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Prize-Winning Author and Professor Teaches Students to Be Professional Writers

Posted 01/14/2011
Posted by Meagan Fazio

Teresa Stores has a dual identity made up of what she calls the “writer-self” and the “teacher-self.”

On the one hand, she is a prize-winning author of short stories, a young-adult novel, and three novels, most notably Backslide (2008). On the other, she is a tenured faculty member in the English Department with classes to teach, papers to grade, and students to advise and inspire.

As for teaching, Stores says she has always loved it. “Students keep me fresh, keep me thinking, keep me from being stuck inside my own brain too much. Teaching and writing have become symbiotic practices in my life—each feeds the other, and neither seems to be fully alive without the other to inform it.”

On sabbatical during the 2009-10 academic year, Stores and her family moved to the French countryside. Once there, she shifted gears and dived into uninterrupted, full-time writing. In addition to working on the three projects she took with her, Stores used the experience of living in France to plan a study abroad trip on travel writing that she will lead next summer.

“The time away allowed me to refocus and rebalance the two parts of my identity—teacher and writer—with more emphasis now on the writer within me. I actually think this will benefit my students quite a lot,” says Stores about the sabbatical. “Teaching as a writer rather than being a writing teacher is a subtle but very important difference. When I teach from the perspective of writer, I believe that I offer the students a chance to see themselves as prospective professional writers too. “

Although she seldom uses her own work in the classroom, Stores has shared with students copyedited versions of a short story to show how a writer works with an editor in the publishing process. And she talks to her students about being a writer and what she calls the “long, long road” to getting there.

“I see myself a s a role model, mostly of the ‘real-world’ life of the writer. I show them rejections, cover letters, my submission-tracking spreadsheet, and I help them find venues for publishing their own work.”

And the writing? During the semester Stores rises before dawn and writes for at least an hour in the morning while her household sleeps and the phone doesn’t ring. She also tries to block out some unscheduled hours for writing each week and during semester breaks. As a parent, Stores says she’s had to learn not to be fussy about when or where she writes. “I keep a pad and pen with me wherever I go. I write in the minivan during soccer practice, if necessary.”

Stores is currently working on a new novel, Ten Facial Types of Women, named for a woodblock series done by Kitagawa Utamaro, an 18th-century Japanese artist. Like her protagonist, Margaret Underwood, Stores traveled to Japan to study the woodblock printing process.