At the intersection of the Arts and Sciences lies the academic career of Joseph Thomas ’17. Prior to enrolling in Saint Joseph University’s Writing Studies program, Thomas studied biology at Arcadia University and has spent over nine years in the U.S Army as a medic.
Despite his background and early career in the sciences, Thomas never stopped pursuing his passion for writing.
“My previous background is still interesting but in a different, more critical way,” says Thomas. “What I love about writing though, is that nothing you learn is ever lost; everything contributes, even in ways you might not understand the moment you sit down to write.”
He posits elementary school as the first place his love for wordplay began.
“I was interested in narrative, writing and visual art since I was a kid, but I didn’t come from the kind of household where that was acceptable, so I discarded it,” says Thomas.
Although his early interests in writing weren’t entirely supported, Thomas continued to hone his skills as he matured, exploring various subjects and different mediums for inspiration.
“I used to write and illustrate my own comics on the lined paper I was supposed to use for homework — for some reason, the stories always involved some form of leviathans, or large reptiles,” he says. “I guess it was escapism at first, since even as I began to quit on writing and drawing I just played more video games, watched more anime and whatever shows I could find about vampires or supernatural stuff.”
Thomas’ appreciation for genres of writing led him to SJU’s Writing Center where he worked as a graduate writing tutor while pursuing his MA.
Self-described as “a Black poet and memoirist from Philly,” Thomas currently uses his blog to write speculative fiction centered on disenfranchisement, coming of age as a person of color, and war.
After graduation, Thomas will enroll at Notre Dame University in the fall to begin working on his MFA in fiction.
“For most of my life I’ve seen no representative, let alone positive or usable art that reflects who I am, who my mother is, siblings are, or friends and family were, or where we came from,” says Thomas.
Throughout the program, Thomas credits Aisha Lockridge, Ph.D., associate professor of English, who pushed him to persevere through the program.
“I thought Joseph was smart by the end of the first day of class,” says Lockridge. “I knew he had real talent after reading, Sink, the first creative piece he sent me. When he figured out how to use criticism to sharpen his voice, I truly believed I was witnessing something special–he was choosing the writing life and it was choosing him back.”
Thomas’ most recent collection of short stories titled, More than Foreign War, uses speculative fiction to disrupt and displace the majority-centered heteropatriarcal structures of military life.
“Joseph writes into being subjects and places absent from the stories we read, but not the lives we live,” says Lockridge. “For example, parts of his thesis uncover how the stress of poverty and war brings young men of color into meaningful relationships allowing them the space to reach out not just in battle, but in the lives they literally cannot afford to leave behind.”
His most recent work has also been featured in Apiary Magazine and Philadelphia Printworks. His poetry can be found in Philadelphia Stories and he was a finalist for the Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry.