Jay Varner

Jay Varner

When did you first feel like a writer?
It was the first time I was published. In college, I had taped all the rejection slips–dozens of them–to the wall by my computer. And then a letter arrived that said the editors liked my little essay. I’d always thought of myself as a writer, but this was the first time someone else agreed.
What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

I try to bring the same blue-collar attitude that I grew up with into the classroom, so I stress the daily process of writing and reading. A nonfiction teacher must mentor and guide students to not only examine the text at hand, but to also scrutinize their own backgrounds and ideas. I want to be certain my students are aware of the centuries-long dialogue swirling about them, and that they feel confident enough to enter into the discussion as writers and readers. Literature can expose us to something grander than our own experiences, it is most often words that help us understand and evaluate our beliefs.

If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Holden Caulfield. But I’m not sure at what age I would be when I met him. If I was a teenager, I get the feeling that Holden and I could get into a lot of trouble. But if I met him now as an adult, I’d probably try to offer some sage advice and he’d tell me to get lost. No matter what, I’d love to talk to him because he has one of the truest, most unique voices in all of literature. And anyone who has read his words can never forget them.


Jay Varner is a Lecturer in the School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication at James Madison University. He’s previously taught in the MFA program at Hollins University, at Piedmont Virginia Community College, and at the University of Virginia. His memoir, “Nothing Left to Burn,” was published by Algonquin Books and his work has appeared in BOMB, The Black Warrior Review, Oxford American Magazine, and numerous other places.


“I’ve loved the 3-4 classes I’ve taken from Jay…. He is cream-of-the-crop in a roster of very talented WH instructors.” 

“Beginning with each class, Jay greets his students covering such timely issues as the books we are reading. Everyone benefits from this as we get to know each other.”

“Jay is a positive person, interested in his students but still the instructor. He is sensitive to what we write about. This being a class on the personal essay, that is essential.”

“As soon as I saw Jay was teaching again, I signed up. Jay has a knack for teaching by creating a safe and welcoming space for his students, allowing us to share deeply and accept feedback eagerly. He gave us several presentations with visuals since we were in an online format—all excellent.”

“Jay was kind, clear, and gave excellent feedback to all of us. His course was well-organized and was always interesting. He was very fair and allowed everyone a voice and participation. I will miss our sessions. They have lit up my life. Thank you, Jay.”