Acclaimed author, Hawkeye, former student library employee
Carmen Maria Machado has seen the stacks from every angle: as reader, shelver, and writer. And during her time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she came to appreciate the UI Libraries as study spaces and research resources. The Her Body and Other Parties author chatted with us about what she learned from her time as a student library employee during undergrad, and made sure to share some fittingly wry and writerly advice.
Did you ever have a job during undergrad or grad school that you did alongside coursework? How did that affect your time as a student?
Yeah, I had jobs in college! I actually worked in [my college] library. I wasn’t very good at it, to be super clear. I was pretty lackadaisical—I feel like I never quite mastered it. I was mostly at a little desk in the front where you could ask me questions. But then they would have me shelve, and I just could never figure out the classification system. I feel like I was always putting books in the wrong place.
I also worked at a paint-your-own-pottery studio in college. In grad school, I was teaching because it was part of my funding package. And after grad school, I worked at Lush. I came home every day smelling like all of Lush. I’ve had a million jobs. I mean, I wasn’t really making a living full-time as a writer until a few years ago.
What’s your relationship to libraries in general?
Oh, I love libraries. I used to spend a lot of time in my local library as a child. I literally belonged to a group of teenage library workers. Back then, me and my friend who worked in the library together left a note for our favorite librarian. We taped it under one of the shelves. And years later, my friend went back and let me know that it’s still there.
And later—obviously when you’re doing research, libraries are a huge resource. I remember going into the UI Main Library during grad school and using the microfiche and visiting Special Collections. It felt so exciting.
Do you have any advice for undergraduates?
It can be so hard to exist right now. But really, what I’d say is: “Always move toward your obsessions.”
What has changed about your writing over time?
It always changes. It always is sort of shifting. When I was in grad school, I began to figure out what I wanted my voice to be, what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it. But I was definitely one of those kids who always wanted to be a writer.
What is it like to see your own books on the shelf?
When I was younger, it always meant so much to see books on shelves. So seeing my own work on people’s bookshelves and in bookstores and libraries—it’s really surreal and beautiful. And I wish I could go back and tell little Carmen that that was going to happen one day. I always believed it would, on some level.
You’re right in the middle of the alphabet, so that’s pretty good real estate.
Exactly. It’s awesome.