Michelle Boisseau

recorded in Kansas City, MO/KS

 

Michelle Boisseau

I’m Michelle Boisseau, I live in Kansas City, Missouri. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, went to college in Ohio for my BA and MA. I went to University of Houston for my PhD. I taught in Virginia and Kentucky for ten years before I came here. My husband is a linguist, so we were trying to find a part of the country that was both interested in a poet or my stripe and a linguist of his stripe, and we ended up in the Kansas City, Missouri region. So here we are. I guess we’ll be here for a while, we don’t know.


The Knox Writers’ House

Can you talk a little about the arts or writing community here, and whether or not you participate in it, and what that entails?


Boisseau

Everybody in Kansas City hates me.


KWH

Really?


Boisseau

No [laughs]. I’m sure you talked to Bob about this. Bob has been fundamental in this writing community. I came here in ’95. The Writers Place was probably only five or six or seven years old then. I became a member before I even started my job, and it’s been the center for a lot of activities. A lot of amateurs are involved with The Writers Place, but it is a place where we bring in a lot of writers, and it’s been a great anchor, as has New Letters. And Bob as been the editor now for about ten years, I think, he’s been the managing editor. I’ve seen a lot of the writers who’ve been in here and out, I’ve hired some of them—you met Hadara yesterday. A lot of writers have been here and moved on to other places and we’ve had a lot of great writers. We have a lot of great writers here right now. Kansas City draws a lot of—people come through all the time. You name a writer you’re interested in and we’ve probably had them in town in the last five years. But also a lot of interesting young writers. A lot of writers who, because of the city, in terms of this whole region, Kansas City attracts a lot of writers, a lot of artists, dancers, musicians. You can’t possibly live on a tiny salary and do your art in a lot of parts of the East Coast, but you can do it here. You can get a decent apartment for $800, and a pretty nice one, and people can live. It attracts a lot of people. There’s a lot of interesting writers around here that have been through here and moved on to other places. Some of the people we’ve had are in Shanghai and San Francisco, San Diego…


KWH

Do you participate in the writing community and you need that for your own writing?


Boisseau

Well, I’m not sure what participating in the writing community means. I’ve been director of our creative writing program for a long time, and organize a lot of the readings, created a lot of opportunities for writers to get together, and brought in a lot of writers. I started a lot of programs we have going, like the Cockefair Writers-in-Residence program that we have, and I’ve worked through that to bring in a lot of writers. For me personally, it’s great to meet writers coming through, but more importantly it’s for students to get a sense that writing didn’t happen, it’s happening all the time, it’s still going on, there are really interesting writers all over this country who can teach you a lot. And you don’t even know that it’s there to learn from. I think part of my responsibility being a university professor in a state university, particularly in a city university where a lot of students are here because they have full-time jobs, is they need to have as many opportunities as somebody who gets to go to Kenyon or NYU. That seems like my responsibility as a public employee of the state of Missouri, to give students those opportunities.


KWH

Do you think that there’s a Midwestern voice or aesthetic in poetry right now?


Boisseau

You know, when I first started writing, when I was your age, the person who was probably one of the most popular poets and one of the poets I cared a lot about was James Wright. And probably you guys don’t—maybe you’ve heard of him?


KWH

Absolutely.


Boisseau

Yeah, I think probably ten years ago nobody was reading James Wright at all. And I think that there’s been a kind of a Midwestern ethic for a long time, but what is it? James Wright’s a Midwesterner, but also, he’s from this part of Ohio that is essentially kind of southern. Theodore Roethke’s a Midwesterner, and he’s from this German background from Michigan. Karl Shapiro, for years, he’s a New Yorker, taught in Nebraska, so is that a Midwesterner? Where does the Midwest start? I grew up in Ohio and people say, “That’s not the Midwest,” and I say, “You shouldn’t tell anyone from Ohio that.” I think about Kansas City. There were cowboys here! There were bank robbers. The James Gang was here. To me, that’s not the Midwest.

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