Priya Thomas '21
Professor Kaplan teaches Section Four of Writing 50 at Scripps, “My Story is the World’s Story.” She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her areas of expertise involve creative writing, poetry, critical thinking and rhetoric, small press publishing, and book arts.
Priya (P): What sparked your interest in literature and creative writing? When and how did you decide to become a writer/professor at Scripps?
Professor Kaplan (K): When we first moved to the Claremont area, my husband and I liked to walk through the colleges and explore, especially during the summers when the campuses were all so quiet. One day we stumbled upon the graffiti wall outside Toll Hall at Scripps, and we spent some time admiring the names and drawings and creativity and history there. So amazing! And, so unlike my own college experience (I attended a larger state university) – the idea of such a close-knit community at Scripps really drew me in.
P: What is your writing process like? What inspires you/gives you ideas for new material?
K: While I do write—and read—quite a bit, I don’t always write every single day and I don’t always feel inspired. So, when I’m in my early drafting processes, I try not to over-edit or allow myself to over-think. This early generative excess means that I always have a lot of raw materials -words and phrases- lying around, which I find comforting. And, when I get stuck on an idea or a draft I often turn to the physical form or activity to help. For example, I like to handwrite lines and phrases on small strips of paper and move them around on the floor or on a page; I like to walk by myself and think a line or phrase in my head in time with my steps; I like to make little books and then see how a line or a poem or a paragraph might fit inside them. My favorite part of writing is when I can get past the point where I’m struggling to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page and instead arrive at the place where writing and composing and editing feels more like play.
P: Do you have a favorite book or author? If so, who/what is it and why?
K: Recently, at my other job -I also work with the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards at CGU-, we’ve been recording faculty, staff, and students reading pieces of Ross Gay’s long poem “catalog of unabashed gratitude” for a collective collage-style audio reading. I’d read his book before, of course, and I’d heard the poet read this poem, but listening to all the different readers who took time to come down to the office to record a few lines for this project has really given me a different sense of the work. Just on its own, Ross’s poem is simultaneously thankful and giddy and contemplative and awed, and it includes swear words and flowers and tea and honey and suicide and mercy and gardens; it is wide-ranging. And then hearing all these voices—and each person coming at the poem with their own background and experience and baggage—engage with his words brought the poem to life in a way that made it somehow even more inclusive and lovely. This week, my favorite book is Ross Gay’s catalog of unabashed gratitude.
Other books I love and often return to are The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson, and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.
P: What was your major in college? Did your experience there in any way shape your journey to where you are now? Do you have any advice for Scripps students about how to use their undergraduate experience to unlock their interests/make decisions about the future?
K: As an undergraduate I started off as an art major, and then I switched to literature after a year or two. I also took a bunch of other classes: language classes Spanish, Italian, Ancient Greek), film courses (Andy Warhol!), Science classes: Geology, Environmental Biology, and whatever else seemed interesting at the time. I wasn’t necessarily good at all these subjects—and in fact I learned that I have zero natural aptitude for learning new languages, and that writing literary essays didn’t translate well to scientific papers—but I really liked being able to think about a range of subjects. I like a lot of things, and I like being able to think about them potentially simultaneously. Literature and creative writing has been great for me because writing can be about anything, subject-wise; practicing (and teaching) the literary arts of reading and writing continually exposes me to new ideas and information. One reason I love literature is because it can encompass pieces of everything.
My advice for current students is to be open-minded and stretch yourself a bit when you have the opportunity–college is such a great time to explore. My experiences taking a variety of courses helped me to figure out what I was really interested in, and to consider how different subjects can potentially fit together. A certain college major doesn’t necessarily lead to a certain career, especially in the liberal arts, and my varied experiences as an undergraduate led me to some fascinating jobs that I’m not sure I would have considered otherwise.
P: Do you have any hobbies or favorite activities you use to relax/unwind?
K: This is incredibly nerdy, but I really like Jazzercise. I initially started taking classes as a way to make sure I got some exercise, and it turns out that hopping around to music with a bunch of other fun ladies always makes me really happy.
I also like hiking, and I wish that I would drive up into the hills and get outside more often; one of my goals for this fall, as the weather cools a bit, is to explore more of the local trails.