Kirsten Porter, '09
What have you been up to since you were a student at Marymount?
After earning an English degree from Marymount University, I went on to study at George Mason University where I received an MFA in creative writing with a concentration in poetry. I worked at George Mason and NVCC community college, but nothing made me as happy as when I came back to MU to teach in the literature and languages department. Currently I have a lectureship that involves teaching, event planning (author talks and poetry readings), and serving as a faculty advisor for MU’s literary & arts magazine BlueInk. Additionally, I write, copy edit, and am actively involved in volunteering for a local dog rescue.
What are you working on now and what are you most proud of? How did your experience at Marymount impact these things?
What am I working on now? Grading a stack of essays that my composition 102 students moaned and groaned over when I first gave them the assignment. But working with my students brings me a lot of joy. There is nothing better than when a student who has been struggling with her writing comes to you for help, and then click! Something you say or show her finally makes sense, and her self-confidence and writing starts to improve. I owe a great deal to the wonderful teachers I had at MU when I was a student for creating a standard of excellence in teaching that I try to emulate. Some of the very same teachers I admired as a student, I now have the privilege to call my colleagues. I love my job, and it is very much due to the community I have found at MU.
And then there’s my work with poet and literary activist Ethelbert Miller. I am so proud to work with a man who is truly making a difference in the community with his poetry and activism. If it were not for MU, I would never have met Miller. Years ago when I was still a student at MU, Miller was the visiting poet and gave a reading on campus. I attended the reading and spoke with Miller afterward. We started corresponding by email which would turn into a friendship and working relationship. This year The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller will be released. Miller asked me to edit and write the introduction for the book. The project lasted over a year and pushed me to step out of my comfort zone in more ways than I could have ever imagined when I first signed on as editor.
What are your future career, service, or other goals?
The sky’s the limit for future goals and aspirations. My heart will always find its way back to teaching, whatever form that might take. Teaching how to outline for a research paper, how to infuse a poem with concrete images, how to say you’re sorry when you’ve hurt someone. I think I will always be teaching (and learning) in some capacity. Marymount has been a good home for me, and I’m happy to stay on longer here. I have some ideas for new classes I’d like to teach, and I’m always dreaming up new opportunities and events we could give our students at MU to enhance our creative writing offerings.
There are some new projects in the works with Ethelbert Miller. I’ve recently agreed to be his literary assistant, and it is exciting to watch the evolution of his writing as he embarks on a new chapter of his career.
If I close my eyes and try to think of who I will be and what I will be doing ten years from now, the picture is somewhat blurry. No definite lines, no clear images. But I think I can just make out the shapes of a few students sitting around my desk to talk about metaphor and rhyme, a poetry collection of Miller’s sticking out of my bag and waiting to be edited, and a pack of four or five rescue dogs greeting me at the door after a long drive home from work.
What advice would you give to prospective students considering a career in your field?
1. Follow your heart. As poet Rilke once asked a young poet (and I’m paraphrasing here), when you rise each morning, is writing what gets you out of bed and excited about what the day has in store for you? If teaching or writing is what is inside you, then that is what you must do!
2. Be brave. Teach even what is difficult to understand. Teach the subjects that may be uncomfortable but need to be discussed. Write with honesty and conviction. Write your truth; no one else can do this for you.
3. Listen. Sit back and really listen to those who have come before you. Ask to shadow another teacher and watch how she interacts with her students and constructs her lesson plans. Attend a reading and listen to the writer’s words lift off the page. Go to a book talk and take in the advice a writer gives about practicing her craft.
4. Ask questions. Often times the person sitting next to you has a similar question they are reluctant or too afraid to ask. So ask! Then repeat #3.
5. Take every opportunity that might help you learn more about your field or give you connections. Really. Go to those readings, those resume workshops, career fairs…Even when staying at home watching Netflix seems more appealing, get off the couch and go. You just might meet your Ethelbert Miller!
6. Be grateful and kind in all that you do. When someone gives you an opportunity, say thank you. In your field, in your home, in your community—always treat others with respect and kindness. When others see you are pleasant to work with, more opportunities will come your way. And when those blessings do come, remember to pay it forward; be a mentor to someone who needs a little help finding their way.