A few weeks
ago, I wrote you about how my creative writing are amazing writers and teachers.
Lasti Friday, I attended a breakfast with the Board of Regents with a few
invited faculty members from NAU to talk about how faculty research impacts
undergraduate students. Faculty don’t have many opportunities to hear what
their fellow faculty work on—which is too bad because these people are as
amazing as my English Department colleagues. To wit:
NAU’s newest Regent’s Professor in the School of Earth Science and Environmental
Sustainability, talked about mycorrhizae—the symbiotic relationship between
fungi and plants. Underground, microscopic tubes of mycelium (mushrooms are the
fruiting bodies of mycelia) bring nutrients to plants. In her environmental
science class, she wanted to research fungi on farms but there aren’t many
farms in Flagstaff. One of her Navajo students told her he planned to begin
farming his grandfather’s plot on the reservation. Together, they applied for
grants and hope to begin research on this farm to study mycorrhizal
Ingram, Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor, noted how one of her Navajo
students was particularly good at calibrating equipment because he worked as a
jeweler, making him indispensible in the field. Michael Rulon, a 19th
century French Literature professor, brings his scholarship to teach students
in global engineering how to develop international communication. Chrissina
Burke, a lecturer in anthropology, took a contingent of undergraduates to
uncover Mayan ruins, teaching them archaeological practices from lab work to
fieldwork to grant writing.
Studies Professor Mark Montoya talked about the STAR program, which prepares
at-risk students for college, and how writing from one’s cultural point of view
empowers students. Professor Laura Gray-Rosendale, who directs the
English portion of the STAR program, noted that NAU’s online English graduate
programs were ranked #1 in the country by GradSource. Dr. Gray-Rosendale, who
is working on a book about teaching personal writing in the digital age, also
wrote College Girl, a memoir that explores her college
experiences and how she became interested in rhetoric as a way of talking about
those college experiences.Daniel Eadens’ new book, Social Justice Instruction: Empowerment on
the Chalkboard, offers strategies for teaching social justice concepts across subject areas from
kindergarten through college.Because I write,
edit, and publish my students know how to write, edit, and publish. We can also
host big cultural events. My students attended the international NonfictioNOW
conference at NAU last year. This year, students who were part of that
conference will help host the Northern Arizona Book Festival October 10-16 and
attend the next conference in Reykjavik.
Wagner, Professor of Biological Sciences and table-host extraordinaire, works
with microorganisms and bacteria like anthrax and plague. His facility is run
like a business. The benefit to undergraduates? They who work in the lab most
write letters, create resumes, and interview to get a job at the lab. These
students go on to great graduate research universities, having had such
professional research experience.
Professor Bruce Fox told us about how, after a forest fire on the Peaks, aspen
trees tried to regenerate but elk snacked on the baby aspen trees as though at
a deli. His students tried protecting the baby trees by strewing the area with
fallen logs to stave off elk. It didn’t work but those students keep trying to
find ways to help forests regenerate in their now-graduate programs. Rachel
Koch teaches international students English quickly to prepare them for the two
years of study they will spend at NAU. Professor of Educational Leadership,
Ishmael Munene noted that we teach these students the subtle art of organizing
committees and preparing presentations. Theater Professor Kate Ellis teaches
costume design. She takes students to the Utah Shakespeare festival for hands-on
set and design work. Statistics Professor Roy St. Laurent said that on Friday
Afternoon Math Undergraduate Seminar (FAMUS) from 3 to 4, there’s not an open
seat in the classroom.
Sociology and Social
Work professor Natalie Cawood, when asked by a Regent if when we were in
college, did we had any undergraduate research opportunities, said that one of
the things NAU does best is marry what private liberal arts schools provide—small
class sizes, close-relationships with faculty, with what a large university
President Cheng underscored
that faculty at the breakfast were just a few of the hundreds of professors at
NAU invested in undergraduate research. She invited each of the Regents to next
April’s symposium where the entire Skydome is filled with poster presentations
showcasing undergraduate research. I hope you can come too.
festival season in Flagstaff. Two Saturdays ago, at the same time as the Hopi
Festival, the Festival of Science began in Wheeler Park. I met a falcon owned
by the woman who manages Jay’s Bird Barn and talked to an avalanche expert. Max
and Zoe won sunflower seeds by spinning a wheel, made bracelets with beads that
indicated when to reapply sunscreen, and made parachutes to catch good air. Last
Saturday was Oktoberfest and weekend two of the Festival of Science. We did as
much science as possible with Max and Zoe at the new Science and Health
building with its Hogwarts’ staircases that look down upon the Liberal Arts
building. You can see my office which I chose for the light that came through my
windows before Science and Health construction began. Still, to be shadowed by
Hogwarts is not the end of the world.
Science Fest we saw a scorpion that bio luminesced under a black light. We
learned that people with cats have less staphylococcus bacteria on their skin.
Max and Zoe got Smarties for answering questions about heart ventricles. We saw
a stuffed peregrine falcon and a long eared owl and took some wildflower seeds
home for our garden.
first moved to Flagstaff, we went to an Oktoberfest out at the Nordic Center.
There were pumpkins and a straw bale maze but no beer, which confused us, so we
went home. This year, we didn’t make it to Oktoberfest because Stacy Murison,
Lawrence Lenhart, colleagues of mine at NAU, and Kate Harkins, Blake Carrera,
students in the MFA program, typed poems On Demand at Full Circle Thrift Store while
Aly Jay played her beautiful guitar and sang her beautiful voice.
poems by us, The Poetry On Demand Team:
cloud/ a pull of snow/ o thin you can only dream about touching
it/ you can fly through them.
And, Finding a fan: It was a breezeless day. What can you do
in Phoenix in/July? Wait? No No No. /Go Get the wind.
of drinking beer, we typed in the first event of the Northern Arizona Book
Festival, which officially begins next week. Jesse Sensibar and James Jay have
put together an amazing schedule of events. The whole schedule can be found at http://www.nazbookfest.org/wp/schedule-2/but here are a few highlights:
October 10th, 7–8 p.m.
Narrow Chimney Reading with Michaela Carter, Ann Cummins,
Susan Lang, Mary Sojourner at Uptown Pubhouse followed by Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase
at the Doris Harper-White Community Playhouse from 8–9:30 p.m.
Oct. 12, 5:30-7 p.m. Flag Live’s Letter from Home columnists read from their
latest works at Uptown. Then, at 7:30 p.m. Gary Every and Lawrence Lenhart read
at Barefoot Cowgirl.
Thursday, from 7-9 p.m. I, with William Trowbridge, Erin Stalcup, Diana
Gabaldon read at the Coconino Center for the Arts.
Friday, Oct. 14 from 7–10 p.m. Jim Harrison Tribute with Pamela Uschuk, William
Pitt Root, Doug Peacock at the Orpheum Theater
Oct. 15, from 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Getting Published Workshop at Barefoot
Cowgirl. At the downtown library, the Book Fest offers a slate of young
readers’ events from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. At 1:30–3 p.m. Simmerman Book
Release Reading with William Trowbridge, Ann Cummins, James Jay, Miles
Waggener, and Sean Carswell at Uptown.
night, at 7:00, it’s “Return of the Writers” with NAU English Department alumni
Sean Carswell, T. Greenwood and Miles Waggener return to read from their latest
books at Uptown.
Oct. 16 from 1:00 to 2:00, the Waxwing reading with Matt Bell and Dexter L.
Booth at Firecreek Coffee Co will be followed by 2–3 p.m. Thin Air reading then
from 3–4 p.m, is Indigenous Authors Reading with Jennifer Foerster, Tom Holm,
Simon Ortiz, and Orlando White.
event that Sunday is the book festival board reading with James Jay, Stacy Murison, Jesse Sensibar, John Quinonez, Andrew
Wisniewski, and Ian Kersey where I promise to read all 100 of my Letters to
Ducey (Not really. Really I will read poems On Demand. No need to torture my
kind friends although if you come, Governor Ducey, I will read a letter to
just a sampling of the events but you can see this is going to be a festival
that will soar as high as the peregrine falcon, catch as much wind as a
Max-built parachute, will make your heart ventricles pump enough blood to
warrant a bucketful of Smarties. Come up from Phoenix, come get the wind.
finished mopping the floor. My sister is coming to town and I don’t want her to
think I’m a total slob. I don’t have to mop the floor. She really wouldn’t mind
but Bear the Dog likes to find the only mud-spot in the forest and to lay down
full body. Then he likes to jump up on me and my running clothes. My running
clothes are in the laundry. My leg is flaking its patch of dirt onto the
floor—which I’ll have to vacuum again and then mop again. Sometimes, efficiency
is not my middle name.
have to mop the floor or walk the dogs (I do have to walk the dogs or the dogs
would maul me with their neediness and pent up desire for muddiness). I could
have been finishing the grant application. Or making a volunteer spreadsheet.
Or finishing the copyedits on Canning
Peaches for the Apocalypse. Or emailing instructors to send me their
swipes of mop, I did some of these things.
probably not the most efficient mode but things pop up in my mind like dirt
pops up on my leg—seemingly out of nowhere but actually quite predictable. My
job is a hodgepodge of duties and, like most professor jobs, one that seems on
the surface voluntary but is by hodge and podge, actually required.
I want to
email my student because she’s embarking on a big project—trying to put
together a thesis on a single topic. How do you write about a single topic
without becoming redundant? Well, I think back to the EGG book I wrote. How did
I write Egg? I looked for various clichés and I titled each short essay that
cliché. How many eggs does it take to break an omelet? Can you put humpty
dumpty back together again? Is the egg truly incredible? Do I really have to
walk on eggshells?
I do have
to email the student because my job is to teach. And I do have to write a book
about eggs because how else will I know how to answer her question if I haven’t
grappled with how to write about something before?
I look at
my list of things to do: make a volunteer sign-up list for the Northern Arizona
Book Festival. This is truly volunteer work—not even in my job description and
yet I volunteered to be a part and I want the book festival to go off
successfully and how can I volunteer to make a volunteer list if I don’t volunteer
morning, before I left to go get my sister from Phoenix, I popped over to
Puente de Hozho, where my son Max goes to school, to try to inspire the kids to
join the Read-a-Thon. Each kid has a bingo-like paper and each square has a
particular idea to make the reading extraordinary, like read under a tree, read
over the phone. The kids ask their parents and relatives to sponsor each square
and the money goes to Puente to buy things Puente can’t normally afford like
new sound systems, computers, playground equipment.One of the squares was “Read in a funny
place.” I asked the kids where they could read. The answers: on the roof, on
the toilet, in the car, on the car, in a tree, while climbing, in a box, in a
closet, on stilts. I told them to try to keep both feet on the ground as they
read as a precautionary measure. I outlined the prizes, a Kindle, a $25 gift
card, but I told them the true gift was a week devoted to reading. Truly
self-serving! I, as a writer, want kids to grow up loving to read.
I can write
soon but first, I have students with essays for me to comment upon and books to
read and review for presses. I have book fests to support and colleagues and
students to write letters of recommendation for and previous professors to ask
letters of recommendation of [future Letter to the Governor: Abolish letters of
part of my job is to write—like that is spelled out and detailed. I’m supposed
to teach 60% of my time. Write for 30%. Serve for 10%. And the writing is
important because that is how I know what and how to teach.
Now, I guess
I have to go let the dogs back in, dirty though they may be. Somewhere between
vacuuming and mopping, I’ll find a minute to write again.
It is the
first week back at university! The campus is bustling. The students are rapt.
There are many changes afoot. New buildings and ped-ways. New systems to make
classroom assignments more efficient. New parking rules. New grant-procurement
incentives. It’s like a whole new university. And, in a way, it is. Since I
started teaching here only 8 years ago, the number of students has doubled. You
can tell when you’re in downtown Flagstaff. You can tell at the restaurants
that have waiting lists and in the traffic and in the hallways. We are
squeezing in and making room and I would say, it’s kind of exhilarating. It’s a
great thing that more people want to come here and a sign that the university
is getting recognition it deserves. My colleagues do awesome things: win
Guggenheim’s, National Endowment of the Arts grants, National Science
write books. Two of my colleagues, Lawrence Lenhart and Erin Stalcup, had books
released this summer. Lawrence’s book, The
Well-Stocked and Gilded Cage, is a fantastic collection of essays about
animals and mythologies, babies and sinking countries. The blurb I wrote for
the back of the book goes like this:
There are books with turtles in
them. And books with dogs. And books about bullies. And books about hoarding
birds. There are books about Bangladesh and books about the end of the world
but I do not think there is another book that pulls back the veil to reveal how
woven together dogs, bullies, birds, babies and Bangladesh are. Lenhart does
something in The Well-Stocked and Gilded Age that only someone
with a special kind of genius can do: train his focus as sharply inward as he
does outward. Intense awareness combined with his intense concern make for a
big heart and a big brain and a big, as in important, book.
Stalcup’s And Yet It Moves, is an
amazing collection of short stories. This book is wild in the way it
incorporates science, sex, and sauciness into a wide array of characters. What
I love most about the book is the variety of narrators. Erin is just one person
when I work and hang out with her but inside that one person’s head, she’s
crafting believable and far-ranging people.
Bigos worked on his novel all summer. He had good reason to. His novella was
chosen by TC Boyle for the Seattle Review’s novella contests. If that wasn’t a
big enough win, right before his short story published by McSweeney’s was
chosen for The Best American Short
Stories. And right before that, his chapbook, 20,000 Pigeons came out. He’s on a winning streak that doesn’t seem
mention that Erin and Justin’s lit mag Waxwing
published a poem by Maggie Smith that went so viral articles in The Guardian
were written about it?
Cummins, author of the collection Red Ant
Hill and Yellow Cake, both big
books from big presses, finished her nonfiction book this summer. I’ve a good
portion of this. You may have heard her read from this manuscript around town. I
don’t want to jinx it by saying out loud how big I think this book is going to
be. So I’ll just say. It’s already amazing.
Armstrong, who’s on sabbatical, just won a Viola Award for her project Aphasia:
Neurological Aphasia in Text and Image, which is still on display in Riles Building
on campus. Even though she’s not on campus, she’s still working on building a
writing community. She’s directing and acting in plays that the Northern
Arizona Playwriting Showcased. NAPS, founded in part by our colleague Ann
Cummins, showcases seven winning ten-minute plays every year—this year,
September 9-11. In between playwriting and lyric essay writing, is researching
a big book about her ancestry: Please see Charlemagne.
I went back
to teach this week and stood in front of the incoming Master of Fine Arts in
Creative Writing students and was able to tell them how happy we are to have
them here and that the creative writing faculty, who write all summer long and
on the weekends and sometimes between classes, are here to share with the
students what we’ve been working on and how we got to where we are with our
A lot has
changed at NAU, including ever-diminishing resources. But one thing that hasn’t
changed is the way the professors do what they do not only because they love it
but because they love to share it and show their students how it’s done. I’m
lucky to have such awesome colleagues that do it and show it and share it so