My father was a used car salesman and my mother was an elementary school teacher, a combination that seems fitting for a writer. I learned early on that details persuade—and that money is exchanged (or not) based on those details. My mother concerned herself with different types of details, ones that involved diagramming sentences and memorizing prepositions. In fact, she taped a list of all the prepositions onto my bathroom mirror so I could see it whenever I brushed my teeth. I guess one could say I was groomed at an early age to creating and editing.
I did not, however, want to be a writer. In fact, I fought against it and majored in International Relations as an undergrad, hoping for a sexy cubicle job in the State Department so I could occasionally travel to talk about bank loans in Bolivia. One of my mentors, the poet Arthur Smith, pulled me out of an undergraduate poetry class one day to ask my plan in life. When I told him, he simply shook his head and said, “No. You’re going to be a poet. And teach.” I thought he had pulled me out of class to tell me I had no skills, so I was shocked by his assertion. Sure enough, I moved to Boston two years later to begin work on my M.F.A. in creative writing at Emerson College. A few years later, I returned to Tennessee to begin work on my Ph.D, which I completed in 2011. The travel bug, however, has never left me. My husband, the fiction writer Adam Prince, and I have backpacked the last few summers in Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The arrival of a little one has slowed down the international travel, but now that our daughter is almost three, I think she might be big enough to carry her own backpack. Fall of 2016, I have been selected to teach a semester abroad at Harlaxton in England. Seeing as how much of my work considers evolution, it is exciting and necessary to visit the country of Charles Darwin. While in England, I will continue my investigations into science and literature, visiting not only historic sites such as Darwin’s Down House, but also analyzing the particularly English tradition of writers incorporating science into their own work.
In a bio, I feel like I should say “where I’m from.” The truth is that because of my father’s mental illness, we moved around a lot. So, I grew up somewhat nomadically, though Appalachia claims me the most. All of my family is from West Virginia, and I have lived in Tennessee longer than anywhere else. After completing my Ph.D., I moved to Illinois to join the English department at Eastern Illinois University where I now chair the Creative Writing committee, serve as interim editor of Bluestem, and direct the Lions in Winter Literary Festival and Hennings Reading Series.