By: Sara Ann Alexander
As of June 2015, Cherry Hall boasts a new paperback along the shelves reserved for English faculty publications. Dr. Tom Hunley’s PLUNK is his latest full-length book and just one of the tenured professor’s many accomplishments.
According to our own Professor Mary Ellen Miller, “these poems are so touching, so amusing, so fresh and profound in their originality that they are like poetry prescriptions for a malaise you did not know you have. They will upstage your bourbon, your valium, your boredom and introduce you to a new self.”
This description also fits Dr. Hunley himself, who recently co-edited an essay collection titled Creative Writing Pedagogies for the Twenty-First Century (Southern Illinois University Press 2015), as well as poems in Crab Orchard Review, Exquisite Corpse, The North American Review, The New York Quarterly, River Styx, TriQuarterly, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among many others.
Before his teaching career began at WKU in 2003, the long-versed writer obtained an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University and his Ph.D. in English from Florida State University.
Hunley is very excited about WKU’s own MFA program, which was approved this spring and is “just the fifth or sixth terminal degree at WKU. I am very pleased that the Provost came through with very good funding for all admitted students. At most programs, funding is either nonexistent (which leaves everyone in debt) or competitive (which divides a writing community between the haves and the have-nots).” Hunley also states that WKU may be the first MFA program in the country to require each student to complete a secondary emphasis in one of the English department’s other specialties.
In addition to writing books and poetry, as well as directing Steel Toe Books, a “small, independent poetry press affiliated with Western Kentucky University,” Hunley teaches introductory level and upper level classes. Course titles he’s taught in the past include Intermediate Poetry Writing, Graduate Writing Workshop, and American Poetry to name a few. One Special Topics course that is close to the musician/writer’s heart was The Music of Poetry; The Poetry of Music, where Hunley instructed students in writing song lyrics.
His students, such as Louisville senior Steven Phelps, appreciate his guidance. “Dr. Tom has kept me writing when I’m in his class. I know that sounds small but fostering an open environment where students feel free to write as they feel inspired has been essential to their growth as writers… Also, I’ve always found his revisions of my work to be insightful and well thought out.”
Senior Derek Ellis of Owenton, Kentucky concurs in that Hunley activates and hones quality writing from his students. “I think that’s the one thing I value the most from taking writing courses with Dr. Tom,” he said. “In a way, he’s much like an Obi-Wan figure. He will hand you a light saber, teach you the way of the force, and tell you all about the tools you can make use of, and he will do it all as a mentor, never a dictator… I’d rather have a professor who’s willing to tear down the awful house I’ve built and help me build a better structure, than to leave my terrible house standing and simply cover it in A+ stickers.”
Hunley’s own creativity does not go unnoticed by many in the classroom either. “The thing about Dr. Tom that mostly sticks out to me is his poetry collection where all the poems are written about his fake ex-wife. I find it so interesting he’s able to let his mind wonder to another part of life that he’s never experienced, but can still capture the emotions,” WKU graduate Cicely Walters of Campbellsville reflected.
The State That Springfield is In is Hunley’s forthcoming book due in January 2016. It is self-described as a “book of forty dramatic monologues in the voices of characters from The Simpsons” to come from Split Lip Press—a company self-described as punk rock publishing.
His newest project is tentatively titled Lies and is a book-length manuscript of self-epitaphs (which I personally invite you to try writing at least once—I wrote my first self-epitaph in Hunley’s class!). Here is a sample to come from that book:
Here lies Tom C. Hunley, Ph.D.,
who, as a professor of literature,
refused to acknowledge popular books
about vampires, dragons, and especially zombies
which he used to rail against
in between bitter sips of the coffee
that gave him his zip and pep
he said poetry sings the song
of the human heart
and literary fiction tells its story
What does Dr. Hunley know
about the human heart,
we wondered, as he boarded up
his doors and windows
to shut us out
he had sown inside us
a hunger and thirst
for the amazing human heart,
and we have to say
his tasted delicious,
If you’re interested in finding out more about Steel Toe Books, check out their website http://www.steeltoebooks.com/ or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Steel-Toe-Books/207649889275476?sk=info&tab=page_info.
If you think WKU’s MFA program might jive with your general direction, check it out here! http://www.wku.edu/english/mfa_creative_writing.php