For poet and professor Kathy Fagan, a return to campus for inaugural Fresno Writers Summit
Kathy Fagan is coming home to Fresno State.
The much-honored poet and Fresno State graduate is returning as a keynote speaker at the inaugural Fresno Writers Summit, which runs Saturday, Sept. 16. She will share the role with fellow alum Anthony Cody, “whose poems I love,” Fagan says.
The event is sponsored by Fresno State’s Creative Writing Alumni Chapter and the Fresno Poets Association. It begins at 1 p.m. at the Fresno State Concert Hall with readings by award-winning student writers. From 2-4 p.m., alumni authors Pilar Christiana Graham, Padraig Hogan, and Gabriel Ibarra will read from their works. Fagan and Cody will be featured in a 6-7:30 p.m. session. Admission is $10.
Fagan is a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow and a past winner of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She teaches poetry at The Ohio State University. Her sixth poetry collection is “Bad Hobby” (Milkweed Editions, 2022, the 2023 William Carlos Williams Award.
I caught up with Fagan and asked her a few questions:
Q: A review of your latest collection of poems, “Bad Hobby,” described it as “bursting with energy while reflecting on matters of grief, mortality, and memory.” Did you grow up in Fresno? Are your memories rooted in this area?
A: My family and I are from New York, but we lived in Fresno for many years, individually and collectively. I graduated from Clovis High School and Fresno State. I became a poet in Fresno as a first-gen college student. I will forever be grateful for the affordable and nurturing education I was given there.
Q: Why the title “Bad Hobby”?
A: The title poem refers to my dad, who died of Alzheimer’s and whose story is central to the book. One day at our local VA clinic, he warned me against smoking saying, “it’s a bad hobby.” That led me to word associations that created the arc of the poem. The book is full of his voice.
Q: Think of the year you graduated from Fresno State. What are your memories of the campus as a physical space and how it played a role in your life? Do you recall it in emotional terms (an upbeat place, exciting, depressing) or more descriptive (sprawling, rundown, filled with sun, etc.)?
A: What I remember most clearly are poetry workshops in the ag buildings filled with intensity and laughter. One evening after a day of classes and work (I had a 20-hour week work study job at the library reference desk my three undergrad years), I walked out to my car on the perimeter of campus at twilight and the nearby field was full of rabbits—hares, I guess. It was magic! I understood then that what my classmates and I were doing would change us forever.
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Q: Do you dream about college? (Random question, but I’ve always wanted to ask a poet that and this seemed like a good time.)
A: I don’t have to dream about it, I’ve never left it. Occasionally though I dream about my teachers and realize there’s some new way I need to grow.
Q: Anything to add?
A: Only that I’m proud to be part of the truly great Fresno writers tradition. It’s a very special community.