You did a low-residency MFA at Bennington College, starting five years after completing undergrad and with lots of experience under your belt as a science editor. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to pursue the degree.
From 2011 to 2013, when my family was living in the Marshall Islands—a very isolated string of atolls in the Northern Pacific Ocean—my days were devoid of television, billboard ads, and people telling me what kind of woman I should be. With such freedom from cultural constraints, this incredible wave of words was released. It was like a broken fire hydrant blasting pressurized water everywhere. With hermit crabs crawling over my toes as I typed furiously on the edge of Majuro Lagoon, I wrote several essays and poems, finished a novel, and created the Unbound Bookmaker Project, in which 300 Marshallese students from all over the Marshall Islands wrote and illustrated 15 Marshallese-English children’s books. I feel like remarkable things happen when we take time to shut out opinions of the world and think our own thoughts.
Which came first for you, poetry or science? Or did you have to choose between the two at some point?
It was always both. When I was a kid, I tromped through the woods all day, which led to a curiosity about the natural world – but also, as soon as I could read, I was memorizing poems. In my senior year of college, I used to leave a class on Shakespeare’s histories, pull rubber boots out of my backpack, and go out to net fish in a tidal bay as part of an ecology course. The strange thing is that nobody ever asked me to choose – it was always completely acceptable that I was studying wildlife management but also constantly reading and writing poetry. Continue reading
image via Vice.com
“Liberal artists” and STEM folks, the “two cultures” of our day, have been paying more attention to each other lately. Undergraduate English majors are learning to code and medical professionals are forming novel-reading groups. In the past few weeks, there’s been a flurry of reporting on the intersections between the L.A. and STEM. What are the two cultures saying about each other now? And, germane to this particular public square, what cultural attitudes do they belie about what writers, artists, and others slogging in the humanities actually do?
In the Wall Street Journal, a recent “At Work” column about liberal arts majors gravitating toward training programs like the App Academy begins with the line, “If a 10-year old can become an ace web programmer, why can’t a liberal arts graduate?” Ouch. Continue reading
In case you missed it, NPR ran a good feature on poets’ second jobs a couple days ago. I particularly like Lawrence Joseph’s thoughts on the working self and the writing self: “It certainly is not the only ‘self’ in my work, but I’ve wanted, since my first book, to let the reader know that the poet writing the poem is, among his other identities, also a lawyer.”
When I worked as a bookseller, I tried to write a poem about cash flow at the register once–it didn’t work. What ‘other selves’ make it into your work–or don’t–because of your day job, folks?
Sarah Scoles is an Associate Editor at Astronomy magazine. She earned an M.F.A. from Cornell University.
Why did you decide to pursue an MFA?
I took a Creative Writing course as an elective at the end of my junior year of college. In the Fall, I expected to be applying to Ph.D. programs in Astronomy, as that’s what I was actually studying. But when I took a second Writing class during the first semester of my senior year, I thought that perhaps I loved writing too much to spend six years in graduate school for something else right away. I didn’t know anything about MFA programs (I didn’t even know what the letters stood for, so immersed was I in the science world, until that year), but I knew I wanted to do more writing, I knew I wanted to become a better writer, and I was fairly certain I wasn’t qualified for any jobs.
When you started the degree, what were you leaving behind?
Well, I had wanted to be a research astronomer since I was about four years old, and all of my plans for my future centered on that goal. So I was essentially leaving behind the whole life-path I’d planned to trek down.