I was a typical incoming Ph.D. student at Princeton in at least one respect: after completing my B.A., I went straight into graduate school, completing a Master’s degree at the New School for Social Research before coming to Princeton. What was not so typical was that I’d dropped out of college fifteen years before, in 1995, after my freshman year at the University of Puget Sound, to learn about the world and become a writer. By 2002, I’d learned about washing dishes, frying eggs, caring for the elderly, scrubbing toilets, poverty, insecurity, and despair, but I still had a hard time thinking of myself as a “writer.” Taking a gamble, I joined the Army. The plan was to serve my four years, then go back to school on the G.I. Bill, figure out how to make a living writing, and maybe get a Ph.D.
I survived the Army and loved being back in school, but nothing was as simple as I’d imagined. While earning my M.A. at the New School, I began to get a sense of recent changes affecting higher education and what I needed to do to have a chance at landing a job. I came to Princeton knowing that the name of the game was production. At the same time, I wanted to absorb as much of the rich intellectual environment at Princeton as I could.
Working to meet these twin imperatives of producing and absorbing demanded a lot. Thankfully, the faculty I worked with were supportive and inspiring. Everyone took my work seriously, and a few stood out for their willingness to invite me into scholarly life not only as a student, but as a thinker and writer in my own right. The campus was ripe with intellectual adventure, from the Graduate Colloquium on Contemporary Poetry to the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities (then just getting started), from the succession of visiting Bain-Swiggett luminaries (including Charles Bernstein, Maureen McLane, and Lisa Robertson) to the Gauss Seminars to the International Network of Comparative Humanities. Princeton offered not only academic and intellectual rigor, but an environment rich in interdisciplinary and creative cross-pollination.
After defending my dissertation, which had been supported by a Whiting Fellowship, I was offered a short-term post-doctoral fellowship at Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research. I received two tenure-track job offers that year, and decided on teaching creative writing and English at Notre Dame. I have published two books, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization (City Lights, 2015), and the novel War Porn (Soho Press, 2016), and essays, journalism, and criticism in Contemporary Literature, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and The Nation. I am currently turning my dissertation into a book, titled Total Mobilization: World War II and American Literature, due to be published in 2018, and finishing a second novel.