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Professor Profile: Tina Hall

By Jill Chipman ’14

January 30, 2014

Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Tina Hall was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. She currently teaches several Creative Writing courses at Hamilton, having started in 2001 as a visiting professor. She wasn’t always sure she wanted to become a professor—however, following her time as a visiting professor, she was thrilled when a tenure track position became available. She has since published many short stories and a novella (All the Day’s Sad Stories) in 2009. In 2010 she received the Drue Heinz Literature Prize.

When and why did you decide to pursue a career in teaching? Have you always wanted to be a professor? What was your dream job as a child?

I don’t think I ever considered being a teacher before I was in graduate school and had the chance to try it out and fell in love with it. As a child, I think I wanted to be a writer or an engineer or a race car driver or a psychologist or a ballerina. I feel immensely lucky to have ended up in a career that allows me to do my favorite things—read and write—in the company of such intelligent and engaged people.

How did you decide to come to Hamilton?

Again, I have luck to thank for coming to Hamilton. I started here in 2001 as a visiting professor, replacing someone on leave, and was overjoyed when the tenure-track position came up.

What makes someone a good professor or teacher?

I think the ability to listen carefully and critically is an important quality of a good teacher. This kind of listening is a version of the deep care that I think the faculty on the whole feel for the students that are at least temporarily and partially in our charge.

What is one of your most vivid memories from your time in school?

I vividly remember one of my professors at my MFA program advising me to go be a waitress instead of pursuing a PhD. I’m sure he didn’t intend the effect it had on me, which was to strengthen my resolve to make a living writing and teaching instead. So, sometimes, a little difficulty can be a productive part of an education. We all need something to rail against!

Are there any specific writers that you feel really inspire you? Was there someone specific in your life that encouraged or inspired you to write?

Oh, dozens of writers inspire me, and the delightful thing is that I continue to find new ones every year. Recently, I’ve been blown away by Ruth Ozeki’s newest novel, A Tale for the Time Being and have been rereading one of my early favorites, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.

How would you describe your writing style and the subjects that you like to write about?

My writing style is pretty lyrical. I veer toward language as the organizing principle for a story and am really interested in the mechanics and music of the sentence. As far as subjects, lately I’ve been writing a lot about ice, scars, bees, basset hounds and conservatories.

You were recently awarded a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship, what was your reaction to receiving the award? What do you plan to accomplish with this fellowship?

The NEA fellowship is an enormous gift and feels like the most magical stroke of luck. Mostly I feel very grateful to live in a country that supports the arts and literature and to be included in such good company. I hope it will allow me to finish a novel I’ve been laboring over for far too long (involving ice, scars, bees, etc).

Where do you see Hamilton in 15 years and/or where do you see yourself?

What a great question about Hamilton in 15 years! I haven’t really thought that far ahead, but I’d hope that it goes on as a place that works hard to invite brilliant, funny, dedicated, diverse, imaginative students to partake of the dream that is this little college on a hill where we have the immense privilege of constructing (and critiquing) the life of the mind together.

Do you have any closing words of advice for students, specifically aspiring writers?

Advice: Read more. Write more.

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