Many alumni have used their influence from Connecticut College to incorporate the liberal arts in their exploration of creative endeavors and career paths after graduation. One outstanding example is poet, author, editor and blogger E. Kristin Anderson '05. Upon the release of her new poetry collection, "PRAY, PRAY, PRAY: poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night," we decided to interview Anderson about Prince, her variety of inventive interests, and her skills and insight as a former Camel.
Why Prince as a subject?
I've always enjoyed his music and had a respect for his work but, for some reason, in 2014, that music hit me harder. I had to hear everything and know everything. I got fairly ill that summer and Prince's music was something to cling to. I found an inspiration there—not in an "I want to write about this man" sense, but in a bigger way. Prince is a man who has created so much, has spent his career challenging himself, defying odds, doing the unexpected, and using his experience to empower other artists. I want to be that. I wanted to reach out to that. So, when I started writing confessional poems to Prince while listening to his records during terrible nights of insomnia, I mostly figured it would be a fleeting thing. I never imagined I'd have enough material for a chapbook, but here it is—with another on the way, and I'm working on a full-length. Clearly, Prince as a muse is working out for me.
We noticed you've written journalistic pieces, YA novels, blogs, a memoir and now poetry. What compels you to explore all these mediums? Do you have a preference?
I don't know that I have a preference. I will say that it can be hard to juggle so many hats. An elementary school has invited me to come do a workshop with them in January, and I can't read any of my own poems there, since it's far too “adult." I felt a little odd sharing it with the sixth graders I visited a few weeks ago. (They were some very cool sixth graders, though.) And while my poetry does cross over to reach some YA readers, most readers of poetry are not as interested in my YA exploits.
But I think these are all just different ways of telling a story. A poem is a story, a memoir is a story, and an essay is a story. And the novels I've written (and hope to sell soon) are stories, of course. I think the common theme throughout my work is honesty. I write about teenage girls in love, and I want those girls to be as real and three-dimensional on the page as they would be next to you in the cafeteria. I write poems about lake monsters, but I want those poems to reflect truths about the human experience. When I write to Prince in the middle of the night telling him about my mental health crisis, I want that poem to reach someone else who might need to hear they're not alone.
How does your experience at Conn shape your work?
I think all of my experiences shape my work, as cliché as I know that sounds. I think my time as a classics major, with Dirk Held as an advisor, gave me a lot of confidence. He always believed in me. He read my column in the newspaper every week. When he found out that a class I needed to take interfered with my editorial schedule at the paper, he offered an independent study. At the time, I just thought he was a super amazing professor who cared a lot about his students. And this is still true; he was all of those things. But he was also a man who empowered me to make choices that would define my future. That's a gift I can never repay.
Do you have any advice for budding writers on our campus?
Seek out critique. Your poetry class isn't enough. Share your work with others, both on campus and off. Online, back home, wherever. Get your hands on some literary magazines. I'm sure your English professors can recommend some, and I know the library has subscriptions to several. Read the big ones and the little ones. (I have an article on my blog about lit mags, if you're curious.) And since you're reading, read twice as much as you write. I know it's super hard when you're also reading for class, but if you want to be a good writer, you need to be an even better reader. Read good books, read books that are critically panned, read books from small presses and books from big publishing houses, books you know you'll love and books that you normally wouldn't even glance at. Poetry, fiction, newspapers, blogs, all of it. If you can make time to write, you can make time to read, too.
And I know this really great book you can start with. It's called PRAY, PRAY, PRAY, and the author used to live in Smith.
These insights from E. Kristin Anderson are so helpful for any Camel that is looking to write or include writing in their post-graduate plans. Having these alumni to turn to for advice is one of our favorite aspects about the close college community here at Conn.
For more information about Anderson and her upcoming works, visit www.ekristinanderson.com.