Faculty Faces - Dr. Tyrone Jaeger

Tyrone JaegerDr. Tyrone JaegerIn just three years, Dr. Tyrone Jaeger has “seen a lot of changes.”

Jaeger came to Hendrix in 2008 for a newly created position as Writer-in-Residence.

Though his family is rooted in the Catskill Mountains region, Jaeger attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where he earned a bachelor’s in English. After graduation, he taught at a high school in Florida for at-risk students.

After a brief stint in the Lake Tahoe area, near Donner Lake, he moved to Denver, where he stayed for nearly 10 years and taught at a private high school. In Denver, Jaeger started writing more and joined a writing workshop called Lighthouse Writers. After six months of workshops, he left Colorado for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where he met his future wife, Julee. In six years, he completed his master’s and doctorate in creative writing.

His is a “unique position” at Hendrix, he said.

Though funded through a grant from the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language, he is a member of the College’s English studies department. He has a vote on department policies and participates in job searches for department positions.

One of the most significant changes he has seen at Hendrix took place this year. The 2010-2011 academic year was the first year for the newly revised English studies major, in which students choose to emphasize in literary studies, film studies, or creative writing. Prior to the new creative writing emphasis, students pursued creative writing as interdisciplinary studies majors.

“The English Department has definitely embraced creative writing,” he said. “Some folks may see creative writing as a course that doesn’t require as much, but our department dispels that myth.”

Some of the best English students, regardless of their emphasis, are highly invested in creative writing, he said.

There are a number of ways Hendrix could have gone about adding creative writing to the curriculum, including establishing a separate department, he said. The faculty’s choice was the best.

“Creative writing is so connected to the literary studies program, why would you want to separate it?” he said. “Our students have to study literature before they can write. The more they read the better writers they will be.”

Rather than secluding himself and devoting the majority of his time to his own writing, Jaeger immersed himself in developing co-curricular programs for student writers such as Shop Talk, a reading and writing series, and Word Garden, a forum for students to read their original work to an audience of their peers.

“Students immediately engaged in it,” he said of the co-curricular programs.

For example, Word Garden holds six student readings each semester and has enjoyed a consistent attendance of 50 to 80 students for each event during its three-year history. Nearly 40 students have read their work each year, he said.

“I don’t know what it is … But the interest in just simply there,” he said. “There are a lot of students who want to write.”

“It really means they’re expressing themselves and trying to make meaning,” he said. “Writing is thinking. It’s an intense form of thinking.”

Jaeger is confident that every creative writing student from this year’s group will continue to work on what they developed as a senior capstone project.

In addition to the new creative writing emphasis within the English studies major and programs like Word Garden and Shop Talk, creative writing students have additional opportunity to immerse themselves in the writing life through Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning.

“Odyssey is a part of the curriculum,” he said, adding that all creative writing courses are Odyssey coded, meaning students receive Odyssey credit. “But Odyssey is also a vehicle for students and faculty to have projects funded.”

Through Your Hendrix Odyssey, students have participated in internships with publishing houses and worked for journals such as the Toad Suck Review at the University of Central Arkansas and The Oxford American magazine.

The opportunity to apply for competitive project grants through Your Hendrix Odyssey is an added bonus for writers, he said. The funding process will help them learn to pitch their projects to publishers and presses and to compete for positions in writers’ residencies.

Jaeger himself is no stranger to this enterprise.

This summer, he will participate in the Hambidge Writer’s Colony in north Georgia, one of the country’s longest running arts colonies. He was also selected by The Oxford American to receive an Editors’ Pick Scholarship for a summer writers program sponsored by the magazine. Jaeger regularly participates in writing retreats during spring break, including the program at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Ark.

He also has multiple manuscripts in various stages of completion, including a short story collection he is sending to small presses and literary contests.

It’s rare for short story collections to be published by large presses, while literary contests offer monetary awards and publication.

There is also The Runaway Note, a hybrid manuscript of flash fiction and prose poetry, which he recently completed.

So Many True Believers, the title story in another short story collection, was recently selected by The Oxford American for publication in 2012. The collection also includes Mercy Comes Calling, Jaeger’s first Arkansas-based story, which is set on Lake Conway. That piece was picked up by Southern Humanities Review at Auburn University.

Jaeger’s novel in progress is called Radio Eldorado.

Set in 1969, the book follows a husband and wife team of musicians in a proto-punk rock group called The Wound Tights.

To set the mood while writing, he keeps various playlists, including music by the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, who also makes an appearance in the book.

The couple in the novel is on a national tour, when they stop at the wife’s family farm in Eldorado Springs, Colo., near the Rocky Flats Plant, which manufactured plutonium triggers used to assemble nuclear weapons.

Radio Eldorado incorporates the historical events of the Mother’s Day Fire at Rocky Flats, the country’s largest industrial accident at the time. Had it gone critical, the accident would have been on scale of Chernobyl, Jaeger said.

“It’s not historical fiction, but I play with history,” he said.

Following the fire, the band’s tour gets cancelled and, over the ensuing year, members befriend a Boulder, Colo.-based peace activist and revolutionary.

Despite its darker moments, there is a sense of comedy that comes through the characters and their misadventures, he said.

The book is based loosely on material from These Are My Arms, his dissertation.

Jaeger said he incorporated the “magic realism” of author William Kennedy’s Albany novel cycle as a model.

John Kennedy O’Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces was another inspiration, but “the humor is not as obvious, not quite as wacky,” he said.

Larry McMurtry’s All My Friends are Strangers likewise influenced the writing, he said.

Other inspirations for Jaeger include Barry Hannah, Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, Thomas Pynchon, Dennis Johnson, Charles Portis, and Roberto Bolaño.

When writing, Jaeger said he both engages with and avoids the power of influence.

“Choose your friends carefully,” said Jaeger, preferring to read works that “give me a lift.

He has finished several drafts of Radio Eldorado, which should be close to completion by the end of summer, when he will turn it over to a few trusted writer friends for their feedback. Two years in progress, there are 500 manuscript pages. He expects “a lot of cuts” before it’s down to fighting weight of 300 to 400 pages.

“If it’s successful, it’ll be the book I want to read and what I want from a book,” he said.