Faculty Profile: Dana Masden

~from intern Joyce Bohling

Dana Masden
English Teaching Faculty, (CO150, CO300, Intro to Lit, Beginning Creative Writing and 20th Century Fiction, as well as CO150 online)
MFA: Creative Writing (she’s also an alumna!)
dana-masden
What brought you to CSU?

I came to CSU for my MFA in 2005. Every other school I applied to was in the Midwest and I was fairly certain I would attend school in Chicago. However, I got good vibes from the CSU Creative Writing department, my sister had recently moved to Colorado, and my top Chicago schools rejected me. Since then, my parents and other family members also relocated to Colorado. At the time, I thought of CSU as a big state school in a college town. Over time, I grew to love the community of Fort Collins and now only think of CSU as a small piece of the home I love so much.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Time is really my most precious resource, so I love the flexibility and independence that this career provides. But more than this, I truly enjoy working with undergraduate students. There is something about this stage in life that is perpetually exciting and hopeful.

Why are the Humanities important?

The Humanities are where people learn to think.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in English, the Humanities?

For two years as an undergraduate, I equally pursued both pre-med and creative writing, unsure if I wanted to be a doctor or a writer. I ultimately picked the writing path because I liked my classmates and professors in those courses much better, which told me something about what the rest of my life would be like if I pursued English and higher education. And it turns out that when I did well in the Sciences, it was often a writing-related task anyway, like writing a lab report or essay.

What special project are you working on right now?

After writing two (or four?) literary novels, my latest attempt is to write a thriller. I have always struggled with plot, so writing something plot-dependent is kind of a fun challenge for me.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A doctor or a writer—whichever had the better people.

What moment in the classroom stands out to you as most memorable?

I often return to a specific moment from early teaching when a student pointed out something incorrect and careless I said; an instance when I tried to answer a question I was unsure about. After this experience, I started paying attention to my own mentors in life and realized how willing they were to admit when they didn’t know something, how honesty was a big part of why they were good mentors to begin with, even if honesty was admitting ignorance or fault. I quickly learned that my attempt to always have an answer even when I didn’t know was obvious to my students and how important it is to pause after a question—to really think before speaking. That one student helped me to understand that teaching and mentorship is really not about being a constant authority but about modeling the thinking process, which requires both honesty and a bit of time to get right.

What is your favorite thing to teach? Favorite thing about teaching?

I teach both Composition and Creative Writing and I enjoy both of them equally—truly—for very different reasons. Composition is so useful and unlike anything I ever had as a student. I see my Composition students come out of the class better thinkers and that is inspiring. However, I am also very happy when I see someone in Creative Writing take a risk that pays off. Often the risk is to avoid some of the thrills and chills and plot stuff their peers are throwing into their work and to explore a very real but uncomfortable emotion. I feel privileged to be part of this when it happens.

What advice would you give to a student taking a class in the English department?

Go to office hours. Writers have such individual needs and I truly don’t know anyone in this department who I wouldn’t be delighted to spend twenty minutes with.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

I remember asking Steven Schwartz about publishing and he told me very bluntly that my work wasn’t ready and I shouldn’t think about that at all. He told me to work on the writing first. I know we hear it all the time, but in such a blunt package it was memorable and important.

What’s your favorite word?

Noodle. It is what my daughter calls her future sibling (we have a second baby due in March). I should add that Vera’s full name for this upcoming baby is “White Noodle,” which I thought was a pretty good image for a twenty-month old.

What are you currently reading?

I read a great deal of argument papers, annotated bibliographies, student stories. I always have a book opened and half-way read somewhere but reading for me is mostly a summer thing.

What don’t your colleagues know about you?

During the semester, I prioritize watching really crappy reality TV instead of reading. Please don’t tell them. [Sorry, Dana — your secret is NOT safe with us].

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

When I graduated from my MFA, I made a goal to publish something every year, which I believed was setting myself nicely up for failure since publishing is not really in the writer’s control. However, since then, I have accomplished my goal in one form or another, publishing sometimes even two or three stories and essays a year, if you don’t count 2012, which nobody thought was a great year anyway.

When you’re not working, what do you do?

I spend a lot of time with my family—with Joe, Vera, and Noodle, but also my extended family—my parents and siblings and niece and nephews. I can’t imagine not being close to them.

 

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