Tracy Strauss | Graduated in 1996
Faculty, New England Conservatory of Music
Posted on Sat, 17 Aug, 2013
With a love for writing and literature, I arrived at SUNY Geneseo as a declared freshman English major. I’d been involved with my high school newspaper as both a writer and editor, and thought I might want to pursue a career in journalism, though I was also interested in creative writing. Over my four years as a Geneseo student, so many of my experiences fostered my interests and exposed me to a variety of avenues. I had a passion for “becoming” a writer, but I had no idea when I was an undergraduate that, along the way, I’d also become a college writing professor. As an English major, I was highly influenced by my English department classes (along with History, American Studies, and Communications) but also by the practical experiences I had through a handful of internships in magazine writing/editing, television promotional writing and research, and newspaper reporting and feature writing. I wrote job-skill columns and profiles for Equal Opportunity Publications, obituaries and commercials for American Movie Classics, and news and feature stories for The Geneseo Compass. I learned that I could apply my passion for writing to more than one professional field.
After I graduated with my B.A., I worked at Lifetime Television for the summer as part of a fellowship program with the International Radio and Television Society (IRTS) in New York City. I decided then that I wanted to live in Boston (I’d been on the Boston-Geneseo Externship program that past spring and loved it), and so I moved there to pursue my MFA in film/screenwriting. During graduate school, while I was a teaching assistant, I witnessed the impersonal ways in which students were treated by faculty; having experienced not only high-caliber teaching but mentoring from my professors at Geneseo, I saw what these students were missing. I wanted to create community in a classroom where there was none: I found my passion for teaching.
In late 1998, after I completed my MFA, I was unable to make ends meet while teaching as an adjunct at a few area colleges. At that point, I accepted an offer to become the assistant director of alumni relations at Geneseo, where I had the opportunity to work on the alumni magazine, The Scene, as well as the young-alumni newsletter, Take Ten. For a little over two years, I also spearheaded the externship program and advised the Undergraduate Alumni Association. In the evenings, the English department graciously allowed me to teach an experimental course I created called “Elements of Screenwriting,” which gave me more teaching experience, as well as the chance to give back to the department that had given me so much.
In 2001, aching to return to Boston, I left Geneseo for a job as a writer at Boston College, where I wrote profiles and feature stories for a year before I landed my first full-time teaching job at Boston University. I then spent four years at BU, teaching in the first-year writing program and co-directing the writing center, before I was recruited by Emerson College to help transform their first-year writing program. For five years at Emerson, I had the chance to not only teach expository writing but to train and mentor graduate student teachers. During that time, I also devoted myself to building my writing resume, with the goal of publishing a book. I was accepted into several writers’ conferences and I began to publish memoir excerpts and essays.
The biggest “takeaway” from Geneseo, for me, was the importance of real community—in writing, at work, and in life. What I’ve also learned over the years is that one’s career path may not be as straight and easy a journey as one might have originally desired or envisioned. When I was in college, I had a picture of what my life would look like at 25 or 29 or 39, but life doesn’t always go according to our preconceived timelines. Two years ago, when I was thirty-seven, I lost my full-time teaching job and my mother died, all within two months. I had no idea how I was going to move forward from that, but I did.
I recently graduated from Lesley University’s low-residency MFA in creative writing program. I now teach writing at the New England Conservatory of Music, Lesley University, and Grub Street. I’m the Vice President of the Women’s National Book Association’s Boston chapter, and I’m currently working with an agent to sell my first book, a memoir about my relationship with my late writer-editor mother.
As my English department internship advisor, Graham Drake, always reminded me to “follow your star,” a mantra that continues to be my guide.