About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.
Austin Segrest, recipient of the 2022 Faculty Convocation Award, saw his debut book, Door to Remain, garner significant praise even before it hit bookshelves this spring.
The book of poetry from the Lawrence University assistant professor of English took home the 2021 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize last year. Published by University of North Texas Press, the deeply personal book presents poems focused on Segrest’s mother, Susu, who died in 2003 when he was 23, and his time growing up in Alabama.
Segrest, whose poetry also can be found in Poetry, The Yale Review, The Threepenny Review, Ecotone, New England Review, and Ploughshares, will deliver the Honors Convocation address at 12:30 p.m. May 27 in Memorial Chapel.
He has been teaching at Lawrence since 2014, first as a visiting professor and for the last three years as an assistant professor of English. He teaches classes in poetry writing and literature, as well as First-Year Studies.
Segrest earned a bachelor’s degree from Emory University, an MFA in poetry at Georgia State University, and a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing (poetry) at the University of Missouri.
We caught up with him to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.
In the classroom
Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?
Though I’m an English prof, I was a classics major and like to think I still approach writing in a way that takes no word or phrase for granted. I believe in the benefits of othering language. By othering language I mean seeing language operate from the outside, rather than taking it for granted from within/seeing through a single system. When the material and artifice that language actually is are revealed, greater expressive possibilities open up.
Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
My first book, Door to Remain, won the 2021 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize. I’ve been working on, and trying to publish, versions of that book since 2008. I’m interested in the idea of publishing as a kind of finding, and being found by, communities. I’m excited to foster communities of thinking and writing.
Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?
My second book of poems, Groom, which I’m working on now, took an unexpected turn when I started understanding some of my formative teenage experiences in a predatory context. It’s been crucially illuminating, personally, but also very difficult to confront, get right, share, and generally feel OK about.
Out of the classroom
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
I’d be an editor of a poetry press. Or I’d own a vintage junk shop—jewelry, knickknacks, artwork. With used books and coffee.
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
I like to read on the bench tucked away between the Wellness Center and the VR, overlooking the river.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
Book: Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, by Merlin Sheldrake
Album: Jailbreak, by Thin Lizzy
Movie: Teen Witch