Eric Wasserman, MFA '02

Author, professor

Why did you decide to come to Emerson?

I went to a huge public high school. For my undergrad, I went to Lewis & Clark College, a small private liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. I knew I didn’t want to go to a big university for graduate school: I wanted to keep that direct interaction with my professors that I had as an undergraduate. It also didn’t hurt that Emerson had such a stellar reputation or that I wanted to reach out of my comfort zone. At Emerson, I was able to move to a new place and meet some new people who all took the arts seriously. And of course, the final factor was that I would finally be living in a city with professional baseball.

How is Emerson a part of your life today?

It’s a constant pulse, sometimes stronger than other times, but it’s always there. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was always running into Emerson grads and the alumni reps would take us out to dinner when they flew in from Boston. But mostly, as a writer, my Emerson friendships mean the world to me. When I was having trouble with a draft of my recently published novel, Celluloid Strangers, my Emerson pal John Zamparelli gave the manuscript a hard critical read and we had some lengthy phone conversations about where I should take the revision. That’s just one example, but it speaks to the fact that you may leave the Emerson classroom, but that classroom isn’t going to abandon you. I see Emerson friends every year at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, and I’m hoping we can plan an MFA alumni reading together when the conference comes to Boston in 2013.

What is your title and how would you describe what you do to a current Emersonian?

I’m an assistant professor of English at The University of Akron and also serve as our campus coordinator for the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts (NEOMFA) program in creative writing. I basically do what I was once blessed with receiving. I had some professors who really looked out for me and never quit on me even when I was falling short. I’m now returning the favor to today’s students.

Describe a notable achievement in your career.

Where I come from, it’s considered a little arrogant to brag about myself. But you can visit my website and see what I’ve been up to professionally and creatively since I departed Emerson a decade ago.

What are you currently working on?

Other than hopelessly continuing to try to train my adorable yet stubborn St. Bernard mix, I’m at work on another novel. I have about a 500-page draft that is a complete mess, but the prologue was just published in Matter Journal and has received positive response, so I’m pushing along. I’m also continuing to save my 90-year-old house, so I think there’s another paint job in my near future.

Describe a favorite Emerson memory.

That’s a no-brainer: Meeting my wife for the first time in the photocopy room of the Learning Assistance Center where we were both tutors. The first thing she asked me after introducing herself was what my favorite book was. That’s Emerson for you: a place where everyone has the arts running in their blood.

Is there an example of how a faculty member aided you with your career?

Teachers have always been instrumental in my life, starting with my mother, who was a teacher. I had several Emerson faculty members leave their mark on me. But I have to say that the continual support of Frederick Reiken in my professional life has been invaluable. He believed in my work when I was his student, and since I left Emerson, he has always been willing to lend his advice. Last year, the NEOMFA wanted to bring in a visiting fiction writer for a week and it was my honor for us to host Professor Reiken. Our program director said it was the most successful and highly attended event we have ever held.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to Emerson students?

There is a good deal of truth in the importance of networking when it comes to your working life once you leave the corner of Tremont and Boylston, and when somebody give you a little help, always try to return the favor. But in the end, no inside connection is going to help you land unless you can deliver the goods. Remember to continually rededicate yourself to what you’ve chosen as your life’s passion. Sometimes it can be frustrating when you see your classmates succeeding when you are still struggling. But be happy for them and be steadfast in your own dedication, because your time will come and you will want those peers to be happy for you when it does.

Describe Emerson in 3 sentences or less.

How about three words? It may be a cliché, but it’s completely true. DARE TO DREAM!

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