Laura Kolbe is a poet, prose writer, physician, and medical ethicist. Her debut poetry collection, Little Pharma, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October 2021. Her poetry and prose have appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, American Poetry Review, Conjunctions, Poetry, New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Yale Review, and elsewhere.
Her medical work was highlighted in The New Yorker’s coverage of COVID-19, on LitHub’s Thresholds podcast with Jordan Kisner, and in the Yale University Press anthology A World Out of Reach: Dispatches from Life Under Lockdown. For additional information, please visit www.laura-kolbe.com or follow @laurakolbemd on Twitter.
WH: When did you first feel like a writer?
Laura: On some level, I knew I was a writer from about third grade – I was constantly writing novels, epic poems, plays, and imaginary radio programs. That deepened in college, when I took my first creative writing classes, but only fully crystallized later, when I was in medical school and realized that I was deeply unhappy when I wasn’t writing, and that writing was the only way I knew how to think through the world as I encountered it. Having a career apart from my writing both intensified my connection with writing and gave me plenty of sensory experiences and philosophical conundrums to work out on the page.
WH: What’s your philosophy about teaching a writing class?
Laura: I think most people – myself definitely included – tend to underestimate how variegated, how richly textured, how weird and contradictory and vivid, their own stockpile of memory, expertise, education, and experience is. Step one for writing students is realizing they already have all the crude material they’ll ever need, and that more keeps coming. I want to help students revel in the abundance of what they can dig up and do, while also modeling what it means to later be fastidious and honest about the work of refinement and revision.
WH: If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Laura: Probably Ephraim, the spirit that James Merrill and David Jackson are speaking with through a Ouija board at the start of Merrill’s long, multi-volume poem The Changing Light at Sandover (which is about all the different ghosts and angels they “meet” through the Ouija, while also being about their own relationships and the life and death of many real-life friends). Ephraim’s clever, flirtatious, affectionate, has loads of interesting friends, is not afraid of death, and has been paying close attention to humanity for two thousand years. The perfect companion!
WHAT WRITERHOUSE STUDENTS ARE SAYING ABOUT LAURA
Laura is a new instructor to WriterHouse. Check back after the Winter 2022 term to see what her students are saying.