Dr. Nancy McCabe
Director of Writing Program, Assistant Professor of Writing
Division of Communication and the Arts
Ph. D. Writing, University of Nebraska 1995
M. F. A. Writing, University of Arkansas 1989
B. A. Writing, Wichita State University 1984
Dr. McCabe's specialties include creative writing, 20th century women's literature, and 20th century American literature. She currently teaches courses in fiction, poetry, feature and memoir writing.
Nancy put herself through college as a journalist, writing and editing for campus publications, then went to graduate school to study fiction writing.
She has published fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, critical writing, and reviews as well as a teacher's handbook for the Arkansas Writers in the Schools program. A part of that program and later as a member of the South Carolina Artists Roster, she did numerous residencies in schools throughout both states. She also worked as an editorial assistant for Prairie Schooner and as an associate editor for Short Story. Her fiction has been a finalist in three national novel-in-progress contests, and her creative nonfiction has appeared in Fourth Genre, Massachusetts Review, Puerto del Sol, Writer's Digest, and a special issue of Writing on the Edge edited by Peter Elbow, among others. She won a 2000 Pushcart Prize for memoir and has twice had work listed in Best American Essays. Her memoir After the Flashlight Man is forthcoming from Purdue University Press.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of working on a small campus?
Education can be far more personalized—I can adapt class activities and other events to meet the needs of the students involved, and get to know my students as people as well as students.
What are the benefits, in your opinion, for students studying in a small campus setting rather than on a large/urban campus setting?
Our students have many more opportunities to interact with visiting writers, get involved with the literary magazine, and participate in or lead program events than they would at a larger campus, in addition to a more personalized program.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
I think a good writing course should be technically rigorous but also personally nurturing. It’s tough to strike a balance, but important to provide both inspiration and extensive feedback, and to focus not only on what writers need to improve upon, but what they do well.
What do you think students like best about your classes?
They’re informal, usually incorporating lots of discussion, writing exercises, hands-on activities, and reading. Students tend to especially like the workshops, where we aim to bring everything together—terminology, the way our reading can serve as models, critiqueing techniques—as we focus on discussing their work.
What is an interest or hobby of yours that is an extension of the teachings of your academic field?
I read voraciously and I read a little bit of everything—literary fiction, memoir, narrative nonfiction, work for children and young adults, mysteries, poetry, criticism. The wonderful thing about being a creative writer is that everything is material—raising my daughter, traveling, trying to keep my house in a reasonable state of repair.
Are you currently working on any research, publication, or project? What does it consist of?
I’m working on some children’s book manuscripts and a memoir called Over My Head: A Single Mom, an Old House, and a Small Town (I’ve published two excerpts from this book so far). I’ve recently finished another memoir that’s looking for a home, and I’ve drafted part of a novel. I’m also working on a book about children’s literature, tentatively titled All the Places Laura Lived: Revisiting Children’s Literature, which blends together cultural commentary and informal literary criticism, traveling writing and memoir. In other words, right now I’m working in some form or another on six different books, which sounds a little insane, but I tend to focus on one project for a few months at a time and when I get stale, move on to something else. That tends to renew my energy for the other projects. Gradually everything does get done, but it can be a little slow.
What are you a "natural" at doing?
The one thing I have always been a “natural” at is writing—from a very young age I was interested in storytelling and language and looking for the narrative arcs in my own experience. But I think this is a deceptive term—being a “natural” at any art form doesn’t mean that being really good at it doesn’t require incredible dedication and hard work and interest in what others are doing in the field and what has preceded you historically.
What kind of movies do you most enjoy? Why?
Almost every movie I’ve seen since adopting my daughter eight years ago has been a kid’s movie. I don’t get much chance to go to movies or watch them without her being present, so most of what I see is G or PG. I like comedies and documentaries, but I often find that in my rare spare time I’d rather just read a book. My students think that’s weird.
What kind of music do you most enjoy? Why?
All kinds, but I’m especially interested in women’s lyric-driven folk/bluegrass/country stuff—Mary Chapin Carpenter, some Nanci Griffith, Iris DeMent, Laura Cantrell, Tonya Savory, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss. I like classic rock and classical music also.
What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book?
This is a dangerous question, because I could go on for pages. The book I most often tell my students to read is Helen Fremont’s After Long Silence. The books I most often give to friends include Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife and Yann Martell’s Life of Pi. My favorite books that I read as a student include Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, and everything by Laurie Colwin. My daughter and I love Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and my favorite books for young adults include Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Right now I’m reading Rebecca Stott’s Ghostwalk and rereading Lauren Belfer’s City of Light, which takes place in Buffalo and is the upcoming One Book Bradford selection. This year I reread most of the Bronte sister’s work and Mrs. Dalloway. I’m amazed by people who tell me that reading is an effort for them. It’s what most relaxes me, and if I go for a day without reading, I’m not myself.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I found a paper I wrote for school when I was nine. It said, “When I grow up, I want to be a writer and a teacher.”
What’s one thing you want to do before you die?
There are way too many things to list. About fifteen years ago, I made a list of 100 things I wanted to do before I died, but then I lost the list. So I’m not quite sure where I stand on that.
As a former undergraduate student, was there a certain professor that stands out in mind as a favorite, someone who you really respected, or someone who really inspired you? Why?
As a sophomore, I took a workshop from this very grumpy guy who told me everything I was doing wrong and seemed impossible to please. But I really listened to him and revised like crazy and at the end of the semester he gave me an A+ and wrote, “I’ve done for you what I can. The rest is up to you.” I remember most fondly the professors who made me work really hard, because with writing at least, that’s the only way you learn.