Alumni Spotlight: Kathy Fagan '82

September 09, 2014

The Alumni Spotlight is a place to hear from the School of the Arts alumni community about their journeys as artists and creators.

Kathy Fagan '18’s sixth poetry collection, winner of the William Carlos Williams Poetry Prize, is Bad Hobby (Milkweed Editions, 2022). Sycamore (Milkweed, 2017) was a finalist for the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Award. A 2023 Guggenheim Fellow, she teaches poetry at The Ohio State University, where she co-founded the MFA Program and co-edits The Journal/OSU Press Wheeler Poetry Prize Series.

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.

Read more from the Alumni Spotlights series