Alumni Spotlight | Kathy Fagan (Writing '82)

Was there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?
I was lucky to be surrounded by both talented peers (Bruce Beasley, Lucie Brock-Broido, Marie Howe, Henri Cole) and generous faculty members, among them Stanley Kunitz, Daniel Halpern, Derek Walcott, Joseph Brodsky, Mark Strand, and Philip Levine. Strand and Levine had also been my undergraduate professors in California, and--as a first-generation college student--I'm certain grad school would never have happened for me if not for them.

How did attending the School of the Arts impact your work and career as an artist?
Attending Columbia as an MFA Poetry student set in motion a life for me as a writer, teacher, editor, and reading human being. It is inconceivable to me what kind of life I may have had if not for Columbia.

What was your favorite or most memorable class while at the School of the Arts?
All of my classes at the School of the Arts were memorable. Whether it was Derek Walcott teaching Cavafy or Joseph Brodsky bumming our cigarettes as we recited poems we'd committed to memory, it was, every moment, even then, the most warmly illuminated time of my young life. Some highlights: Daniel Halpern asking his workshop to translate The Eel by Eugenio Montale, whether we knew Italian or not; Margaret Atwood appearing in a short course to discuss the differences between writing prose and writing poetry; Louise Gluck, dressed all in black, declaring her love for Stevens greater than her love for Eliot; and Richard Howard, holding forth on anything and everything, beautifully, with studded leather-clad non-students bulking up the back of the workshop room.
About Kathy Fagan
Kathy Fagan is the author of four books of poems, most recently Lip (Carnegie Mellon). Her fifth collection, Sycamore, appears with Milkweed Editions in February 2017. New work can be found at Poetry, The Kenyon Review, and Narrative. She teaches in the MFA program at The Ohio State University, where she also serves as Poetry Editor of OSU Press/The Journal Prize for Poetry.
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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.