Three students from Assistant Professor’s Zach Hutchins’s Spring 2014 section of E440: How Books Get Published submitted work to the Center for Documenting the American South which was later published. We caught up with another one of those students, Lauren Cofer, to ask her about that project, as well as her experience as a CSU student and a writer.
English: Creative Writing
Graduated Spring 2014
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Huh, let’s see. I’m from Chicago and like most out-of-state Illinoisans who say this, I don’t really live in Chicago. You know the film Wayne’s World? It’s set in Aurora, Illinois. That’s where I’m from and it’s pretty much just a miniature version of Chicago without the lake and just slightly (read: much) shorter buildings. That sounds like a big difference, but actually it’s not.
I guess I’m your average brooding writer type who secretly has a heart of gold and hair in various shades of purple. When I’m not writing, usually due to soul-shattering bouts of writer’s block, I’m putzing around with my other hobbies. I’ve gotten really interested in baking, especially with miniature pastries, but I also dabble in French, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine. I’d like to say that painting and drawing are hobbies of mine, seeing as I was an art major before I had switched to English, but I’ve taken a hiatus of sorts. I’ve only done one painting in the last year and it’s a big (24×30″), disembodied, psychedelic cat butt. It’s a long standing joke and honestly I don’t know what to do with it.
I enjoy long walks on the beach, poetry, and Korean TV dramas.
And video games.
And books. Obviously.
What brought you to CSU?
My initial reason for even considering CSU was because of my aunt and uncle who live in Fort Collins. I had come out to visit them in high school and during my trip I was able to see CSU’s campus. The traditions of CSU that brought the whole Fort Collins community together were so different from those of the other schools I had even begun to consider and that was appealing. Once I was ready to transfer colleges, I saw that CSU had a great English department and that was enough to convince me to change my major, drive seventeen hours across the country, and suffer altitude sickness every winter and summer break. I don’t think I ever regret my decision and I enjoyed every moment of my student life at CSU.
In fact, I love Fort Collins so much, I made my parents take that same seventeen-hour drive with my non-sedated, very upset cat in the backseat so I could continue living here after I graduated.
Favorite English class? Favorite English teacher? Favorite assignment or project?
Oh, there were so many classes I just adored, but if I really had to boil it down to one, I’d say E412A: the fiction writing workshop. The class was amazing because of my teacher and classmates equally. Professor Leslee Becker is a super knowledgeable woman with great insight and she knows just how to encourage a student to do their best work. Then, by a stroke of luck, all of my classmates were really just fantastic people who were all well read and full of great ideas and critique. Everything combined just made the perfect environment for all of us to grow so much in our writing. In the end, we all became pretty good friends and still stay in contact.
In regard to my favorite teacher, as much as I’d like to say Leslee, I really loved having Dr. Lynn Shutters as a teacher. I had her for Literary Criticism, as well as her Marriage Plot capstone, and both of the classes were incredibly enjoyable and informative. Dr. Shutters is always so straightforward and yet polite to her students that it was easy to participate in class or get feedback on a paper. The fact that she specializes in medieval literature is awesome, too.
As for my favorite assignment, it’s a tie between the final project I had for Marriage Plot, or any of the work for the creative writing classes. The former because it was open to anything and I ended up making a hat out of leather scraps and it took forever. The latter because, well, I was studying English purely for creative writing, so being able to write creatively was fun.
Why is it important to study English, the Humanities?
Not to sound dated or boring, but being able to express ourselves through type that’s not broken up by reaction gifs is pretty important to an intelligent conversation. Not saying that all those Buzzfeed articles aren’t intelligent, but to have the ability to describe “tfw they swipe to the next photo” in words rather than a rehashed three-second video loop is incredibly satisfying. English is necessary for every form of communication, from scientific papers to telling a story. It’s necessary for the real and the imagined, and in most cases, if you want to be taken seriously in any sort of career, being able to write competently is key. Besides, being able to understand the writing of others in more depth helps bring people and their ideas closer together.
The focus of the Humanities, on the other hand, is pretty much just like studying humanity’s entire history of trying to figure out the question “Why?”. Why are we here? Why are we conscious? Why do we so desperately need to have a meaning to life? You look at every possible avenue of expressing our tentative answers through all the years and it’s absolutely fascinating. It ends up being a never ending search that we all take part of, whether we realize it or not. We can figure out how to send astronauts to Mars (or beyond) or find a cure for cancer, but these things ultimately wouldn’t have such a great importance to us if we weren’t constantly asking ourselves why we struggle so hard to stay alive or keep pushing ourselves as a species to new heights.
How did you find out about the opportunity to publish with the Center for Documenting the American South?
I wasn’t even aware of the DocSouth collection until Dr. Hutchins talked about it in his American Prose Before 1900 class. The assignment was to write an author’s biography and a summary of a chosen work for UNC’s collection, and while the idea of publishing wasn’t our goal, it was a potential added bonus if we produced good enough work. Though, after we were given the assignment, I got really interested in DocSouth because my father’s side of the family is based in the south. Since I live so far away from most of those relatives, it was fun learning about things that were directly related to the struggles and victories that my father’s ancestors had to experience during their first few generations in America.
Why did you submit your work? What was it like preparing it? How did it feel to be selected? What advice do you have for students wanting to get their work published?
My chosen author for the project was John B. Meachum and he was a major source of educational opportunities for African Americans in St. Louis, Missouri, even when it was illegal via city ordinance for any to even know how to read or write. In my own family history, I’m only four or five generations from slavery — both sides of my father’s family had been enslaved at some point and more than likely took the underground railroad to Ohio where they found their own freedom and opportunities. I wanted to have the opportunity to submit my piece because I felt inspired by my family to do the best work I could, and I wanted to help make DocSouth a great archive of information.
Preparing my submission was just like any other written assignment for an English class, just I was a little more motivated than usual. I guess the only conscious difference for me was knowing that if I did a good enough job, some countless amount of people could someday access the information I compiled. That idea made everything a little more fun, really. I didn’t know that my bit had been accepted until sometime over the summer when Dr. Hutchins emailed me with a congratulations and a link to the page. It was nice and sunny that day, too, so I had one of those moments when you just sit there for a few seconds and admire the nice breeze coming through the windows.
Advice for students, though — I don’t even know. I guess it’s to not be so worried about rejection or acceptance. So much of a young writer’s career depends on getting as many publications as possible so you can prove to other publishers that you’re worth it, and that gets tedious and sometimes depressing. When we write to feed our own creative desires and connect to others, getting a rejection letter sucks. But, most of us who decided to study English with the desire to get published chose this path because of a love for words and writing, so it’s important to hold on to our passions and to just keep writing what we love. More often than not, we’re all going to make idiots of ourselves at least once in our attempts to get published. It’s not that big of a deal. Bite the bullet, put yourself out there, and write the best damn stuff you can manage.
Don’t just assume that literary journals and magazines are the only way to get your foot in the door, there are a lot of other publishing opportunities that, while they might not be your chosen field or genre, are still a good way to show you’re a competent writer to anyone who might have a hand in your potential future.
I feel like I sound like a Hallmark card. Sorry.
What advice do you have for current students?
Have fun! Join some groups outside of class, try to go to a sporting event if you haven’t yet. Never stop asking questions, especially if you’re graduating soon. Curiosity is a virtue that sometimes gets lost when we get older and set in our routines. Go to some of the events that other departments hold and see what other students are up to (you might find a new interest or friend). Read a book for fun, hang out with buddies, go say hi to your teachers sometime. If you’re stressing out, go blow some bubbles off the upper balcony at the Behavioral Sciences building. Making someone else smile is the best way to start smiling yourself.
Last, but not least, be excellent to each other.
What do you want to say to prospective students about the CSU English department?
I can’t imagine anyone disliking CSU’s English department, it’s such a great group of teachers and students. All of the professors (and advisors and office members) just want you to do your best work and have your interests at heart. If one does decide to study English at CSU, be sure to say hi to any of your teachers during their office hours because they all have great stories and experiences that more than likely can help you in your own life pursuits. I don’t know what else to say, it’s just an awesome department with a pretty tightly knit community.
What are you looking forward to most about a remodeled Eddy Hall?
Even though I’ve graduated, I’m honestly excited that Eddy’s getting a facelift. As charming as the old building was, it needed to be updated like none other. I can’t recall the floor plans, but I hope they kept the central courtyard. That was such a nice space and it really gave Eddy some good character.
Where will we find you in five years?
Assuming anything is possible, to have a masters degree, a novel or something published, and a few stamps in my passport. That would be nice. Maybe I’ll have even mastered those miniature pastries by then. I’ve honestly never been very good at figuring out long-term life goals, but as long as I’m making people happy, I’ll be content with that.