I began my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, I spent much of
my free time writing poetry while investing my academic energies in the
emerging, interdisciplinary field of African American and Latina/o
Studies. I held the notion that poetry
was made for the expression of emotions while the scholarly essay was the
appropriate repository for political and the critical thought.
way of thinking began to change after I finished my M.F.A. in Poetry at
Cornell. My course of study for the Ph.D. in English Language and Literature
led me to the work of Caribbean scholar and literary theorist Édouard Glissant,
whose vision of history granted the imagination power in confronting the
unknowable, the absence of fact.
Glissant’s writing, in addition to the racially charged plays of
Adrienne Kennedy and the performances of black identity by Adrian Piper led me
to pursue the study of African American culture as a subject of both history
and mythology. My approach was further
inspired by the plays of Anton Chekov and Henrik Ibsen, who each in his own
way, managed to document a time of economic upheaval through humorous and
personality-driven characters. I loved
these writers in part for the aesthetic risks their works took as well as for
their unabashed embrace of poetry as a means of conveying historical
also took courses in urban planning and the history of technology alongside
offerings in Marxist theory, Russian formalism and epistemology. After discovering Black Metropolis, by Horace Cayton and St. Clair Drake, my research
interests in data and reportage were awakened.
I turned to studying familiar urban spaces as texts. Using the groundbreaking language of
performance studies theorists such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Richard Schechner and Rebecca Schneider as
well as critical geographers Mike Davis, David Harvey and Norman Klein, I began
to approach the reading of “spaces” as well as texts. Poets that have been likewise influential
include: Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Aimé Césaire, Rene Char, Tomas Tranströmer,
N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Scalapino, Sandra Cisneros, Elizabeth Bishop, and a
bunch of other people you will read if you take my classes.
was fortunate to begin my teaching career at art schools, where studio practice
was an implicit part of the pedagogy.
The influence of the art studio affects the way I teach creative writing
in two key ways: (1) I encourage my students to interrogate their writing process
throughout the semester through public and private exercises designed to
challenge their ambitions for their work; and (2) I teach creative writing as a
methodology for critical thinking, which demands all of the expected
commitments to research, dialogue, formal invention and inter-textuality.