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Five Questions with Graham Hillard

Posted by Trevecca on May 20, 2020 2:04:22 PM

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As an associate professor of English, Graham Hillard nurtures budding writers in creative writing, contemporary literature and composition at Trevecca. He is the founding editor of Trevecca’s national literary quarterly, The Cumberland River Review. In addition, Hillard has written for The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Oxford American, The Weekly Standard and other magazines. He has contributed poetry and fiction to The Believer, Image, Notre Dame Review and numerous other journals.  

As the semester came to a close, we asked Hillard a few questions about his work, building community in the classroom and what he loves about his work. Here’s what he had to say. 

What excites you about your job?
As a creative writing teacher, I’m in constant conversation with students about their work, and I tend to see the same students semester after semester. It’s always exciting to see young writers grow—particularly when they have a sudden breakthrough. When that happens, it tends to be obvious to everyone in the room—“OK, you’ve been playing around with words a bit. Now you’re a writer.” It never gets old.

At Trevecca, community is at the core of who we are as a university. How have you found yourself working to bring community to your classes?
A creative writing classroom is a specific kind of community and is valuable precisely because writing is such a solitary occupation. Undergraduates in a Trevecca writing workshop have something they may never have again in their lives: a group of serious, like-minded peers who will read their work carefully and opine on it honestly. Every good workshop offers a mixture of praise and criticism. We talk about what works in the draft in front of us, as well as what could improve. These conversations can be intense, but they’re effective because we’re all in this together, we all know how hard writing can be, and we’ve all learned to trust and respect one another.

What fuels your passion for teaching students?
I sometimes tell my students that the only things I have to offer them are my honest opinion and my sympathy. I know what it’s like to stare at the blank screen and curse the day you were born! I also know, however, that writing can be intensely satisfying when it’s going well. I love to see the moment when a student realizes that he or she is onto something, has solved a technical problem or has completed a particularly difficult revision. Helping students to those moments is why we all became teachers in the first place.

Is there anything you like to do that might surprise your students? 
When I’m not teaching, grading, preparing for class, or doing the modest administrative work that all faculty perform, I’m reading or writing. The occasional long walk is good for shaking loose an idea, but that’s about it.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your work?
The most fulfilling part of my work as a teacher is seeing the breakthrough moment that most creative writing students eventually reach. The most fulfilling part of my work as a writer is finishing something and knowing that it’s good. The latter is something I tell my students often. It’s great to get a “yes” from an editor. It’s fun to see your work in print. It’s nice when the check comes. But nothing beats the knowledge that you’ve done good work, and any writer can have that, alone, in his or her study, if he or she will simply put in the time.


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