I feel like I was really guided by my passion for writing

Jennifer Gilmore: Faculty

 

Describe your career path. What choices did you make? How did you use your time in college to help you along in your career path?

Looking back, I feel like I was really guided by my passion for writing and my need to earn a living while allowing time to write. The times were very different and there weren't the kinds of global tools students have now, but I'll try to be helpful. I was an English major and a Creative Writing and Women's Studies minor as an undergraduate. Basically, I wrote as much as possible. I went and saw my writing professors all the time to discuss my own work and also what I was interested in in my reading. I am still in touch with my creative writing professors and they were real guides for me. If I was in a political organization, which I was, I did most of the writing. After college and before graduate school, I held a lot of random jobs while I also worked, unpaid, at arts organizations and wrote for the local paper. Working in the arts got me involved in that community (I had moved to Seattle where I was not from) and allowed me to meet all kinds of people as I learned about many aspects of grant-making, editing, etc. And because of my writing for the local paper, someone asked me to take part in a radio show. And when he left, I hosted that show. These are unpaid gigs that I supplemented with waitressing and bartending. I didn't feel like I had much of strategy but one thing really did lead do another. I knew I wanted to get an MFA, which I did, but I'm very glad I took some time in between schools so that I could really develop my own process and discipline as a writer. You only get to go to graduate school once (at least for that particular MFA) and I'm glad I was patient with myself and waited until I could get the most out of it.

 

What advice do you have for English majors or English graduate students as they prepare for for careers? How can they stand out in a competitive job market?

I am speaking mostly to creative writers when I say trying your hand at all kinds of things but making sure you are able to write. In college there are opportunities to work at lit magazines, print and on-line, and nonprofit literary organizations and public radio programs as well as traditional mainstream publishing opportunities. You meet so many different people when you do these jobs but you still get to stay in what is interesting to you. It also gives you a broad look at the arts community, which you will be a thriving part of in some way. Diversified experience is so important--while yes, it's great that you worked on the literary magazine and want to be an editor, having experience with grant writing and bookselling and helping with events and working in marketing at a non-profit like PEN, for example, sets you apart.