Christine Stewart is an English professor at South Dakota State University, novelist and poet. She lives in Brookings with her two children and her husband, who is also a professor at SDSU.
What is a day like in your daily life being a professor, author and mother?
I live two blocks from campus so that’s helpful. I have an almost 12-year-old son with special needs and a two-and-a-half-year-old son so I usually try to wake up before them so I can shower. Then, I get them ready for school or day care. In terms of writing, I try to write at least twelve hours a week when I am teaching three classes and seventeen hours a week doing writing or writing-related things when I am teaching two classes. I say hours because working from project to project doesn’t work for me with some days being more productive than others. Right now, I am working on finishing up a memoir about raising my son Holden, who has a form of epilepsy called Landau-Kleffner syndrome. I am 270 manuscript pages into the memoir, but it is going to be about another 100 manuscript pages. And sometimes, instead of looking at time, I look at word counts for my day. For example, some days my goal is about 750 words, so I can get through this first full draft of the memoir. So, I guess it all depends on what writing strategy works for me in that specific day. This is what has made me a productive writer since 2002, when I was pursuing my PhD degree. Since, I have written four books of poetry, three chapbooks and dozens of essays/reviews.
Where do you do most of your writing?
Mostly from home or a coffee shop, it really depends on how distractible I am. It also depends on if I am carving out time on the weekend or with what is going on at my house. My husband is a professor too, so sometimes it depends on whether he is there and if we are talking too much.
What led you in the direction of being a English professor or author?
I was a voracious reader all my life. I started writing a lot when my sister died in the sixth grade. I think because I read and wrote a lot, people started to expect it from me. For example, I would be asked “Oh what did you write this week?” In high school, I realized I wanted to be an English teacher and a writer, but I didn’t know because nobody in my family went to college, my sister died when she was in college and there were really no examples of people going on for graduate work. I think I kind of fell into the path. I taught high school for a couple years, then I went back for my master’s, but then I went back to teach high school for a few more years. Once I stepped foot into the college classroom, I realized that is where I belonged. I would have time to do writing and I could be more creative with my pedagogy because students are more willing to meet you halfway. In high school, I would create these great lessons and then it wouldn’t happen and that crushed me time and time again. But here, if someone doesn’t do their reading, they are an adult and they don’t get a good grade and that is their choice.
As you look into the future, where do you see yourself in 10 to 15 years?
I have a lot of book projects that I want to write. This includes writing craft, and I am sure I will write more poetry. I have some poems just hanging out there looking for a manuscript home. There is nothing about teaching that I don’t like. I love the courses I am teaching, the students, and my colleagues, but I would like for there to be a wider, more robust culture of writing on this campus. And that is not just literary writing, but writing writ large. I mean we are doing it all the time, in journalism, agriculture, English, and the sciences. Everyone is writing, but there is not a real robust conversation about how people write, how you can write better and what it means to write in a different context. I would just love to see a more cross-disciplinary culture of writing on this campus.