Teaching art in the RC

BY KATE SCHMIER

Published March 23, 2006

With six collections of poetry and three novels under her belt, Laura Kasischke's writing career has yielded one success after another. Although her impressive list of accolades includes the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, and the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for emerging writers, she insists that the act of writing itself has been her greatest reward. For Kasischke, who received both her B.A. and M.F.A. from Michigan, transforming her passion into a career has been nothing short of a dream come true. Now a creative writing instructor in the Residential College, she attempts to instill in her students the confidence to follow their own ambitions.

The Michigan Daily: Describe your experience as a creative writing student at Michigan.

Laura Kasischke: When I came to the University, I had a vague idea that I wanted to be a writer. But, it seemed like an unlikely scenario. No one in my immediate family was a writer, so I didn't have a notion of what it would entail. In the Residential College, I received a lot of support from my teachers, Ken Mikolowski and Warren Hecht, who are now my colleagues. After I got a Hopwood Award for my poetry as freshman, I felt encouraged. My goals seemed possible for the first time, whereas they had been a fancy before. At Michigan, I learned to incorporate writing into my daily life. Had someone told me, at that time, that I would be back here to teach, I wouldn't have believed it. It's an amazing dream fulfillment.

TMD: When you look back at your early writing, how do you feel it has changed?

LK: I find it hard to examine the differences in my own writing. It's kind of like trying to notice the changes in your face as you grow older. You can look at photographs, but you don't really perceive the changes while they're happening. I'm more surprised by how much my writing has stayed the same. I think my skill level has become more sophisticated, but I'm largely dealing with the same themes. I vaguely remember writing a poem in the dorm about clothing wearing away. It was sort of a metaphoric epiphany about transition and loss. Those ideas have always haunted me.

TMD: Every writer has her own writing process. What is yours?

LK: I try to write every day. Ideally, I'll get it over with in the morning. Before I had a child, I was more rigid, but once my son was born, everything went out the window. Now, my schedule varies. But, I believe in the whole habit of the art. I really encourage my students to make writing a part of their lives, not just when they're in the act of writing, but also, when they're on the bus, at a store, or at a party. You can't just wait around for a burst of inspiration; you have to go out and look for it.

TMD: How does your process differ when writing a poem versus a novel?

LK: A poem requires more specific energy. Most of the time, I have an idea worked out in my head before I begin to write it. When I'm working on a novel, I usually start with a character and a place. But, I often feel like I'm goofing around for about 100 pages before I figure out where it's all going.

TMD: With which of your works are you most pleased?

LK: "Fire and Flower" contains many poems about my son. I like this collection the most because the writing was very meaningful for me.

TMD: As a writer, there were probably many places where you could have settled. Why did you choose to stay in Ann Arbor?

LK: After undergrad, I actually left Ann Arbor and went to New York to get my M.F.A. at Columbia University, but I ended up coming back after a year. I found that the instruction at the MFA program at Michigan was much better. I still love the breadth of activities for writers in Ann Arbor. There are great bookstores and wonderful lectures. There's also a great appreciation for literature. You'll always find people on benches reading books. We have a very rich writing community.

TMD: What advice would you give to an aspiring poet or novelist?

LK: Never lose faith in yourself. Most writers go through periods when they write badly. During this time, many people simply give up. I've mostly found that those who stick with it long enough to eventually get published. However, you should be writing because you love it. Writing has its own rewards. It offers sanity, lets you relive the past and cope with a loss. It's an interesting way to process the world.