- BA, Concordia College-Moorhead
- MFA, Eastern Washington University
- PhD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Research and/or Creative Interests
Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Environmental Writing, Place Writing, Contemporary Irish Literature, Nonfiction Studies
Creative Nonfiction, Environmental Nonfiction, Forms of Nonfiction, Travel/Place Writing, Crime Literature, Contemporary Irish Literature.
I once interviewed the fiction writer Will Weaver and asked if he had a writing schedule, if he wrote every day, and he said he did, "because it would be a shame if the Angel of Fiction showed up and I wasn't there." Writing isn't magic, it's a muscle, and it requires active and deliberate attention. We have to work at our craft, the study of it, the discussion of published texts, because this is how we figure out who we are as writers. I love teaching contemporary texts so that we can meet or Skype with the writers we're reading.
For me, almost everything comes back to place: can you know who you are if you don't know where you stand? The geography, geology, culture, history, etc., of where you are affects your identity, and that's something we look at across all of my classes.
Why did you become an English professor?
My writing and teaching feed each other. When we're in an environment full of words, our brains attune to that frequency, and we actively look at the world as writers. It becomes our first instinct to view our day through the lens of being a writer. I'm better for being surrounded by my students, their writing, and their ideas.
Why teach X?
I took a class in Minnesota Writers. That year, Paul Gruchow had just won the prestigious Minnesota Book Award for Boundary Waters (and I had no idea he was teaching in our English department, which was another kind of revelation). It was a moment where I realized that I didn't know writers could be from MN, that you could write about it, that you could write about rural MN, that it could be published and that anybody would care. I realized that I didn't have to write about exciting things happening elsewhere, that writing about home was something you could do. I didn't have to set my work in New York or LA for it to be something that others would read. I would be a few more years before I realized that this moment was the beginning of who I would be as a teacher, working towards teaching local literature, valuing the local in my students' writing. Where we are right now is an incredibly vibrant place to write from.
Outside of being a professor, what do you do for fun and/or relaxation?
I like to travel solo in my 13-ft Scamp camper, which I've had for more than ten years now. I've camped to Nova Scotia among other places and I hope to take a westward trip up through Banff next summer. I also really like to bake. I started picking up cast iron in thrift stores a few years ago and it's become a bit of an obsession, which is exacerbated by my increasing collection of NordicWare cake pans.
What are your expectations of students?
Our class functions best when everybody comes to class ready to discuss what's in front of us. Coming to class with questions is as valuable as coming with answers and I place a high priority on marking up our readings, writing questions and reactions in the margins, making connections. I expect students to do their best, to challenge their comfort zone and what they think they're capable of. We learn as much in the attempt as the success. "I never thought of it that way before" is one of my favorite things to hear in a class discussion.
What's something about you that might surprise your students?
I hate coffee. It's all tea. My favorite is Earl Grey.