Meet Victoria Walls, UMSL’s new poet laureate
Victoria Walls was in the middle of a creative writing workshop when her phone alerted her that she had been selected as the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ poet laureate for 2016.
“I tried not to scream,” she said.
For Walls, a graduate student in the MFA in Creative Writing program, the news was a fitting close to a year that had been full of artistic development. During the previous semester, every poem she wrote felt like its own individual project, until one day in workshop a UMSL classmate remarked, “Well, clearly, Victoria is working on something larger.”
The comment proved to be something of an aha moment, and Walls started to see connections across her current poems and how they coalesced around questions of what it means to be a member of a sexual minority and racial minority.
“It’s racy,” she said, referring to her work. The poems she submitted for the laureate application were about the awkwardness of coming out.
Walls, who expects to earn her MFA in December, said that graduate school has been for her very different from what she expected. She’d come to UMSL prepared to write long, analytical papers, grapple with exit exams and be interrogated by professors.
“The program has been a lot of work,” she said. “But it’s also been much more fun than I expected it to be. It’s been all about writing and craft and creativity.”
Part of the fun has been working with professors Steve Schreiner and Shane Seely. She called taking an independent study with Seely the best decision she’s made in grad school because of how the individualized coursework has given her control over what poetry she reads – and therefore what poetry influences her own writing.
Additionally, Walls has been teaching first-year composition classes as part of her graduate assistantship. She’s enjoyed teaching so much she plans to continue to teach college students after graduating.
As far as book recommendations, Walls mentions “Citizen, an American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine as one poetry collection she thinks everyone at UMSL should read.
“Rankine came at the perfect time,” Walls said. “Someone discussed her in my form and theory class, and her poems overlapped with the independent study I took the following semester. It’s a collection that doesn’t look or read like what people think of when they think of poetry.”
In addition to a scholarship, the yearlong poet laureate position brings with it the responsibility of being an ambassador for UMSL and for the arts. Among other ideas, Walls hopes to use her new platform to increase UMSL’s involvement in local elementary and high schools.
“Ultimately, I’m an educator,” she says. “So, I imagine my big contribution will be to bring the workshop experience to students who otherwise may not get the chance to experience workshops or share their creative writing.”
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