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Jay Kauffmann SQWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I think the first inkling that I might be a writer came in my sophomore year of college. I had just won an award for my poetry chapbook (I wanted to be a poet then) and people started to think and speak of me as a writer. And yet, despite all the positive feedback, I remained unconvinced, because I knew I had no idea what I was doing. Then, after graduate school, when my stuff started appearing in magazines, I thought, Okay, now I’m a writer. But whenever people asked me what I did, I was still reluctant to call myself a writer. It was only after a long stretch on my own, without any support or encouragement, when I was left to the daily practice of facing myself and the page, and feeling drunk with discovery, that I finally began to feel like a writer.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

Well, I approach teaching with the understanding that everything takes place at the level of the line (or, for prose writers, the sentence). All our choices, every discovery, starts there. So I begin by focusing on the specific, the small details. I also believe that when it comes to creative growth, passion has to be in the mix. So I try—and I know this sounds a bit inflated—to awaken in each student their own brand of passion. And, most significantly, I come to each class with the understanding and the thrill that what unfolds between us will most likely teach me as much as it teaches them.

If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?

It would be a toss up between Odysseus and Siddhartha (with Richard III on the short list, because, well, he’s such a rock star). I identify with both characters for different reasons: Odysseus because I also know what it’s like to travel for many years trying to get home only to discover, when you finally do return, that home is no longer there; and Siddhartha because I’ve also wrestled with those contradictory impulses to be an ascetic and a hedonist. I’m sure, if we sat down together, both characters would have a lot of insights to share.

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