Our editorial intern Anna-Quinn French sat down to talk with our newest Writer in Residence at the Sundress Academy for the Arts, Marah Hoffman, to learn more about her goals for her time at Firefly Farms.
Marah Hoffman is a 2022 graduate with bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing from Lebanon Valley College. In college, she served as co-poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society president. From the LVC English department, she won The Green Blotter Writer Award. She has been featured in journals including Green Blotter, LURe Journal, Oakland Arts Review, Beyond Thought, and Asterism. Now, she is discovering new literary communities and new methods of igniting creativity. She loves creative nonfiction, intertextuality, whimsicality, cats, lattes, distance running, and adding to her personal lexicon. Her favorite word changes nearly every week.
Anna-Quinn French: Your love for literature and language is brightly apparent in the writing you did for Project Bookshelf and Sundress Reads. If you were stuck with only one book for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Marah Hoffman: Thank you! What a wonderful and cruel question for a person who is currently reading four different books! I would have to choose The Best of Brevity edited by Zoe Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore. It was one of many impulse buys at AWP this past spring, and it does not disappoint. The collection celebrates Brevity’s 20th anniversary by compiling what the editors believe to be the best flash. It is likely the only book in the world that could satiate my fluctuating literary moods for the rest of my life. The themes, structures, voices, and economy of language are awe-inspiring. In my margin notes, I am writing wow over and over again. It masterfully showcases the spectrum of the form and humanity.
AQF: At what age or time in your life did you recognize that writing or an English-based profession was the path you wanted to take? What influences or inspirations led you to that realization?
MH: I can remember being in sixth grade, standing on a tiny stage in my school’s commons room reading a poem I had written called “Sunrise” where I compared the sun to a coin in the pocket of heaven. It was not a good poem. I was definitely not a prodigy. But the rush of fleshing an experience with words, of creating enticed me. I considered other career paths such as flower arranging and environmental science, but I always knew that English brought me the most joy. In high school, taking AP Language and Composition gave me permission to consider an English major seriously. The texts we read in that class, among the most noteworthy being The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan and Wild by Cheryl Strayed, convinced me that writing was something I needed. This was the same year I saw Dead Poets Society, and Mr. Keating’s words, “medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for,” really struck a chord with me.
AQF: I saw that you tutored throughout your undergrad, and I am in training right now to become a tutor at UTK! In what ways do you think tutoring and helping others with their writing aided in your own growth as a writer?
MH: That’s great! Tutoring is a fantastic way to improve as a writer. It is true what people say about explaining a concept to others being the true test of your own knowledge. Tutoring reminded me that writing, at its core, is an act of communication. I had to explain to fellow students how readers might respond to their argument, the holes they might find if they don’t include counterarguments and rebuttals. When writing my own papers, I would often hear my tutor-self correct my student-self who was about to make a mistake.
AQF: While I was reading your Intern Intro for Sundress, I related to the sentiments you stated about your father and the advice he gave you that has stuck with you through hard obstacles you’ve faced. Do you ever find yourself going through bouts of self-doubt or lack of fresh ideas? If so, how do you persevere through this type of writer’s block, and what advice would you give to new writers in overcoming similar difficulties?
MH: Throughout college, there were semesters where creativity struck me frequently and at the worst moments. I would have to force myself to finish my reading instead of starting a poem. There were also semesters where my brain felt trapped in analytical mode, unable to invent. The difference between the two, I am almost certain, was what I was reading. When I am reading the kinds of things I aspire to write, I find myself inspired and invigorated. This summer, I purposefully chose to read essay collections because I have been writing a lot of essays.
AQF: I also noted your long history in writing poetry and that creative nonfiction has been a new outlet for you. What aspects or changes in your life led you to this interest in writing personal essays?
MH: Good question! I have an easy answer. In the fall of my senior year, I took Writing a Life which focused on creative nonfiction. That was definitely the genesis of this interest. The previous year, I had done a deep dive into the history of the personal essay, reading the work of pioneers like Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon. But Writing a Life exposed me to fresh, lush essays that I became obsessed with emulating. I still write poems, but my default seems to be more essays now which I never expected.
AQF: Congratulations on your long-term residency at the farm! What projects are you currently working on or hoping to write? Do you have any specific themes or topics you are focusing on?
MH: Thank you! I’m mainly working on MFA applications, composing my personal statement, trying to make my writing sample as strong as it can be. A theme I can’t seem to get away from is ephemerality. The farm is a great place to ruminate on this theme because caring for animals showcases all sides of Mother Nature.
Anna-Quinn French is a junior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she studies English, with a concentration in literature and a minor in Philosophy, and works as a student tutor in the Judith Anderson Herbert Writing Center. She is a sucker for fantasy romance novels and romantic poetry and is constantly on the hunt for the next story that she can fixate on for months.