Interview With Kansas University
Let’s start by talking about the culture at your program. What’s the location like? What are some local hangouts for writers?
Lawrence is an amazing place for writers. The childhood home of Langston Hughes and the final stop for William S. Burroughs, Lawrence has a rich literary history and a thriving arts scene for such an unassuming Midwestern town. The Raven Bookstore hosts the Big Tent Reading Series, featuring stories, poems, and even one-act plays. Just a block away, the Eighth Street Taproom houses the Taproom Poetry series, which brings in national and international poets, in addition to supporting local writers. The “Final Fridays” arts events in downtown Lawrence often showcase poets alongside visual artists. The Creative Writing Graduate Student Reading Series holds readings at Genovese, a great local restaurant in downtown Lawrence. Throughout the year, the series features new graduate students in the program, coordinates writer’s exchanges with grad students from nearby institutions, and at the end of the year, throws a celebratory reading/party for writers finishing their degrees. A short drive away in Topeka, Dennis Etzel, JR., a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Kansas, runs the Top City Reading Series, and there are great readings and literary events happening all the time in Kansas City, often at the Writer’s Place or Prospero’s Books.
And you’ll always find poets and novelists littering the patios at local coffee shops/bars like The Bourgeois Pig and Henry’s.
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?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with many talented poets and teachers. My experiences with workshops here have all been very positive, though I haven’t taken one in a while. Lately, I’ve been focused on studying for my comprehensive exams and preparing for my dissertation. However, I know that Joe Harrington has recently offered a multi-genre workshop that has gotten rave reviews for challenging writers to experiment with their work and to push genre conventions.
A course like that is intriguing to me because I’m interested in bridging the divide between experimental and more mainstream aesthetics, which is what I’ve been focusing on lately in my own work.
What sort of funding opportunities are available? What are you teaching? How easy is it to balance your teaching and writing?
Graduate Teaching Assistantships are the main source of funding, though the Department offers a few fellowships to incoming graduate students. Other funding opportunities at the dissertation stage are available through the department and through the Hall Center for the Humanities.
While teaching two courses a semester is challenging, and you’ll sometimes hear grumbling about it when the student papers roll in, it’s certainly doable. Plus, I feel that the teaching load has better prepared me for the job market.
The best thing about teaching at KU is the variety of courses graduate students can teach. I’m thrilled with the courses I’ve taught here, which include not only composition courses, but also a literature-based writing course, and the introductory workshop in poetry. I hope to teach a Literature survey as well.
What’s been your best memory of working with faculty?
I am continually astonished by the supportiveness of the faculty here. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with professors like Joe Harrington and Billy Joe Harris, who have supported and encouraged me, both a creative writer and as an academic. They regularly attend graduate student readings, fundraisers for student groups, and award ceremonies for graduate students. Joe was instrumental in helping us start the graduate student run literary journal Beecher’s, now in its third year.
What’s been your greatest struggle in graduate school thus far? How has this program shaped your view of craft?
I’m sure this isn’t what you mean, but honestly, my biggest struggle in graduate school has been being a new mom. My husband and I had a baby girl last year and balancing work and home-life has been challenging at times, but it helps that there are several new parents in our program. Poetry and play-dates actually work quite well together.
KU’s graduate program in creative writing has shaped my view of craft by seamlessly blending the study of literature and the study of creative writing. In some programs, you’ll find an artificial separation of the fields that is reinforced by divisions within the department. That hasn’t been my experience here at all. It’s a very collegial department.
What’s your next step? What sort of steps does your program take to prepare you for your post-graduate experience?
I hope to enter the job market soon, and I’m thankful that our job placement advisor helps to demystify the process by offering workshops, responding to drafts of letters and CVs, and arranging mock interviews for our graduate students on the market. Our department has an excellent job-placement program, and consequently, KU’s PhD program in English an impressive job-placement rate.
What tips would you give a prospective student who is considering attending your program?
Visit Lawrence! You really need to experience the town for yourself.
Amy Ash is a graduate of the MFA program at New Mexico State University and is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas, where she teaches poetry and co-edits Beecher’s Magazine. Her poems have been published in various journals, including Lake Effect, Cimarron Review, Harpur Palate, Pearl, Slipstream and Mid-American Review. She is a Pushcart nominee, winner of the 2012 Langston Hughes award for poetry, and a recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize. She lives in Lawrence, KS with her husband, Daniel, and their baby daughter, Ryan.