I didn’t consider myself a writer until I found myself wanting to drop out of college. Growing up, I told stories for my siblings to act out, stapled sheets of legal paper into booklets of poems, and kept locked or rubber-banded notebooks in every purse but hardly thought these actions different than other creative games like digging through the dress-up box or building tree forts in the woods. The fresh discomfort of studying books and writing at university surprised me. Literary activity in the first semester of my undergrad felt at odds with the freedom and bodily expression writing had been tied to in my youth. I struggled to read and write in sterile classrooms, under fluorescent lighting, on a rigid schedule between gen-ed courses and promptly decided to quit.
My resident advisor at Ohio State responded to my drop-out plans by asking me first to take my notebooks to a professor he knew. That professor turned out to be the poet Kathy Fagan, who, in an oft-recalled office visit, convinced me not to drop out, enrolled me in her hybrid poetry workshop, and pretty much changed the course of my life. Or, maybe better: helped me acknowledge the writerly course on which all those creative acts had already set me.
That acknowledgment—trying to write in workshops, failing to convey what I wanted, receiving praise here and there, bending myself to the task of producing work—enabled me to endure academia through the seven messy years it took to finish my BA in English. My need for freedom and space to move, learn, question, and play outside institutions never left, but neither did the desire for and act of writing.
Now, finishing an MFA program I can see as a total blessing most days, sending out a manuscript for my first real book, I know the potential utility in the academic classrooms I found stifling. But I still have a sweet spot for operations and writers who move in between academic and non-academic spaces and was tickled to learn about Sundress while working at the University of Illinois’ Ninth Letter.
This chance to work remotely as a Sundress intern has me envisioning again that writerly life I craved as a pissed-off undergrad all those years ago. Reading, writing, extending the literary circle bit by bit, and getting to do so under an open window, between hours of working on my own writing, next to a stack of marked-up books—dreamy. Of course, I’m romanticizing it. I am also interested in the ways this opportunity will challenge and surprise, how it will compare to my other (paid, university-associated) work. I hope, by the end of this internship, to see Sundress as a brief home, and to sense that my restlessness and drive may have been useful in the lives of other writers, readers, writers-to-be.
Aumaine Rose Gruich is an MFA candidate at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She has received support from the Chautauqua Writer’s Workshop and the Illinois Department of Dance’s Choreographic Platform. Aumaine’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines such as Pleiades, Court Green, Phoebe, and Bluestem.