to really talk to them about, “Why did you think of this? What made you think of it?” Cause I always want to know where the ideas come from and that’s a lot of fun.
Alex Cumming: I, again, totally agree with you that I always love talking with actors. As much as I’m not a fan of this phrase, but pick their brain like, what inspired them? And why did you make that choice? Why did you do that? Why’d you do this move here? It’s kind of like dissecting the little, little pieces.
Martha Brenckle: That’s how we learn our craft.
Alex Cumming: Yeah, definitely. Definitely learn a lot by just watching, just sitting there, analyzing, studying it. There’s no better way to work on acting then — well, maybe there is. But I like, and to then just watch some good theater, [to] watch some good actors perform, just take it in. There’s probably a better way, but I like —
Martha Brenckle: I don’t know, I like that. I think that’s the best way to do it.
Alex Cumming: Oh no. I got to watch a movie. Oh no, I got to go to a play
Martha Brenckle: Oh geez, what a tragedy. Yeah.
Alex Cumming: Oh, what a bummer. What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?
Martha Brenckle: Don’t disregard all the things in your life already. I think when you’re writing, you are always dipping into your own life. Even if what you’re writing about is not personal. If that makes sense, you’re still dipping into your own life and pulling things out. Writers have to be really self-reflective all of the time. Sort of going over things that have happened and what you can turn that into. And also to write a little bit every day. When my kids were little and things were crazy in my life, I used to write on Post-it Notes. Every time I had an idea and I would fill the kitchen cabinet doors with Post-it Notes. And when they were all filled, I collect them all up and start putting stuff together because that was the only way I could. Because I only had like seconds at that time. But I think you have to find a way to fit it into your life. You don’t have to change your life to be a writer.
I’ve met people who have quit their jobs because now they’re going to stay home and write a novel. And I’m like, “Well, glad you could afford to do that, you know?” But I think you need to find a way to fit it into your life. And like I was saying before, there’s always beauty out there. There’s always something wonderful even if a feeling that you get looking at something, you need to jot that down so you don’t lose it. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living. It really doesn’t. I’m lucky cause I have a great job. I really, really do. I couldn’t have asked for a better job. I love teaching and people paying me to read and write. I mean, that’s amazing, I think.
Alex Cumming: Sounds good to me.
Martha Brenckle: But I always try to fit my poetry into what’s going on in my life so that it’s not like some separate thing where I must go off for two weeks to write because I can’t talk to anyone or I’ll never get this done. It doesn’t work that way for me. I need to make it fit into everything else I do. So it’s a part of my life.
Alex Cumming: Right. Write what you know, isn’t that what they say?
Martha Brenckle: Exactly.
Alex Cumming: Write what you know, know yourself. That’s awesome. So what’s one thing that you’re still hoping to do both on a personal level and here at UCF?
Martha Brenckle: Well, there’s several classes that I’m starting to design that I hope that I could eventually teach. And we’re discussing it in the department. Now, one, it would be a graduate course on queer theory and queer rhetorics, which I’d love to do. And then they want an undergraduate version too, but I have to really make it easier for undergraduates. And I like to add a little fiction to it too, because there’s so much good fiction by queer writers. So I’m working on that. That’s two things I definitely want to do before I retire.
I also just started another novel. I want to do a little more with my fiction writing. And hopefully get published. I’ve gotten quite a few short stories published, but I haven’t really been able to do a big project. And I think I would like to do that now. I think it’s time for me to do that. And I also, I’d like to get all my Marie Curie poems published as a book. Then I will probably put together another manuscript. I just love writing.
Alex Cumming: World needs lots of good writing. So please, please keep the writing coming because a good stories, it’s invaluable.
Martha Brenckle: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: Well, Martha, I can’t thank you enough for coming into talk with me today. It’s been such a pleasure to get to chat about Orlando art scene in your own personal. Congratulations on everything and I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.
Thank you again.
Martha Brenckle: Thank you so much. This is fun.
Alex Cumming: It was, I had a good time.
Hey everybody. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you on the next episode of Knights Do That, where we’ll be kicking off Veteran’s Month speaking with Deborah Beidel, the executive director of UCF RESTORES to discuss her impactful work in treating veterans, active duty military personnel, first responders and other survivors diagnosed with PTSD.
Deborah Beidel: So I tell people we don’t need different treatments. We need to do treatment differently. And by doing treatment differently, we found we can be very successful. So the idea is having people give up two or three weeks in order to get a lot better.
And we talk about that also as trying to break the stigma, for active duty personnel, veterans, and also our first responders,who have always been in the role of being the helper. Turning around and asking for help is really different. But if we can start to think about treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in the same way that we think about physical therapy, then we have a chance of breaking the stigma.
Alex Cumming: If you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere. You took UCF that we should know about. Send us an [email protected], and maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future. Go Knights and Charge On.