In the Spotlight
Faculty Member and Coordinator of the Writers Studio, Arapahoe Community College, and Faculty Member of Regis University’s Mile High MFA Program
Littleton, CO Member Since: 2006
About: Kathryn Winograd is the author of Air Into Breath (Ashland Poetry Press), winner of the Colorado Book Award; Phantom Canyon: Essays of Reclamation (Conundrum Press), a 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year finalist; and Stepping Sideways Into Poetry: Practical Lessons (Scholastic). She just finished a year-long nature and environmental column for Beacon called Migrations at 9600 Feet. She taught poetry and creative nonfiction for Ashland University’s low-residency MFA program for seven years and is currently on the faculty for Regis University’s new Mile High MFA, as well as on the faculty full time for Arapahoe Community College, where she created a creative writing emphasis for the AA degree and has directed the Writers Studio, ACC’s literary arts organization, for the past 11 years.
What is the best writing advice that you dispense to your students?
My best writing advice to my students is to “honor your work.” That means at every stage, even when you want to tear it to shreds and tell yourself for the umpteenth time that you’re just not a writer, and…well, you know the drill. Write the best that you can at this moment, nurture it, believe in it, and present it to the world with the honor it deserves. I remember one student who sent her first piece, a beautiful lyrical essay to her stillborn infant daughter, to an “unknown writer’s” contest. Not only was it rejected, but one of the judges made an insensitive remark that was more about her lack of knowledge than a problem with the piece. At our creative writing capstone reading, I read the essay out loud for my student to an awestruck audience, so that she could realize its beauty, too, and honor it.
Can writing be taught? Why does creative writing belong in the academy?
Yes, writing can be taught. Working at the community college and graduate level, I work with diverse populations of writers. Last spring, my CC creative writing workshop ran the gamut from a 16-year-old high school student, ripe from track practice, to an 86-year-old musician, actress, and playwright working on an AA degree in creative writing, to a techno kid with green hair, and a retired psychotherapist dipping his toes into his own hereto undiscovered creativity. A ménage of thirteen other distinct personalities made up the class. Needless to say, the experience and skill level in such a workshop vary widely. I can’t promise that all of those students will become award-winning writers, but I can promise that every one of them will up their skill level and be ready to take the next step to being the best writer that they can be if they put in real effort, which means the willingness to read, play, and write with both abandonment and purpose. And yes, creative writing belongs in the academy: Writing is the deepest of thinking; it’s collaboration with the unknown reader; it’s the learning process on steroids—the self enmeshed intuitively, empathetically, and intellectually with the other.
What is the greatest compliment that you could ever receive about your writing?
A group of women and I did a reading we called “On Writing the Forbidden.” Afterwards, a woman in the audience, who was too shy to come up to me at the time, wrote me to say that she had read my book, Phantom Canyon: Essays of Reclamation, and found the courage because of my words to write about an experience of her own that she thought she could never confront and find peace with. Your writing goes out into the world, and so often you never know whom it might touch and how.
Do you feel influenced by your peers to produce a certain type of creative work, or do you feel free to follow your own interests and passions?
Rather than a detriment, the influence of my peers is so positive and generous. I owe so much to my faculty friends at Ashland University, the low-residency MFA I taught in for seven years. Their works were gifts—their passions inspired me to find new paths in my own writing, paths that were greeted with the utmost respect and camaraderie. I started out as poetry faculty for Ashland but soon got completely caught up in how beautifully poetry can move in and out of creative nonfiction. I became a “switch-hitter” for Ashland—moving back and forth between poetry and creative nonfiction workshops. Now I have the same opportunity to work with poetry and creative nonfiction for the Regis Mile High MFA program here in Denver. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for my peers.
Which book should be required reading for young people?
Any book. I find myself appalled at how little young people read of anything besides text messages. In literature classes, my students always have to do some simple, very prescribed creative writing exercises so that they can understand on a very personal level what processes the writer has to go through to produce these literary works we are studying. Every class, I am astonished at the work these students produce. They have spent fifteen weeks reading fiction, poetry, and drama, studying it, discussing it, and all that rubs off. And let’s go beyond just the book—the Internet is such a vast source of very fine creative works now. Students cannot just read Whitman, say, but hear him read his own poem, “America.” That’s from 1888. Can you imagine? The other day, I was able to start off my introduction to creative writing course with not just the text of poems, but audio readings from Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Pinsky. I was going to cut one of the readings short for time, but the class wouldn’t let me! I’m all for the book, but hey, if students haven’t read on their own, let’s not forget to excite and motivate them into reading these great authors by making use of the technology tools already familiar to them.
How has AWP helped you in your career and/or creative endeavors? Why did you decide to join AWP?
AWP is the major writing organization in the country. Its conferences are unbelievably rich and varied; its website offers a wealth information; its Writers Chronicle archive is something I use extensively for my advanced creative writing students. Everybody I know and love is part of it. There’s no decision to be made!