I’m on my way to Kirksville, Missouri in about a week. I’ll be the Clayton B. Ofstad Endowed Chair Writer-in-Residence and Visiting Writer at Truman State University, spending some time talking with students in the BFA program.
I’ve been in and out of Missouri half a dozen times in the last year, but this will be my first time in Kirksville. I wrote about Missouri because I lived there as a kid. I have strange, visceral memories of living there. It was easy to dream up Nowhere in the Road to Nowhere books because I remember walking through heaps of crunchy cicada shells in the gutters of flat streets and catching lightning bugs at night. I remember the humidity and ice, four or five different elementary schools, the endless up and down of the long, hilly highways between this town and that. Every time I go back some other piece of it floats to the surface of memory like the rotating die in a Magic 8 Ball. Welcome to Missouri: a country I know only in dreams and stories I make up.
So I’m looking forward to meeting Kirksville for the first time, for several reasons old and new.
It turns out that I love teaching creative writing. I’ve done it a handful of times for Catapult online, and found it really fun and rewarding. Doing it in person generates this strange and almost instant intimacy; we have to trust one another so much to critique creative work. I love handling that, creating space for students to do it together. Most of all, I love finding concrete and meaningful ways to help other writers level up. It isn’t easy to see your own patterns or eddies and having an experienced writer (or even a peer!) look at your work can be the absolute best way to level up. I’ve been intensely grateful for the people in my writing group and just in my friend group who have looked over my work and pointed out where I can be better. Doing that for writing students at any level is fun stuff, and really gratifying. So I’m excited to do it at Truman State!
If you’ve ever been there and have tips for me, if I’m gonna see you in Kirksville, if you have tips on surviving this frigid Midwestern winter, you know which can to rattle.