SJU Alum Thomas Dooley Talks Poetry, Projects & Lessons Learned with John Rafferty

This interview was conducted by SJU Writing Studies student John Rafferty.

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St. Joseph’s University alumnus, Thomas Dooley’s poetry collection, Trespass, has been named a 2013 National Poetry Series selection. I spoke with him about his many endeavors and the tremendous success he’s enjoying with his poetry.

Trespass is garnering incredible reviews. What was the writing process like?

The writing process for Trespass was, for the most part, enervating. I approached the creation of Trespass as if walking into a dark house and flicking on the light switches; I lifted blinds, opened closet doors, took dust covers off furniture. I tried to look at this family narrative from every angle possible, so when I felt stuck I would ask, “what door have I not opened yet?” When I felt brave enough to look, I could see a new poem take shape.

I was fortunate to have an incredible group of poets around me who offered encouragement and advice for Trespass. I had an excellent editor at HarperCollins who provided some very incisive ideas for edits. A talented watercolorist created the book cover. The process from first poem to published book requires incredible focus and discretion, so I am thankful for the generosity of so many artists.

You’ve brought poetry to the stage with your theatre project, Emotive Fruition. Where did that idea originate?

I founded Emotive Fruition because I wanted to find a new way for audiences to encounter poetry. I bring together two artistic communities that do not often collaborate: actors and poets. Once I have gone through submissions and curated an evening of poetry, I cast professional actors from television, film, and Broadway to perform these poems on stage.

Our process is fueled by collaboration. Actors and poets meet during a rehearsal and work together to make the poems shine on stage. Emotive Fruition has garnered an incredible following and we look forward to new collaborations. In May, we will be hosting an event with NPR’s hit show RadioLab. We are working with universities and MFA programs, such as NYU, to cultivate and foster community and collaboration among student writers and actors. For me, Emotive Fruition has become a place where poetry can live and flourish; it is very much a vibrant and unique addition to the art and culture of New York. I hope to expand it to Philadelphia and beyond!

You are also involved in narrative medicine, something I was until now unfamiliar with.  Can you explain it to those who might be aware of it?

Narrative medicine is the practice of honoring and being attentive to a patient’s story. For the past five years, I have been facilitating creative writing sessions at the bedsides of hospitalized teenagers. I created the literary journal SURGE, which publishes the writing and art from my patients. I also provide creative writing wellness retreats for physicians, mental health professionals, and hospital staff. We all need the therapeutic process of writing to shape and organize our thoughts and feelings.

Between your writing, theatre project, and narrative medicine work, how do you balance it all? 

Balance is hard. There is always renegotiation. At the moment, I am a freelancing artist so I create new work while trying to piece together an income.

I try to stay very present to the demands of my writing projects. I have been busy working on a new manuscript, a verse novella of sorts, entitled Hang Down Your Head. It’s near completion and I am in the process of getting it published. My writing, publishing, and collaborations truly fuel and feed me.

I just accepted an offer to teach creative writing at New York University in 2016. I love mentoring young writers; they infuse the workshop with a sense of discovery. I’m also interested in shaking up the creative writing workshop. I would be interested to craft a workshop that included collaboration among students, writing about illness, performance studies – so many possibilities!

What was the greatest lesson you learned as English major while at St. Joe’s?

I learned some powerful lessons about myself. Dr. April Lindner gave me confidence to be a poet. In her creative writing workshop, I felt like I had potential to write and publish poetry. It also was the first writing workshop I ever attended. Dr. Lindner modeled for me how to discuss and critique student work. To this day, I try to channel her when I teach.

Dr. Owen Gilman created a space in his class for me to find my voice. I remember presenting a paper about my personal history to the class. That paper was a prelude to a lifetime of embracing my own personal narrative and writing about it. I am proud of my time at SJU and love coming back to talk with students. I look forward to the next time I’m on campus.

You can stay up to date with all of Thomas’ work and happenings at his website, http://www.thomasdooley.us/, including his newest work, Hang Down Your Head.

Writing Studies Alum Jackai Musonge Publishes Novel

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Jackai Musonge

 

 

 

 Another alumni success story!

 

 

 

 

Jackai Musonge (’07) has published a novel about his experiences as a student in the United States.  Originally from Cameroon, Central Africa, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media with a minor concentration in Journalism from Temple University in August 2002 prior to completing his Writing Studies degree.

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The book, entitled International Student Part One: Journey to America, was published in September 2014 and is the first in a two-part series.  Jackai is a journalist, writer and actor.  We wish him every success as he pursues his passion for writing.  Be sure to visit amazon.com to read more about the book and perhaps buy it!  

Writing Studies Alum Elishia Peterson Publishes Poetry Collection

Another success story in the making.

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We were recently contacted by Alum Elishia Peterson (’13), who told us about her latest accomplishment. She was eager to share her news with current students as well as fellow alums. Here is what she had to say:

“This past November of 2014, I published a collection of poetry in the form of a chapbook through a publishing company called 2 Pens & Lint. The poetry is actually my graduate thesis project “Black Roses: Five Women and Their Mental Breakthrough,” in which I interviewed young women that I know concerning their mental health and how they’ve dealt with tough issues that happened in their lives. I then transcribed the interviews (along with my own personal style) into poetry. I decided to publish the thesis in a chapbook format as a means to begin to promote and share my work. I am selling the books for $5.00 each. Click on this  link to purchase a copy. This venture is a step closer to furthering the collection by interviewing more women and completing “Black Roses” as my first novel (hopefully a publisher will accept my manuscript).”

Congratulations to you, Elishia! We look forward to hearing more about your work in the future. It is always so exciting to hear of Writing Studies students and alums that go on to publish their work so that everyone can share in their creative genius.

 

Writing Studies Student (Soon to be an Alum) David Jackson to Present Paper in D.C.

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Congratulations to David Jackson, who’s paper: “New Century Approaches to Literacy: Engaging the Margins”, has been selected for presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English this month in Washington D.C.

As a first time presenter, we thought we’d have a brief interview with David by one of St. Joseph’s more seasoned students; impending graduate David Jackson.

 

 

So, are you nervous about your first presentation?

DJ: Dude, what do you think?  I’m planning on wearing a Depends under my suit and bra pads under my arms to absorb the sweat.

Seems drastic.  So explain what your paper is about.

DJ: Well, this conference is given for teachers of English on various topics.  This year the focus is on using story as a way to explain existence.

Huh?

DJ: Over the years, it seems that education has favored empirical and objective modes of thought over subjective ones.  But there seems to have been a gradual shift since the 1970’s that appreciates the contribution of narrative as an equally valuable tool in the formation of theory.  It adds elements to non-narrative theories that can make it more fully understandable.

Huh?

DJ: Women, children, disabled people, gender-nonconformists, and people of color have usually not been included in the formation of theory.  Even so, throughout history these people have contributed to humanity moving forward as a society.  They have kept journals, written poems, sang songs to their babies, made clothing and danced dances that explain our lived existence in ways that more scientific methods do not.

While I seem to be straying off track, all of these things are elements that tell a story, both overtly and covertly.  This conference is devoted to plumbing the depth of these non-traditional forms of storytelling.

Tell us how your presentation interacts with this.

DJ: I have a presentation that tries to turn the challenge of in class cell phone use into a tool to help engage students that are often disinterested in standard teaching methodologies.  If we use texting as a way to create story, we can take advantage of technology to harness the power of telling stories, which all humans do, and create a communal, reciprocal classroom where each member contributes and where all have equal value.

Good luck at your presentation!

DJ: Thanks.  Know where I can get a discount on Depends?