UMass Boston Professor Publishes New Book

Bonnie Godas

The Mass Media was lucky enough to catch up with professor an esteemed author Jill McDonough to chat about her latest publication, her accomplishments and what you can do to follow in her literary footsteps.

Mass Media: What courses do you teach here at UMB?

Jill McDonough: I teach Reading and Writing Poetry at the undergrad and graduate levels this term; next term I’m teaching Advanced Poetry and a Capstone course I designed, “Advice from the Hangman: Literature and Law.” I used to work here on the weekends, teaching creative writing in Continuing Studies; this time around I’m in the creative writing department as a visiting writer for the year.

MM: What’s your journey from school to now publishing your own work been like?

JM: I went to Stanford as an undergrad, and got my master’s in poetry at BU. Since then I’ve applied for every grant, residency, and fellowship I ever heard of– I’ve gotten a lot of writing done and made some great friends through the NEA, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library, and the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford. I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing writers, including Denise Levertov and Eavan Boland at Stanford and Robert Pinsky at BU– they made being a poet and professor look like a good time.

MM: Who are some of your favorite writers that you enjoy reading and drawing inspiration from?

JM: Elizabeth Bishop, George Eliot, B. H. Fairchild, Yusef Komunyakaa, Seamus Heaney, Louise Gluck. I have a lot of favorite authors.

MM: What can students gain from the English department and writing programs here?

JM: Students can gain access to amazing writers who really care about their students. They can also establish a life-long relationship with literature that entertain them and help them make sense of the world. The department also will help students with their ability to better express themselves. In any realm– personal, academic, business– good writing is good writing.

MM: How has being a professor helped you with your own writing?

JM: Teaching has helped me construct assignments for myself, to keep the writing process fun. I do a million different things with my students–getting them to copy down lines of iambic pentameter they hear on TV, going to the MFA to write poems about mummies, using the Oxford English Dictionary to explore and write about the roots of words, writing pastorals outside, translating ancient Greek. I keep my students’ writing assignments exciting and fresh with the same tricks I use in my own writing.

MM: What can we expect from you in the future?

JM: I’m working on a manuscript of poems that draws on old medical texts– so old they have chapters called “Of Women’s Testicles.” I have a poem in it called “Breasts Like Martinis”– it appeared in Slate, and recently I saw that somebody translated it into Spanish. It never occurred to me, but I love it in Spanish–“Tetas Como Martinis” sounds pretty good, no? You can view the English version at: I’m reading with UMASS Faculty members John Fulton, Askold Melnyczuk, Joyce Peseroff, and Lloyd Schwartz at 2pm on November 23 at Newtonville Books, and in Chicago and Vermont later this winter. . .

MM: Any additional advice for students?

JM: Students who want to break into the literary world should find like-minded friends and read as many literary magazines as they can find. My favorite is The Threepenny Review, but poke around online and find some that speak to you; a good clearing house with links to a bunch of them is

For more information on Jill McDonough’s first publication, Habeas Corpus, be sure to visit

smp/9781844714728.htm. You can also view some of McDonough’s poetry by visiting the NEA website at: And be sure to check out Jill McDonough and other UMB faculty at the November 23 reading event in the bookstore.

Amy Julian contributed to this article