This semester, Spring 2017, I decided to enroll in Professor Elizabeth Geoghegan’s creative writing course, “Writing the Eternal City”. I had only taken one other creative writing course and wanted to explore the subject further. Most of my undergraduate career has been focused on writing research papers and journalism pieces, so the idea of writing in a more creative way was exciting.
Professor Geoghegan’s “Writing the Eternal City” course is a writing workshop that uses the city of Rome as its muse and introduces several genres of creative writing. Students are assigned to go on solo outings to explore the city and document their experiences. We also read and evaluate pieces of literature written by international writers who all interpret Rome in their own unique way. So far this course has been a great experience; this is my last semester at JCU, and it has pushed me to re-explore Rome and reflect on how my impressions from the beginning of my time here have changed compared to how I interpret the city now.
After all my raving about the course, I decided to interview Professor Geoghegan and urge anyone, even those who have little experience in creative writing, to take her course.
Professor Geoghegan is an American who planned to come to Rome for just three months, but ended up staying 18 years. As the bio on her website so perfectly states, “She lives in Rome, Italy, on a dead-end street between a convent and a jail.”
Q: Did you always know you wanted to go abroad?
A: I was not destined to be an expat and never had the dream to live abroad, nor was I particularly gifted at picking up different languages, but something shifted in me. I went to Florence with a project to work on my novel. I didn’t have a network or any contacts when I arrived—the world wasn’t nearly as connected in 1997. During that summer, I met someone who invited me to Calabria, and once I went to Calabria, I just thought I could keep going. Not much later, I came back. I like living in Europe and it is difficult to imagine not living here. But my American identity is ever-present and very much a part of who I am and how I think; I don’t believe you ever lose that. I don’t think you need to.
Q: I know you have published many pieces; are you working on anything now?
A: I am working on a collection of short stories set in Southeast Asia. I recently traveled alone for six months there and am writing about that experience. I’m also working on the novel that was my original reason for coming to Italy, but I shelved it for all these years; I recently came across the manuscript and decided to try rewriting it, from a new perspective.
Q: Has living in Italy and learning Italian changed your writing at all?
A: Living in Italy and learning Italian has changed my writing. I started out very minimalist and spare. Learning Italian has changed my relationship to long and elaborate sentences. I live in two languages all the time, and the ability Italians have to know where they are going with their sentences, and where they will end up, now resonates in my English writing.
Q: How would you describe your teaching style?
A: I like my students to be free to pursue writing in whatever way is best for them. It doesn’t have to be how I like it in the end. I try to stay true to the essential quality that each student is going for in his or her work. Writing is an intimate act, a personal act.
Q: What is one thing you enjoy about teaching at JCU?
A: One of the reasons I like teaching here is that the student makeup allows for different points of view and a sort of cultural convergence in the classroom. There is always the unexpected in my classroom, because we have such cultural diversity here. Students here are from all over the world and they have different relationships to literature and storytelling. It makes for a very interesting dynamic, which I enjoy.
Professor Elizabeth Geoghegan will teach graduate courses for JCU’s Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation during the summer of 2017. She is the author of many published works, but one of her recent essays, “Smoking with Lucia Berlin,” was among The Paris Review’s “Best of 2015” and can be read here.