In the Spotlight
Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida Member Since: 2007
About: Jarod Roselló is a Cuban-American cartoonist, writer, and teacher from Miami, Florida. He is the writer and artist of the graphic novel The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found, and the ongoing, serialized webcomic Those Bears. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of South Florida.
What are you reading right now?
I’m a terribly distracted reader, so I tend to bounce back and forth. It takes me forever to actually finish a book this way, but it’s just what works for me. Right now, I’m moving between Dia Felix’s Nochita, Edward Mullany’s The Three Sunrises, and a webcomic, The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing. I just finished reading the last three issues of Simon Moreton’s zine series, Smoo, which I can’t recommend enough.
If you could require all of your students to read only one book, which would it be?
Theo Ellsworth’s Capacity. It’s an exploration of the limits and abilities of human imagination. I think. It’s actually hard for me to say exactly what it is or what’s happening. It’s challenging and difficult to read, but also incredibly rewarding, and it doesn’t care at all about what you think a book ought to be like.
What do your books look like once you’ve finished reading them?
My books have lots of writing in them. In pencil only, though. Part of the joy of reading comes in entering into dialogue with a book. I want to be affected by a book, of course, but I want to answer back as well. So, I need to write in a book, in the margins, around the pages. I won’t write in a comic or a graphic novel, but I do take notes on a separate paper.
When do you find time to write?
I teach in a creative writing program and I have a young child and so, like everyone, I suppose, I squeeze in writing and drawing whenever I can, often late at night, or on days when my daughter is at nursery school and I’m not teaching. I try to create some kind of schedule, and then adhere to it pretty strictly. I’ve become guarded over whatever writing time I manage to carve out in a day or a week, and so I’ve gotten very good at saying no to lots of things. I still need to get better at it, though. I try to remind myself that my art practice is related very closely to my mental health and well-being, and that usually gives me the motivation to take my writing time more seriously. I also keep a sketchbook with me at all times, and I write or draw in it constantly. I fill all the spaces between obligations with working in sketchbooks.
Describe your writing process.
I write every day, in some form and to some degree. I carry a bunch of sketchbooks and notebooks in my bag and a huge bag of art supplies, and I take them all with me everywhere I go. I try to just draw or doodle or sketch or write all the time. It’s the most enjoyable part of my writing process. Most of what I make has no purpose—is not goal-directed. From my sketchbooks, characters and stories emerge. I’ll write and draw anywhere at any time, as long as I can listen to music and drink coffee. When I’m generating ideas, I like to write longhand in a sketchbook. But when I’m sitting down to write, I like to type. My process tends to vary from project to project, and I like being able to adapt to whatever I need in that moment. I tend to work on two or three projects at once, and try to divide whatever time I have to write between them. I’ve never had a great attention span. I’ve always had a hard time sitting still, and I find that moving around—while not conducive to finishing anything in a timely manner—does help me stay interested in what I’m working on and also consider it in relation to the other things I’m making.
Would you like to share details of a project you are currently working on?
I’m currently in the process of serializing a webcomic called Those Bears online at Hobart (hobartpulp.com). It’s a kind of alternative-reality sequel to my book, The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found, in which an anthropomorphized bear lives in a city populated mostly by humans, and has to sort of figure out how to live there safely. This book has become a creative space for thinking through the complexities of moving between social positions, identities, and collectivities: What elements of ourselves are inscribed on the body? How does that inscription affect the ways we move through the world? How does language allow/prevent entry into social spaces? The bear is an exquisite corpse in that sense: a monstrous construction—part human, part bear—an aberration, a limen that ruptures normativity wherever he goes. I get to work through my own big, heavy questions and draw cartoon bears at the same time.
Can writing be taught?
What can our students learn from us that they can’t learn from a book? Is it teaching if we’re just reciting conventions of genre? If we’re pointing out the rules and expectations of form? I like to think that “teaching writing” goes beyond the mechanics of how we put words on the page, and extends to what the process allows for each of us. As a teacher, I tend to think of the world in pedagogical terms, and as a writing teacher specifically, I ask myself, “What are my students learning through writing? What knowledge do they construct by participating in this practice?” Writing does something for each of us, and as a writing teacher, my job is to help my students develop a critical understanding of their own practices in the hopes that they’ll have a healthy, long-term relationship with it. I want my students to leave my classroom and keep writing. I think it’s to everyone’s benefit to have more artists in the world making more art. But I also believe very strongly in art’s ability to help mediate the construction of the self. We come to know ourselves, what we care about, what we’re capable of, by making art. In the words of Maxine Greene, making art enables our students to “identify themselves and choose themselves.” I know these are heavy words for creative writing, but I do truly believe that making art can move our students towards autonomy, towards freedom.
Why did you decide to join AWP?
I don’t need to tell anyone how isolating being a writer can feel. And while this isolation can be good for getting work done, it’s also always been important to me to understand who I share my practice with. I like being a writer because I like writing, but I also like participating in a culture, and I like feeling like I belong someplace. The plurality found within AWP is a testament to how chaotic this practice can be, but also to the ways in which we are always colliding and converging with one another. It’s no fun to just make stuff by yourself. The joy comes in our abilities to connect with one another, enter into dialogue, share our writing and our experiences. I joined AWP because I wanted to keep that dialogue going and because I wanted to keep learning about what it means to be a writer.