Interview with Mark Spitzer


Interview with Mark Spitzer


Mark Spitzer


An interview with author Mark Spitzer at The New Nature Writing, Lake Forest College's Literary Festival 2012.


Catherine Masek






Catherine Masek


Mark Spitzer


Harmon Lounge, Carnegie Hall, Lake Forest College


LFC Lit Fest Tuesday Feb. 28th 10am

Author Interviews: Mark Spitzer

It’s All Just One Mother-fucking Environment

CM:   So my first question is, what brought you to writing in general and then environmental writing in particular?

MS:   My mother raised me with an appreciation for the arts.  I was always being shuttled off to film classes or art. My mom was an art teacher.  I thought I was going to be a visual artist when I was a kid.  I just got so engaged by reading the books in the house and at school and stuff that I was greedy for what I was interested in, basically.  So I went that direction.  And with environmental, I have to credit my dad with that because he was always taking me out fishing, taking me out sailing, taking me out in the woods and hunting and I liked it.  We had a creek in front of our house when I was a kid and I would always go over there and catch crayfish and minnows and other fish and we had a aquarium and kept all sorts of creatures in there and I still have a bunch of aquariums to this day and I love watching fish.  So I grew up with those appreciations and was always out stomping around in the snow and fishing, but then when I went to graduate school in 1990 at the University of Colorado, one of the first classes I took was an environmental writing course with Linda Hogan, and I had no idea what it was about.  I thought it was nature writing.  I had no idea there was this whole conscious study of the environment in creative writing and there were environmental writers and then there was philosophy, and I was amazed and I just became obsessed.  I felt like I’d fallen right into my niche.  There was just no turning back.

CM:  Great.  I know you went to undergrad in Minnesota; did you grow up in Minnesota? 

MS:  Yep.

CM:  You’ve just always had that wonderful access to the outdoors?

MS:  Yeah, yeah.

CM:  Okay, question number two.  How would you classify your writing and style as a writer?  Do you have a single or a multifaceted voice and how would you define your voice as a writer?  Some of these will overlap with the informal talk and things like that.

MS:  It was Ed Roberson who said yesterday something about people not having different directions in their writing.  They write one corpus that’s all their own life.  And I think that’s an interesting way to look at it.  I mean corpus, the body of somebody’s work, Latin, you know.  I write in all different genres. I write in poetry, I write in fiction, I write in creative non-fiction, but there are similarities in style and in attitude and language and I think they’re pretty universal throughout my work.  Was part of this question to characterize my style?

CM:  A bit.  If you have a sense of how you would label your own writing style. 

MS:  Like in the piece I gave you that I read yesterday, I characterize myself as an overgrown punk.  Not as in a punk rocker sense, but in more the 50s sense of punk.  All rebellious and wanting to deviate from the norm.  I look at myself in the mirror, and I don’t see a professor.  I can’t believe someone would give me that authority.  Yeah.  I feel like a punk because my attitude is still in that area.  I, of course, do scholarship in French literature and environmental studies and stuff and these things inform my punk attitude and make me a punk with arguments.  But, I like experimenting, playing with metaphors.  I think my teaching also lends something to my style, because now that I’m a teacher I’m preaching to my students directions to take, approaches to take, techniques to use, so I’ve become a little more conscious of that sort of thing.  And, I think you asked me about my use of sense of humor.

CM:  Mhm, it’s very strong.

MS:  It’s something that I can see in others’ senses of humor.  Like I can see Edward Abbey’s sense of humor.  Are you familiar with his work?

CM:  Maybe.

MS:  Well, he’s got some sense of humor.  He takes these very serious subjects but he makes them accessible by turning them into something people want to read about, by infusing himself into the work.  I also think about Charles Bukowski, a very popular writer.  He became the best selling poet on the planet because people appreciated his sense of humor.  Sort of crude and obnoxious and he’s sometimes even a misogynist and etc.  But there’s things there that people connect with and appreciate and identify with.  So, like Abby and Bukowski, have influenced me and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who I’ve translated, has really influenced me.  But now I’m bummed at him because I’ve read his anti-Semitic literature, which has never been translated before, and now it’s been translated, and it’s like finding out your dad’s a rapist or something.

CM:  Yeah. Unfortunate.

MS:  So I’ll just end that answer with an ellipse.

CM: Okay.  No, no that’s great.  Third question is, do you differentiate between writing and environmental writing?  What’s the difference, and do you view yourself as an environmental writer or a writer who happens to write on environmental topics? 

MS:   Yeah, yeah, that’s interesting.  I’d choose the latter, because environmental writing is just a part of what I do.  Could you repeat the first part of that question again?

CM: Yep.  Do you differentiate between writing and environmental writing and then what’s the difference?

MS: Oh, yeah I do differentiate.  You know, some people say everything’s political and in a sense that’s true, but I do environmental writing and I also do book reviews and scholarship or French literature and I still do some translating and this stuff doesn’t involve environmental writing at all.  I think the difference is…  I’m always differentiating between nature writing and environmental writing for my students—

CM:  Okay, that’s a follow-up question.

MS:  So nature writing basically came from the pastoral, or religious writing of the 19th century, in American lit at least, and it’s religious in tone in the sense that it’s like “oh the beauty, oh look at the pretty flowers and the nice trees” and sometimes there’s correlations between how the stuff relates to God or is God in a Transcendental sort of way.  But environmental writing has a deeper consciousness.  It’s informed by science.  It’s informed by culture, conflicts that are going on at the time, and it looks ahead to the long term.  So there’s this whole body of literature that informs environmental writing that I think writers in this area have to know about.  I mean, like you can be a poet and just write poetry.  You can be a musician and just write music; but, you know, if you’re going to be a classical musician—

CM:  You need to study classical music.

MS:  Yes, right. And the philosophies that inform it and the politics of the time, what’s happening in history, you know like Wagner, there’s all sorts of wars and conflicts behind a lot of his compositions and I think it’s the same with environmental writing.  There’s a war going on right now between basically the right and left in American literature and America.  And there’s a fear-thing going on too, a Fox News-sort of thing going on, that’s circumventing the truth and putting a very dangerous spin on what’s going on.  There’s morality also involved in environmental writing.  Like right now there’s an argument about the Keystone Pipeline and the right is saying it must happen so we can have jobs, but behind this is the oil companies driving it all, the petrochem companies.  And of course the left is saying we can’t have this toxic stuff leaking; look we just had BP oil spill.  So there’s the Keystone Pipeline going on. And this is an argument that’s been going on for years and years and years.  It was no different ten years ago.  It was no different twenty years ago.  It’s just a different pipeline, different thing.  Drill, baby, drill.  So, environmental writing is very conscious of the Now, what’s going on, and what could be going on.  I mean, it’s serious business too because the planet’s at stake.  We’re loosing ten percent of our polar ice cap every decade.  We’re loosing one percent of our planetary air conditioning every year.  In 100 years it’s estimated we won’t have any polar ice caps.  I don’t know how the planet can exist that way.  The jet streams are just going to be going all over, there’s going to be floods everywhere.  The birds will hatch and the bugs they usually eat—

CM: —will be out of sync.  

MS:  Yeah, right, and so the strongest species will take over and we’re going to lose a lot.  Species are already crashing like crazy.

CM:  We are the next mass extinction.  Anthropogenic.

MS:  Right.

CM:  Okay, well, I guess you’ve already answered quite a bit of question number four, but I’ll read it anyway because the last one is a little different.  What does environmental writing mean to you, which you’ve already addressed.  What is an environment?  The Environment, in capitals.  Is there a difference between environmental writing and nature writing, which you’ve answered, and then what is your environment?

MS:  Let’s start with what is an environment and the Environment.  That’s a really interesting question because there are ecosystems and there are systems within those systems and then there’s the larger system and there’s the universe. The whole idea of an ecosystem is a system in which codependent organisms all have an effect on each other.  There’s always a question, you know, between the local and the global.  A lot of writers say act globally, others say act locally and that’s how you act globally.  I think starting locally is a practical place.  I mean, working within your smaller environment can have an effect on the larger environment.  That’s what happened with my gar studies, like what I said yesterday:  I’m not able to affect a lot, but I’m able to make a small difference in my local area.  I work with the gars, tagging them, tracking them, writing about them, and this stuff gets picked up on by people like Jeremy Wade, who then takes my research—I forgot to say yesterday that he also jacked some of my research.

CM:  Claimed it as his own?

MS:  Yeah, he did.  He took a lot of information from me and he wrote a book called River Monsters, which came out a couple years ago or so, and he’s got a whole chapter on alligator gar and he presented a lot of my findings as his own and he didn’t really credit me, but I’m not complaining because I’m in it for the gar.  The gar are being served.  As for what my environment is, these days we’re in a really mobile culture.  People don’t live in one place anymore.  They live in all sorts of places.  People used to buy a house and live there all their lives, you know, and now people buy and sell houses like cars.  People follow jobs.  We’re increasingly becoming creatures of multi-environments, environments that are thousands of miles away from each other, really.  Our parents live a thousand miles away and we go visit them and then we’re in that environment.  We go on vacation and we’re in another environment.  But as to my specific environments right now, I would say that the bayous and swamps of Arkansas, and the rivers of Arkansas, are my main environment.  The foothills of the Ozark Mountains are my environment.  The Ouachita Mountains and the Ozark Mountains, because that’s where I live, and that’s where I’m sorta making a stand.  I’ve made stands in other places and I still have an appreciation for those places and think of those places as my environment even though I’m not there.  It’s like what Janis Joplin said, “It’s all one mother-fucking day, man.”  Meaning it’s all connected, there’s not just one day, it’s true.  It’s all one mother-fucking day.  It’s all just one mother-fucking environment.

CM:  All right.  To follow-up on that, you say you’ve made a stand in a lot of places.  You feel like you belonged to the environment.  Do you believe that in order for a place to become an environment to a person there needs to be a stake in it?

MS:  Hmm, no.  I don’t think so.  I think people can be detached from an environment and be in an environment.  They can still appreciate it. They can still be affected by it.  I lived in Missouri before I lived in Arkansas and there was a big controversy over water issues in the area because there was this lake six miles north of the town I lived in and that lake was the water supply for us.  There was an underhanded deal which our corrupt city council and mayor initiated in which the land around the water supply was sold to a cattle polluter.  So that meant that there’d be a lot of fecal matter getting into the lake through run-off and our local sewage facility didn’t have the capacity to filter out 100% of the contaminants.  So I started writing letters to the editor of the newspapers around there, just because I wanted to protect the place where I fish, where I felt a connection to the land.  And there were people in the town that disagreed with me, and people in the town who were indifferent, but they were still affected by that environment.  In the end, I lost the battle, and four people got E.coli, and one cat got E.coli, and were hospitalized.  They were affected by their environment.  I don’t know if they had a stake in the environment or not—the cat probably didn’t—but regardless if you have some stake in your environment, you are a part of that environment, you are part of that system, a part of that ecosystem.  So it pays to have a stake because you can keep yourself and your family healthier.  You’re aware of what’s going on.  So that’s my answer. 

CM:  Okay, great.  Thank you.  On to number five.  What is the purpose of writing to/for you and the purpose of environmental writing?

MS:  I have different objectives depending on what I’m writing, but for environmental writing I’m just going to recycle the Thoreau quote, “don’t just be good, be good for something.”  I don’t want to just be somebody who uses the resources and doesn’t give back.  I want to be somebody who tries to preserve resources for future generations even though I don’t plan on reproducing.

CM:  There will be a next generation.

MS:  Yeah, I want other people to be able to enjoy it and more importantly I want the animals to be able to keep using it, and so that’s my purpose.  There was another part of that question.

CM:  The purpose of writing in general.  So your other forms of writing.

MS:  There are some self-serving reasons why every writer writes.  For me, it’s part of my nature and it’s just something that I do and I can’t not do.  It’s also part of my livelihood and existence.  As a teacher and a professional I need to keep publishing, keep writing, but that’s not really what drives me.  I think it’s just my nature to, it’s my ambition to have a purpose, to do stuff that’s utilitarian for myself, otherwise I’d just be really depressed.  There’s a therapeutic quality.  A lot of people write just to figure things out for themselves.  I don’t do that so much anymore.  I used to do that, especially with poetry, when I was younger.  But I think, mostly, it’s for selfish reasons that I write.  And that’s not a judgmental quality; the self is just programmed.

CM:  It comes from you.  Your need to do it.

MS:  Yeah, like a squirrel hunts around for nuts.  It’s what they do. 

CM:  To play off that, do you view writing as a hunt for those nuts?  Is it something you find or is it something you have internal?  Is it an internal or external force?

MS:  It’s internal.  Hunting for those nuts.  Yeah, there are a lot of people who have no drive to hunt for nuts, you know, there’s a lot of couches and a lot of TVs in this world and a lot of people look at time as something to just burn up so as to get to something that they’re interested in doing.  I like to think of time as something that needs to be used wisely or else it’s being wasted.

CM:  I agree with a lot of things you say.  So on to the sixth then.  You touched on this briefly, but do you write with an—internal or external—articulated writing philosophy?  If so what is it?  And the second part of the question is, how do you approach the page, with intention or openness?  You commented briefly on this earlier in the informal talk yesterday.

MS:  Hmm, no, I don’t have an articulated philosophy.  I probably have one, or more, but at the center of that philosophy is more of just the natural drive to hunt for nuts, I think.   But I don’t think I could really articulate a philosophy.  I think I’m sort of anti-philosophizing about that drive.  I’d rather just do it, yeah.

CM:  Okay, well that leads into how you approach the page when you’re coming to writing.  You talked about that a little bit.

MS:  I like to do it in the morning.  It’s just my best writing time.  After I’ve had my injection of caffeine.  I just want it to be silent.  I like to isolate myself now.  I go out to the shed.  I have a shed outside where we keep the bicycles and the shovels, you know, and buckets and stuff and that’s where my desk is.  It’s away from the house.  And there’s a window and I can look out the window and we live right on the lake and so some birds will come by and I can see the plants growing and I can see the cats walking around in the yard and it just puts me in my zone.  I got a heater out there.  I got an air conditioner out there.

CM: Okay, so all season.

MS:  I believe in isolation, in isolating myself.  I’m a bathosphere writer.  I do my best work, I imagine, when I’m inside a container that’s submerged under water or up in a tree or something, but away from other people—where there are no distractions, where it just becomes me and my thoughts and the computer in front of me.

CM:  Okay, that brings us to seven.  Do you agree or disagree with the following statements:  a) writing is communication, b) writing is self-expression, c) writing is art and d) writing is a tool.  Why, do you agree or disagree?  Are any of these statements mutually exclusive or mutually inclusive?

MS:  Okay, I agree with all of those except the third one.

CM:  That writing is art?

MS:  Yeah, I don’t agree that writing is art.  I agree that sometimes it’s art.  I think there’s also a lot of crap out there.  This is all based on taste and opinion of course, but I think most writing is not art.  Texts like how to build a canoe are not art.  Or how to clean a rug is not art.  I think that’s more of a tool.  But even the stuff that is art is a tool for the imagination.  You’re continuing a tradition of the imagination, communicating to the imagination, through the imagination.  What was the mutually exclusive part?

CM:  Are any of these statements mutually exclusive or mutually inclusive?

MS:  Yes.

CM:  Yes?  So, mutually inclusive?

MS:  Yes, and mutually exclusive.  See, “mutually exclusive” and “mutually inclusive,” these are terms like “unconditional love.”  I don’t understand that whenever I hear that.  You know, I love you unconditionally.  What does that mean?  I guess I know what it means, but “there’s not conditions.”  My brain just stops.  It’s an area my brain’s just not willing to go.

CM:  I guess I’ll rephrase, since you talked about the art and the tool.  But can writing be both a form of self-expression and a form of communication?

MS:  That’s what it mostly is.

CM:  Mostly is.  It is both?

MS:  Those are just two of the things they are.  There probably are a hundred more things they are. 

CM:  Okay.  Question eight.  Should authors write about what they know or about their own environment?  And then, how would you define knowledge for a writer?  Is it research and study on a topic or experience?

MS:  Okay, starting with should they write about what they know.  Yes.  And they should also write about what they don’t know.  Both are really interesting areas for different reasons.  I automatically think about the Ken Kesey experiment.  When he was a professor at the University of Oregon, he had a graduate workshop where he defied the idea of people writing about what they know. He had students in the class come up with a subject that none of them knew anything about, because the idea was it would be all new, nobody would know anything more than anybody else, they could research it together and they’d be using their imaginations even more than if they had facts.  They came up with the theme of spelunking, exploring caves.   Everybody in the class wrote a chapter and they put it together and workshopped the whole book.  Then they got the book published.  So that was a really interesting project.   When you go into an area that you don’t know about, the doors are wide open.  It’s all new, it’s all exciting, it’s all interesting.  Sometimes when you get really into a subject you can get bored by some of the details.  That’s one reason why writing about what you don’t know is important. Also, it keeps things new for writers to keep entering areas where they don’t know things.  It’s also valuable when they do know things and they can communicate these things, so it’s good to have a balance of both.  And what was the knowledge question?

CM:  How would you define knowledge for a writer?  Is it research and study on a topic or more experience?

MS:  I’d say both.  And both can involve failure and mistakes; you know, getting burned and often embracing the wrong knowledge.  What makes knowledge effective is when it’s put to the test, to the scientific test, and others are given the chance to disprove something in a way.  And this can be done in art and in creative writing too.  I mean, that’s what the workshop method is about.  It’s about presenting your work to others and having others look, and not just for flaws, but to find ways to make it stronger and more effective.  It’s a matter of reframing the investigation, I think. 

CM:  That brings us to nine.   If you had one piece of advice for aspiring environmental writers, a take-home message, what would it be?  In addition to buying pants.

MS:  A very important essay to read these days is David Gessner’s “Sick of Nature,” and it’s in his book called Sick of Nature, which came out in 2005.  It’s an essay that talks about making environmental writing new because nature writing is this genre that a lot of people identify with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and some of the basic Transcendental philosophy.  Gessner’s essay is a manifesto that calls for injecting ecowriting with a new perspective, new attitude, to basically to explode the old voice and inject one’s self more into the action and the investigation and to do some of the things that fiction does to entice readers.  It’s important to make environmental writing interesting for a new generation.  I mean, people think of environmental writing as something from the left and it’s rhetorical and didactic, so it’s important to make eco-writing accessible and interesting. The only way a new audience is going to be sucked in is if the language can speak to them.

CM:  A couple more questions, more book focused:  so, in Season of the Gar, as the author, are you writing to a particular audience?  If so, who is your intended or expected audience?  Do you view your work as universally accessible and is this a desirable trait in writing?

MS:  These questions are like sandwiches with all sorts of layers of meats and cheeses.  What was the first part of the meat?

CM:  Are you writing to a particular audience?

MS:  Yeah.  I’m focusing on a sort of general mainstream audience.  I’m sort of writing for university presses now with this sort of thing and so I have to tone down my natural voice in a way.  I have to take out all the “shits” and “fucks” to make my work more marketable, and so I do.  I don’t really write with that tone so much anymore as much as I used to, but I need to show myself as a professional who can appeal to young readers just as much as old readers and I can cross borders with audiences.  So I am writing for editors of university presses basically, and college-published literary journals, so I’m keeping those audiences in mind so as to reach as many people as I can. 

CM:  Okay.  That feeds into the other part of the question.  Do you view your work as universally accessible and is that a desirable trait in writing?

MS:  I don’t think it’s universally accessible.  I mean, first of all, it’s only in one language.  It could be translated, but there are some cultures that wouldn’t be as interested in what I’m writing about.  But I do think I’m writing with as much of a universal audience in mind as I can reach.  But you know, there’s what, seven billion people on the planet now?  So I don’t think that I can write for everybody.  I mean, there are peasants starving in India whose main concern is just getting something to eat and they may be interested in what I have to say, they may agree or disagree with what I have to say, but it’s impossible to reach everybody.  I don’t know if we’re talking about the same idea of “universally.”  What do you think of “universally accessible”?  What would the idea be?

CM:  That there is no such thing as a generic reader, but that anyone coming to this book—given the context of the book and the book itself—be able to understand and gain from what you have to comment on.

MS:  “Accessible” is really the keyword there.  I want it to be accessible.  There are people who just aren’t going to agree with my style or my approach to it.  For instance, when this book was reviewed by the University of Oklahoma Press before I went to the University of Arkansas Press, one of the readers they sent the book out to was this guy who runs the most popular gar site in the country, and he did not like my tone at all.  He did not like the way I was running around with Hippie, in a sort of Gonzo Hunter S. Thompson type of way.  He thought that I was bringing a lack of credibility to the subject matter.  He also did not like the fact that I misquoted him on something.  So he gave me a horrible negative review and that’s all right.  It was his taste.  But a year later, after a year of revising and going to another press, maybe two years later, the book finally came out and he immediately got on Amazon and gave it a negative review based on the manuscript he had read two years ago.

CM: Ah.  

MS:  In fact, I had heeded a lot of his advice and I’d toned down my Gonzo approach because of his advice. So I wrote him back and I said what you’re doing is just not helpful at all.  It’s not helping the gar and I wish you didn’t do that.  He removed his reader review from Amazon pretty much immediately, but whatever you write about there’s always going to be some naysayers out there.

CM:  Okay. Season of the Gar is not your first, or you most recent, book.  How does it fit into your career as a writer, your writing arch or journey?  Does it reflect you as a writer today, in part or whole?

MS:  In part, yeah.  But I’m probably about four or five different writers.  One is the environmental fish writer and that one is the centerpiece of that career.  I’m working on a new book now, the sequel to this one, called Return of the Gar.  I don’t know if I told you about the idea behind this book.  Did I tell you about this one?

CM:  I don’t think so.  You mentioned it briefly, but I don’t think you went into detail.

MS:  The idea is that there is a coordinated effort for these fish going on now:   state agencies, federal agencies, private laboratories, hatcheries, commercial fisheries.  People are working together to try to preserve these fish.  There’s an international gar conference every year now and so there’s all these members of this international gar network, that’s what it’s called.  And, the communication is great.  People are working together. Every year they meet and—they’re mostly scientists—they discuss the science.  They have panels, people read papers, people present their research and then there’s a big crawfish boil at the end.  It usually happens in Louisiana.  And as the result of these people working together, the information is getting out about these fish and the laws are being changed right now.  The laws have recently changed in Texas and Arkansas and the fish are coming back.  I’m seeing them coming back.  We’re catching a new generation of them now in Arkansas, which is great.  I’ve been going out and capturing them and tagging them with the biologists at our university and this year we went out to the hole where we only catch the old gars.  There’s never anything in there under five feet long, alligator gars.  This year, however, we went out there, and there was a new generation.  There were two-footers and three-footers and four-footers and we’re happy because that’s what we’d been working for.  The gar are returning, they’re making a come back now.  Of course, it’s still very delicate.  It could all be shattered in an instant.  So I like the idea of them returning and that’s the whole idea of the book.  So I present all these narratives and information and stuff framed around that.  That’s mostly going to be the first half of the book.  The second half of the book, I’m going to go after gar that I’ve never gone after in other countries.  They’ve introduced alligator gar in Thailand for the sportfishing industry and I’d really like to go over there and see what’s going on with that and fish with them over there because they have swamps that are similar to ours and rivers that are similar to ours.  You can also fish for them now in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  This is a different type of gar.  They’re called tropical gar down there.  They’re a cousin of the alligator gar and they’re big.  They’re also in Cuba—Caribbean gar—I think it would be really cool to go over there and fish for them.  I want to expand my gar view to make it more global.  So gar started as an interest for me and they became something that is really central to my identity now, as a teacher and as a writer.

CM:  And that leads me to my last question.

MS: Yep.

CM: Would you comment briefly on the work and writing you’re doing and pursuing today?  You mentioned the sequel.  Would you also talk a little about the Toad Suck Review?  As well as yourself as a professor?  There’s a new MFA you’ve started.  Would you talk about those briefly?

MS:  Yeah, I also have another bohemian memoir I’ve just finished and I’m going to work on shopping that around soon.  I’ve also been doing some studies of Arkansas monsters.  I’ve been researching these folklore legends and I’ve been putting the information into poetry in the form of investigative poetics.  I’m really having a hard time interesting people in publishing those, but it’s really good stuff and I want to see what happens with that.  The Toad Suck Review, that’s really a part of my teaching at the University of Central Arkansas.  Half my job, basically, is editing and managing this literary journal which was born out of the Exquisite Corpse, which was this legendary literary journal that was published by Andrei Codrescu, which started in 1983.  I became a part of that team in the 90s.  It was out of print, online, for about a decade or so and I brought it back into print at the university, in Arkansas.  We put out two issues of those, but then Andrei, he was the editor in chief, he became involved in other things, so we had to make a transition to another literary journal.  We live in the Toad Suck region of Arkansas—which is named for the ferryboat captains who used to wait for customers to cross the Arkansas River, who would hang out in the tavern and suck down the booze until they became bloated like toads, toad suck.  It’s a colorful name.  So we transitioned to the Toad Suck Review.  I market that, I promote that journal, I edit the stuff, I solicit work from well-known writers, we get submissions from all over the world.  We’re not just a national literary journal.  We’ve become an international, very quirky, very entertaining forum. People really appreciate it.  Part of my deal with the Dean when I started this publishing program with the University of Central Arkansas was that I’d also design the MFA program that the Writing Department had always been talking about.  So I basically worked with a couple different committees for three years to design this program and then I sheparded the proposal through all these levels of bureaucracy and finally got it accepted.  It’s a new innovative studio program, meaning that there’s not so many literature classes; it’s mostly workshops and internships and independent studies.  A lot of hands-on work, forms classes, theory.  So it’s a really specialized program, a very small program.  We’ll admit five students per year and it’s a three-year program.  There will never be more than fifteen students so the students will get a lot of individual attention.  It will emphasize publishing and pedagogy, meaning every student will be trained in publishing and editing, software, marketing, online, in print.  And every student will be trained in teaching creative writing as well as college composition so when they graduate from this program they’re going to be highly marketable and they’re going to have a lot of opportunities.  I think it’s really going to be a cutting-edge program.  I’m really excited to see what’s going to happen for Arkansas.  It’s really going to bring a lot of culture to our area and it’s going to be good for our region.  It’ll be interesting to see.

CM:  You got all the way through all my expansive questions.  So thank you again for speaking with me, Mark Spitzer.

MS:  Yeah, really good questions too.

Original Format

audio file


56 minutes 42 seconds

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1411 kbps




Catherine Masek, “Interview with Mark Spitzer,” Digital Collections - Lake Forest College, accessed May 21, 2019,

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