Interview With Florida State University
Author: Kerry James Evans
Let’s start by talking about the culture at your program. What’s the location like? What are some local hangouts for writers?
Tallahassee is a vibrant location for any writer, especially with the renovations taking place on Gaines street, located downtown, which is where the Warehouse Reading Series takes place. The English Department brings in some of the finest writers in the country to give readings and students are also given the opportunity to read during fall, spring, and summer semesters. The English Department also hosts Writer’s Harvest, an annual fundraiser for the local food bank, which brings some of America’s finest literary names to Tallahassee. There’s always something going on, but sometimes, students need a break. Luckily, local coffee shops and bars offer a relaxing setting, not to mention the closest beach is only about forty minutes away. If that’s not enough, Wakulla Springs State Park, located twenty miles away is a great place to take a boat ride and see wildlife native to this region. Drive twenty minutes north of Tallahassee, and you’ll find Bradfordville Blues Club, which offers great music for a low price, not to mention the best fried mullet and catfish you’ll ever eat. Because the culture in Tallahassee is so varied, writers are often finding new things to enjoy. Two weeks ago I found myself staring at Lincoln’s hearse in the Tallahassee Automobile Museum. Yesterday I got a text message from a buddy asking if I wanted to go zip-lining, so I guess I’ll be doing that at some point in the future.
Tell us about your experience in class. What’s the focus of your workshops? What parts of your writing have you put the most focus on?
Workshops at Florida State are varied and incredibly helpful for any type of writer. Often, workshops focus on how content and meaning work to make a great poem, focusing as much on the tenor of the poem as on the vehicle. As far as answering the second part of your question, I must say that I came into the program wanting to work on the weaker aspects of my writing, such as developing a better sense of music, narrative, and imagination, which all of the workshops helped with in different, yet complimentary capacities. What I love most about the workshops in our program (and I’m speaking for poetry, as that is my focus) is that our professors compliment each other, which I think helps give a broad and varied sense of what makes a poem.
What sort of funding opportunities are available? What are you teaching? How easy is it to balance your teaching and writing?
For the PhD program, graduate students teach a 2/2 load while taking courses. In many cases, graduate students will teach upper level courses as quickly as their second year, which is nice, especially when trying to get much needed classroom experience in your given field. For instance, this semester I am teaching a junior level Poetic Technique class, which is both rewarding and enjoyable. In fact, I have found in my years at Florida State, that the enthusiasm of the students encourages me to write well and to write often. Besides teaching, there are plenty of fellowships and prizes that can be found on the English Department website. As far as balance goes, every graduate student is different. The key is learning what kind of student you are, and working toward the goals you have set for yourself.
What’s been your best memory of working with faculty?
The faculty at Florida State is hard working and very supportive of their students. Any time I have had a question or needed help, the faculty has been there for me. I would say that my best memory would be my prelim exam defense. I had studied and prepared for months, so when it came time to take the test, I was excited to finally have an outlet to articulate my understanding of what I had read. My committee members were great. They presented me with questions that were not only thoughtful and engaging, but their questions gave me a chance to explore avenues of the poetic tradition that I had yet to discover.
What’s been your greatest struggle in graduate school thus far? How has this program shaped your view of craft?
Of course, each person’s struggles will be different. If you ask most graduate students, they’ll probably say that balancing coursework and writing is the biggest struggle, and there are times when I have to write a paper when I’d rather be drafting poems, but this is part of being a writer. Whether in graduate school or in the private sector, you are going to have to balance writing with work. If anything, I’ve found that the coursework has allowed for structure and depth of knowledge with regard to how I approach poetry.
As far as craft goes, this program has helped me understand poetry within a historical context, while also allowing me to work on the weaker points I mentioned earlier. Not only have my ideas regarding poetics matured, but also I have a much broader appreciation for poetry.
What’s your next step? What sort of steps does your program take to prepare you for your post-graduate experience?
Right now I’m applying for jobs. As I mentioned, our program offers a variety of teaching opportunities and departmental and university-wide prizes that help fill out a CV. The faculty are also willing to offer advice, guidance, and recommendations when the need arises. Mock interview sessions are available for those who wish to fine-tune their skills before they dive into the job market.
What tips would you give a prospective student who is considering attending your program?
Visiting is always a good idea. You get to see the city where you will (potentially) be studying, and you get to meet the great people here. The students are thoughtful and respectful. The faculty members are supportive and great in their respective fields. When you visit, not only are you putting a face to your application, but you’ll also notice what sets our department apart from the others on your list.
Kerry James Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon, 2013). His poems have appeared in Agni, Beloit Poetry Journal, Narrative, New England Review, and Ploughshares among others. He is a PhD candidate studying poetry at Florida State University.