Congratulations to MFA Creative Writing alumna Rajpreet Heir (‘16) who accepted a tenure-track assistant professorship in Creative Nonfiction at Ithaca College. Heir spoke with our Graduate Admissions Coordinator Holly Mason (MFA ’17) about her journey.
Trajectory after the MFA and on the way to this position:
Heir moved to New York City after the MFA, which she refers to as one of the craziest decisions she’s ever made. After being unemployed for three months, going through buckets of interviews, and experiencing job search depression, she landed a contract position at Getty Images in an Internal Communications role. The job was a delight and actually served her own creative writing well. “The break was good from only focusing on writing” Heir says. “It shook up everything I knew.” She says that, “When you have a paycheck from something other than writing, your writing isn’t as tied to your identity.” Because of the type of writing she was doing for Getty, she felt better able to “attack a blank page.” After the position at Getty Images, she spent the past three years working for TED full time, starting on the content and editorial side then moving into the conference team, where she worked on a large equity initiative to diversify the TED Talk audience.
Heir knew she wanted to teach eventually, but wasn’t sure it would happen so soon. She applied for the Ithaca College position in November 2019 after her previous MFA professor, Tim Denevi, suggested that she apply. She almost didn’t apply, but was further nudged by a friend, fortunately. She also had a number of friends who she practiced her 45-minute job talk and mock class with to get feedback. After going through about 4 rounds of interviews, she received the call saying she got the job!
What she is looking forward to in her new position as a nonfiction professor at Ithaca College:
This schoolyear, Heir will teach creative nonfiction, personal essay, writing for the workplace, and academic writing. She’s looking forward to sharing her love of and expertise in nonfiction writing and workplace writing skills. She says she’s excited to work with students, learn more about their lives, support their journeys, and to be back in her field. It’ll be a nice change after “living two lives for the past four years” she says. She also sounds hopeful about her new home in Ithaca. Heir said, “Ithaca is really pretty… there’s so much nature and space and grocery stores where I can park my car. People seem so kind. I saw a caterpillar on the sidewalk yesterday when running… I can’t remember the last time I saw a caterpillar in the wild.” She looks forward to the small class sizes and the social dynamic at this type of college.
In thinking about the current conversations around anti-racism practices in higher education and decolonizing the writing workshop, what are your thoughts moving into this position?
“I never had an Indian teacher or professor in my entire education" Heir says. "That made me less sure that I could become one. It wasn’t something I thought I could do, until my undergraduate writing professor, Greg Schwipps, told me I could. I was often the only person of color or only Indian person in my classes. For a long time, I felt like what I wrote wasn’t real writing. I felt like what other classmates said was more correct because I thought they knew more about the world. I was really quiet… it’s hard to unlearn the idea that other people know more or are better writers or their opinions count more than mine. That experience is useful for being a professor. I can understand if a student isn’t talking… and that something bigger could be happening than them not caring about my course. I wanted to talk but was afraid to share my opinions and that others might not understand. I want my students to feel free and comfortable to share their opinions.”
She continues, “The nonfiction workshop is a great place to examine beliefs… the best way is to ask questions. Why do you think that? What belief is that representing? Because people are writing about their own lives, and the way they write about themselves and others… matters. This is a time to prepare them for living in a global world. To lead and get the most out of people… you have to meet people where they are, question yourself, and be aware of your unconscious biases. Even when you are part of a marginalized group, that doesn’t automatically mean you don’t have work to do. In my workshops, I want to make sure students feel like they can say what they believe, good or bad, and then we can examine that. I want to hear all perspectives.”
Rajpreet Heir is an Indian from Indiana. She received her B.A. in English Writing from DePauw University and her M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction from George Mason University. Upon graduating in 2016, she moved to New York City and worked first for Getty Images and then TED Conferences. An assistant professor of creative nonfiction at Ithaca College, she now lives in Ithaca, New York. Rajpreet has published nonfiction in both commercial and literary venues including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Teen Vogue, Brevity, The Normal School, and others. Many of these essays are part of a book-in-progress entitled Indian in Indiana.
August 27, 2020