Selena Anderson is one of the University of Houston’s newly minted PhD’s in Fiction. She completed her MFA at Columbia University where she won the Transatlantic/Henfield Prize. She has held fellowships at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, the Carson McCullers Center, and the MacDowell Colony. Her work appears or is forthcoming in AGNI, Joyland, Georgia Review, Callaloo, Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review Online, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere.
Recent UHCWP grad Melanie Brkich interviewed Selena about her work, her new teaching job, and what she’ll miss most about Houston.
Melanie Brkich: Congrats on successfully defending your dissertation! How does it feel to be a doctor?
Selena Anderson: Thank you, Melanie! It’s cool! I’ve been working towards it for a long time and it’s always nice to accomplish something that you’ve worked so hard for.
MB: What is your dissertation about? Where did you draw the inspiration for it?
SA: My dissertation is a collection of stories about people who want to win and who make a bad situation worse by trying to do something about it. The stories are set in Texas—but in my imagined Texas of the recent past. There are ghosts, tiny men, a slave ship, dolls, dudes who talk in third person, forest fires, and plenty of girls brooding in their apartments. I’m not sure what influenced me! When I started this project, I was listening to a lot of Sun Ra and David Axelrod, and I also got big into the painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye whose aesthetic just blows me away. She’s graceful, bold, and haunting all at the same time. Some of the authors I kept re-reading include Yoko Ogawa, Alice Carter, Clarice Lispector, Tatayana Tolstaya, among many, many others. I wrote all of the stories here in Houston. The collection is called There You Are.
MB: You were recently hired by San José State as an assistant professor of creative writing, which is amazing! What was that process of applying for jobs like?
SA: The program offered a lot of support that demystified the job process. Sally Conolly and Kevin Prufer put together a packet with advice on cover letters, CVs, statements of teaching philosophy, etc. and they also supported students through workshops and mock interviews. They recommended a book called Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt which I found to be super helpful. My advisor Mat Johnson gave a lot of good practical advice that was just not in that book, and Alex Parsons and Cedric Tolliver gave me tips on interviewing too. In the end, yes, I got the job! And I’m excited to teach the graduate fiction workshop in the fall.
I love Houston, un-ironically.
MB: How would you describe your teaching style? How might it have been informed by your time here at UH?
SA: I really admire the way Chitra Divakaruni runs her workshop. In addition to submitting their own work and giving peer feedback, students give a presentation that on a story that somehow connects to a craft issue they are interested in. I think it’s a great way to engage students and expose them to different books. It also gives insight into what other students are into reading—which is kind of important to know when you give feedback on their work because you can sort of see where they’re coming from. Such a good idea! The presentation also allows students to think deeper about how a story is working and about how they can work out some craft difficulties in their own work. I ended up adapting the presentation I gave in Chitra’s workshop for in the craft talk I gave when I interviewed.
MB: What will you miss most about Houston?
SA: Hanging out nonstop with family and friends was the best part of living here. I’ll miss them a ton. I’ll also miss my neighborhood, even if it has changed a lot. I love Houston, un-ironically. I’m gonna miss the hell out of this place!