Interview with Professor Jennifer Whalen

Professor Whalen is an instructor in the English and Modern Languages Department at UIS. Her works have appeared in Gulf Coast, Southern Indiana Review, Fugue and others.


If you could have lunch with an author, who would you choose and why?

I mean really, when I first started with poems I fell in love with this poet Frank O’Hara, so I don’t think I could pass that up. And I don’t know, maybe just like a lunch counter on a New York street, that’d be cool.


What is your favorite thing you’ve written and why?

That’s hard. I think, my favorite thing I’ve written and why. I guess I should say the thing I’m currently working on, right, that seems like it might want the muse to keep speaking to me, and all that. So I am working on a project that’s based off the letters between Vincent Van Gogh and his younger brother Theo Van Gogh, and it’s been really cool. It’s taken a very, very long time, but I’ve enjoyed it cause it’s kind of surprised me, where it would go, I originally thought it was something I was going to spend a couple of months on and it would be a chapbook, and now I’ve been working on it for years, and it’s an 85 page manuscript, so it’s kind of shown me a lot of  the things I love about poetry- that it can take many forms, and that it can tackle many things, and take many shapes. So yeah, probably that.


Why is literature and writing important to you?

I think– I mean, human expression is of course important right, and that takes many different forms and then what we do in writing is just one way of expression. I particularly liked it when I first started doing it because there was something about the relationship between the writer and the reader that I found really compelling and very intimate and close, you know, like we were even talking about in Brit Lit today, having this idea where it’s like characters turn away from each other but turn to you, and tell you what’s going on, right, something about that interiority, I’ve always found compelling. Yeah, I like that and, of course, reading, right, reading and studying literature, you know, is great because you learn about people and of course, it increases empathy, and you kind of get to go places you don’t normally get to go, and yeah, so it’s important for that.


What genre do you most enjoy and why?

So I mostly write poetry. I enjoy it cause it’s kind of free and wild and it’s a place where there aren’t a lot of rules or parameters. And again, when I was a young writer I thought poetry was like the thing you do when you don’t have time to do other things, you know, like, I can’t write a novel, I’m an undergrad, so I’ll write poems, you know, and then I fell in love with it, and I think part of that was again, that relationship with the reader, I felt like I could kind of expect more from the reader, if that makes sense, that I could kind of make more leaps, and they could go stranger places with me, that I hadn’t experienced in other genres. So I think that’s a cool thing about poetry and I think it really breaks down these ideas we have about like the mind and the heart being two separate things; I think poetry kind of continually teaches us that you know, thinking and feeling is the same thing and you know, like the beauty of that.


Who would you want to write your biography?

I don’t know. I don’t think I know a lot of biographers, uh, that’s a good question. Has anyone else answered these yet? No? Yeah, I’m not sure, you know, I’m totally not sure. I also kind of am like, the idea of even having a biography makes me cringe a little, like ugh someone’s going to go through my stuff, yeah, but that’s just me. I guess maybe if I’m not around anymore then yeah, but yeah, I don’t know.


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yeah, I think I would say, pretty cliche, read a lot, but also read kind of diversely, and to seek out things that are different than your aesthetic sensibilities or what you normally gravitate to and to kind of challenge that. And then maybe a second bit of advice would be to just kind of trust yourself. I think when you’re first learning to write and you’re in a workshop and there’s kind of a lot of rules and people talk a lot about what you can’t do or you know, what isn’t working and I think that can be a little limiting sometimes so just, if you have an idea, trust that it’s a good one and see it through.

NaNoWri Post

Hi y’all!

November is a hectic month! I hope you all have been able to keep up with your writing! It has become very clear to me that National Novel Writing Month was not intended for college students and if you are a college student and complete the challenge, you can color me impressed!

I think it is important to remember, especially during this time of year, that writing can take the form of many different things. It is not just a word count, even though marking words on a page is really important. Writing can be as simple as listening to conversations at a coffee shop or listening to your new favorite song on repeat. Writing is falling in love with a word, its texture and look on a page. It’s trying to fit that word in what you are working on. Sometimes, for me at least, writing is staring out into space, daydreaming. Some of my best idea’s have come from something as simple as watching a movie and talking about it with friends. Sitting down and creating a work of art has to come from inspiration, making room for being inspired is so important.

I realize that what I have just said makes writing sound very romantic, but sometimes writing is dirty and hard. Revision is really difficult, and probably the worst part of writing, at least in my humble opinion. This is followed closely by getting feedback from readers. This is writing too and it is just as, if not more, important than creating a word count. During workshop, sometimes it is really tough to hear what people have to say about my narrative, but I have gotten some really good idea’s from that. It is all about improving what you have and growing as an individual. Understanding what your audience see’s is essential to the craft.

Now it the time where I would usually share some of my writing, but instead I’m going to so list some of the things that have lead to new idea’s for my narratives or completely new stories.

  1. Watching my cat play with a mouse toy-rather lazily
  2. Talking to a friend about the news
  3. Listening to feedback on the ending of a narrative
  4. Listening to a Kesha song
  5. Watching Deadpool
  6. Giving feedback on someone else’s story

Writing encompasses many, many things other than the physical act of writing. That is why it is art!

Good luck with your writing this week! Please share your favorite writing habits!


Rumplestiltskin Revisited

This is the beginning of a story I am working on. It actually came from a journal prompt in class, but I really enjoyed it! I hope you all enjoy it too! I would love to read what you all are writing too!

Happy NaNoWri,



How the heck did I get in this mess? Men, that’s how. First, my father tells the king I can spin straw into solid GOLD. Who sells their daughter out like that? I have never even used a spindle before. I know what happened to ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and I just am not about that life. My dear, old father only wanted his daughter to be queen, I suppose that is not so bad. It almost sounds sweet, until I remember that he was probably a hundred percent sure I was going to die the next day. Now that I am thinking about it, he probably was trying to kill me. Murder by kingly lust as a romantic ring to it.

Anyways. I am sitting in the drafty and stone tower in the middle of the night and I’m about to die, when this egg shape of a man comes knocking on my window. Now I am not in the habit of answering strangers knocks, but what is a girl supposed to do in this situation? He’s got this leering smile that makes me feel like ants are crawling in my hair. We both know that he can give me what I need and I cannot refuse him. So, obviously I let him spin the straw for me. I get to live while he gets my first born child and a little something extra for his time. It seems like an even trade to me.

As if all of this wasn’t traumatic enough, now my husband, the king of the world, thinks that I am pregnant. He is so certain that he announced it to everyone in the palace without even asking me. News flash buddy, we haven’t even consummated our marriage. That’s right, call me the Virgin Queen. It is amazing how effective rum is in disguising what is really going on. But, back to panic mode. How in the world am I supposed to produce a baby and then explain why the baby has disappeared? Who even told him that I was pregnant? I am not giving either of those two worms any of my children. When bargains are struck, promises are made on the inside. That day, I vowed I would never ever have any children. I just have to figure a way out of this nonsense.

National Novel Writing Month

Hi y’all!

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWri, and to celebrate, Vika and I will be posting everyday this month to talk about writing and to share some of the things we have written. Today, since it is day one, I’ll talk about the writing challenge and give you information about where to sign up!

NaNoWri was started in 2000 by Chris Baty. Originally, it was only about 20 people and last year there were over 40,000 participants. To officially participate, you have to make a pledge to write a 50,000 word novel in only thirty days! That averages to about 1,667 words a day. To put it into perspective, that is about 7 pages due every night at 11:59pm! Once you have completed your draft, you send it in and you will win a certificate and variety of other goodies.

This is great for several reasons. The first, it gets you writing everyday. I don’t know about you, but scheduling in writing time can be really difficult. Between school, work, and a social life (ha), taking time to practice my craft seems impossible. By pledging, you are making a huge commitment and forcing yourself to write. Even if the narrative is not your best work, it is a jumping off point. By joining up, you as a writer are participating in the literary community, how cool is that?

For any questions, here is the link to the NaNoWri website:

Stay posted for more writers talk!



Writing Workshop

Last Wednesday, the Alchemist Review had a writing workshop on campus! The event was very successful! We were able to talk to people about their works, help authors fine tune their narratives, and connected writers with other writers. It was a lot of fun and we even are going to be getting submissions out of the event!
A huge thank-you to everyone who helped with the event and for those who came out!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.