Discovering Our Professors: Shara McCallum

By Mackenzie Halfhide

Writer

As students at the University, we are fortunate enough to have professors who are invested in our education as well as our personal growth. This is atypical for most universities, where the majority of professors focus primarily on their personal academic projects. The University has the privilege to employ professors who do it all, even though their contributions to academia are not always well-publicized on campus. In order to learn more about professors’ involvement on campus and their recent academic accomplishments, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shara McCallum, associate professor of English and director of the Stadler Center for Poetry.

As director of the Stadler Center, it is McCallum’s job to provide opportunities for poets and poetry lovers on campus. The most well-known function of the director is to organize the Writers Series, which brings acclaimed writers to campus so they can read excerpts from their latest projects. McCallum is looking forward to a reading from this year’s Sojka Poet, Tony Hoagland, whose poetry is exceptionally smart and funny, and surprisingly attainable for readers of all levels. He will read in Bucknell Hall on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. McCallum is also in the process of starting a slam poetry series that is slated to begin this year; for next year, she is organizing a “Poetry Path,” which will set up a walking trail that connects the landscape of downtown Lewisburg and campus through a series of poems. She also manages the Stadler Fellowship, which offers internships to two writers who are looking for an “opportunity to receive professional training in arts administration and literary editing.”

This last year has been particularly rewarding for McCallum as she is one of the recipients of the 2011 Fellowship for Poetry, which is a grant awarded by the National Endowment of the Arts to support her continuous work as a writer and to promote her future contributions to the poetry world.

Her hot streak of recognition began when President Bravman asked McCallum to write a poem for his inauguration in 2010, an honor that felt daunting since she had never been asked to write a poem for a specific event. She typically concentrates on personal connections to landscapes in her poems, and since central Pennsylvania does not evoke the same warm feelings as her homeland of Jamaica, McCallum began researching Lewisburg and the surrounding area, which helped inspire the poem “Susquehanna.”  She discovered she could write a history that was not hers, and in a fairly short time, though she knows poetry is not something that can be rushed.

“I’m very invested in revision,” McCallum said. “For me, that’s where the writing happens.”

It has been eight years since the publication of her second book, “Song of Thieves, and McCallum has been persistently writing and revising poem after poem for her third book, “This Strange Land.”  As a poet who prefers to write at night, it is difficult to find the time and energy while her attention is divided between classes and two young daughters. Luckily, her sabbatical last fall gave her the opportunity to finish editing her book of poems for the April release date.

In the midst of the book deal, Peepal Tree Press in the United Kingdom reached out to McCallum and offered her a chance to publish a collection of her poems. Scheduled to be released at the beginning of October, “The Face of Water: New & Selected Poems” includes her latest work and some of her best poems as selected by herself. McCallum will kick off the Writer Series for the fall semester with a reading of her poetry on Tues., Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. in Bucknell Hall.

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