Marginalia, Graduate Blog

More Than Just Writing

Jenn Tatum

It’s so much easier to answer, “I teach,” when someone asks what I do for a living than to say I’m a writer, but at the core of everything that I do for a living, that is what I do. I teach too, grade, do administrative tasks, help curate and organize various events, but at the base of what it is that I do, it all stems from writing.

Teaching: I teach writing. And even if I was teaching literature or cultural studies, the breadth of the material that is covered in class stems from writing, from text, from words. This is what attracts me to teaching—language. It’s what excites me about most of the jobs I have had, and if I didn’t like a job, more than likely it had to do with the fact that I wasn’t doing enough writing; I wasn’t able to obsess over my love of language. What I love about teaching is that moment when a student who starts the semester saying that they hate writing later says to me, “I’m actually liking your class. I’ve never really liked writing, but you make it fun.” Writing is fun, and as a teacher, I can only ever hope for more of these moments as I continue on in my career.

Communications Assistant: I work for the Office of Academic Affairs as the Graduate Assistant to the Director of Communications. This is a job that I found through the Columbia Works system, Columbia’s job finder for on- and off-campus jobs. (Side note: If you can find an on-campus job while in grad school, it’s preferable to an off-campus job simply because of the flexibility. School always comes first with on campus jobs. A flexible work schedule is invaluable during the semester and especially toward the end of the semester when everything starts piling up.) As the Communications Assistant, I have various jobs that have given me experience in the fields of journalism, copy writing, and technical writing. I enjoy this job, because I get to use my creative skills as a writer in a way that 1. gives me a paycheck every week and 2. gets me involved in the academic community at Columbia. What I like most about this job is that I get to interview faculty members and students who are involved in entrepreneurial and artistic events, in Chicago and around the country, in their respective fields. I learn so much from these interviews, and it’s a delight to get to meet new people.

Graduate Ambassador:  I get to blog on Marginalia each week, which I love! Being a Graduate Ambassador has been an amazing experience. I am always meeting new people at admissions events and also getting to work with other departments and meet graduate students outside of the Creative Writing – Nonfiction MFA program. I also email with prospective students, which is a form of professional writing that is important to have. Professional writing (emails, cover letters resumes, etc.) is a skill that I find isn’t taught as often as it was when I was in high school or in college for that matter, and it is a skill that is ever changing as technology expands and explodes. This job has certainly allowed me to develop and strengthen my skills in professional writing.

Being a grad student: This one is my favorite. You do a lot of writing in grad school. A. Lot. In any given semester, I’ve submitted about 50 pages of writing (three to four 10-12 page workshop pieces, one 10-15 page academic/research essay, weekly 1 page reading responses, and countless comments and responses to peer writing). The program is generative. It asks us to submit fresh work for each assignment and not to recycle previous work from workshop, which in the end while I’m working on my thesis means that I have a large amount of work to choose form, to re-work, and revise.

Editorial Assistant: I am an Assistant Editor for Hotel Amerika, which is an internship that I don’t do a lot of writing for, but I am involved with writing through the reading, selection, and editing process of creating the annual publication. I get experience editing and seeing what makes the cut and what doesn’t, and I have a solid idea of what a professional cover letter should like when you submit to a literary journal. The hands-on experience with Hotel Amerika is not only something I can add to my resume, but it has allowed me to be a part of the writing community, which is what all of my jobs have allowed me to do—they keep me fresh as a writer and keep me obsessing and talking about what it is that I love most: language.

More Than Just Writing

It’s so much easier to answer, “I teach,” when someone asks what I do for a living than to say I’m a writer, but at the core of everything that …

Creative Writing - Nonfiction MFA Jenn Tatum, jtatumcotamagana@colum.edu
600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60605

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