Callie Tahat loves her parakeet Daisy. When she is not taking classes or teaching, you will likely find her at home with a bird in her hair. Callie has had Bob Dylan’s song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” stuck in her head for the past three years. It’s a great song, but she’s kind of getting tired of it.
Rachel Hoge: Hi Callie, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on the Arkansas Writers Program. Our program provides a thorough introduction to teaching by offering pedagogy courses during the first year of graduate school. How did these courses—and the program in general—prepare you for your assistantship in teaching?
Callie Tahat: Hi Rachel, thanks for all that you do for our program! I’m especially looking forward to seeing all of the hard work that you and the staff have done with the launch of our online journal Arkana!
In response to your first question, I would have to say that the pedagogy courses offered during the first year helped me prepare for my assistantship by creating a solid foundation that valued both theory and practicality. As I’ve learned in my first semester teaching, having a balance between the two is important. As a final project in both Contemporary Composition and Teaching Creative Writing, we had to create a syllabus. This assignment in both courses helped me develop my teaching philosophy and visualize how to design a course while being mindful of the big picture and the day-to-day details.
In Contemporary Composition, Dr. Carey Clark invited the second and third year graduate assistants from our program to come and discuss their teaching experiences and share their materials with us. This created a sense of community and gave me something to aspire to. I knew before entering the program that I wanted to be a teacher. The teaching opportunities that are available in our program are one of the main reasons why I applied to come here. I am grateful that I am here and have the opportunity to gain teaching experience while surrounded by excellent faculty and fellow program members.
RH: How has the faculty of our MFA program helped you prepare for the future?
CT: I have had such positive experiences with our faculty both in and out of the classroom. They are each competent and inspiring people, teachers, and artists. For example, Professor Sandy Longhorn has been so generous with her time and support. She is mindful of my interests in both poetry and teaching and is always having conversations or sharing resources with me regarding both. Similarly, in both of the courses that I took with Dr. Stephanie Vanderslice (Teaching Creative Writing and MFA Experience) I was asked to think about how to spend my time as a graduate student and beyond. I value knowing that each faculty member has a sincere interest in helping each of us achieve as writers and artists.
RH: In what ways has our MFA program transformed you as a writer, artist, or professional?
CT: I love that our program allows us to explore various genres. I hadn’t written much fiction before taking Dr. John Vanderslice’s Advanced Forms and Theory of Fiction, so I was nervous at the beginning of the semester. However, it has been a healthy challenge for me to think about how to create and craft a story. I am also taking a Southern Literature course in the English department. I believe taking a fiction and a literature course in the same semester has only benefited my writing. As mentioned earlier, having the opportunity to teach is giving me the valuable experience needed for my CV and future job applications. Overall, I see evidence of our program supporting my interest as a writer, artist, and professional.
RH: How has the quality of your own writing been further developed and challenged by our program’s faculty and students?
CT: Professor Sandy Longhorn’s Advanced Poetry Workshop and Ecopoetry courses have helped me very much. As an aspiring poet, I am glad to be in classes that both challenge and support me and my writing—and that give me space to explore and take risks. In looking back at the poems that I wrote before entering the program, I can see that I am improving. I am becoming more aware of my voice and my intentions as an artist. I am often challenged to think about why I write—which is such an essential question. I have a good friend in the program that has such a clear purpose for why he makes art. His friendship has been an invaluable part of my experience in the program. We set goals, exchange poems, and offer feedback and support for each other. I’m thankful for the faculty and friends that I have met in this program.
RH: Why would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?
CT: Thinking back to when I was deciding which programs to apply to, the Arkansas Writers Program was my first choice because of all the opportunities that are available for students. Because our program is a relatively new program, the students and faculty are really invested in its success. Not only are the faculty talented, they care about their students and take the time to work with them. I feel like each student is given the space and support needed to pursue their interests. Our students are also great. Our program fosters a sense of community not competition. I am a happy second-year student in our program. My hope for any prospective applicant to our program is that they find a place where they will be happy, too.
Stop by next Friday to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program.