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Carol Ann Davis

Professor Carol Ann Davis

One Professor's Poetic Journey
by Taff Wright

When English Professor Carol Ann Davis was attending her first few years at Vassar College she thought she had her future all figured out. "I had followed hook, line, and sinker the dominant ideology which is to get a job in communications and work in public relations or something," Davis said. With an article in the New York Times in the beginning of college, she was well on her to heading for New York and becoming a journalist.

Although in high school and college Davis focused mainly on journalism and fiction, this all changed in her junior year of college. One of her teachers asked her to take a year long class in poetry.

After that year Davis said "she never looked back." She says that now that she is teaching she sees her initial focus on fiction and journalism was because a lot of people who want to write find it hard to admit that is what they actually want to do.

"The last thing you want to do as a person raised in a culture that's asking you to nail down a career is to say that you want to write poetry, because it's the least useful."

After completing her first year long course in poetry Davis got into an even more competitive class where only a select few students were admitted. Then she was recognized by one of her mentors, James Tate, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize only three weeks after visiting her school. Davis let her teachers and mentors point her in a direction that she did not have the confidence to go and that is what inspires her to be there for her students. She doesn't have a huge personal stake in converting everyone into poets, but will provide a wayside home for any students who need one.

Poetry has remained a burning passion in Davis' life. She has had many of her poems published (around 28) including "Ars Poetica inside an Evans Williams Photograph" which appeared in Poetry magazine, and "On the Sempiternal," which appeared in Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review. She is also a nationally known editor of Crazyhorse which is a literary journal of fiction, poetry, and essays. It has been around for 45 years, and has published writers like John Updike, Raymond Carver, and John Ashbery. It has also received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Davis' duties in her first year of editing Crazyhorse found her with 871 manuscripts to read over her Christmas break!

Just recently Davis has also achieved yet another enormous accomplishment. Her book of poetry has been chosen to be published. Looking back on her first years of teaching Davis said one of her biggest fears was that her students wouldn't respect her as much because she didn't have a book published at that time. Instead of avoiding the subject or lying about it, she took a far different approach. She decided to use the "teach the problem" method she had learned in graduate school.

Davis shared her experiences with the entire process of getting published with her students, rather than hiding it from them. She allowed her students to travel with her on her journey to getting her book published, which in turn was a great way for them to get a feel for what the profession of writing is all about. "A lot of it is acts of faith and persevering," commented Davis. She wasn't hesitant about sharing these experiences because it allowed her students to learn about the ups and downs of being a writer.

Carol Ann Davis is living proof that listening to your teachers can have immense benefits. She took the advise of her teacher and found poetry to be the direction she wanted to go into, not journalism. She made a choice to change her path in life and never looked back. Her knowledge and passion for literature make her a unique teacher that continues to inspire her students.