Dr. Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman is the most recent addition to the creative writing faculty. Her writing has recently appeared in Hippocampus and Brevity. She has worked as a freelance researcher for various media organizations including MTV, where she was the first person to compile research on the show that would later become the nationwide hit Teen Mom. Her teaching and writing interests include memoir, the personal essay, cultural criticism, and Narrative Medicine.
JT: When did you start teaching at NKU? How has your experience been so far at NKU?
JCH: I started at NKU in August 2014, and it’s been amazing. I have never had more enthusiastic students, and my colleagues go out of their way to be supportive of me. Everyone has been very welcoming as I find my place here.
JT: I remember the first time I really fell in love with creative writing and why. What sparked your passion for creative writing?
JCH: Like most writers, I fell in love with reading first. I grew up in two very small, mountainous towns–one in WV that was under 2,000 people, and one in VA that was under 3,000. Reading was my primary way of learning about different people and places. And it was by reading that I knew I wanted to write. I remember being a freshman in college and reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed. What I loved about that book is that it translated the realities of the working poor to a wealthy, elite readership. The translation wasn’t perfect, but it was the first time I’d ever read anything that even attempted to do that. As someone who had grown up in Appalachia and moved to uber-wealthy Manhattan, I knew I wanted to write literary nonfiction that bridged the divide between those two cultures, which is something that I struggled to do in my daily life. And I knew I wanted to write in a way that promoted social justice.
JT: How did that passion for creative writing transfer to a passion for teaching?
JCH: I never set out to teach, and yet, learning how to teach (it’s a constant learning process) has been the most meaningful intellectual and artistic experience of my life. Writing, particularly memoir writing, requires me to search inward. Like most memoirists, I don’t always like what I find there! Teaching is the opposite; all of my attention is focused on other people. It’s a much more comfortable stance. All that said, teaching is by no means some selfless act. I learned more about writing during my first semester of teaching writing (during the second year of my MFA program) than I had in K-12, college, and the first year of my MFA combined. I am constantly learning how to write by teaching others how to write.
JT: I know a number of students plan on being writers and professors after they graduate, myself included. What advice would you give to those students?
JCH: I think flexibility is key. I majored in Middle Eastern Studies in college. When September 11th happened I was actually in Cairo, Egypt on my junior year abroad. I interned at several newspapers and thought that with my knowledge of the Middle East and newspaper reporting experience, I’d have no problem getting a journalism job, especially with all the chaos in the region. But then, within a span of a few years that happened to coincide with my college years, the internet decimated the entire field of journalism. Newspapers folded, thousands of people were laid off, and the remaining news organizations closed most of their foreign bureaus. I had planned very carefully how to get a job after college, and it didn’t matter at all because the entire world had turned upside down. You just can’t plan for that; what you can do is be flexible. Think about what skills you have. Think about what the world needs. If there is anything that you know would make you absolutely miserable, cross that off your list, but be open to everything else. Be especially open to career paths you’ve never even considered. I never in a million years thought I’d be a college professor because, well, I really didn’t like college that much, and I was very happy to graduate and get the heck out of there. I never thought I’d go to graduate school. It was only years later that I opened my mind to it, and now I consider academia a place where I can contribute and a place where I feel at home. My point is that the world is going to change in extreme ways that we have no ability to predict. The “practical” major of today can easily become the major of the unemployed tomorrow, and vice-versa. The great thing about becoming an expert in the English language, and learning how to think critically and creatively, is that these are extremely flexible, transferable, and durable skills.
JT: I know you have work that is in the process of being published. Tell us about that.
JCH: Yes, I have a memoir that is currently with an agent in NYC. We are in the final stages before shopping it to publishers. Because it’s still in that stage I can’t say much more than that, but what I can say is that I wholeheartedly agree with George Orwell, who said that writing a book is like having some horrible, exhausting illness. It has been worth it, because one’s first book is, of course, where one learns how to write a book, but I will be very glad when the process is over and I can move on.
JT: Any other advice, thoughts, etc.?
JCH: One thing that sustains me through long workdays is knowing I will get to encounter my students’ lives on the page, in all of their glorious complexity, diversity, hilarity, and tragedy. I feel so privileged to help people write about their lives, and I learn so much about the world through what my students write. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’ve ever thought you have a true story to tell, I hope you’ll consider taking a Creative Nonfiction workshop!
NKU English graduates, Christen Leppla (MA, 2011) and Ryan Kauffman (MA, 2011), discuss their graduate studies at Northern Michigan University, including their summer grants and recent publications.
What are you doing now? Tell us about your MFA program, especially.
CL: I was lucky enough to get a fellowship in poetry to Northern Michigan University’s MFA program. It’s a teaching fellowship, so I teach one course a semester that will range from Composition to Creative Writing. In the fall, I will also be an associate fiction editor for Passages North. Since I’ve begun the MFA program, I’ve become the first person at NMU to duel track, so I’m now getting a MFA in poetry and fiction. It’s a lot of work, but I’m having a blast. The program is 3 years, so as of right now my thesis will entail a novel and a book length poetry collection. Needless to say, with that amount of work I’m glad the program is 3 years instead of 2!
RK: I’m a creative nonfiction candidate in the MFA program at Northern Michigan University. At first, I was considering dual tracking in nonfiction and fiction, but I’ve decided to concentrate solely on nonfiction for my coursework. The fiction faculty members, despite not having me as a student in their classes, have all been very helpful and encouraging of any works of fiction I’m working on outside of my nonfiction classes. Like Christen, I’ve been awarded funding for the program – mine in the form of a teaching assistantship – in which I teach one course a semester. So far, I’ve taught EN 111 Composition 1 and EN 211B Narrative and Descriptive Writing, and I’ll be teaching EN 211D Technical Writing in the fall. Also in the fall, I will be an associate nonfiction editor for Passages North.
Tell us about your summer grants.
CL: I received the Excellence in Education Grant to work on my novel over the summer. Basically, it covers some of my living expenses so that I can focus on finishing the first draft of my novel. The novel is centered on characters within diasporic Appalachian communities on the outskirts of what is considered the traditional Appalachian region, and the grant also paid for research materials to help me with authentic representation. I hope to have the first draft finished by September 1st.
RK: I received the Excellence in Education Grant to write a series of essays (that will hopefully become the centerpiece for a book-length work) interrogating memory through the lens of whale watching and the history of whaling in New England. With the grant, I travelled to Portland, Maine for archival research at the Maine Historical Society Library and the Portland Observatory, as well as two whale-watching tours in the North Atlantic for experiential research – in which I saw several Fin Whales (the second largest animal in the world) and Humpback Whales. My goal is to have written through at least three drafts of four essays by September 1st.
What have you recently published?
CL: I recently had two poems accepted in East Coast Literary Review. They were both poems that I’d workshopped at NKU and were part of the writing samples I sent with my MFA applications. It was great to see them find a home! I’ve actually published quite a few of the poems I wrote during my time at NKU, and I’m so grateful to the people in those workshops who challenged me as a writer.
RK: I’ve recently had several acceptances: One poem was accepted in Jellyfish Whispers, another poem was accepted in Poetry Quarterly, and a nonfiction piece was accepted in Punchnel’s. I worked on all three of these pieces, in earlier forms, during my time at NKU. The poem in Jellyfish Whispers has since been anthologized in the journal’s “Best of 2013” publication. I also have several pieces hanging out there in the ether between submission and rejection/acceptance, so my fingers are crossed for some more good news in the coming months.
Any current projects?
CL: Of course, my novel is the top priority this summer. To fulfill my grant proposal, I will need to complete at least twenty thousand words by the end of August. I’m also working on the beginnings of the poetry portion of my thesis, as well as trying to write a few nonfiction pieces that have been keeping me up at night. I will be presenting at the Writing Across the Peninsula Conference in the fall, so I will be polishing that presentation towards the end of the summer, as well.
RK: Along with the “whale” essays, I’m working on several other things this summer. I’ve been toying with a few flash fiction pieces, a novelette, and some ideas for a couple poetry/essay hybrid pieces that I’d like to get down on paper and start polishing. Another major project for this summer is centered on my reading list. Right now I have quite the stack to get through!
Any advice for current students?
CL: My advice is really for creative writing students. I think the most important thing current students can do is take advantage of every opportunity, whether that be working on Licking River Review, attending the readings the department organizes, or joining a workshop outside the classroom. The people I met when I got involved have continued to challenge and support me, and every experience helped my writing. I always wish I had done more. Also, commit to, and be present for, every workshop you take. Take risks. Experiment. Accept what is working and what isn’t. If you do that, the writing that will come from those workshops will be stronger and your ability to revise your work will be greater. Lastly, enjoy every minute! We are all so fortunate to go into a classroom that is devoted to what we love. I often can’t believe how lucky I am when I remember that my homework is to read a good book and write a few poems. I know I will look back someday and think how great this experience was and how I would do it all again if I could.
RK: Christen said it pretty well. In addition to her comments, I would encourage current students to take advantage of the wonderful creative writing classes and faculty at NKU. When you edit another student’s manuscript, take it seriously. By being a good editor/critic, you help yourself establish the literary moves you want to make in your own writing. Ask questions, and pay close attention to the faculty’s answers/suggestions. They know what they’re doing!
Dr. Parmita Kapadia, Associate Professor of English at NKU, discusses her research and her reasons for pursuing English Studies. She also offers advice for current students.
Please tell us about your recent publication.
My most recent publication, Bollywood Shakespeares, is an essay collection that explores how the Indian sub-continent has appropriated, adapted, and consumed Shakespeare. Specifically, the book traces the historical origins of Bollywood’s engagement with Shakespeare’s plays and examines how the Bard continues to be reimagined and reproduced through Bollywood conventions, styles, imagery, choreography, costuming, and music. This book builds on my previous scholarship on Shakespeare in a global context.
How did you know you wanted to become an English major and then a professor?
I actually did not major in English. I majored in Economics and Finance; my plan was to get an MBA and work on Wall Street. I still enjoy reading and learning about financial management. I was an English minor and had a professor who coaxed, cajoled, and finally pushed me to think about pursuing a doctorate in English. First he encouraged me to take a few more English courses. Then, he suggested I help the then-still-being-formed English Club write a budget and with general management issues. I loved being in the club; it was great to be with people who loved to read about, talk about, think about, and write about literature as much as I did. I wanted to keep reading and writing and I hoped to learn how to produce scholarship. At that point I realized I needed to get the Ph. D. I am still in touch with my former professor and I asked him if his getting me involved with the English Club through my economics background was intentional. He just smiled. I guess I can give him the credit or the blame.
What do you think is important for our current majors and recent graduates to know?
I think it is important for our majors to challenge themselves. Students should take courses in areas that are unfamiliar to them and in areas that sound hard or unusual. They should not be afraid of stepping out of their cocoons and trying something completely different. College should be a time of learning and experiencing new things and our majors should take advantage of this time.
Any current projects?
My current project focuses on how literature and immigration law represents and treats characters/individuals who come to the United States on various types of visas. Particularly, I am interested in individuals—most of them are women—who enter the US on what is known as a “Dependent Spouse” visa. This visa does not allow recipients to work, access public services, and in some cases drive, have a bank account, or rent a residence. Postcolonial literature’s depiction of such characters and immigration law’s treatment of them provides a space through which to examine issues of gender, race, and global capitalism.
Anything else you would like to tell us? (For example, I know you have to balance lots as professor, writer, mother, wife, and daughter. You must know a great deal about balancing such roles.)
Balancing different roles is the key to being productive, but it is important to keep one’s focus.
Rich Shivener (BA 2006, MA 2010), Assistant Director of First Year Programs at NKU, discusses his position, his recent publications/conference papers, and his advice for recent grads.
How did you become the Assistant Director of First Year Programs at NKU and how did your English studies prepare you for this role?
In Fall 2010, I had a good connection with First Year Programs when I was teaching University 101 and finishing my last semester in the MA program. FYP was seeking an assistant director who could coordinate FYP’s communications and the Book Connection, its common reading program for freshmen; a bonus was that the 2011-2012 Book Connection would feature a graphic novel by NKU alum David Mack. I felt prepared for the position, since I studied writing technologies, creative nonfiction and graphic novels. What’s more, my final project in the MA program was a graphic novel script on Cincinnati music. I was advised by Profs. Andrew Miller, Allen Ellis and John Alberti, the latter of whom serves on the Book Connection committee. It’s a joy to stay connected with the department!
Tell us about your publications.
Simply put, I love writing in a variety of contexts, and I’m thankful for the opportunities. I’ll name some recent ones. Writer’s Digest published my interviews with A Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin and The Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman. Cincinnati CityBeat published two chapters from my graphic novel script. I have credits with Paste, Sports Illustrated online and Publishers Weekly, for which I write features on digital publishing and comics. Beyond freelancing for magazines and online, I have presented scholarship at New York Comic-Con, the Conference on the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition and Comic-Con International: San Diego.
What did you present at Comic-Con International?
I was part of the panel “Crossover Series: Comics to College Writing” at the Comics Arts Conference at Comic-Con International. Fellow MA alum John Silvestro and I were sharing a lot of ideas since graduation, and we decided to propose a panel that discussed ways we use comics in ENG 101/College Writing. I thank Dr. Jen Cellio for offering me classes.
Any current projects?
I just finished a chapter on crime graphic novels, set to be published later this year in the book volume Critical Insights: The Graphic Novel (Salem Press). In December, Cincinnati magazine will publish my six-page comic on King Records in Cincinnati, where James Brown got his start. I wrote the script and recent grad Brian Wolf illustrated it.
Other than those, I have a few presentations and freelance pitches in the can. At FYP, I’m working with some colleagues on an assessment project regarding the Book Connection program. We want to know how the program impacts students’ opinions on such topics as child labor and globalization, two from this year’s book, Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman.
Any advice for current students or recent grads?
Stay persistent and form relationships as you pitch your ideas – whether you are connecting those with a professor or a potential employer. A little anecdote: When I was seeking an internship my senior year, I stalked (his words) a magazine’s editor-in-chief. I found out where he was holding special events and made sure to introduce myself each time. I had nary a writing clip to my name, but I sent over some recent creative writings and my first three clips with the student newspaper, The Northerner. The magazine decided to hire me because they knew I was eager to learn more about magazine writing and wasn’t afraid to fail many times in the process of sharpening my skills. I’ve been persistent in every pitch and application since.
Jennifer Whalen graduated May 2012 with a dual concentration in literature and writing. She lives in Austin and attends the Texas State University-San Marcos MFA program—a highly competitive program that has visiting writers such as Jorie Graham and Sherman Alexie. She also teaches freshman composition and acts as the public relations manager for the online literary journal, Front Porch.
How did you decide on a graduate program?
I had a lot of factors, but I wanted to go to a school that had a large focus on involvement within the writing community. I was impressed with the visiting writer series at Texas State, which brings in both up-and-coming and renown writers and we spend a couple days doing readings, Q&As, and workshops. There’s also a lot of involvement among the students themselves, between the literary magazine being entirely student run, as well as our monthly MFA student reading series.
Do you have advice for current NKU English students?
Take advantage of the experience. That sounds very freshman orientationy, but I mean it. Be involved and active in your education. Talk to people in your class. Share work with others outside of class. Meet with your professors. Be involved in a group or organization. There isn’t a day I don’t use some bit of knowledge I learned from either a peer or a professor at NKU. However, don’t spread yourself too thin. Know what you enjoy doing or where you excel, and give it your best effort, as opposed to giving a little bit of yourself to a lot of things.
Any reading suggestions? Who are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins. I’ve also tasked myself with having more of a foundation within my reading list, so I’m reading John Berryman’s Homage to Mistress Bradstreet.
What is one of your fondest memories of your time at NKU?
One of my fondest memories is the first Loch Norse Magazine release party. It had all the excitement of a movie (the magazine was printed literally an hour before the event), which made the night that much sweeter when it went so magnificently. It was a year of ups and downs, and it was incredibly special to see the editing staff’s dedication and hard work come to life in printed, physical form. So many students attended the celebration, as well as professors, and it was a perfect way to end my time at NKU.