Debra Gwartney on how a blending of genres benefits students and faculty alike.
Kathlene Postma, PhD
Solutions in fairy tales often require radical acts—very radical solutions to very extreme problems. The magic requires no wand, no potion. The magic is invisible; the magic is real. It’s called the way you escape terrible harm. Take note. This is not escapism—it’s escape. It’s survival. These are amazing tools of resistance. Their resistance is a kind of normalized magic.--Kate Bernheimer
Writing to Heal
In the novel I’m currently writing, a woman suffering from PTSD tells her story using fairy tales and myths. In the process, she saves her own life. I have also completed an adult fairy tale collection called The Keys to Her Own Kingdom. In these tales, I get innovative with the forms of ancient and recognizable fairy tales so that my characters can free themselves from entrapments and curses.
As a writer, scholar, and teacher of English, I’ve always believed in the power of story. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer five years ago that I more fully grasped how necessary story is to survival. After enduring multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, I found myself alive and deeply grateful for everything family, friends, and medical practitioners had done for me. Unfortunately, like many survivors, I was shattered by the experience and no longer felt whole or safe. In order to more fully heal, I turned to storytelling as a way to accept my scars and work with my fear.
Trauma studies considers the loss of agency among humans who have survived harm and explores methods for healing across a range of disciplines, including the arts, humanities, social sciences, and medicine. In literary trauma studies we look at the many ways writers use language to describe the terrible hurt they or others have endured as well as the way language may be working to expand understanding while strengthening agency and recovery. At a time of long overdue racial and gender reckoning, climate change, and pandemics, we need to better grasp who is suffering and how in our world so we can create a more just and healthy future for all of us.
Working with My Students
Students are often interested in exploring in their writing personal and familial loss, racism, sexism, and global warming. In that vein, they are particularly drawn to the crafts of science fiction, fantasy and fairy tale, pursuits I share with them! It’s my job to help students build knowledge and skills in a range of narrative strategies so they can find their own voices. Their stories open new paths and possibilities for themselves and their readers. Many of my students publish pieces they produce in my courses.
I received a Ph.D. in fiction writing and 20th century literature by women writers from the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee, one of the first universities to grant combined doctoral degrees in Creative Writing and Literature. My desire to engage the world in a broader sense was fired by the hybrid and electric environment of that university, which served students from a richly diverse range of socio-economic backgrounds, racial groups and gendered identities. Prior to joining the faculty at Pacific University, I served as a professor of American Literature at Sichuan University in China (graduate and undergraduate studies) and at Bilkent University in Turkey.
Some of the Courses I Teach
Fiction Workshop at the beginning and advanced levels, Studies in Fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Radical Fairy Tales, Trauma & Transformation, Book to Film, Writing & Research: Identity, Race & Gender, Major Authors: Margaret Atwood & Neil Gaiman, Book Design I & II.
In the academic year 2020-21, I will take students to Italy for a course on travel writing. I will also teach Literature and Human Concerns: Trauma & Transformation, Researching in the Creative Literary Arts, Literary Magazine Design, and Fiction Writing.
I have served as the mentoring professor on over 60 senior capstone projects, most recently the opening chapters of a novel about a trans woman murdered in rural Oregon, fairy tales on female sexuality, and a sci fi graphic novel.
I’ve published fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, photography and essays in Hawaii Review, Willow Springs, Zyzzyva, Los Angeles Review, Passages North, Natural Bridge, Rattle, Event, Green Mountains Review, Iron Horse Review, Red Rock Review, Cha: Asian Review, Voice and Verse (Hong Kong), Journal of American Studies of Turkey, Rougarou Magazine, Escape Wheel (an anthology published by great weather for media, New York City) and other magazines. My essay “Becoming Foreign” about my experiences living in China and Turkey has been cited in Best American Travel Writing
Samples of My Fairy Tales
“Lorely and the Jay” in Blood Orange Review
“Millicent’s Curse” in Rougarou
Poem and Interview
“He Was a Hell of a Cat” in Willow Springs Magazine
Residencies, Grants, and Readings
I've been awarded artist’s residencies at: Ragdale, Hedgebrook, and Macina Di San Cresci in Italy and received Elise Elliot grants that support faculty-student collaboration in the arts, including travel writing and social justice work in China and, most recently, fairy tale studies in Italy.
I’ve given numerous readings of my work at venues such as Plonk Reading Series (Portland), Grief Rites (Portland), Voice Catcher (Portland) La Macina Artists (Italy), Furnace Radio series (Seattle), York St. John University in England, and others.
“Broken Open Voices and Climate Change: How Contemporary Female Sci-Fi & Fantasy Writers of Color Influence College Students’ Understanding and Agency.” The 20th International Conference of Utopian Studies Society. July, 2019. Prato, Italy.
“Beyond Disney: Expanding the Fairy Tale Genre.” American Literature Symposium at The Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu, China. June, 2016
“Creative Writing Directors on Building a Successful Undergraduate Writing Program.” Associated Writing Conference (AWP) Seattle, Washington, March, 2015
“How to Write Compelling Characters.” York Literary Festival, hosted by York St. John University. York, England. March, 2013
“Virginia Woolf and the Creative Process.” Commissioned by Portland’s Literary Arts, Curator of the Portland Arts & Lecture Series, to teach a six-week long Delve Seminar. Portland, Oregon. Fall, 2011
Contributions to the Writing Community
I founded Silk Road Literary Review (silkroad.pacificu.edu) and PLUM, Pacific’s Literature by Undergraduates Magazine, and currently serve both magazines as rotating editor-in-chief. I have taught for the Afghan Women Writers Project and was host for a radio show that taught English to kids in China. Currently I’m in the process of developing a new imprint at Pacific University Press called New Ground Books. New Ground will be devoted to publishing work by BIPOC (Black and Indigenous and People of Color) and other traditionally underrepresented writers.
What Brings Me Joy
Talking with my daughters and husband, travel in Italy and China, writing my way to surprising discoveries, reading through the night, making soup with my students in the Duniway House kitchen while brainstorming their art, collaborating with artists and scholars of all kinds in creating a just and healthy world for everyone, walking for miles through cities and the countryside, remembering with every step how grateful I am to be alive.
A short video on how teaching at Pacific University influences my own art.
Students interested in studying creative writing, fairy tale, and trauma in literature, editing and publishing or any of the literary subjects I work in (or might be interested in working in!) are welcome to email me at Kathlene_Postma@pacificu.edu or drop by my office at Duniway House
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