Luke Johnson '07


English Major Concentration: Creative Writing
Current Position: Director, Tinker Mountain Writers' Workshop Online (Hollins University); Adjunct Instructor at University of Mary Washington

After Elon, I attended graduate school at Hollins University, where I received an MFA in Creative Writing and worked as a Teaching Fellow. I’ve been writing consistently since leaving Elon and have published poems in New England Review, Southwest Review, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. My poems have also been featured by the Poetry Daily and Verse Daily websites, and have twice been included in the Best New Poets anthology. My essays have appeared online at the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Review of Books. My first collection of poems, After the Ark, was published by New York Quarterly Books in 2011. It reached #2 on the Poetry Foundation Small Press Bestseller list and was the first book named on the Huffington Post list “20 of the Best Books from Independent Presses.” I’ve had the opportunity to read at universities (including Elon!) and bookstores across the country and continue to write and publish new work. Currently, I teach creative writing at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I’m also the Director of an online creative workshop for adults, the Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop Online, which is a program I designed and developed for Hollins University.

Did your degree in English with a concentration in creative writing prepare you for your professional career?

In terms of pure utility, I would not be able to teach college students without my degree. But also: everything I do as a teacher on a day-to-day basis has its roots in my experience as a student at Elon. The English faculty at Elon provided me with excellent examples to follow, both in terms of my career path and in addressing the work with a sense of humor and a seriousness of purpose. When I teach, I try to hold myself accountable to my students, to the opportunity I have to open up language and shine it in heretofore unexplored corners, to allow them to discover writers they may not have otherwise, to widen the world as they see it. More and more, I’m reminded that the role of a professor is to guide a student in his or her inquiries. It was at Elon that I was encouraged to ask difficult questions, to learn the world by reading its best writers, and to make a conscious effort to have a positive impact on others' lives.

Is there value in an English degree?

In terms of pure utility, I would not be able to teach college students without my degree. But also: everything I do as a teacher on a day-to-day basis has its roots in my experience as a student at Elon. The English faculty at Elon provided me with excellent examples to follow, both in terms of my career path and in addressing the work with a sense of humor and a seriousness of purpose. When I teach, I try to hold myself accountable to my students, to the opportunity I have to open up language and shine it in heretofore unexplored corners, to allow them to discover writers they may not have otherwise, to widen the world as they see it. More and more, I’m reminded that the role of a professor is to guide a student in his or her inquiries. It was at Elon that I was encouraged to ask difficult questions, to learn the world by reading its best writers, and to make a conscious effort to have a positive impact on others' lives.

What was your best experience as an English major?

Workshops with Associate Professor of English Drew Perry. I think I took at least four or five of them. He’s a brilliant teacher.

Any advice for English majors?

Read everything you can. Read a hundred poems for everyone one you write. Read writers who personally identify differently than you do. Read writers like you. Read Joan Didion. Read James Baldwin. Read Seamus Heaney. Read in every genre (mostly, ignore discussions of genre). Be wary of praise. Allow yourself to be fascinated by the world and do everything you can to contextualize your fascinations. Always have a book on your nightstand. Be kind. Work hard. Use a soap that smells good.

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