MFA Creative Writing (Poetry), May 2012
Assistant Director, Beverage Business Institute/Center for Professional Development and Business Research
College of Business, Colorado State University
How did you get from your major to the work, the life you have now?
In 2008, the Harvard Business Review online released an article titled “The MFA Is the New MBA” in reaction to Daniel Pink’s New York Times story about the new creative economy, where the senior editor (who has an MFA) argues the benefits of artistic trainings in the workforce. I was in the midst of my program when this article went online, and beyond my love of the program, I completely agreed with the skills attributed to receiving a graduate degree in English. Liberal Arts degrees, in general, prepare individuals on how to think critically, be flexible, embrace criticism, harness relationships, reinvent the box, fill organizational gaps, and grow from failure. This article helped validate what I already knew: my life, both personal and professional, has been shaped by Liberal Arts and English education. This makes me overwhelmingly proud. The perspective I bring to the table, especially in business-oriented programming, adds creativity and value unlike any other. Innovation evolves from different minds working together, and a constant, constant curiosity to learn and develop.
In 2011, I was given an opportunity to transition from academic advising into the assistant director of the newly created Beverage Business Institute and Center for Professional Development in the College of Business. My department offers business-related education to professionals in Colorado and, for certain industries, the entire country. I am in charge of all operations, communications/marketing, event planning, and financial coordination for our department, which only consists of two professionals. The position was offered to me because of my history of staring new programs from scratch and building them into local and national recognitions. My liberal arts undergraduate and creative writing graduate degrees equipped me with the necessary ubiquitous skills to thrive in this highly demanding and multifaceted role.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?
Four very prominent things pop into my mind:
- Graduating with my MFA. I’m a first generation person of color, and the only person in my entire family to have a master’s degree. Education is a privilege, and many students across this county still do not have the appropriate access and support to achieve their educational goals. This is why having two degrees from Land Grant Institutions means so much to me. The Land Grant mission thrives on educating persons of the state, women, minorities, and the working class… all things that help define me as a human being.
- In August, I won the 2015 Tomaž Šalamun Prize from Verse. This was my first national poetry contest win and it feels amazing! When I started the MFA program I was a mediocre writer, but a voracious learner. Now, I am excited about my poetry and love learning about poetry. I’m working on my fourth poetry manuscript; the MFA program taught me to how to harness the writing momentum, understand that rejection is a component of publication, and to listen to the creative process when writing.
- In 2011, I won the Jack E. Cermak Advising Award from CSU. I was honored to receive such an award and to read the letters students had written about their relationships with me as their advisor. The MFA taught me how to pay attention. Advising is 90% paying attention, and 10% giving guidance. This simple principle allowed me to be an open and genuine advisor with the student’s best interest as my top priority at all times.
- While in the MFA, I had the privilege to teach Introduction to Creative Writing (E210). Nothing felt more natural than teaching poetry and fiction. The urge to teach still resonates in my bones. Perhaps this is not an accomplishment, but I definitely see it as one. I grew to be dear friends with a former student in my E210 class after she graduated. She moved out of the US and started a blog on her healthy obsession of birds (while pursuing her massively intense graduate degree). On one of her blog posts, she wrote:I have mixed feelings about the solitude and isolation of the island. Sometimes I miss it because I felt like a wild animal there. A dear friend of mine and one of my favorite contemporary poets (Felicia Zamora) calls it “being a thing.” And if I stay among the land of man-made everything for too long, I do start to feel like I’m losing my “thing-ness.”Being called someone’s “favorite contemporary poet” is overwhelmingly humbling. It’s the best thing anyone has ever said about me. (And…if you happen to ever see this profile, Steph, thank you SO very much. I adore you.) This whole scenario is 100% English Department opportunity driven. I am beyond thankful for it.
What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study here?
My acceptance into the MFA program at CSU was a very serendipitous affair. I left a position at Iowa State University to take an academic advising position at CSU. I had been contemplating graduate school, and was elated to learn that CSU had such a competitive creative writing program in poetry. Fate took a hand. I am so proud to be a Ram…both as an alumnus and an employee.
I greatly appreciated the MFA program’s emphasis on reading, writing, and high-level contemplations on the academic disciplines of English. You are asked to think, think, think and process, process, process. This type of in-depth work builds more than just one’s ability to read Moby-Dick – it allows personal growth as a writer and a professional. I might also add, reading Moby-Dick in Dan Beachy-Quick’s class did change my life in many, many positive ways. My first published chapbook was titled, Moby-Dick Made Me Do It… enough said.
Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department?
Many individuals positively impacted my experience in the English Department at CSU. However, a few people went above and beyond their regular roles to help shape me into the poet and person I am today… and for this, I am forever grateful.
First, my mentor and dear friend, Stephanie G’Schwind, editor of the Colorado Review and director of the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP), gave (and still gives) me the opportunity to be part of the larger conversation in poetry, demonstrates professionalism to emanate in the writing world, and leads a literary publishing center with a generous heart and a crazy intellectual mind, while simultaneously putting CSU on the literary-map.
Another dear friend and mentor, John Calderazzo, faculty member of nonfiction and literature classes, helped show me how to be a writer across genres, that passion drives writers, to learn from nonfiction as much as poetry, and how to believe in myself as a writer.
Dan Beachy-Quick, my advisor and poetry faculty, inspired me to pursue a life of poetry beyond the classroom, encouraged me to trust the process, and led me through multiple courses that changed perspectives on the ways I see the world. Dan is one of them most humble-geniuses I’ve had the privilege to learn from and work directly with while in the MFA.
Matthew Cooperman, poetry faculty, saw potential in me as a writer long before I ever did. Matthew gave me the chance to build my potential as a poet, challenged me as a student, and made me realize that pursuing the MFA would lead to one of the best accomplishments of my life.
How did your CLP internship contribute to your career path?
Stephanie and the CLP gave me opportunities to help shape me into the professional I am today. I remained a volunteer with the CLP even after my internship credits were complete. I’ve been volunteering for over five years now, and I am honored to be the associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review. Stephanie showed me the publication process from editing to completing a book from cost to cover. Understanding the life cycles of publication and planning helped me develop into a more strategic project manager; a skill absolutely necessary in my current career. The CLP was also the first place I became familiar with InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator.
As an assistant director, I use these design programs every day and teach student coordinators and interns how to use them as well. These additional skills have allowed my department to save thousands of dollars a year on marketing, advertising, and communication production fees. The CLP also taught me the internal workings of the literary world, and what it takes to produce a nationally renowned literary journal. In submitting my own poetry, I respect all journals and editors because I know both sides of the publication process.
Do you have a favorite CLP memory?
I greatly enjoyed interviewing Rusty Morrison, one of my favorite contemporary poets, for the CLP blog. Not only did a nationally known poet answer all of my bizarre questions about her poetry, she also responded by saying she appreciated the depth of my questions and the intricate read on her poems. What an honor! Again, this was another opportunity to be a part of the larger conversation on poetry.
What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?
Studying what you are passionate about will lead to careers and personal fulfillment. Be an English major with gumption. IF you take that leap and decide an English major is your path, consider Colorado State University, especially if you are from Colorado. The faculty, internships, educational staff, and programs will help sculpt your path to success after graduation.
What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?
Alice Fulton said, “It will be new, whether you make it new or not.” Write often and about whatever the creative process requires of you. Don’t be afraid to write about something that has been “written about before”… it all has! But, no one has your perspective, your thought process, or your ingenuity.
During my MFA I realized that I desired the writing life. As I studied, I realized that the writing life, to me, consisted of being immersed in the culture of poetry, and integrating writing as much as possible into my professional career. This sounds simple, but isn’t always. Make writing part of you, if you are a writer. Pursue opportunities and positions where different types of communication can make you satisfied in the workforce as well. While in school, both undergrad and graduate school, take advantage of being part of the writing conversation: go to readings, don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the reading, ask questions of your professors, and be proud to geek out about English!
What are you currently writing?
Currently, I am I in the depths of finishing my fourth poetry manuscript. The unique voice found in these poems emerged largely from the use of limits. Limits in the respect of creating a poetic form to follow which pushes lines, word choice, and requires more from the entire piece. I’m super excited about this manuscript. My first manuscript, Guest, was completed during my MFA. The second and third manuscripts have been written between 2012 and 2014. All three are circulating for publication and have been recognized as finalists in national competitions. As my wise and amazing MFA advisor said about publishing a poetry book, “It can take years.” Knowing this reality allows me to finish a manuscript, and move on to the next project without manuscript-abandonment-remorse. I may have just made that term up, but as my partner says to me, “You love to make up words.”
What do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Writing and reading poetry, of course. I love time with my partner, Chris. We both work in beer-related jobs and find ourselves riding our bikes, tasting new craft beers, and learning more about the brewing process. Spending time with my two furry pups (Howser and Lorca), paddle boarding, traveling, volunteering at the Colorado Review, photography, and educating myself in diversity and inclusion areas are also interest that I devote my time to.