Rhiannon Racy Interviews Michael Meyerhofer About Awards, Publishing, and Life in Academia

As we begin our new semester, we will reinvigorate our blog presence. In the coming weeks, look for a new design to our blog as well as more events within the department, and, of course, continued posts keeping you up to date and informed. To begin 2012 and a new semester, check out an interview by intern Rhiannon Racy with assistant professor Michael Meyerhofer about his recent publications and awards. The two also investigate Meyerhofer’s ever-evolving sense of himself as a poet and educator.

Tell me about the awards and nominations you have received and which works they were awarded for.

“Most recently, I’ve been celebrating the release of my third full-length poetry book, “Damnatio Memoriae,” which won the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest.  There’s also “Pure Elysium,” my fifth chapbook and winner of the Palettes and Quills 2nd Biennial Chapbook Contest.  My poem, “December Mourning,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, as well as the Best of the Net Anthology from Sundress Publications.”

It must be exciting to be recently nominated and to receive so many awards. How does it feel?

“Horribly depressing.  Just kidding.  Actually, it’s great to get validation because this business is so competitive yet so solitary.  In a sense, awards are just another form of publication, and publication is about more than networking or feathering one’s literary headdress; it’s about getting your work out there, having it read and, hopefully, enjoyed.”

What current projects are you working on?

“Let’s see… Currently, I’m putting the finishing touches on my fourth full-length poetry manuscript, as well as the sequel to my forthcoming fantasy novel.  I’m also the Poetry Editor for Atticus Review, which takes up some time, but is a great side project.   Aside from that, I always have a few poems, novellas, and raw ideas rattling around in my head and hard drive, hopefully some of which will actually turn into something.”

How do you balance your writing with your teaching? How do the two affect each other?

“I haven’t quite figured out yet how to add more hours to the day; luckily, though, I love interacting with students, and even though that takes a lot of time and energy, it’s incredibly inspiring in terms of my own creative projects.  Students are fellow human beings, after all, and since we’re all basically after the same things and asking ourselves the same questions, the more perspectives we can bring into the conversation, the better.  I think the trick is to avoid that natural inclination to separate one’s own creative self from one’s professional self.  I’m always telling my students that you can’t write when your lens is cloudy; that is, you can’t really understand, let alone express, a deep insight or emotion if you’re walled off.  I think the same goes for teaching. The less walled off you are, the more vulnerable, sure, and the more energy you have to put in; on the other hand, I think you stand to gain a lot more.”

Tell me about your background. How did you get where you are today?

“I ask myself that a lot…  Well, I grew up in a small town in northern Iowa.  If you’ve never been, northern Iowa is a lot like Indiana, except with more hills, cattle, and snow.  My roots are strictly blue collar, which definitely informs and grounds a lot of my writing.  Especially early on, I had horrible stage fright and little or no self-confidence; writing, teaching, and publishing helped with that.  I remember being in grad school and walking around campus, grinning like an idiot, because I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.  I don’t just mean academia; I mean being around other writers, other people who actually cared about and actively valued this bit of oddball craftsmanship, who understood that it’s not a job but a vocation.  Aside from that, in terms of publishing and accolades, it was just a matter of hard work, naiveté, anger, sappiness, and general stubbornness.”

What advice do you have for readers on writing, education, and life?

“Good writers have to be good readers–that’s obvious–but it also helps if we can temper our reflexive self-involvement with humility, plus the dedication to glean from even a seemingly pointless event or unapproachable text whatever insight or lesson it has to offer.  I haven’t learned from my mistakes nearly as much as I should; on the other hand, my mistakes taught me more than anything else.  Other than that, don’t forget to enjoy yourself.  Go outside.  Stare at a tree or something.”

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