Class of 1999
Carrie Jerrell is Assistant Professor of English at Murray State University. Her poetry collection After the Revival won the Anthony Hecht Prize and was published by Waywiser Press in 2009. She has poems in IMAGE, The Great American Poetry Show, and The Yalobusha Review.
How has majoring in Creative Writing helped you? What did you come away with?
I wasn't a Creative Writing major (my degree is in Secondary English Education), but I appreciated how flexible the department was in its accommodation of students with other majors who were still very interested in creative writing. I got to participate in the literary journals and take many of the same courses as CW majors, and I felt welcomed in all of those situations. No one made me feel like an outsider.
My experience with the creative writing classes has helped me in many ways. Most practically, it's helped me get a job! Had I not had such a quality foundation, I may not have gone on to graduate school, or done well once I was there, and I may not have landed the job I have now. In a more general sense, creative writing demands that you look at the world a little differently, with an eye to what's most lasting and memorable in the events that take place around you or in the history of a place, and that is an attribute which serves everyone well, regardless of his or her chosen major.
What did you learn at UE that you could not have learned at other places?
I grew up just 45 minutes from Evansville, in rural southern Indiana, so what I learned at UE that I couldn't have learned anywhere else is that you don't have to travel great distances to grow as a student and a person, and to widen and sharpen your perspective of the world around you. I think many high schoolers and young people feel they have to escape from their backgrounds or history or hometowns in order to experience something monumental in their lives, but it simply isn't true. Yes, it is wonderful to be able to travel and investigate new territory firsthand, but at UE, as a result of being challenged to think expansively, critically, and imaginatively, I came to appreciate my little corner of the country and the experiences that shaped me while I was there in very essential ways. Had I gone somewhere else, I would've missed that, and I think my life and my poetry would be lacking because of it.
Is there any memorable experience (inside or outside of the classroom) that changed you as a writer or as a creative thinker?
Two events come to mind as life or career-changing moments from my time at UE. The first is the poetry reading that Yusef Komunyakaa gave on campus. I was just beginning to write poetry that semester, and Komunyakaa's performance was stunning – I'd never heard anything like it. He has an immensely compelling voice, and his poems are mesmerizing, and the artistic charge I received at that reading still sticks with me. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that, during that Coffee Hour, I decided to devote my life's energy to writing poetry because I witnessed how beautiful and powerful it can be.
The other "event" that deeply affected me was the semester I spend overseas studying at Harlaxton College. Touring Shakespeare's home, watching the Royal Shakespeare Company perform, hiking through the Lake District as Wordsworth had done, walking Yeats' neighborhood in Ireland – these opportunities impressed upon me how important it is to be aware of one's literary ancestors. During my time at Harlaxton, I was also exposed to other art forms that nourish creative writing: sculpture, painting, photography, music. Were it not for the financial accessibility of this particular program offered by UE, I would not have been able to afford studying abroad during my college years. I continue to be thankful for this experience and the ways in which it has made me a better writer and a better person.
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