This week, the department continues our series of new faculty profiles by featuring Professor Emily Jo Scalzo, who joined our department this year. Prof. Scalzo earned her MFA in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno in 2010. Continue reading below for the interview conducted by English Department intern Nakkia Patrick.
How has your creative writing experience helped you as an educator?
Creative writing, and really my love for it, gave me a love for writing in general. When I teach, I quietly hope to not only help students realize they are not bad writers and just need practice, but also to help them find a love for writing. Writing is my passion, and even if students don’t become that passionate about it, I’d at least like to tilt the passion scale in the positive direction and alleviate their hate for it. I also find myself more apt to include creative writing in my courses as readings to further students’ critical thinking skills, which allows students to make connections between the creative and the critical as well.
I also learned the importance of revision through my creative writing experience. Nothing is perfect the first time you write it; in fact, sometimes what you’re writing just doesn’t work. It requires starting over or rethinking what you’re trying to get across. I especially learned this while trying to write about the experience that eventually led me to write “Postcards to Whitman from Cuba.” I tried writing about it in various mediums and had to scrap it, before discovering Whitman and Whitmanesque poetry. This experience aids me in teaching my students revision as well as perseverance in writing.
How do you think your publication experience comes through in the classroom?
Publication experience has given me an idea of what editors are expecting (beyond academia in many cases). I am able to teach students about audience based on experiences reading and responding to submissions and submitting and receiving responses to my work. I find lessons about audience to be extremely necessary; although students react to readings in certain ways, they sometimes do not connect that readers react to their writing as well. Audience awareness is absolutely essential if a writer wishes to communicate effectively.
Has having a Political Science and Peace Studies background changed your outlook or style of teaching in any way?
In my Political Science minor, I concentrated mostly in foreign policy and global politics and studied abroad twice. My first was a three-week study abroad in Cuba, where we traveled the reverse path of the Revolution and studied at the Agrarian University outside of Havana. The second study abroad was a five-week summer program at Oriel College in Oxford, England, and I was in England during the 7/7/05 Tube bombings, where I experienced the British “Keep Calm and Carry On” mentality firsthand. As a result of this minor, I was able to see the importance of looking beyond the US perspective.
In my Peace Studies minor, I took classes that gave me an understanding of stereotypes and prejudice, race and gender, and hate and violence, spanning disciplines including Literature, Sociology, and Psychology. This minor gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the diversity of our nation, and made me more sensitive to diversity in the classroom. I also learned a great deal regarding how to look at sources for credibility to avoid being unduly manipulated in these courses. Furthermore, it exposed me to various disciplines and taught me what is expected of work in each.
The lessons and tools gleaned from these minors are useful in teaching students critical thinking skills. Looking beyond one’s own perspective and having the ability to determine the credibility of sources are very important in composition, and I use various activities and readings to help my students gain these skills. These minors taught me the necessity of these skills in all disciplines.
What kinds of writing projects are you currently working on?
I have a novel in progress, Sugar Moon, which I started during my MFA program. The novel is set in a fictional central Indiana town, and I’ve found myself writing shorter fiction set there as well. I have also been writing quite a bit of poetry and creative nonfiction of late. Many of these are stand-alone, though my poems tend to be either personal or political.
I’m also hoping to work on some academic writing I find interesting, including critical discourse on popular culture. I am very interested in how popular culture actually embodies many of the disciplines of academia, for example. I am also interested in writing about pedagogical theory; I am currently a writing tutor for my young cousin (who is on the autism spectrum), and it has been necessary to develop teaching tools to help him learn many basic writing rules.
What other kinds of hobbies and interests do you have?
My interests are pretty diverse. I love to read, and I’ll read pretty much anything. Regarding books, my favorite genres tend to be dystopian and post-apocalyptic, though I also enjoy science fiction and urban fantasy. I also read poetry, memoir, and literary fiction, as well as scholarly writing in various disciplines. I’m a fan of comic books and manga, and am a Whovian and Trekkie (among multiple other sci-fi/fantasy programs). I enjoy theatre and have done my best to attend events at BSU since getting here. I also try to attend at least one Cubs game each summer—usually when they’re playing the Cardinals so Dad and I can go together and have a rivalry going.
I’m guilty of being a news junkie, as well. One of my nightly rituals is reading the news on my BBC, Guardian, and NPR apps. My interests in news range from politics to nature to archaeology to the arts. If I find stories especially interesting, I tend to share them with friends on social media.
In terms of professional interest, I find I am always looking at what I read and watch through a pedagogical eye. As a result, I have been able to use popular culture as a teaching tool. I have found The Daily Show and The Colbert Report address issues connected to writing, and use clips of those shows when teaching metacommentary, source integration, and logical fallacy.