NMU Alumni Return For Visiting Writers Series


Katarina Rothhorn/NW

VISITING WRITER – Brian Dettloff shares his writing process and how the Upper Peninsula inspires his work. Dettloff was a former student of NMU’s Master’s Program, and currently resides in Bay Mills.

Harry Stine, Assistant Features Editor

Professor Patricia Killelea’s office feels a lot more like someone took a museum, a library and an art exhibit, and mashed them together – more than the average English professor’s office. That’s probably why she organizes Northern Michigan University’s Visiting Writers Series, where writers come to NMU to discuss their craft, detailing their inspirations, goals behind their ideas and the personal significance of their work.

This is her second year in charge of the series, which she estimates has gone on for around 15 years. She cites the mix of genres, mediums, as well as seeing different people share their own experiences with the Upper Peninsula and how it affects and inspires them.

“Far as I can speak for students in Native American literature, it’s one thing to read a text on a page but another thing to hear a poet who’s skilled at delivering and make that work come alive,” Killelea said.

This time around, two former NMU Alumni were the featured guests to the event. Jennifer Quartararo and Tyler Dettloff, graduates from Northern’s masters program, visited on Thursday, Sept. 8, to discuss Native American literature, gentrification and even a song about the Northern Lights.

“There is kind of a reuniting of folks who worked with them in the early stages of their projects and seeing where they are at now,” Killelea said.

Quartararo, whose thesis at Northern eventually became her full-length book, “An Arbitrary Formation of Unspecified Value,” said it felt good to take her book back to where it started. Her essays explore the city of Detroit and both her personal and historic relations with the complicated landcape.

For Dettloff, his return to Northern felt like a sort of “homecoming.”

“It’s surreal,” Dettloff said. “It’s something that I had maybe dreamed about the ability to like, get to this point where I could go back to my alma mater, go back to Northern, the place where I learned to love writing and to learn to love the performance of poetry.”

The energy of sharing their writing didn’t escape the two either. Quartararo, who is embarking on a tour of the Southwest in a few weeks, finds that reading her work out loud makes it “come alive.” She listed no gripes with the audience and enjoyed sharing the room with Dettloff, whom she shared the grad program with in the past.

Dettloff said he felt some stage fright beforehand, but deflected it with humor, and felt “honored” to share his work. 

When it came to advice for future writers, both had plenty of words.

“Read, read, read. Submit, submit, submit,” Dettloff said.

He encourages others to go through literary magazines and find the ones you like, and that you think your work fits into. He related literary magazines to music venues – that each one is for a different crowd, a different audience. 

Consistently writing was a tip Quartararo gave as well. That, finding the right group of people to go over your work and knowing how to keep yourself energized when working on longer projects, were all pieces of shared advice. She also said not to feel bad if you’re not particularly motivated all the time.

“Finding a balance between being structured while also maintaining a good amount of flexibility is important,” Quartararo said. “Know that from season to season your productivity might change, and that’s ok.” 

More information about Jennifer Quartararo and Tyler Dettloff can be found on Quartararo and Dettloff’s websites. Future Visiting Writers and other English events can be found on the English department’s events calendar.