Interview with Barbara Ashwood
By Meghan Haupers
I interviewed English professor Barbara Ashwood and learned a lot about her time as a student and as a professor. She also shared a bit about her personal life and referenced students to some of her published work. “My most recent creative nonfiction piece is in a print literary journal called Adanna,” Barbara says, “and my narrative/research hybrid essay detailing my community’s fight against a massive hog confinement is in The Journal of Rural Social Sciences.” Despite her trendy look, Barbara Ashwood is a country girl, “the older I get, the more the city drains me. I like my rural isolation!” Barbara says. Check out the full interview below for more.
Q : Where did you go to school? What did you major in? Were you in any extracurricular activities, clubs, or social organizations?
A : I went to Illinois Wesleyan for undergrad where I double majored in English and Women’s Studies with a minor in Political Science. I was involved in several honors societies while there (Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Tau Delta, Tri-Iota, Phi Sigma Alpha, and Alpha Lambda Delta– some of these were much more active than others). I also volunteered as an ESL tutor and was a member of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. To make extra money, I worked at the main desk answering phones and for the university’s fundraising office where I’d call parents already laden with heavy tuition bills and try to get them to donate to the school’s scholarship fund. I went to grad school at Ohio State, and my time there was consumed by taking classes, teaching classes, and working at the Zen Cha tea salon and the university’s comic book library to supplement my TA income. Zen Cha was kind of a nightmare, but it wasn’t boring like that library job…
Q : How long did you spend in London?
A: I studied there during the fall semester of my sophomore year, met someone, fell in love, stayed a few weeks longer, and then went back that summer after I finished spring classes. The romance crumbled, but fourteen years later we reconnected, and then I was back in London over winter and summer breaks until he moved here.
Q: Where do you shop?
A: I like luxury and hate debt, so eBay, online sample sales, and good department stores’ outlets are favorites of mine. It pains me to pay retail. Once you find a few designers whose clothes consistently fit you, you can find some sweet deals online and not have to sink lots of money into alterations.
Q: Have you ever considered fashion writing?
A: Yep! But… While I realize the Internet has broadened freelance writing opportunities, fashion writing is often done by people in urban areas who are immersed in the culture that prompts trends. And the older I get, the more the city drains me. I like my rural isolation!
Q: What kinds of writing do you do? Are you working on anything right now?
A: I’m all about creative nonfiction (in all of its forms)! Right now I’m expanding on a memoir about my father and growing up on a farm.
Q: Can you refer us to any of your published works?
A: My most recent creative nonfiction piece is in a print literary journal called Adanna, and my narrative/research hybrid essay detailing my community’s fight against a massive hog confinement is in The Journal of Rural Social Sciences. You can also find my short opinion editorials online in the Chicago Tribune, River Rock Times, and other newspapers.
Q: What classes are you teaching this semester?
A: This spring I am teaching English 487 (Advanced Nonfiction Workshop) and English/Women’s Studies 301 (Women in Literature). In the fall, I’m teaching GH 101, English 387 (Intermediate Nonfiction Workshop), and two online sections of English 180.
Q: What is the Beauty Myth about? (and when is it?)
A: My GH 101 class looks at the media’s portrayal of beauty and gender roles. One of the texts we study in the course is Naomi Wolf’s 1990 book, The Beauty Myth. It was a very controversial book at the time, but it successfully generated widespread conversation about how the perpetuation of unrealistic and unobtainable notions of beauty hurt women. Wolf, however, is prone to hyperbole, and there are some major flaws with her methodology that the class considers through our own analysis and by reading and discussing some contemporary responses to her argument. It’s interesting to compare the 1990 world that Wolf writes about to today and see what has and, more gloomily, has not changed.
Q: What’s the best part of teaching writing?
A: Watching a student grow as a writer throughout a semester or two is pretty amazing. Watching a student broaden their perspective and grow as a human being is even more so. In terms of teaching creative nonfiction, it is particularly touching to see students free themselves by telling a story that they buried for years and weighed heavily on them and then watch other students connect with their narrative.
Q: Since you read so many manuscripts, what in your opinion makes someone a good writer?
A: Someone who crafts compelling, concrete, clear, and focused pieces. 🙂