Director, New England Literature Program
Grad Year: 1999
Other areas of sudy/degree(s):
MFA Creative Writing - Fiction, University of Michigan, 2002
When I finished my undergraduate degree in 1999, post-college “package” programs like Teach for America were just starting to be very hot. I think of TFA and other programs like TFA as “package” programs because one of the ways they work is by delivering a complete package to a recent college grad, meeting all their questions (where will I go?, what will I do there?, who will move with me?, what about this summer, which will be here in three months? can I really work as a professional right out of school? do I have to spend a few months flipping burgers or waiting tables while I figure out what to do next?) with very neat, tidy, satisfying answers. So once I was accepted to TFA, I didn’t have to think any more about what I’d be doing for the next two years, and I could put that very, very anxious part of my mind to rest. I spent that summer after graduation at TFA’s Institute in Houston and then moved to New York City where I was assigned to teach in the South Bronx.
I taught for two days and then didn’t go back—not because the teaching was so horrendous (although the teaching was hard—much, much more difficult than many people anticipate, and I’ve seen dozens of people almost completely destroyed by a room of 12-year-olds, who sound so benign, even in a sentence like this one) but because I realized my heart wasn’t in it, and I had problems with some of the philosophies of Teach for America—problems I started to see in Houston and that became clearer to me with the TFA staff in New York City.
In the beginning, I was a little dazzled by the idea of not having to figure anything out post-graduation—dazzled as a lot of people are who think about doing programs like TFA—and for a long time I was happy just to coast along in another program where everything was planned out. But that changed after I got to New York and left TFA.This was also when the economy was booming and The Village Voice had literally pages of advertisements from big temp agencies who loved any recent college grads from Ivy League or Big Ten schools. That’s changed some since 1999—last time I looked at The Voice, there was maybe a half a page of ads for temp jobs—but it’s still a viable way to get yourself started in a new city; I often encourage people to pick a city that interests them and to spend a year temping there—it can sometimes be the best way to find out what’s out there. I had no idea, for example, that someone would pay me $20 an hour to wear a suit and walk around with a tiny glockenspiel in an enormous conference room in the World Trade Center, playing my three notes (bing! bing! bing!) at the top of every hour to let people know it was time to move on to their next activity. That was fun, but I didn’t see much of a future in it for me.
Soon, though, I was hired as a temporary assistant at Goldman Sachs, the investment banking firm, and that job quickly turned into something bigger. Within weeks I was asked to come on as a permanent, full-time employee, which I would’ve done had I not already been hatching a plan to go back to graduate school the following year. But Goldman agreed to let me stay on as a long-term “permanent temp.” I worked with a team of bankers and basically helped them manage their (crazy) lives—a big part of which involved preparing and reviewing documents and presentation materials that the analysts used in their meetings with companies and investors across the country. I loved the working environment and I loved the work: I encountered lots of terrible writing and met lots of pretty bad writers, and my experience as an English major at UM felt valuable to me then in a way I hadn’t really anticipated. I would have NEVER thought to look for a job on Wall Street; I would have NEVER guessed that there was anything for me to do there, really. But I kind of wandered into that job, and while I only did it for a year, it changed the way I think about work—both what it means to do work & to find work that is valuable to you, and how much work there actually is out there to find, if you’re willing to look in places that don’t jump out at you right away (the way working as an editorial assistant at a publishing house might, which is a perfectly respectable line of work but is probably the most common post-graduation plan I hear from English majors, next to going on to graduate school…)
One of the problems I’ve found with “package” programs like TFA is that they don’t encourage any kind of wandering, which I think is usually good for people—the best way to discover where your skills are most valuable and who will pay you most for recognizing a dangling participle or for your ability to discern a weird tone in a weird sentence that otherwise might go unnoticed until it causes problems.
Finding adventure, drama and intrigue
The rest of my story is pretty boring, and, while things have worked out pretty well, I probably would have taken more time to wander through the world (or at least the country or at least New York) a little longer if I had to do it all over again. I went back to graduate school in 2000, received my MFA in fiction writing from U of M in 2002, and started working right away as a Lecturer in the English Department teaching composition and essay writing. Throughout this time, I continued to spend my springs in New England, teaching for the UM English Department’s New England Literature Program, and last year I was hired as the new director of NELP. If I didn’t get such a heavy dose of adventure and drama and intrigue at NELP each year (scaling mountains! surviving hail and lightning storms! cooking giant pots of chili for 60 people in less than 2 hours! imitating the poetry of Emily Dickinson!!!) I would probably be very, very discontent with the fact that I spent only one year out in the world before coming back to the University. Not that the University’s not the world, or at least part of the world—just that it’s a very small part…
Faith Adler Brown, Erin Crowley, Dory Gannes, Aric Knuth, Lawrence Landman, Katherine MacNair, Howard Markel, MD, PhD, Sarah Marwil Lamstein, Kelly O’Connor McNees, Amanda Richardson, Michael Richman, Melissa Shook, Rebecca Soares, Kurt Taroff, Lisa Vandenbossche, Lee Woldenberg, Anne Wyman, Charles Aldrich, Silvia Chung, Jacquelyn Dekker, Neal P. Goldman, Scott Kashkin, Robert Kleinberg, Elizabeth Bender, Rachael Hudak, Neil Rao
Related Career FieldsEducation, Financial Services, Non-Profit, Post-Graduate Education