SFR: What’s it like coming to a school in the midst of so much change?
ER: The incoming class seems really diverse. There are a lot more international students coming in this year. Many of them from universities in Mexico and a few from University of Madrid. It’s made me really nostalgic for when I started college.
How much interaction have you had with Porochista Khakpour?
We’ve been communicating and getting to know each other. We started through Facebook, of course. Isn’t everyone these days?
Tell me about your book, Poster Child, and your writing style.
It’s been so long since I wrote the book. I still write very similarly in the sense that I write old-fashioned narratives. I’m not a very experimental writer. I write mostly essays now. I’m working on a novel, several novels, in fact. They’re very different in the way they engage the reader, but they’re similar in the sense that they’re long narratives of over 100 pages. I think, as a writer, it can sometimes be difficult to say how our writing style changes. It’s easier for someone outside of it. But I’m kind of an old-fashioned writer, I guess, is how I would say it.
What do you think you bring to the classroom?
A love of reading, high-energy. I’m assigning a few graphic novels, reading some novels in verse, lyric poetry that’s organized in a narrative-like way. It’s a way of showing students that some of these genre boundaries that we often think of as kind of set are a lot more fluid than we sometimes think. People are writing entire books about cross-fiction. It’s kind of showing students how they can do it themselves. I’m really excited just to be in a classroom. I love to teach. I love the dynamics within the class, the relationships that form and the way things progress through the semester. I think a great complement to the writing life is the teaching life.
Do you think your disability has shaped you as a writer?
I think it’s shaped me in the same way it shapes a lot of people who think they’re outsiders in some way: having a disability, being a person of color, being an immigrant. It makes you an observer, and being a writer is kind of about being an observer…I think being someone with a disability puts me in touch with a different kind of people. I have a lot of friends who have disabilities, and that makes for some interesting stories. It took me a long time to write my first book because I didn’t want to out myself. I was so good at hiding that I had a disability that I was worried about telling people.
What about as a teacher?
I think people with disabilities—at least, in my experience, I tend to be very open about it, and I think that makes students believe they can be very open about it as well—kind of dissolve that teacher and student mentality. I like my classes to be very inclusive, and I think having a disability feeds into that.
Does it still factor into your writing?
Yes. I’m working on a novel that’s sort of set in the Midwest, in a town where any difference from the norm is kind of looked on with disdain.