Professor Greene

Creative Writing

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

When I was about 14, like a lot of our students here, I started writing songs and the songs brought me to poetry. I soon realized that I wasn’t as good of a musician as I was a writer, and after writing poems in college, I was accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. That’s where it really started.


Do you cover similar themes in your prose and your poetry?

I think there’s a social consciousness that drives my poetry and in both, I try to take broken things and put them back together, even if they only hold for that brief moment when imagination creates wholeness. I’m also compelled to write about nature: in Water from Stone, I looked at land restoration; in The Golden-Bristled Boar, I wrote about wild boars; and in The Pursuit of Wild Edibles, I explored traditional and personal memory, as a kind of zen in nature.


What are the particular challenges and pleasures of being an American writer, writing about France, given that this has become well-traveled literary territory?

With French Spirits, I wanted to write about real people living in a non-touristy place. Being in France is totally enriching because you’re always discovering profound cultural and historical differences. It’s also fun when my French friends read my books because they see their daily lives through fresh eyes. 


What do you like about AUP?

For me, it’s all about the students. They come from so many different backgrounds and they’re just terrific. I also couldn’t ask for better than to work with Siân Dafydd in Creative Writing and to have such remarkable colleagues.


What are the Creative Writing program’s latest endeavors?

With the help of many, especially Darcey Steinke, we launched the Summer Creative Writing Institute, a very intense and dynamic program, where students write in different genres and come together for guest speakers and field writing assignments. I also started inviting my students to Thanksgiving dinner at my country house, where everyone reads and talks about writing. That turned into Scribblers’ Dinner, where we meet at someone’s place to eat and read our writing aloud. We also have our new Creative Writing Club, led by student Danica Cortes, where students get together to share their writing, in a teacher-free space. And of course, there’s Paris-Atlantic, our literature and arts journal.


How do writers and poets that you’ve read influence your own writing?

I think that when you start writing, you read certain writers and you think, I wish just one of my lines or one of my poems could give the pleasure that Emily Dickinson, or whoever, gave. But while that desire might drive you, you have to find your own voice. The idea of influence is an interesting one because it’s an illusion and you must try to avoid the mistake of being a lesser somebody else.


What’s the relationship between your writing and your teaching?

For me, teaching creative writing in the style of a Master of Fine Arts [MFA] program is the new way of teaching literature because instead of applying ideas onto a text, you get inside the text and create the text, in order to understand it from that interior perspective.


Can you talk about your most recent projects?

I just published a collection of poems, Beyond Our Means and I’m writing two new books: a personalized nature book about forests that produce the world’s great instruments and a memoir about my mother inadvertently starting a commune.


What are your goals for AUP’s Creative Writing program?

Firstly, I’d like to create a stronger sense of community around the BA in Creative Writing for the students. Secondly, I’d like to create a writer-in-residence program. We’re also trying to get more translation into the curriculum: Kate Briggs teaches a class on translation and creative writing, while Siân Dafydd and Geoff Gilbert have also developed new courses this semester.