College of LAS « Illinois

Skilled in the art of writing, and how to teach it

The poetry of Julie Price has growing resonance in the classroom and beyond

The poetry of Julie Price, senior lecturer in English, is garnering attention.
The poetry of Julie Price, senior lecturer in English, is garnering attention.
When Tim Green, editor of Rattle magazine, called Julie Price, senior lecturer in English, at her home, Price looked at the caller ID and almost didn’t answer the phone.

“T. Green, hmm…that sounds like Tru-Green lawn services. I’m not going to answer that,” she recalled with a laugh. “Then it occurred to me, oh man, this is a Los Angeles number. What if it’s Tim Green?”

Indeed it was Tim Green, and he was calling to inform Price that she had won the $10,000 Rattle Poetry Prize for her poem, “Veins,” which gave readers a glimpse into the last months of her father-in-law’s life. “Veins” was the winner out of more than 15,000 submissions.

“It was a gigantic moment at our house,” Price said. “I ran to tell my husband, and he was slicing up a chicken to put on the grill. He had to hurry and wash his hands to be able to hug me as I stood there laughing and generally losing my mind.”

Price has long loved Rattle magazine, which, under a slogan of “poetry without pretense,” is known for drawing readers who claim to normally not read much poetry. Price isn’t the only lover of the magazine—the 23-year-old quarterly, which has published the work of 14 Pulitzer Prize winners, 10 National Book Award winners, and 10 U.S. Poets Laureate—is very selective, publishing only 0.2 percent of all submissions. 

“Veins,” in fact, was Price’s fourth poem published by the magazine. Others include “After I Got the Email from the Dean of Students,” about the death of a student. “Veins,” however, struck a particular chord with the magazine’s editorial staff.

“’Veins’ is probably the most Rattlesque winner we’ve ever had,” Green said, in a social media post. “Down to earth, straight from the heart, funny and sad and full of life.”

A career of practicing—and teaching—the art of writing

Price has worked for various media outlets, has had her poems and essays published in numerous journals, and even once owned a bookstore on Green Street in Champaign called Blue Book Rocks. Writing poetry isn’t Price’s only strong point, however. She has won teaching awards, too, for her classes in creative writing (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) and rhetoric, which she has taught at the University of Illinois since 1998. 

She has received multiple teaching awards at department, college, and university levels, including the LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. A two-time winner of the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Price said she thoroughly enjoys working with students and is trying to meet their academic needs and interests as best as she can. 

“Especially in the introductory workshops for poetry and fiction writing, there’s an amazing mix of majors. It’s fascinating to see their very individual ways of writing creative work,” she said.

Her teaching touches on a variety of topics, including how to get an idea off the ground when words won’t come easily.

“You just have to keep going,” Price said. “I tell my students I don’t believe in writer’s block. You have to throw time at it, and stare down that blank screen. It can be blisteringly annoying. Write junk if you have to. Just get your fingers moving on the keyboard. Sometimes the junk gives way to writing that you love.”

Price also teaches more advanced classes, including her own special topics course called “Trauma Writing,” inspired by her observations of why students sign up for her classes.

“I’ve met many students over the years that sign up for a creative writing class because they’re trying to work through something tough,” Price said. “So when I was asked by our director if I’d like to come up with a new course, I thought I’d put together a class especially for that purpose.”

Price stressed, however, that the class, which she will teach again in the fall, is “not a therapy group. It always comes back to the writing, the critiquing, the attention to the craft itself.”

She added: “One of the best things about this job is that I get to know my students so well. The writing in any creative writing class feels personal, even if the topics themselves are not. There are risks. Nobody puts one of their own poems in front of a class of 18 people without feeling extremely vulnerable. It can feel as though you’ve just emotionally gutted yourself like a fish.”

“For that reason, my biggest goal in the classroom is to create trust,” Price said. “It’s to make sure everyone understands how supremely important it is to give critique and accept it tactfully and gracefully. Sooner or later, it’s your turn. Everybody has skin in the game.”

Getting to know her students well has had its difficult moments. Several years ago, a favorite student of Price’s, named Ryan, passed away.

“The day I found out was the day we were supposed to discuss his poem in class. And the poem was phenomenal,” Price said.  The loss of Ryan struck her so hard that she wrote the aforementioned “After I Got the Email from the Dean of Students.”

Price is currently working on a nonfiction book about the life of her parents. They were married for 70 years, and Price has more than 1,000 letters that her father wrote to her mother during his service in World War II, in the Pacific. Price’s mother took care of him through a decade of dementia, until she was 88 and he was 92.

“I witnessed it. It was the most sacrificial love I’ve ever seen,” Price said.

Taylor Hoffman

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