The Gatepost Interview: Sam Witt – Professor of English

What is your job at FSU? 

I am an associate professor of creative writing and first-year writing. I teach several creative writing courses plus Expository Writing. I also teach the creative writing seminar, which is now split between two different courses and two different genres. I advise The Onyx, which is the creative writing journal.

What is your educational and professional background?

I graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I graduated with an English major and immediately after graduation, I went to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which is an M.F.A. [Master of Fine Arts program]. … After my first book, “Everlasting Quail,” was published in 2000, it won the Katharine Bakeless Nason Poetry Prize. Then, I started applying for jobs in teaching. I went to Russia for a year under the Fulbright Fellowship Program. … I was in the first group of people who went to Russia after Communism fell. Then, I taught a lot of one-year jobs. I taught at Harvard for a year in the English department. I went on a fellowship to the Yaddo Writers Conference. I taught at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. I taught at Whitman College and a few smaller schools. In 2010, I applied for a one-year teaching position at Framingham State University. I have been at Framingham ever since. About four years ago, I was awarded tenure and I was promoted to associate professor. 

Why did you choose to teach at FSU? 

First, I love the school. When I applied, I had never heard of Framingham, which is kind of embarrassing because it is such an important school to American education. It was the first Normal School – it was the first school for women in America – and it was started by Horace Mann. Framingham has the best English department I have ever been a part of, and I have been a part of a lot of English departments. I think the FSU English Department is one of the strongest English departments for humanities, literature, and creative writing for undergraduates in the world! However, it seems to be one of the least known – it really flies under the radar. Framingham is also affordable, serving students who don’t want to go into debt. I think FSU is a democratic university. My colleagues in literature completely respect creative writing, which was sometimes a point of contention in academia in the past. At FSU, we recognize that all writing is creative, and all creative writing is a scholarly, academic, and literary pursuit. The chair right now, Lisa Eck, is extraordinary. She is so respectful and loves creative writing. The chair before her, Dr. Desmond McCarthy, recognized how important creative writing is. Most of all, I love the students. I cannot tell you how many extraordinary students I have. I am happy to be here. FSU is an incredible place! 

What do you like most about working with students?

The most important [part] for me is working with students on their writing, which also extends to reading an analysis of literature. I like seeing students fall in love with writing and reading. I have seen students realize how important writing and literature is and how they can change someone’s life. I adore the moment when a student in my writing classes realizes it’s not true that they are not good at English or writing. I can almost always tell when I have a budding poet in my intro to writing class because they always say they are not really a poet. Then, they show me they are. I love watching students graduate because it’s a joyous moment [celebrating] what they have accomplished. I like writing letters for my students who choose to go on to a graduate program and for jobs. I love seeing my students get jobs! Most of all, considering the current situation with the pandemic, I love seeing that we are there for each other. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your job? 

COVID-19 has made an extraordinary change to everything. Zoom and other technologies like Zoom are so helpful to us. I love the fact that we have this stuff! They are also extraordinarily challenging. Right now, I am teaching mostly classes on Zoom. But, the problem with Zoom is when you are not physically with students, you are not getting the same kind of neurological response that you get when you are physically with a group of people. It is a subtle distinction, but it is noticeable. We are not getting the serotonin we get with an in-person social interaction. I read somewhere that a Zoom meeting is like trying to conduct a conversation through a keyhole or window. It’s exhausting and difficult. On one hand, you can get materials to students immediately, but nothing beats a group of hungry minds in a room together. 

What advice do you have for FSU students?

Right now – hang in there! Keep doing what you are doing. This will not last forever. We are on the cusp of some difficult times, but that doesn’t mean we are on the cusp of bad times. Try to listen to each other. Try to realize everybody is having a rough time right now. I’m not just talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. I am talking about the racism pandemic, the polarity in our political system, and the inequalities we are all struggling with. The important thing is for us to realize how to talk and listen to each other.