Thomas Dooley, ’02: Poet

Thomas Dooley, ’02, is a poet living in New York City and a creative writing faculty member at New York University (NYU). He received an M.F.A. in poetry from NYU in 2011. He is author of “Trespass” (2014). While at St. Joe’s, he was a member of the University Singers, Chapel Choir and the SJU Theatre Company, then known as Cap & Bells.

Were your extracurricular activities at St. Joe’s a big influence on what you chose to do later in life? 

They were. I did an independent study with one of my professors, and I think the independent study was to write and produce a one-act play. That was a formative experience for me. It was really the first time I was learning about the dynamic of mentorship and about the collaboration between a mentor and a mentee. I was also sticking my toe into how to shape a story, how to do edits, how to workshop a piece for creative writing. I felt those were the communities I wanted to be a part of. There was a certain openness and a shared value system.

What about classroom influences?

When I was a senior I was very much involved in the performing arts, and I remember I took a creative writing class. I had always been interested in creative writing. I took the class because it spoke to my interests. It was also a different kind of engagement with the world. It was creative and expressive writing. My professor, Dr. [April] Lindner, she said to me, “I really can see you going into working on these poems, and I think you also could be published.” I had no idea that that kind of a world existed or that I’d even be a part of that. When she said that, I stored it. I didn’t push it out. I didn’t negate it. I held on to it a little bit. It was always there. After graduation, I did theater. I worked in all different kinds of professions in the theater world, but when it came time to think about what I wanted to really learn more and consider at the time, I was like, “okay, how do I see myself growing and where do I feel most alive?” I kept coming back to this idea of writing and publishing. It’s always cool when people say, “I can see you here.” Keep that locked away. It might come back later on. You never know.

What was it like to publish your first book of poetry?

It was exciting. The process of writing it took about three years, and some of those years, I was in graduate school at NYU in creative writing. I was benefitting from the feedback from the community there, the workshops and classes and, after graduate school, working on finishing the book. Once it was finished, I submitted it to a couple of [publishers], and I didn’t hear anything from those submissions, so I submitted it to the National Poetry Series, which is a national, open competition for poets at any stage in their career. They choose five manuscripts every year. In addition to those manuscripts receiving the honor of being a National Poetry selection, they get published with five different publishing companies. My collection was published with HarperCollins.

Are there certain themes you like to utilize in your poetry?

I would say as a poet I’m most interested in exploring notions and experiences of relationships, either relationships in the family, relationships with your community, with your friends and then romantic relationships. My first book “Trespass” dealt significantly with family relationships and also kind of a primary romantic relationship that ended. “Trespass” really explores those notions of inner joy, grief, all those feelings coming from our experiences with people that we love. Right now, I’m working on a collection of poems that look towards sacred texts and making poems about the queer body and trying to find a way for the queer body to be sanctified in those texts.

What advice do you have for college students who are getting ready to graduate and are looking for a job?

When you graduate, nothing is life and death. Although it may feel uncomfortable and frustrating to not get this job, or not be at this salary, or have to take this job, or have to live here, all of those experiences are temporary. And then they become very, very small as you get older, as you start moving away from the anxiety of now being in the professional world. It becomes very minimized. Find the things that bring you joy, the friends that comfort, and don’t become cynical. As much you can, stay connected to the world and believe in a certain goodness for yourself and also for the people around you.

—Vivian Milan, ’18