Hali Felt may be a fresh face within The University of Alabama’s Department of English, but her impressive accomplishments could convince anyone that she has already established a name for herself. Growing up with a love for creative writing and the arts, she knew that her passion lay within these fields. Having recently having moved to the South, she is ready for a new adventure and excited for what lies ahead.
Where did you study/do your residencies?
I obtained my MFA from the University of Iowa and completed residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, and Portland Writers in the Schools.
What made you choose to specialize in creative writing?
I loved magazines as a kid, and by the time I got to college, I thought that I wanted to be an editor. Fortunately or unfortunately, when I started looking in to editorial internships during my freshman year, I discovered that in order to get one I’d need “clips” (published stories) that showed potential employers my writing skills. I didn’t have any, so I decided to take a journalism class—and loved it. From there, I started writing for the student newspaper at the University of Pittsburgh, became a nonfiction writing major, and did internships at newspapers and magazines. I was hooked!
Has your background/childhood had any influences on any of your writings/books?
In the beginning of Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor, I talk about how my mother used to draw maps. She was an artist, and I think that’s where I got my imagination and my confidence to choose to go into a creative field. From an early age, it was clear to me that success was an internal measure; it had to do with how happy a person was with her own work, her process, and perhaps the outcome. Other people liking the work was just icing on the cake.
Are you currently working on something new? If so, could you describe it?
I’m just putting the finishing touches on an essay about Ebola and AIDS and am working on my second book. It’s called “The Danger Model” and examines the rhetorical connections between immunology, immigration, and invasive species in order to answer a single question: What is self?
Do you have a favorite piece that you have written?
Not really. I think I have favorite sentences scattered across all of the pieces I’ve written, or a particular essay has a structure that I’m really proud of. For most things I’ve written, I know I did as best I could at the time.
Do you think that living in the South will affect your writing style?
I hope so. I just finished writing an essay about language and class in which I try to figure out where my voice on the page came from—the experiences that influenced its development—and every other place I’ve lived has had an influence on my work. I think in some ways my voice is highly impressionable. As I put it in that essay, I’m a chameleon, which I think is really important to writers of nonfiction. You want to absorb your environment and let it seep into every possible corner of your brain, so I’m excited to see how Alabama will do that for me.
What makes this university’s Department of English special in comparison to others? What have you most enjoyed about your teaching experience here?
I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of my students’ work—written and the comments they make in class. There’s a really strong sense of community here that clearly overrides the cutthroat sense of competition that’s often present in writing programs. When I listen to my students giving each other feedback during workshops, their sincere desire to understand the work and make it better is really clear to me.
In researching your impressive credentials, I noticed that you have your own website and an article about you in The New York Times. What else do you want to accomplish?
I want to keep writing about connections and patterns that people overlook in order to help people stop being scared of science. My goals for my teaching are similar—to help my students see patterns and connections in their own writing, to be conscious of the choices they’re making, and not to be afraid of research.