Emily M. Goldsmith
1. When did you start writing?
“It is hard for me to pinpoint a time in my life when I wasn’t writing. It feels like it’s been something I’ve always done. I was born, I learned to talk, and I learned to read and write. Beginning when I was small, I was a voracious reader. I was reading many things that weren’t entirely age-appropriate as the youngest of three siblings. I would tuck myself away with a blanket and a book and escape until I heard the call for dinner or my mother’s command to do my homework. Specifically, when I was in the first grade, we all had to write our own little books. We dictated the words to our teacher, who would handwrite the text, and we illustrated them ourselves. When finished, they were laminated and bound by a flimsy plastic spiral. My book was called ‘Sophie’s Bad Hair Day.’ We held our books and read them aloud at ‘Author’s night.’ I suppose that was my official career launch.”
Emily in first grade,
2. How did you get into writing poetry?
“When I was a 14-year-old, I watched a BBC movie called Bright Star. The movie is about John Keats’ life, and if you know anything about Keats, you know he died young. It was a deeply moving movie, sad and full of poetry. I left the living room where I’d watched the movie, my face still wet with tears, and grabbed a journal. I sat in my bedroom and wrote my first ever poem. It was dramatic and wrenched with 14-year-old heartache. It was about a boy I thought I loved. It was full of declarations and angst, as you can imagine. Although this poem is something I never hope surfaces, it launched me into writing poems as journaling, a practice I’ve never stopped. I think after that, I knew I would be a creative writer of some kind. I thought I would write the next great novel and began college as a Fiction major before quickly realizing that my natural inclinations were different from Fiction writers. I switched to poetry and non-fiction and never looked back.”
3. How did you get into writing non-fiction?
“When I was a freshman in college, I was a fiction major at Columbia College Chicago. During my second semester, I already knew I would change my major because something about fiction wasn’t clicking for me—despite my love and passion for creative writing. I took a non-fiction class and learned what creative non-fiction was for the first time. That semester, we wrote a handful of personal essays in class, and I was hooked. What wasn’t clicking in fiction classes clicked in non-fiction. When I transferred from Columbia College Chicago to Louisiana State University (located in the city where I’m from) to finish my undergraduate degree, I decided to major in poetry because there was no non-fiction concentration there at the time. That was an excellent decision for my life. I had always loved poetry and written poems; I just didn’t realize you could do that in college or your career. It was a tremendous awakening that I could be both: a non-fiction writer and a poet.”
4. Where do you draw inspiration?
“I certainly draw inspiration from the world around me: the people I love, the places I go, the terrains I witness, something a customer says at the coffee shop, the squirrel that makes aggressive eye contact, or the phone call I have with a friend. I draw inspiration from my own educational journey reacquainting myself with my own culture, language, and heritage as a Cajun-Creole person. I draw inspiration from S. Louisiana, where I was born and raised, where my family has been for generations. I also draw inspiration from my life experiences, positive and negative. My poems often consider creolization, Cajun identity, disconnection from heritage, assimilation, and family. Other times, my poems engage with connection to body, reclamation of self, identity, sexuality, and certainly criticism of religions, specifically Christian Evangelicalism. One of the many reasons I grew up somewhat disconnected from my own cultural identity is Evangelicalism. I also experienced many traumas (end of the world trauma, purity culture trauma, hell trauma, etc.) from my years raised in fundamentalist Christianity—and I was in an Evangelical cult from age 16 to 22. Having survived these experiences, as a survivor of sexual assault and violence, as a queer person who grew up being told they were sinful for existing, and as a person who has reclaimed space to live, I need to continue considering these experiences instead of moving beyond them without reflection or engagement with the systems of power that function to oppress people.”
5. You are currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Southern Mississippi. What brought that about?
“When I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 2016 with a BA in English—creative writing/poetry, I had no idea what I would do. My immediate plans included helping some friends open a music venue and creative workspace called The Parlor in Baton Rouge. I was the nighttime manager and music booker for the space. I thought I’d spend a few more years in the music scene before finding my next gig. However, there isn’t much money in local music scenes, and I realized I needed other work relatively quickly. During this time, I waited tables, taught poetry to elementary school children, and worked in the grant department of a non-profit. When the music venue closed, I started working in specialty coffee as a barista and barista trainer and did that for a few years. I loved music, and I loved coffee. All the while, I was still writing new poems and going to poetry readings and reading at poetry readings.
Around this time, I started reading my work alongside a local experimental musician and performance artist, Hal Lambert, and we’d do our sets together, sometimes to open for music shows. I recorded my poems on a few local albums too. It was a blast! All the while, I was trying to find my thing. I knew poetry was my thing, but I discovered, over these years, that teaching was my thing too. When I realized how much I enjoyed and cared about teaching, it made sense for me to think about an MFA. I applied to a ton of MFA’s, got into a few, and ultimately decided to move with my spouse to Lexington, Kentucky, for UKY’s program. I had an excellent two years of writing, teaching, and learning. While I was completing my MFA, I added a graduate certificate in College Teaching and Learning. I found that I wasn’t only dedicated to teaching, but I really cared about pedagogical theory. I decided to apply to Ph.D.’s to continue to gain additional teaching experience, keep writing, and keep considering pedagogy as a discipline. At the same time, I was considering an entry into the academic job market, a rather hostile market to enter. My husband and I decided to choose USM over other options because it’s only a few hours away from our families in Louisiana, and we enjoy the food and climate of the deep South. I also knew I’d be closer to source material if I wanted to keep writing about Cajun-Creole history and identity.”
6. You’ve started a teaching blog. How is that experience so far? What is your vision for your blog?
“I added a teaching blog to my website because I’m passionate about demystifying knowledge. This semester, I’m in a pedagogy class where we must read certain books and articles and post reflections on our teaching every few weeks. Rather than write these reflections on a private blog and read these resources just for class, I decided to make my blog public and share each class reading. I think pedagogy should be a communal conversation, and we should all be encouraging one another to teach better and more equitably. Folks teach at all different age levels in various kinds of institutions. Certainly, there is a difference between K-12 teaching and teaching in higher education, but some of the principles are the same. I also know that not every graduate program provides its students with resources and information about good pedagogy. Yet, they still expect those same students to teach introduction classes (which are formative to college student’s experience). Since I have to do the work anyway, I thought I might as well make the knowledge public!
I enjoy reflecting on the readings and my teaching, and I’m determined to be an excellent teacher, which requires self-reflection and a willingness always to improve. Regarding the scope of my teaching blog, I would like to keep posting after this semester ends. I want to write other blog posts that aren’t connected to the class material directly—for example; I’m working on one right now about gendered language and gender expectations in higher education. Overall, the more those of us who teach talk about teaching, share information, and value transparency, the better off we will all be. This kind of transparency is counterintuitive because, in higher education, you usually don’t talk about any faults, failures, or room for improvement. The institution of higher education isn’t conducive to that kind of conversation—this is reinforced by the tenure process where your peers are the ones who decide whether or not you’ll receive tenure.”
7. What do you hope people take away from your work?
“I really would love for people to have some connection to my work—whether that be laughing, cringing, gasping, sighing, crying, or ruminating after the fact. There’s not necessarily one thing I want to send people out with. I hope that my transparency and honesty about my intersecting identities and my willingness to be loud about them, and about my recovery from religious trauma, emboldens people to love themselves, to feel confident in their decisions, and to leave abusive spaces like harmful/toxic theologies. If one queer person feels validated, or one person grappling with religious trauma feels affirmed in their identity outside of religion, I would feel immensely satisfied. At the end of the day, I’d love for people to engage with my work, but I write as a process—archiving my own experiences to move beyond trauma towards joy and liberation.”
8. What other project(s) do you hope to take on someday?
“I’m currently working on a book of poems, a chapbook of poetry, and a secret project. In the future, I would love to publish academic articles about pedagogy in creative writing, I’d love to write a memoir or book of essays, and I’d love to publish non-fiction about sexuality post-purity culture. A large-scale project I hope to take on one day is examining Cajun-Creole representation in American, Canadian, and Caribbean literature to see if I could compile a comprehensive collection of literature future scholars can reference to discuss the Acadian diaspora. I’d also like to write a non-fiction book about the Acadian diaspora—what happened historically, the attempted ethnic cleansing of our people, and how we ended up in Louisiana. A few books exist that do this, some dryer than others, but collectively, very little literature exists on these topics.”
9. What’s the best writing advice you’ve been told or overheard? Or, what writing advice would you offer?
“The best advice I’ve ever received was that you should read more poetry if you want to be a better poet. It’s so simple, but *chef’s kiss* it is spot on advice.”
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
“I absolutely love reading romance novels (especially fantasy or paranormal novels). Growing up the way I did, sex was taboo, and even thinking about sex was sinning. I was discouraged from reading/watching any content that even had sex implied! As an adult who has reclaimed their body and embraced a personal sexual ethics who now supports consensual sex in any form, I had no problems with romance novels, but I just didn’t read any for a long time. I think, as writers, especially in academia, we’re told that specific genres are more valid or ‘more serious’ than others. That’s obviously super problematic, but it does make its way into your subconsciousness. This past year, I finished my MFA in a global pandemic and realized I wasn’t reading for fun anymore. I started reading fantasy again and, through suggested books, read my first fantasy romance novel. I loved it! Since December of last year, I’ve read 400 books. The last time I read books like this, excitedly and late into the night, was in high school. I feel like I rediscovered the fun of reading books, which eliminated some of the cynicism I may have been harboring toward a career in writing. Essentially, I remembered why we do what we do: why we write and share our writing with others.”
Hear Emily read their poem "Queer Poem."
Emily M. Goldsmith (she/they) is a queer Cajun poet originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who attends the University of Southern Mississippi as a Ph.D. student in Creative Writing. Previously, they received their MFA in Poetry from the University of Kentucky. Emily is currently one of the managing editors of Giving Room Mag. Their work can be found in Fine Print Press, Witch Craft Mag, Entropy Mag, Vagabond City Lit, elsewhere and forthcoming in Pile Press.
2/9/2022 06:26:12 pm
I am currently analyzing and writing an essay on your poem, "Valhalla" for my world lit class. I just wanted to say I loved reading your story and can see where this poem fits in. I am not one to love poetry, but this poem really spoke to me.
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