I first met Aaron Burch at AWP two years ago. I had read some issues of Hobart before and really liked the stuff he’d published, so it made sense to me that I should talk to him. I anxiously introduced myself to him at the Hobart table and babbled to him, asked him many questions about the journal, and felt very sweaty the whole time, especially after I ran out of things to say. I’m glad that he did not punch me in the mouth.
Not that he would have, for Aaron Burch is a kind and gentle human. He grows his beard and keeps it tidy. He smokes cigars and drinks whiskey. He publishes the fine literary periodical Hobart, and he administers the web version as well as the mini-books division.
Aaron Burch lives up north somewhere.
Aaron Burch also does some of his own writing. He is a fine fine writer. His work can be read both online and in print at various publications: Eyeshot, Pindeldyboz, Storyglossia, Phoebe, elimae, MonkeyBicycle, etc. He’s currently reading/writing in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he also teaches composition.
I emailed him some questions when I was drunk. They seem ‘aggressive’ now that I’m looking at them again, so I have edited out some of the aggressiveness.
1. Lots of people shit on the MFA. You’ve decided to go for it at UIUC. Why? Tell us some pros and cons you’ve noticed about the program, if you can.
Well, I haven’t been here long, so I don’t know that I can do much ruminating yet. The main reason why I came back to school might have just been curiosity – what all I could learn in a program, how it works, etc. I was hoping to just spend a couple years writing, with feedback and guidance, and try to use that to the best of my ability, I guess. I mean, I think it is easy to shit on the MFA. But its easy to shit on anything. Some of my fave writers that I’ve published in Hobart though, some people who I think are writing some of the most original stuff (Catherine Zeidler, Lee Klein (who was also just interviewed here, looks like, and, like Blake, my first pub was on Eyeshot. Exciting!)), all went through an MFA program themselves, so I kept reminding myself of you guys, keeping you in mind, whenever I started to believe all the bitching about everybody writing the same, blah blah blah. As for actual pros and cons… ask me again in a couple of years?
2. Dan Wickett recently posted photos of you pre-teaching and post-teaching. You seem to clean up well. How have you liked working in a classroom? What are you teaching? Is it going fine?
Thanks. I clean up alright. I’ve recently started work on my winter beard though, what I like to think of as a new annual tradition, so I’m getting more scraggly, less “cleaned-up.” Also, Dan likes to try to embarrass people. Have you seen the photo of him wearing the buffalo mask? It is pretty laughy. I think it is on facebook somewhere.
Anyway, I’ve had my problems with teaching and being in a classroom. It is an odd experience, and I haven’t been crazy about it. Part of that is because I am teaching “business and technical writing”, something that is hard to get excited about and which I’ve been learning approximately 10 minutes or so before I “teach” it to my students. It is getting better though. I think I’m doing alright. Who knows.
3. I still have that ‘I Love Jesus’ notepad that I pulled off of your themed table at last year’s AWP conference. Do you have any ideas for what crazy theme you’ll adopt this year for the table? If you can’t answer that question, feel free to talk shit about Narrative Magazine.
The way everything came together for our table last year was kind of like that movie the Perfect Storm. Though I’m not sure if I was Marky Mark or Clooney; who Elizabeth was. No ideas at the moment, least none that I’m going to reveal now. That shit’s gotta be a surprise! The funny thing that I hadn’t really anticipated last year were the people walking by who were genuinely turned off by our rotating theme of Star Wars, High School Musical, and My Little Pony. You could practically see them put their nose in the air, walking with a stick up their ass. I think we just assumed everyone would think it was as awesome as we did but then I realized it was working perfect because the people who didn’t enjoy the decorations probably wouldn’t enjoy Hobart anyway, so eff ’em. And it worked the other way: if the table drew you in, you’d probably dig the journal.
I don’t like Narrative. That’s all the shit I got though.
4. You’re known for your wonderful taste in all sorts of alcohol, especially bourbon. What’s your favorite and why? How can your fans help you out?
Bourbon is kind of like God’s nectar. Or, something. It’s delicious is what I mean. What I learned when I toured bourbon country in Kentucky was that there are some very specific rules about what does and doesn’t make a bourbon and, I think, because of those rules and how limiting they are, I really like pretty much every bourbon I’ve had. Even the cheap shit is good. I usually buy Jim Beam Black, which is probably my fave. If I have less money in my pocket, I forego the “Black” and buy the regular Beam. Though sometimes I’ll rock Maker’s which is also delicious and had maybe the coolest distillery and also our tour guide was really cute who I think both Elizabeth and I had a little crush on, which seemed to only make their bourbon that much tastier. We also toured this place, Buffalo Trace, which I was a big fan for combining two of my favorite things: bourbon and buffalo.
How can fans help me out? Other than buying me drinks if and when we hang out, such as at AWP?
Fans should help out Aaron Burch by buying him drinks if and when they hang out with him.