(Contributed by Rachel Tiede)
The first thing Visiting Professor Katie Vagnino did when I met her was apologize that her sparse decor made her look like a serial killer. The second thing she did was offer me carrot cake.
Katie has good reason to have bare office walls. She applied for a position to teach writing composition and co-run the University’s Writing Center. The position was awarded to someone else, but several months later in July 2013 she was contacted regarding an opening for a visiting professor in the English Department, giving her just a few months to move her life. She packed up her bags and moved to Eau Claire, a city much smaller than her previous homes in New York, Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago. Although she had taught part time at places like Emerson and Roosevelt, along with several adult writing workshops, this is Katie’s first foray into full time collegiate instruction.
An avid poetry writer herself, Katie enjoys passing that love on to students. “It’s weird how we introduce poetry,” she says. “It’s all a bunch of old dead white guys. And old dead white guys are great, but there are plenty of vibrant, contemporary poets.” She desires to show students poetry that is culturally relevant and enjoyable–maybe even funny. Next semester she will be teaching Intro to Creative Writing, something she has been looking forward to.
When it comes to her personal poetry, Katie loves to write in form. Free verse is one of the most popular forms in contemporary poetry, but Katie points out, “Even good free verse still has formal components.” For her, the rules of structured poetry allow for more freedom. She likes to challenge her students to discover that freedom. Other than poetry, Katie enjoys singing karaoke, freelance writing for a rare book and manuscript firm, and theater. Her favorite role was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, because she got to “sword fight and die onstage.”
As a visiting professor, Katie says she’s still getting adjusted to the department. So far she’s been getting to know her colleagues through social activities like Thursday night trivia. Next year she hopes to be able to contribute even more. Right now, she’s enjoying working with her “awesome” students, and looks forward to the chance to decorate her office if she ever finishes grading.