What We Talk When We Talk About Writers: An Interview with MFA Student Jennifer Austin

IMG_1527Welcome to another  installment of WWTA. Over the course of the year, we’ll  be interviewing the writers who make up the first class of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This week we corresponded with Jennifer Austin over email.

Jennifer Austin has an MA in English from The College of Saint Rose. She is a writer, Adjunct professor of English at Saint Rose and HVCC, and a freelance news producer.  Two of her original one-act plays, Exit and Bitter Brunch, were produced as staged readings at Saint Rose. Jennifer loves the arts, and misses acting and singing.  She is a classically trained vocalist, but writing has always been her primary artistic expression.  After years in center square, and one in NYC, Jennifer now lives in the suburbs of Colonie with her husband, Jeff, and their two dogs and two cats, who “definitely rule the roost.”

 Hello, Jen what drew you to the MFA program?

I received my Master’s Degree in English from The College of Saint Rose and as a writer I really wanted to pursue an MFA. I was actually looking for an MFA program while I was still an MA student, so when Strose started the new program, I was thrilled.  I’m so excited  to work again with some of the amazing professors I have already built a relationship with and whom have guided me so well both as a writer and a scholar.

What or who inspires you to write? 

What inspires me to write is the indelible moments in life that make us who we are and make us have seemingly crazy or offbeat tendencies.  That’s the good stuff.  That’s what makes us all unique. Of course, no writer can be any good without also being an avid reader, and that is a part of the inspiration, as well.  My favorite writers have always inspired me to write because of the world I was able to create in my mind through their words.  That is part of why I’ve always looked to creativity to express myself, and even at an early age, some of my favorite writers like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Leo Tolstoy spoke to me and helped me understand the capacity of the imagination created through language.

 Who is your favorite author?

I just found my beat-up copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, with all of my scribbly notes, and I was relieved.  Thanks to Dr. Kim Middleton’s class, that book will always be at the top of my list.  Its complexity, which seems like too mild of a word, and its ability to communicate so many ideas and themes, will always be fascinating.  I became spellbound by the text and once I finished the 1000 plus pages, I experienced several weeks of mourning. When a book can take a hold of you like that, and make you feel like something’s missing from your life after your finish reading it, you know it’s a masterpiece.

My genre is Creative Nonfiction, and I have several favorite authors in the genre: Mary Karr, Joan Didion, and Meghan Daum are my big three. Karr is so honest and seems to express major themes effortlessly.  Her writing can focus on the most horrific moments, but also be light and humorous.  Didion is just Didion, she combines words like no other, and Daum takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.

What do you hope to accomplish by the time you graduate?

I plan to finish my memoir.  I would also love to complete a book of essays and get some of those essays published.

What are your long-term goals for writing?

To get published and to have more time to write and live my life.  That’s where the work comes from.  I need to have time to question and respond to life creatively through writing.

 What was the last good book you’ve read?

I just reread some of the essays in David SedarisDress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I’m always amazed at how funny Sedaris is while alluding to profound ideas about the bizarre every day nature of life that make us who we are as people.  He illuminates how so many of us are our own strange box of tricks.


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