In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Writing University has been continuing our series of interviews with writers in the various University of Iowa writing programs. We ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home. We are posting them now as examples of our shared community strength during this time.
Today's interview is with Ellie Zupancic, a senior English and Creative Writing major and the former Editor-in-Chief of Fools Magazine.
Ellie Zupancic is a senior majoring in English & creative writing (on a publishing track) and ethics & public policy (with a philosophy concentration). She also has completed a minor in gender, women's, and sexuality studies. She is a multidisciplinary artist, poet, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Fools Magazine.
1. Do you have a specific project that you will be working on this year?
I am currently working on an honors thesis in philosophy under the guidance of Dr. Asha Bhandary – this is a project I plan to complete and defend in the next few months. Shifting gears from writing as an English and creative writing major to writing within the discipline of philosophy was challenging, but also expanded my critical thinking and written skills in a valuable way. I often come across unexpected ties between my work in philosophy and my work in poetry (my creative medium of choice). For my thesis, I am developing an account that universalizes adaptive preferences, a term coined in the philosophical literature on autonomy. I also made it a goal early in my undergraduate career to publish a chapbook before graduating. While I've worked on a couple of different short collections of my work over the past few years, I'm taking a break from creative writing courses this semester, and hope to return to this goal this winter before I graduate in May.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write, or any specific routine?
I've found that the most rewarding thing I can do for my writing is reading; so, while I don't write every single day, I do make it a goal to read every single day. I also take bigger breaks from more serious creative writing and make time to journal – sometimes as simple as recounting my day – if I'm finding it difficult to write. My routine has certainly changed since moving to online school as we face the COVID-19 pandemic – I'm spending more time indoors, more time on my laptop, and more time alone. Because writing usually happens in these conditions (in my house, electronically, and by myself), I've had to be mindful of how I spend my time. I never write if it starts to feel like a chore, and I usually find what I'm able to create is much more genuine if I go to it when I truly feel an impulse rather than a responsibility.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
I'm currently restarting Jenny Zhang's Sour Heart, which I began a few years ago, and set aside. Late this spring, I reviewed an advance copy of Zhang's latest poetry collection, My Baby First Birthday, for Fools Magazine, and I was so fond of it that I decided to return to this book. I don't usually tend toward fiction for pleasure reading, but when I was introduced to Sour Heart in an introductory creative writing course, I was stunned. So, here I am.
4. Can you tell us a little about your experience as an English Creative Writing Major and your work with FOOLS Magazine?
I love this question because the two elements, my major and my work with Fools, are so deeply connected. I joined Fools Magazine as a member/writer when I was a freshman studying political science. The editors at the time showed me and my work such precision and care, and I remember clearly the gratification of developing a piece from first draft to publication. It was after my first semester with Fools that I began to question what I was studying. After several conversations with my parents, as well as Mary Mathis (the founder of Fools with whom I developed a sort of mentor/mentee relationship), I decided to make the change to English and creative writing. I dove into poetry workshops for the first time, and kept making work – I couldn't stop. Fools continued to be a personal creative outlet as I was selected for the position of Managing Editor and eventually Editor-in-Chief, while at the same time I was learning to make work in the more structured setting of an English classroom. Fools is a really special thing on our campus, but it's also special outside of our bubble. I have friends attending schools across the U.S. who tell me they wish their campus had something like it to get their hands on. I encourage creatives from any major to get involved if they can.
5. Tell us about where you are from -- what are a few of your favorite details about your home?
I moved around a bit as a kid, but my family landed in Le Claire, IA when I was 6, about an hour from the University of Iowa. Le Claire is special for a few reasons, my favorite of which are the Mississippi river, the small-town feel (see: Kernel Cody's Popcorn Shoppe!), and the fact that we get to boast the home base of American Pickers.