Marisa P. Clark is the faculty advisor for the Blue Mesa Review. I tracked her down and asked her some questions about the magazine, her teaching and her involvement. Here’s the results:
Sam: How long have you been teaching at UNM?
Marisa: Since August 1999. I was more than halfway to Atlanta to graduate from Georgia State with my Ph.D. in fiction writing when I learned I’d been hired for a teaching position here at UNM, so I canceled my mortarboard and robe order and turned the car around.
Sam: What is your writing genre of choice? Teaching genre of choice?
Marisa: Emailing is a favorite writing genre; texting is detested. Actually, I’ve written far more fiction than nonfiction, but lately I’ve most enjoyed essay-writing. The truest answer is that when I sit down to work on a short story, I think, “Shouldn’t I write an essay instead? At least I already know what happened.” Then when I try to work on nonfiction, I think, “Why am I not working on a story? It’s so much easier to make things up.” My best publication is a poem, go figure, but trust me, most of my poetry is a prosy affair. As for teaching, I’m more often chosen for nonfiction than fiction, but the real answer is that I just plain love teaching. At UNM I’ve had the opportunity to teach creative writing in every genre, a number of core courses (including ESL), and a handful of literature courses, queer lit in particular.
Sam: How are you involved with the Blue Mesa Review?
Marisa: Last spring I was selected by the students running BMR to be Faculty Advisor. If I were writing this for a c.v., I’d say I act as liaison between the students and the creative writing program, English Department, other administrators, and such, and that I keep in touch with friends in other programs to ask for submissions from them and their students. But in consideration of my reading audience, I need to acknowledge what the BMR staff most often sees me doing. I’ve pestered most of the undergraduate interns to show me how to log submissions. I’ve also stuffed envelopes, filed letters, sent out rejections (while chuckling over the readers’ quick-witted evaluations of the material received), neatened the slush pile, and craned my head in on Fridays to see if there’s a leftover tasty pastry. On occasion, my fellow lecturer and good friend Jack Trujillo and I do brief comedy routines (well, that’s how WE think of them) to offer a sort of commercial break for the readers of the slush pile. As the students have all creative control of BMR, my most creative contribution entails my saying something like “Gettin’ anything good these days?” Back when BMR wasn’t student run, I often volunteered to help read the slush pile and to proofread and copy edit before the issue went to press. And way before that, when I still lived in Atlanta, I had a story rejected by BMR.
Sam: What benefits do you think your students can get out of working for a literary magazine?
Marisa: Not to diminish the importance of what we learn in the classroom, but reading for a literary magazine is a fast-track educational experience in creative writing. Student readers can quickly learn what kind of stories, poems, and essays are being written and submitted, what the most hackneyed subject matter is, and what mistakes writers most commonly make (both in their manuscripts and in their submission methods—on this last note, please do not ever, ever send an unsolicited photo of yourself for your cover letter, or it may end up taped to a cabinet door for a quick giggle). Learning how a magazine is produced from start to finish is also one of the big educational benefits, and certainly it’s rewarding to see your name in print on the masthead. If you’re planning to apply to graduate school or to send out your own writing, it’s good to have this kind of experience. The immediate rewards of working for BMR include getting to know other students who share your interests. I mean, how cool is it to get to hang out with other writers all the time? (I’m getting a little long in the tooth, and I still think it’s really cool to be around other writers and have conversations featuring words like “unreliable narrator,” “psychic distance,” “heroic couplets,” “dactylic meter,” “verisimilitude,” and “Would you pass me a chocolate truffle?”) Basically, you’re working with a community of writers who may well become your friends, readers, and future networking contacts.
Sam: What do you think makes Blue Mesa Review special? Come on, be honest.
Marisa: I think I’m supposed to say Sam Tetangco, right, Sam? And that’s true, but Sam is just one of a terrific team of people who make BMR special. I kid you not. Anyway, if you want to find out for yourself, join the reading sessions; you’ll meet great people, eat great desserts, and on occasion read great stories, essays, and poems. And you’ll read some humdingers, too, that’ll make you laugh and convince you that you’re a much more talented writer than you may currently think you are.
Thank you, Marisa, for you thoughtful answers to these questions and all you do for your students and for Blue Mesa Review.
Official Bio: Marisa P. Clark was born in Biloxi MS, reared in Ocean Springs MS, and came to fruition in Atlanta GA, where she earned a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Georgia State University. She has had fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published in a variety of literary journals. Winner of the Agnes Scott College Prize in both fiction and nonfiction, Marisa has also served as assistant fiction editor of Five Points and an editorial board member for Blue Mesa Review and Amethyst. She is currently re-completing her novel Hermosa and cobbling together the first draft of a nonfiction work tentatively titled “Nobody Knows About My Man”: Memoir of an Alter Ego. In addition to teaching creative writing, she directs UNM’s ESL Writing Program. Her academic interests include queer studies and multicultural literature. Nonacademic interests include but are in no way limited to travel, dogs, good food, sharks, tattoos, and hurricanes and other disasters both natural and humanmade. When she’s not commenting on student writing or preparing for her classes, Marisa keeps busy at home with her golden retriever Jasper, German shepherd Gideon, and African gray parrot Ruby.