Martha Phelan Hayes

My life as a writer began in the third grade when a short story won me praise and recognition, first from my teacher and then from the principal. When they informed my parents, my father confirmed that I had a talent and labeled me a writer. Not that I minded. I was as proud of his approval as I was of this identity, his identity. He wrote for a living. However, in some ways this identity has haunted me, as it has come with an expectation, and expectations can be burdensome. As a result, I always have felt a responsibility to write.

I wrote my way through school, often meriting forgiveness for the abject poverty of my study habits with the skill of a well-crafted essay. I wrote poems and essays that I shared with shameless pride. After high school, I wrote obituaries and edited short articles for a local newspaper. I thought about becoming a journalist.

Instead, like my father, I majored in literature, where I spent the majority of my time dissecting texts and writing academic essays. The works of the most accomplished writers challenged any confidence I had in my own literary abilities. I still had my creative voice, and sometimes I’d scribble poems in the margins of my notebooks, but reading the great books taught me that I had a long road ahead of me if I wanted to call myself a serious writer.

In the end, I persevered, and I credit my study of other writers for any progress I have made in my craft. It has been reading and reading and more reading that has inspired me and given me models for my own poems and essays. As a professor of English, I am lucky to have never left the academic world, a world that has provided me a home full of words and ideas and students who teach me something new every day. All of this has informed and continues to inform my writing.

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© Martha Phelan Hayes

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