Jennifer Deering holds a bachelor of arts in literature from the University of Central Arkansas and a master of arts in technical writing at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. She serves as the grant writer for Sponsored Programs at UCA, a position that includes helping UCA community members develop projects into fundable activities, coaching our community through the grant-writing process, editing sometimes highly technical grants, and writing institutional grant applications that benefit the university as a whole. A feminist, Deering’s passion is social justice and equal rights for all, both her avocation and vocation (please see http://uca.edu/cfac/central60/ and consider joining the central Arkansas community in these events). She has been a teacher to many and a student of all. She delights in horror films, Southern foodways, and Lady Gaga. Deering speaks French and Korean and would rather live in Seoul than anywhere else on Earth. She writes a once-yearly blog post at sanslenom.com.
Rachel Hoge: Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on the Arkansas Writers Program. As a first year candidate, why did you decide to pursue your MFA?
Jennifer Deering: I have taught full time and continue to teach part time at the college level over the course of 25 years. When I was recruited into my position as grant writer for Sponsored Programs, I knew, with only a master’s in technical writing, that I was giving up full-time classroom teaching. While I’m still a teacher (a one-on-one coach and mentor to faculty members hoping to win grants) in my current role, the only way to return to the classroom, if that’s where this journey takes me, is to earn a terminal degree. Couple this with the fact I have little drive or motivation to write and publish my own ideas and material without the support of a community of writers, I see the MFA program as an inducement to publication.
RH: What did you find most appealing about our program?
JD: I appreciate the wide variety of genres one can try, the opportunity to gain experiences that might lead to careers I hadn’t considered (retreat-owner, editor of a publication, literary agent), and the fact that the program is housed in the College of Fine Arts and Communications and in the Department of Creative Writing, Film, and Theater. Most programs are located in an English department, and while I believe a good writer should have an extensive knowledge of the literary canon (however one defines that term), academic scholars can’t provide the support artists require; it’s not their responsibility to. My previous experience with conjoined literature and writing departments is that faculty members and students in the former work hard to get in the way of faculty members and students in the latter and vice versa. I’m not interested in the argument of which is better: studying literature or creating it. So the Arkansas Writers MFA Program is a good fit for me.
RH: Tell us about your creative work and writing process—do you have a preferred genre or aesthetic? Are there forms you’re excited to try?
JD: When people ask about “my genre,” I avoid the long answer and just say, “Creative non-fiction.” The truth is my master’s thesis in the Technical and Expository Writing Program at UALR was highly experimental and combined many genres: illustration of a sort, memoir, poetry, script (really a Platonic dialog), and even fiction if one considers a lie one has told oneself a form of fiction. I was heavily influenced by Jacques Derrida’s Glas. Once a writer bursts into uncharted territory, there really is no going back: “The horror! The horror!” So I expect everything I write will be hard to pin down. As far as my writing process goes, it’s pretty ugly. My thesis chair confessed to me, after “the thing,” as we referred to it, came back from the bindery, that he had moments of severe doubt about my undertaking, “Your mind is total chaos, but I finally learned to trust the chaos,” he said as I handed him the copy he had purchased for himself. I have friends who use journals to track their progress in a novel: number of words written, details about the characters, timelines in Gantt chart form, storyboards. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, refers to this as “mind like water”: the goal is to get everything on paper so it doesn’t require thought. I respect that, but I prefer to keep it all in my head where one idea can bounce off another in a way they can’t when it’s consigned to a piece of paper that allows me to forget it (one of the accusations Plato leveled at the act of writing, which he seemingly considered a crime). I have one process upon which I will always depend: reading aloud the words I’ve put down over and over again until they sound right. So when I get stuck, I print out what I have so far and read it to my cat. I want my sentences to have a striking cadence and timbre if they are ever read out loud. I hope that has a positive affect on the experience of reading it silently.
RH: In what ways do you hope your writing will be further developed and challenged by our program’s faculty and students? Do you have any artistic goals you hope to accomplish?
JD: My answer to this question is not meant to be flippant. Setting goals and making plans has never worked for me as a life strategy. I have lived allowing the wind to take me whatever direction it takes me, and I have been to some amazing places, met incredible people, and acted courageously and with conviction as a result. My approach to the program will be the same: since one cannot map an odyssey, let’s see where the ship takes me.
RH: Why would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?
JD: I know the Arkansas Writers Program faculty in a way most students don’t: Most of them are my colleagues at UCA and my former colleagues in the now defunct Department of Writing. where I taught for 11 years. Like so many faculty at UCA, teaching is vital to them. They could all take positions at universities with smaller course loads, but they choose to stay at a predominantly undergraduate institution where teaching is the emphasis. They make a commitment to bring up the next generation of contemporary writers every day.
Visit our blog again to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program.