Jacqui Tackett interviews Dr. Donelle Dreese about her prolific and varied body of work. Tackett and Dreese discuss Dreese’s work in Ecocriticism, activism, mixing genres, writing techniques, and other courses Dreese teaches at NKU.
JT: You’ve done a lot of work and research on Environmental Literature and even published a book on Ecocriticism. Tell us about that and why you feel so passionate about it.
DD: I love literature that pulls the background into the foreground and holds a mirror up to show us the interdependent relationship we have with the beauty and intelligence of nature. When I was a young girl, the rural hillsides of Pennsylvania were my refuge and playgrounds, and those experiences laid the foundation for a life-long passion for the environment and how profoundly we are influenced by place. Environmental Literature is also an important part of my activist work. Our planet has been facing difficult challenges for quite some time. I’m glad that these issues are becoming more present in our national and international political dialogues, but there is a lot of work to do. We all can participate in creating a healthier planet and a more sustainable future. We have a responsibility to each other and to future generations to do so, and I have great admiration for talented writers who are showing us how important our home is and that we need to conserve and protect it.
JT: You’re also going to be teaching a course titled “Literature and the Environment” soon. Tell us about that.
DD: Literature and the Environment examines current and historical attitudes toward our environment through literature and examines its role as a form of spiritual expression and environmental activism. It also explores themes of survival and how communities are strengthened or dissolved by the shared experience of environmental crisis. The class focuses on literature that foregrounds wilderness areas, wastelands, farms, forests, urban spaces, the sea, mountains, small towns, reservations, borderlands, and other locations and landscapes that impact human consciousness. It’s important for me to mention that environmental justice themes are present in most of my classes, including Multicultural American Literature, Literature & Film, and American Women Poets. The relationships between race, class, gender, and the environment form the foundation for my pedagogical research. Women, people of color, and people who are poor often suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards, and there is a large body of literature that portrays these experiences.
JT: Looking over your list of publications, it ranges from poetry, fiction, articles on literature, environmental literature, and Ecocriticism. Since you have published in so many different genres and formats, what advice would you give to students juggling multiple genres as well?
DD: This is a great question. Initially, I think it is quite useful to experiment with different genres. Each genre has its own set of tools and conventions that are worth participating in and exploring for any writer, if for no other reason than to get a sense of one’s own voice and abilities. Ultimately though, it will depend on your goals. I love a challenge, so writing in different genres allows me to push my limits. But I don’t always feel as if the decision is mine. It is the idea and voice that chooses the genre. I follow the muse, if you will. Think also about how different genres can enhance and inform one another. Being a poet might help you write lyrical novels, or being a storyteller might help you write narrative poetry. Or, you might enjoy swimming the boundary waters between poetry and prose. Having considerable experience with critical research and analysis will help you polish your work and give you the investigative tools to write about any topic. On the down side, if you are trying to build an audience and a certain identity as a writer, it might be a good idea to stick to one genre. You may not be able to excel as much as you like in any one genre if you are switching among several.
JT: If you had to pick a favorite genre to write in, what would it be and why?
DD: It is too hard for me to choose. I love all forms of writing, but I have been focusing primarily on poetry and fiction in recent years. My novels usually start with an idea and a character longing to be heard. I enjoy the experience of embarking on a journey in a world where I have freedom to roam. For poetry, I love the immediacy of writing poems and playing with language. The world is radiating with meaning and presence and there are poems everywhere and in everything. My writing is almost always a careful braiding of artistry and activism. Everything I write is in some way a love letter to the world. And although I am not currently writing articles, the intellectual process of writing literary criticism is deeply imbedded in my creative work. I am passionate about research. I love gathering information, processing it, and deciding how I want to present it in a new way.
JT: What advice would you give to students who hope to get published?
DD: Read! Read all kinds of novels, poetry, nonfiction, and articles. Seek insightful feedback on your work. Revise carefully. Be patient–try not to send your work to publishers before it is ready. Put it away for a while. Let it simmer. Come back to it later with fresh eyes. Research publication venues. Follow submission guidelines. Don’t be discouraged by rejection–your happiness in life is not in the hands of an editor. Treasure your fellow writer friends who care about your art and your well-being. Be persistent. Try not to become too preoccupied with publishing. Go for long walks in the woods. Meditate. Learn a new skill that creates new connections in your brain. Enjoy your life. Be brave.
Jacqui interviews NKU BA and MAE graduate, Minadora Macheret, about her life after NKU, which includes an MA at Kansas State and acceptances to several PhD in English/Creative Writing programs: University of South Dakota, Georgia State, and the University of North Texas (with full funding).
JT: Tell us about some of your favorite memories at NKU as an undergraduate and graduate student.
MM: Some of my favorite memories as an undergraduate student while at NKU had to be the OpenMic that we have in the middle of the plaza during the Celebration of Research week. Also, I loved the trip I got to take to Ecuador to do service-learning and to engage the country and its history. As a graduate student, I was fortunate to be chosen to run Licking River Review and learned a lot from sending out a call for submissions to finalizing the proofs on the final product. Most of all, my favorite memories included the faculty and students that were part of my community and who continue to support me today (even states away).
JT: You also have another Master’s degree from Kansas State. What degree is that in, and what made you decide to get another Master’s degree?
MM: Funnily enough, my Master’s degree from Kansas State is also in English, but with a focus in literature and creative writing, along with a certificate in Professional and Technical Communication. Well, I ended up at K-State after dealing with almost 12 rejections to MFA programs from the 2014-2015 application season. I had heard from a friend that they were still looking for applicants (especially poets) and considering their amazing poet on faculty, Traci Brimhall, I realized that I wanted to work with her and see how my poetry could grow. Also, K-State gave me the opportunity to teach persuasive writing as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, which would help to cover my tuition and some of my living costs.
JT: Many students from NKU will want to further their education, and many will be looking into graduate assistantships, teaching assistantships, and other scholarships to receive funding for graduate school, myself included. Since you just received funding to the University of South Dakota, what advice would you give those students?
MM: I would advise researching the schools that you are applying to and making sure that they state on their departmental websites that they cover tuition through teaching assistantships or research assistantships, or through other work programs through the university, like working in writing centers. If the website doesn’t tell you then call the department and speak to their director to find out how funding is distributed (if it is offered). Not all programs will offer funding or some will just offer partial funding. Also, make sure to highlight any sort of teaching you have done, whether as a teaching assistant, a grader, as a tutor, through any volunteering programs, etc. within your statement of purpose to show the program that you’re serious in pursuing your skills in aiding others to learn. I think most importantly that you find ways to follow your passions even if it may not be considered the “normal route.” For instance, at K-State I was unable to teach any creative writing courses and so I found ways to teach creative writing within the community. I teach poetry and storytelling to the local 4-H Latina club in Manhattan, KS, which have become very popular and opened other avenues where I get to engage creative writing. I think the best advice I ever got (coincidentally from a professor at NKU) was to take any passion I have and find a way to build community and engagement through it even when it seems like every door has closed. That bit of advice has been pivotal for my success as a poet and professional.
JT: What schools did you pick to apply to and why? What would you tell students to look for in a school when they start applying for graduate school?
MM: I applied to University of North Texas, Georgia State University, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Florida State University. I chose those other four schools because I heavily researched the faculty there and found people that I thought could become mentors or that at the very least we would be a good fit based on aesthetic, research interests, genre of writing, etc. Also, making sure each program was fully funded was a concern of mine along with looking at how their current students/recent graduates were doing as far as publications, rates of job offers, etc. As far as what you want to look for when you start applying for graduate school is to make sure that the city/town/location, its environment, and climate are things you can live with for the next two to five years depending on the length of your program. Look at the applications fees, if they require official GRE scores to be sent, and whether they require official transcript copies to be sent, all of which can add up very quickly and expensively. Make sure that there are faculty within the program that are interested in similar research ideas so you can establish a mentorship and work with someone already established within the field. Also, if funding is a concern of yours, make sure to find out that the program is fully funded and understand that funding can sometimes fall through due to the nature of budget cuts and bureaucracy. Lastly, I would see if the program offers classes that you would like to take by looking at their course catalogs and even reaching out to current students to hear about their experiences within that program.
JT: What do you plan to accomplish and focus on while furthering your education at either the University of South Dakota or the other programs you applied to?
MM: I will be focusing on completing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing with a focus in poetry. My hope is to complete a second collection of poems and work on sending out the current manuscript to be picked up. Along with that, I want to continue my work as the Poetry Editor for Devilfish Review, will hopefully join the staff of the university’s literary magazine, and continue my work with 4-H youth.
JT: Besides furthering your education, has there been anything else you’ve been up to?
MM: Besides furthering my education, I have spent a lot of time traveling cross- country with my pup, Aki, attending writing residencies, and being a part of different reading series. Also, I got to spend the last two years helping to do curriculum develop and create culturally-sensitive programming for KSRE-4H Youth Development, which has resulted in a webinar series where I get to be a facilitator as well as guest speaker. My time in Kansas has been a whirlwind full of adventure, reflection, and growth. I am thankful for the landscape I’ve gotten to experience and become a part of.