Catherine Pierce '00
Creative Writing | Mississippi State, Miss.
Even today, as an award-winning poet with a doctorate in literature and creative writing, Catherine Pierce '00 continues to feel the influence of her Susquehanna professors. "I still hear Gary Fincke's voice in my head whenever I tack a heavy-handed ending onto a poem. Not wanting to disappoint even the imaginary Gary Fincke, I always go back and change it," she says.
Pierce is now professor of creative writing and co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. She teaches graduate- and undergraduate-level poetry workshops, as well as literature classes. Her poems have appeared in such magazines as the Boston Review, Ploughshares, Slate, and FIELD, as well as in the anthology The Best American Poetry. She is the author of two books of poems, The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia 2012) and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia 2008, winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize).
As an undergraduate student, Pierce says she found Susquehanna was everything she had been looking for in a university. "I knew I wanted a small liberal arts college where I could work closely with professors. I wanted a pretty campus, and I wanted a friendly, down-to-earth student body," Pierce says. "Most importantly, I wanted a school where creative writing was taught and valued."
Before Pierce had even committed to Susquehanna, Gary Fincke, professor of English and creative writing and director of the Writers Institute, took time to talk with Pierce about her writing and her goals for college. "The fact that he set aside time in his day to talk seriously with me before I'd even decided to come to SU seemed like a good sign," she says. "It was."
Pierce quickly discovered that Susquehanna's engaged professors were part of a larger family of writers on campus. "At SU, the writing majors were always going to readings, talking over coffee about the book they'd just read and tracking one another down to go over the latest draft of a story or poem," she says. "I learned at SU the importance of a writing community. The actual act of writing is solitary, but the image of a writer locked in the attic room, sweating over manuscripts in total isolation is a romantic myth."
Being a part of a community of writers at Susquehanna inspired Pierce to pursue advanced degrees in creative writing. "That sense of community, and the excitement it spurred, was vital for me in my development as a writer," she says.
As a professor, Pierce works hard to promote the passion she experienced at Susquehanna. "When I teach my classes now, I work to emulate two important things that my professors at SU did. I take my students and their writing seriously, and I try to let my own enthusiasm for writing spill over into the classroom so that my students will learn what I did in college that writing should be simultaneously fun and pull-your-hair-out challenging, and that it's when you find yourself floundering at that intersection that you know you're doing good work."
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