The 44th Annual Writers’ Festivals is finally here! Now that our guest writers are here, let us welcome back alumna writer, Jennifer Bartell ’05.
Jennifer Bartell graduated from Agnes Scott with a degree in English-Literature & Creative Writing, focusing in poetry and nonfiction. She initially left Agnes thinking she wanted to be a nurse; however, she quickly found herself going back to what she knew best–writing. Landing various jobs in newspaper reporting and teaching, it wasn’t until several years later that Bartell went back to school. Last year, in 2014, Bartell graduated from University of South Carolina in Columbia with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. She currently teaches at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.
Agnes Scott Writers’ Festival: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Jennifer Bartell ’05: I’ve always been attracted to words and reading, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was thirteen years old and started writing poetry.
One year I told my mom I wanted a typewriter for Christmas, a little electric type writer. And at that point she knew that I was doing a lot of writing. Horrible horrible writing, but I was writing. You have to start somewhere!
Writers’ Festival: When was your first work published, and what was that experience like?
Bartell: I guess it was one those young American poetry anthologies in middle school or high school. I remember feeling very proud of my work and had this desire to want to get published again. But I didn’t really take publishing seriously until I got into a MFA program. I don’t know why it took me so long to take poetry seriously.
Before I went into the MFA program, I was working on a poetry project (that I have since abandoned) and getting a manuscript together for publication. But I wasn’t actively sending work out to be published. And I think that just came from being a novice and not knowing a lot about the field.
Writers’ Festival: Would you suggest that students try to start getting published while they’re in college?
Bartell: I would say that young writers need to focus on the craft and focus on the process more than the product and publication. Of course, publication is what you ideally want to be working toward. But I think a lot of young writers get caught up in writing what is publishable without really exploring who they are as an individual and a writer. Focus on developing the craft, read as much as you can, read as widely as you can, and all of the other stuff will fall into place.
Sending stuff out to publishing companies or presses, depending on where you’re sending it, can get really pricey. There’s nothing wrong with supporting presses, but you really need to be sure in your work before you send it out. A lot of people, including myself, send work out prematurely. It’s not where it needs to be. And of course it doesn’t get published! It’s not really good. Not yet.
Who are you as a writer? What are the topics you typically write about?
Bartell: I’m still growing and evolving as a woman and a writer. Writing poetry is a journey, and I say that because of the experiences I’ve been through in the past ten years. I graduated from Agnes Scott in 2005 and then, the next year my mother died. I worked and had various jobs, and when I went back to school, my dad died. So, a lot of that influences my writing. I write a lot about my parents, grief, and loneliness.
And so, I don’t want to say that I use poetry as catharsis, because poetry has to be more than that, but I would say that writing about these experiences is how I have maintained some sanity. Reading poetry, writing poetry, and revising, revising, revising poetry has helped me to figure out a lot of things that would otherwise be very difficult to process.
If you have more questions you’d like to ask, there will be a Q & A session with guest writers, Chris Abani, Tracy K. Smith, and Jennifer Bartell ’05 on Thursday, March 26th at 1pm in Luchsinger Lounge.