Conrad Hilberry

recorded in Kalamazoo, MI


Conrad Hilberry

I’m Conrad Hilberry, I live in Kalamazoo, Michicagn.

The Knox Writers’ House

What brought you here?


Oh, a job at Kalamazoo College. I’ve taught at Kalamazoo College for many years I cam in 1962 and taught until sometime in the 90s, so I’ve been here a long time. I was born in Michigan, in Ferndale, Michigan, right outside Detroit, and grew up there. And went to Oberlin College and University of Wisconsin, and I taught for 6 years at DePauw University in Indiana, and then I came here, to Kalamazoo College, which has been very welcoming to me. For one thing, it’s been very relaxed. Sometimes I would take less pay and be gone for a term someplace else, which was really nice, and they didn’t seem to care; somebody else could teach. And I came, in graduate school, since I read very slowly, I took all the earliest literature, Beowulf and Chaucer and Renaissance literature. I think maybe I got up to the 18th century, but I never got to the 19th century with all those novels. I could never have gotten through them. So I was supposed to be an expert on early English literature when I got came, and I did teach that, but then the college was very relaxed and they let me sometimes teach creative writing and then frequently teach contemporary poetry, so I switched from the very earliest to right now. And not every place would be that flexible, would let you just change what you were supposed to know about.


Do you feel like there’s a nice writing community here in Kalamazoo?


There certainly is, and I’m sure that that writing community has a lot of different little subgroups, and I’m lucky enough to be in one of those that meets every other week on Sunday afternoon at four o’clock, and we bring poems. There are probably maybe eight of us or so. We meet down at a room at the college, most of the time, or at somebody’s house, depending. And for me, that’s really important. You write something, and you don’t really know what works and what doesn’t or whether any of it is worth thinking about any more. But if you’ve got a group that is going to meet in four days or nine days, you can take it there with copies for everybody and read it and they’ll look at it sort of skeptically and shake their heads and say, “Well, come on.” Or they might like it. But if you didn’t have a group like that, you’d have to send the thing off to some journal or something and get it back nine months later with just a little rejection slip. What the heck does that teach you? You really need a group of readers if you’re going to be a writer.


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