Instructor of Humanities
Instructor of Humanities
Would you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to teaching? Were writing and literature always your passions?
Both my parents were teachers for a while, so I think it's in my blood. I caught the reading bug when I was 15 after I stopped playing baseball and I never looked back. My parents had to check on me at 1 or 2 a.m. to make me stop reading and go to bed.
Would you tell us a bit about the Creative Writing course that you'll be teaching in the spring? What are you most excited about sharing with your students? What kinds of activities will they be doing?
This course is an outgrowth of a poetry writing course I taught here for several years. Poetry writing will be the heart of this course as well, though we will also be writing fiction and creative non-fiction. You can learn so much about letting go of control, about conjuring a sense of immediacy in language, and about attending to the rhythms and sounds of words by studying the craft of poetry. Reading will also be a big part of the course. It helps to follow others who have lit the way at least partially to where we're trying to go.
You've also worked as a professional writer, editor, and publisher. Would you tell us more about your career beyond the classroom? How do those experiences affect your teaching?
I've edited novels, short stories, medical journals, and many other kinds of writing. I also write blogs, scientific and trade articles, and poems. As a writer and an editor with assignments and deadlines, I like engaging with students about what deadlines (and other artificially imposed limits) can mean for one's writing, how they can force one to experiment and take chances. Ultimately, there's no correct version of a short story. The writer has to rely on intuition, their reading experiences, and their feel for narrative and language to get the story to a place where it's ready to show to others. In both my professional writing and editing jobs, I am asked to get texts below a certain word count. As a result, I get very excited about cutting words from sentences, rearranging paragraphs, and just playing with the possibilities of syntax. I try to get my students excited about these things as well.
You're known as an avid reader. What are some of your favorite books? Any recommendations for us?
I hope there's no word limit here! It's hard to pick favorites, but there are books that I read over and over. “Gulliver's Travels” is funny on every page, and I can never get enough of it. “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann is getting a new translation this fall, so I have a great excuse to revisit the world of that novel. I read a lot of contemporary poetry, but I always go back to Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens. They're my comfort poets. The two living writers I could not do without are Hilary Mantel and Teju Cole. Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and Cole's novel “Open City” are near perfect. If I can squeeze in one more, I am hopelessly devoted to the novels of the wild, bitter, and very funny Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard.
Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in pursuing a career in writing or publishing?
Read like crazy.
What are some of your other interests beyond teaching and writing?
I spend more time than I'd like to admit staring at clouds and trees. I know very little about clouds except that they are made of water and pull my attention, even at dangerous times like when I'm driving. I have pursued my love of trees a bit more seriously (and safely), though, especially during the pandemic. My sons and I went into the woods just about every day in 2020, and we learned a lot about tree identification. I teach a J-Term course about trees and I enjoy sharing my love of our giant benefactors with students. It's amazing how learning about a few local tree species can transform your experience of walking outside.
What's a "fun fact" that your students don't know about you?
I was once a tomato entrepreneur, and brought a bucket of tomatoes I grew to my baseball games to sell to my teammates' parents. When I was nine or 10, I won the "First Ripe Tomato" award given by Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, NC, and had my picture in the paper, along with the tomato.
Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
I'm so excited for this new Creative Writing class. This will be my 15th or 16th year teaching creative writing, but my first time teaching this course online.