Alison C. Rollins
Alison C. Rollins (ΦBK, Howard University) is a professor, librarian, and creative writer. Currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English and the Lead Teaching and Learning Librarian at Colorado College, Rollins is also on faculty at the Pacific Northwest College of Art Low-Residency Creative Writing MFA Program. She has received numerous awards and fellowships for her work, including the 2019 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
As a child, what profession did you envision for yourself when you grew up?
On some level, I dreamed of becoming a writer or published author. Even though, I didn’t know how
being a writer could be possible and even in spite of not seeing, meeting, or reading many authors that look like me, my dream still somehow came true. As a child, I was a voracious reader who loved spending time in my local public library. Since I was little, I have viewed writing as a way to leave a legacy for future generations as well as to create mirrors for folks to see themselves reflected in the present. I’ve always found something magical about literature and reading; I’m still waiting for James and his insect friends from Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach
to pick me up and take me away on a magical piece of fruit.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
Taking an African American literature class with Dr. Gregory Hampton (who has since passed away) was extremely transformative for me. He was an Octavia Butler scholar and his passion and energy for literature was infectious. Dr. Hampton challenged his students to think analytically and to apply a scholarly rigor focused on excellence. At Howard University, the literary learning environment also included spaces outside of the technical classroom and certainly encompassed the larger landscape of Washington, DC. During undergrad, great writers and thinkers such as Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, Mari Evans, Nikki Giovanni, and Jayne Cortez surrounded me.
You’re an award-winning poet, educator, and, interestingly, a librarian. What do you enjoy most about library science? What does your current role as the Lead Teaching and Learning Librarian at Colorado College entail?
I’m sure it sounds expected and somewhat cliché but I absolutely adore books. I also value and recognize the power of literacy. Being a Black librarian grants me a particular lens for acquiring, curating, and cultivating a more inclusive collection or archive of materials. Having an MLIS degree grants me the credential or qualification to exercise influence in a field that is quite lacking in diverse representation. I get a rush of excitement when I place a book in a student’s hand that hopefully speaks to their lived experiences or will function to open a door of new possibilities to them. A lot of my daily work focuses on teaching information literacy skills and supporting academic research endeavors.
What is your favorite part about being an educator? Is there a subject or class you enjoy teaching the most?
What brings me the greatest fulfillment as an educator is fostering students’ imaginations and expanding their conceptions of what is possible. I also thoroughly enjoy instilling critical thinking and analytical problem solving skills. I enjoy teaching 19th
century American literature, speculative/science fiction, and creative writing the most. Helping students to re-imagine and subversively explore ways of being in the world is my ultimate goal.
Do both of these roles influence you as a poet? Where do you look for inspiration for your poetry, or how do you approach the creative process?
All my lived experiences, including my roles, influence me as a poet. I don’t view time as linear so I draw inspiration from the past, present, and future. I strive to be attentive and present in my everyday life. As long as I am extending and exercising a certain type of close-observational lens, there will always be inspiration and sources to be found that spark awe, wonder, and curiosity. In my work, I like to apply surreal and grandiose elements to the otherwise seemingly mundane. I like to center voices and subject positions that are otherwise relegated to the margins. I like to play with language and make words and the ideas they communicate shape-shift. Ultimately, I’m a reader who writes rather than a writer who reads, meaning I am constantly reading anything and everything. Reading is a key and fundamental part of my “creative process”.
Do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded liberal arts and sciences education are important in today’s society? What role has your liberal arts education played in the development of your career?
As a result of a liberal arts and sciences education, my curiosity knows no bounds. I strive not to compartmentalize learning. I view all disciplines and fields of study as highly interconnected and intersectional. I have worked in a variety of different fields and industries. In my creative writing, I will integrate physics and math. In my teaching of literature, I will integrate concepts from the social sciences and information technology. In general, I consider myself a lifelong learner. For me a liberal arts education suggests becoming a dynamic, flexible, versatile, and innovative thinker; I think all of these attributes are essential to any career and are better overall ways of moving through the world. In addition, it means something really special to me to be able to carry the torch of luminaries such as W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope Franklin, Robert Frost, and Booker T. Washington in continuing the legacy that is Phi Beta Kappa.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
The work of Audre Lorde thoroughly sustains me in more ways than I can count. Four of her essays/speeches speak to me the most: “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”; “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”; “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”; and “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”. In “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” Lorde writes: “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”
I also cherish an interpretation of a line from Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower
: “The only thing constant is change.”
What book are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
Before the school year started, I finished Bernardine Evaristo’s phenomenal novel Girl, Woman, Other
. Since Toni Morrison’s passing I have decided to read all of her works that I have not already read. I recently read Morrison’s Jazz
, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In terms of television shows I am a big fan of Black Mirror
but I’m having a hard time watching a speculative fiction show that is becoming more and more true to life! I’m gearing up to head on a wilderness based “survival” course in Arizona so I’ve been reading a lot about the natural world and what it means to “survive.” I’m currently making my way through Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss
and two essays in the publication Outside
by Latria Graham: “We’re Here. You Just Don’t See Us” and “Out There, Nobody Can Hear You Scream”.
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