I know I said yesterday…

I know I said yesterday that I wasn't going to talk about the interview, but I spent much of this morning obsessively reading pieces on The Chronicle of Higher Education website, and I think maybe it might be helpful to others if I describe how this went. I'd say this was a very good interview, from my perspective, both in terms of how it went and how the faculty members seemed to me, so it seems like a good one to talk about. :-)

They opened by telling me a little bit about the program and the job -- the 2/2 teaching load, the very mixed grad and undergrad student body composition, the high level of engagement with the community and active intellectual life of the students, the opportunities for administrative positions down the road. All of this sounded frankly delightful; an ideal position from my point of view.

They asked me questions about teaching, primarily. First, about what a typical intermediate undergrad writing class would look like; I talked about treating workshop material almost as you would stories you were reading in a lit class, in a spirit of analysis of what was actually happening, rather than trying to 'fix' the story. They asked about a particularly weak moment in my teaching, which didn't go the way I'd wanted, and about a strong moment, when everything came together. I did come up with two examples, but they were somewhat random; in retrospect, I wish I'd thought about this in advance as a possible question and prepared responses. I'll know better for MLA.

They asked about nonfiction, and how a nonfiction class would (if it would) differ from a fiction class. Having re-read the Baxter book of essays recently, I felt well-prepared for this question, and talked about needing to address issues of privacy and revelation of personal information, about truth-telling and navigating responsibility to your readers, about the fuzziness and unreliability of memory. They asked whether the second book I was writing for HC was nonfiction; I wish I could have told them that it was, but sadly, I had to tell them that it was a novel. This is one of my primary worries about this job; they're looking for someone who can teach both fiction and nonfiction, and while I certainly believe I can teach in both genres successfully, I may not be as strongly qualified in nonfiction as one of their other candidates. There's nothing I can do about that at this point; I do plan to try to write and publish a fair bit of nonfiction in the next few years, so if I'm not successful on this year's job search, I may be better positioned in the future.

The job would involve teaching literature half the time; I don't know if that's a high percentage for a creative writing position, but it sounds ideal to me. A lot of work, as Kevin pointed out when we were discussing it afterwards, but oh, such wonderful work. The first year would be very intense, with several new preps, but once I got through that, I think it would be reasonable to manage. And luckily, the timing of this works well with my writing; I should ideally be done with The Arrangement by the time I take an academic job, and able to take a break from writing while I find my feet academically. If I stay on schedule this year, of course.

So, they asked me about what kind of literature course I'd teach. I talked about an Intro to South Asian and Diaspora Literature course, which is actually one I would love to teach, and one that I could comfortably teach at the graduate or undergrad levels. I think my description of that went well, though I spent a little too long listing titles before I got to actually summarizing the structure of the course -- and in retrospect, perhaps I should have spent some time discussing the thematic work of the course and its purposes. Hmmm... I also noted in passing that I'd be able to teach postcolonial crit or contemporary lit. I noticed after the interview, looking at the departmental website, that they do have a lit person already specifically doing S. Asian and postcolonial lit., which is unfortunate for me; I wouldn't be filling a hole in their lit. department, it seems. Given that, if I'd realized it in advance, I could perhaps have thought more about a different sort of course I might teach. Perhaps even a new media and/or hypertext course. Something to pay more attention to for other interviews.

Interestingly, we didn't discuss my own fiction dissertation work at all. I don't know if that's typical for creative writing positions; I gather that in a lit. interview, you would normally spend some time discussing their dissertation. Perhaps they meant to discuss it, but I talked too much on other subjects and they ran out of time. Or perhaps these aren't normally discussed; it's not as if you can argue about them in the same way that you might a lit. dissertation. I didn't actually notice this at the time; the conversation was lively and interesting enough that I was kept pretty busy just fielding the questions they did give me, rather than wondering about the ones they didn't.

They did ask about administrative work near the end; tenured faculty in this department rotate the job of department chair, and they wanted to know if I was interested in and experienced in such work. I told them about the interdisciplinary humanities festival at Utah, and about the SLF, and about DesiLit, and about the online magazines (all fairly briefly); they seemed impressed. I think. This may be one of my stronger points as an applicant; I think most academics don't enjoy administration as much as I do. :-)

I had wondered whether they would ask about Kevin. I don't know if they've visited my website; if they did, even a brief visit would have told them that I had a partner in a tenured job at U of I. Search committees legally aren't allowed to ask about partners (or children), but I've heard that quite often in interviews they do ask nonetheless. These professors didn't say a word about Kev, but they did ask whether I would be planning on residing in Milwaukee or elsewhere. I think that's actually an excellent way of navigating the difficulty (and something I want to remember in case I'm ever on the other side of a search committee). Frankly, I think it's tremendously difficult to really engage with an academic job if you're commuting in from more than an hour away (this job is roughly an hour and a half from where we currently live). Any search committee would want to know whether an applicant planned to be fully involved with the department, or whether they were just going to swoop in, teach their classes, and leave again. They seemed to think that my response -- that I would plan to live in Milwaukee but might spend weekends in Chicago -- was reasonable, though it's always hard to tell from a phone interview, of course, how they really felt. But it was an honest answer, so we'll just have to hope that it was also the answer they wanted.

As I said, overall, I felt like the interview went well. They were friendly, welcoming, and seemed interested in my responses. Now we just cross our fingers and hope.

I have a real temptation to just sit here by the phone all day, but I think that's probably a bad idea. They may not get back to me right away, even if I'm one of their three top choices. So I'm going to exercise, pack my computer up, and go out for the afternoon to do some writing in a cafe. And if I call home and check my messages every hour, that's only reasonable and human, right?

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