By Abby Weingarten
The spring semester at New College may have been filled with pandemic-related plot twists, but it didn’t stop Professor Emily Carr, Ph.D. from writing her own narrative. She found innovative ways to teach, and even experienced two of her most significant career milestones amid the chaos.
A few weeks after the campus was evacuated due to COVID-19 concerns, Carr—an extended-term visiting assistant professor of creative writing—received inspiring news. One of her poems, “Yolk,” had been published in a major literary anthology called Choice Words: Writers on Abortion (Haymarket Books, 2020). The collection, edited by Annie Finch, was released on April 7, and also included work from authors Audre Lorde, Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin.
“That was the first time my work was anthologized and it was very validating,” said Carr, who holds a Ph.D. in English/poetry from the University of Calgary, and has published four books: Directions for Flying (Furniture Press, 2010); 13 Ways of Happily: Books 1 & 2 (Parlor Press, 2011); Whosoever Has Let a Minotaur Enter Them, Or a Sonnet—(McSweeney’s Poetry Series, 2016); and Name Your Bird Without A Gun: a Tarot Romance (Spork Press, 2020).
The latter book illustrates one of Carr’s passions: creativity and the Tarot, which she has incorporated into her pedagogy at New College. In fact, this teaching technique was what led to Carr’s second writing milestone in June, when one of her pieces was published in the summer 2020 issue of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Writer’s Chronicle. The article, entitled Imagining Your Way through Pandemic: A Love Letter for Students of Creative Writing in Times of Crisis, was about Carr’s experience using Tarot card readings to enrich her curriculum.
Carr taught multiple courses in the spring: a Poetry & Performance tutorial; a Poetry Comics tutorial; a Reading the Forbidden seminar; a Poetry for Prose Writers workshop; and a Creativity & the Tarot tutorial.
“I was writing the AWP article while I was teaching remotely in the spring and, for those of us who are writers, writing is how we process things (we do that naturally as a habit),” Carr said. “I was writing this piece as a way of processing what I was doing with my students, and why; it was a survival strategy.”
Incorporating the Tarot into the tutorial informed the students’ writing exercises and allowed them to share their emotions “in generative and growth-ful ways,” Carr said.
“There was something about all the intense emotions we were experiencing in the spring semester, separately but also together, that allowed us to collaborate in ways we may not have otherwise,” Carr said. “It’s so easy to lose our voices in moments like this, and that is exactly when you need to remember you have a voice. The Tarot helped us to speak through emotions—like fear, anxiety, anger and grief—that we would rather go around.”
Thesis-student Bianca Jeanphillipe said Carr’s Tarot class made her “feel like a real writer for the first time.”
“The Tarot cards made me interpret art in new ways, and opened up new avenues of thinking between art and my writing,” Jeanphillipe said. “I had never used Tarot cards before that class but I’m a total believer now; the energy you put in it puts back out. I want to buy my own Tarot cards now so I can use them to guide my future creative writing pieces.”
It was a combination of the cards and Carr herself that guided Jeanphillipe during her tumultuous final semester at New College.
“Dr. Carr was a pillar of support and a source of normalcy for me during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Jeanphillipe said. “And I felt like our Google hangout meetings were always impactful, purposeful and supportive.”
Carr is continuing to make an impact in both her New College classes and the literary world, as her voice now has more visibility than ever (she also published a piece on storytelling and the Tarot in the fall of 2019 in the American Poetry Review). Having her writing appear in the AWP at the end of the spring semester put her work—and New College, in general—in a positive light during a dark era.
“The AWP is the largest creative writing organization in the world,” Carr said. “This means we, our students and our pedagogy are being featured to a community of nearly 50,000 writers; 550 college and university creative writing programs; and 150 writers’ conferences and centers. That’s something to celebrate in these strange and brutal times.”
To read Carr’s writing, visit ifshedrawsadoor.com
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.