This Tuesday, 10/1, the Hope campus will experience a double homecoming. Today we catch up with memoirist, essayist, mentor, award-winner, and former Hope professor Heather Sellers. Come see her, along with former Hope student Mira Bartók, at the upcoming Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series event, plus two additional events! (Details below.)
Professor Sellers, you’re well-remembered at Hope, of course, for the time you spent as a creative writing professor here from 1995 to 2013, before your move to the University of South Florida. Can you tell us a little more about your life these days?
I miss Hope College and Holland every single day. I’m so thrilled to have this opportunity to come back for a visit.
I teach poetry, nonfiction, and flash/micro in the MFA program at the University of South Florida. Working with graduate students is labor-intensive, in a good way. We offer a three-year program, so our student writers have time to complete a book manuscript while gaining extensive teaching experience in their own creative writing classrooms. I teach a course in pedagogy for creative writers, and I’m proud that several of my grad students from that course have been nominated for university-wide teaching awards.
I teach mostly poetry in our undergraduate creative writing program. In the summer I teach creativity courses at Kripalu, a retreat center in the Berkshires, and I lead a poetry circle in St. Petersburg, where I live. Palm trees, wild parrots, frangipani.
You’ve had essays win national recognition — can you describe your writing process a little bit?
I try to write every day—one has to stay on speaking terms with one’s instrument. I use a timer and I don’t work in a room that has WiFi. I’m fairly good at laying out the next day’s work goals the night before. I work in the early morning so I’m free the rest of the day to attempt to meet the world where it needs meeting. If I miss a day, it takes three days to get back to where I was, so it’s not really discipline, it’s desperation that keeps me tethered to the desk.
I work closely with my writing partners; I have a partner in each genre. Jane, nonfiction; John, poetry; and Dylan and Claire, fiction. Our pages are due at set times—once a week, or once a month, say. And then we meet via phone to go over the material. These relationships are crucial and wonderful.
I also have had terrific editors and I continue to improve as a writer thanks to their careful and patient work. Taking writing classes and other kinds of workshops also feeds my process. The Pushcart Prize essay was written from a prompt my writing partner Jane and I were using. I’m going to read this essay at Hope. It went through many drafts, all my work does, but it came together fairly painlessly over the course of about a month. The Best American Essays essay took some years—a long cycle of steady work, then a long setting aside. I approach each essay with a single-pointed question: what can I learn?
What projects do have coming up that you’re most excited about?
I’m writing to you from my tiny sublet in New York, where I’m working on scripts for podcasts and videos to augment my textbook, The Practice of Creative Writing. At USF I’ve been teaching online courses and it’s exciting to bring the textbook into that format in ways that are meaningful and, I hope, useful to student writers and their instructors. I’m excited about my textbook—it’s got all of my 30 years of teaching packed into it.
I’m also completing a new manuscript of poems set in the very beautiful and vulnerable landscape where I live, coastal Florida.
Of your many published writings, which one comes to your mind now as particularly meaningful, and why?
I have found writing about prosopagnosia (“face blindness”) and the process of finding the gifts in an extraordinarily difficult childhood meaningful.
What advice would you give to current English majors or students considering an English major?
What they already know. Reading closely, listening carefully, and writing clearly are skills that prepare one for many, many kinds of rewarding work and life situations.
That’s great advice. And finally, what’s your favorite book or piece of writing you’ve read recently? We love recommendations.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, a stunningly beautiful and clear memoir of growing up with difficult parents. And a novel given to me by Hope grad Allyson Hoffman, who was my assistant at USF (and we are still working together): The Mothers by Brit Bennett.
HEATHER SELLERS and MIRA BARTÓK will be here on October 1st for a 3:30PM Q&A in Fried-Hemenway Auditorium and a 7:00PM reading in the Jack Miller Recital Hall. All are welcome!
And there are two special events on Tuesday, October 15:
- “Bodies, Abilities, Identities: A Conversation with Heather Sellers and WGS” will begin in the Maas Auditorium at 11:15 am (meal included).
- “Creative Writing MFA & Publishing Information Session” will be held in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium from 4:30-5:30 pm.