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 join the Ph.D. program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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 our first daughter has slowed down the international travel, but now that our daughter is seven, she can carry her own backpack. In the fall of 2016, I taught a semester abroad at Harlaxton College in England. Seeing as how much of my work considers evolution, it was exciting and necessary to visit the country of Charles Darwin. While in England, I continued my investigations into science and literature, visiting not only historic sites such as Darwin’s Down House, but also analyzing the English tradition of writers incorporating science into their own work. And this upcoming summer, I have been invited to teach at the Convivio Conference in Italy where I plan to explore as much as a can about Italian wines and sonnets.
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. Now that my family and I have moved to Mobile so that I can direct the creative writing program and Stokes Center for Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama, I am relieved to have found what I’ve always been hunting for: home.