five questions for…

Callista Buchen
By Sara McAninch  //  Photography by Jana Jones

As a writer, Callista Buchen is no stranger to immersing herself in different places and spaces to exploring themes about which she is curious. After finishing her undergraduate degree, that curiosity has taken her from her home state of Wisconsin to Oregon, Ohio and Kansas to continue her education.

“I’ve always been curious, and there’s something about living in different places that gives you a sense of people, culture, food and who you are,” she says.

When she completed her doctorate, Buchen accepted a job at Franklin College as a professor in the English and creative writing department and settled in Indiana with her husband and daughter. Since moving to the state, they have welcomed a son. As a family, they like to play board games, work in their vegetable garden and make things.

When she’s not working at the college or with her kids, Buchen writes. It’s this act of creation that’s landed “Look Look Look,” her most recent collection of poems, on the short list for the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Authors Award, which honors the best books written by Indiana authors.

1. What do you like most about being a teacher? What’s most rewarding about your work?

I like to wear a lot of hats. Currently I do a lot of teaching, tutoring and mentoring. Most of my day is spent talking about books, writing and how reading and writing make us better people. Alongside that I’m also a poet, so I write a lot. I’m engaged in the literary community.

With teaching, everything is always new. That’s one of the greatest things about being a teacher: I’m right there with change and challenges, and what’s new for students is also what’s new for me. Being a teacher makes me constantly evaluate what I think I know, and it makes me see myself in the world differently.

2. How did you get into writing? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I loved to read a lot as a kid; it was important to me. I didn’t start writing until I got to college. I had some great teachers, and I found this outlet that I was looking for in poetry. When I was in the act of writing, that act of composing was the place where I felt most myself.

The best way to get better at writing is to read a lot. After that, be super persistent; it’s all about persistence. It’s not about talent, education or networking; it’s about writing when you don’t feel like it and when nobody else wants to read it. Writing is a craft.

3. Your works often deal with themes, such as gender roles, identity in relation to the body and self-awareness. For example, in 2011 you started “Look Look Look” while in the early days of motherhood. Why focus on these themes, and what have you learned about motherhood through this exploration?

All writers — and poets especially — have their obsessions and questions they’re constantly turning over. Questions of identity, such as who I am and what my place is in the world, are questions I’m really concerned with and constantly trying to figure out. I return to those themes because I haven’t figured it out yet. Once I don’t have that question anymore, then I’ll stop writing about it.

For “Look Look Look,” I focused on what I hadn’t learned. Becoming a parent was really challenging and a shock. My entire life changed quickly. I was warned it was going to happen, but to feel it was new.

4. Why do well-written words matter? Why is telling a story important? How can people gain inspiration to create in a world that’s always “on”?

It’s easy to get stuck in a social media loop and keep scrolling. I’m curating what I’m exploring when I’m online. When I do that, I’m able to lead myself into those pockets of inspiration through writers I follow or projects I’m working on. It’s inspiring to see other people making things and working hard at something and achieving their dreams.

For all the challenges of the virtual space and the internet, it makes stories more widely available. More people are reading poetry now, and that’s because of the internet and digital publications.

5. What do you love about living and working on the southside?

I get the best of everything. I feel like I have access to a lot of different environments and multiple communities. Something I love is that there’s a lot of artists doing great work on the southside, so I feel part of a larger community that’s also small and close-knit enough. I’ve been able to be part of it, despite not being here all that long.

The southside is a place where if you’re here, you’re in. I’ve lived in other small American towns, but in Franklin there’s a sense of belonging, a sense of “we’re in this together.” The arts are part of that; there’s a respect for and joy of experiencing art, and that’s really lovely.

To read more about Callista Buchen and to order her books, visit her website