Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Writing University conducts a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

This year, we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the University of Iowa Press with this special editon of 5Q Interviews of UI Press authors. Happy Birthday UI Press!

Today we are speaking with Zachary Turpin. Zachary Turpin is assistant professor of English at the University of Idaho. He is editor of Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: The Lost Novel of Walt Whitman (Iowa, 2017). He lives in Moscow, Idaho.

1. Hi Zack! Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?

I've got a few plates spinning right now, yes. I'm co-editing (with Matt Miller of Yeshiva University) a gorgeous collection of Walt Whitman's early notebooks for the University of Iowa Press. I'm working on an article about Whitman's early newspaper reprints, which preserve writings he published in newspapers that have now vanished from this earth. I'm drafting a couple of chapters of a book I'm writing about literary rediscoverers, thieves, and forgers. I'm also heading into a digital-scholarship fellowship at the University of Idaho this fall, in which I'll be doing keyphrasal and idiolectic analyses to search for unsigned Whitman newspaper publications; on a similar note, I'm also doing some analytical work with Stefan Schoeberlein (of Marshall U) on a potential Whitman journalistic series. I'm co-editing the fourth and final volume of Whitman's Journalism (New York: Peter Lang). There are other projects in the works, too. And, to add to masochism to injury, my wife (a poli sci professor) and I decided to spend the summer sanding and staining our deck! 


2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

I try to write every day, even if "writing" just means tackling 50 emails in a row. To procrastinate, I screw around in online archives for a few minutes (and on Twitter ahem), which has led to more than a few good discoveries. When it comes down to serious drafting, though, I've learned that I get my best writing done on a bifurcated schedule. Sometimes, I write early in the morning, just after our kids have gone to school, because I'm rested, coffeed up, and it's quiet. It's far and away the best headspace for hearing how my writing sounds as it's coming out on the page. Other times, I write late at night, when I can't sleep. Most of my best ideas come to me then—for what reason, I don't know! Maybe my subconscious has been chewing on them all day?


3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

Both. I just finished Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World, a fascinating and oddly hilarious look at the planet's five major extinction events, as well as those that may be to come. I've been working my way through the Emily Dickinson Handbook (eds. Gudrun M. Grabher, Roland Hagenbüchle, and Cristanne Miller) for a graduate seminar I'm about to teach on the one and only Emily. I'm always inhaling Whitman scholarship and manuscript writings, but I'll spare you the nitty gritty, except to say that I recently scrutinized every single word of Whitman's early notebooks five times over. I'm also reading up on statistical text analyses, Charles Chesnutt's lost work, and John Steinbeck's early fiction,and I just picked up Louis de Bernières' Corelli's Mandolin and can't put it down!


4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I grew up in Austin, TX, and went to school in a town nearby called Dripping Springs, notable for containing all of the greatest English teachers I've ever met. Austin made me weird, but DS made me an educator. 

The Mexican food in Austin, though...


5. The UI Press is turning 50 this year! Share with us a bit about your experience and relationship with the press.

I'm not ashamed to say that when it comes to the UI Press, I'm a longtime, front-row, shrieking superfan. I'm biased, admittedly—I've been a sucker for years for the UIP Iowa Whitman Series, which is some of the best scholarship around. Many of the books that I've read to shreds have come from the UIP: Tuggle's The Afterlives of Specimens, Asselineau's The Evolution of Walt Whitman, Wilson et al.'s Whitman Noir, and many more. Plus, when a lost novel of Whitman's resurfaced a few years ago, titled Life and Adventures of Jack Engle (1852), the Press reprinted it—for the first time ever!—in the most tasteful, well-executed edition imaginable. It was so elegant that I'm trying to rustle up another lost novel, just to see what they'll be able to do with it.

Thanks Zack!



Established in 1969, the University of Iowa Press serves scholars, students, and readers throughout the world with works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. As the only university press in the state, Iowa is also dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the Midwest. The UI Press is a place where first-class writing matters, whether the subject is Whitman or Shakespeare, prairie or poetry, memoirs or fandom. They are committed to the vital role played by small presses as publishers of scholarly and creative works that may not attract commercial attention. For more information, please e-mail uipress@uiowa.edu.