Interview with Dr. Michael Seth Stewart
“The key to editing and compiling someone else’s work is love,” says Dr. Michael Seth Stewart, a graduate of The University of Alabama’s New College as well as The Graduate Center of The City College of New York. “You really have to love the writer and want to put them out there,” he continues. Dr. Stewart explains, while leaning back on a bright red couch in the corner of the Ferguson Center, where he spends his office hours. Music hums from headphones. Resting on a pile of semi-graded papers as he continues, “There are so many writers to study. Why not spend your time studying writers you love?”
Dr. Stewart first fell in love with poet John Wieners’ work while completing his PhD in New York City. Dr. Stewart was immediately drawn to the lyricism, frankness, and unique vision the poet conveyed through his writing. “Wieners was a gay poet in the 1950s and 60s, and he also struggled with drug addiction, so his is an interesting voice to read,” Dr. Stewart opines. “When it comes to poets of the 50s and 60s, the voices we have are mostly wealthy poets from well-established families. It was nice to study someone from the other side of the tracks.”
With much of Wieners’ work being long out of print, Dr. Stewart decided to focus his dissertation on editing and compiling Wieners’ letters. Dr. Stewart searched through a few hundred libraries’ collections, in order to write Seven Letters, which was released in Poetry magazine in June 2015. During his archival research, Dr. Stewart began finding Wieners’ journals. This new discovery prompted Stewart to edit Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals of John Wieners, released in September 2015
Reflecting on the cultural differences between Tuscaloosa and the Big Apple, Stewart remembers feeling oddly at home in New York City. Although he was a long way from his native Alabama. “College towns and NYC are both places where you’re around a lot of people,” Dr. Stewart says. “The big difference is the heavy influence of conservative Protestantism around here. I’m used to teaching where everyone comes from different countries, so coming back to Alabama has been an adjustment.”
After graduating from The City College of New York, Dr. Stewart returned to The University of Alabama to teach English. “My advice for undergraduates pursuing a career in writing is to find a way of making a living that will allow you to write,” Stewart asserts. “However, if your big career goal is to teach, my advice is to learn what’s trending and to study up on some digital scholarship and composition and rhetoric. Those are the fields where you’re going to find the best jobs,” Dr. Stewart advises. As for his future goals, Dr. Stewart is allowing the future’s mystery to unfold in its own time: “I want to finish the John Wieners’ projects,” he explains. “I’m working some articles right now, which will take about another year. After that, I have no idea what’s next,” Dr. Stewart says. Whatever dreams may come for Dr. Stewart, his future at the capstone is bright.