Alumnus of the Month: January 2010
Michael Montlack '92
What is your edge (strength)?
Communicating with all sorts of people. And storytelling.
What at Hofstra gave you your edge?
The professors in all my English classes helped me to communicate better. And certainly the numerous workshops sharpened my story writing.
In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
What was your major?
English — Creative Writing and Literature.
What was your favorite class?
Psychology of Character (Creative Writing Workshop focusing on character motivation) with Dr. Julia Markus. It really challenged students to develop deep characters.
What is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
Working late on perfecting black and white prints in the old photo lab darkroom while snow was falling outside. Very quiet and peaceful.
What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I am a writer, and I teach writing at Berkeley College in New York City. Hofstra gave me my start when I became a teaching assistant while I was an undergraduate student in the Creative Writing Department. Then later, after I earned my master’s at San Francisco State University, I came back as an adjunct at Hofstra. From there I wrote and wrote, and eventually went on for an M.F.A. at The New School while I taught full time at Berkeley College.
Who in your field do you most admire?
I am a great fan of Edward Field’s poetry. He is just an outstanding man who knows what he feels and how to say it with power. My favorite fiction writer is Peter Cameron. I love his short stories.
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
After Hofstra, I went directly on for my master’s at San Francisco State University. There I worked part time in one of the offices just to help pay for my tuition. Then I came back to New York and started to adjunct at different colleges, which offered me the chance to teach several kinds of classes (literature, writing and public speaking) and to work with a diversity of students. I also was an assistant for a literary agent in New York City, where I learned a lot about the publishing world, networking and communication.
What advice would you give current Hofstra students?
College is the time in your life not only to earn a degree for a career, but also to have the chance to grow personally and culturally. I became who I am and who I wanted to be while in college. Have fun, be open and explore at this time. It can be trickier later on to do so (at least to the same degree), but if you start now, it will become your habit throughout life and you will always be growing.
How do you balance work and life?
My work, my writing especially, is so much fun for me that it has become a big part of my social life too. I go to writers conferences and artist colonies and still take workshops (like master classes) all over the country, which gives me the chance (and excuse) to travel. I have made many close friends this way too. So the balance is easy this way. The two intertwine.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to be doing the same: writing and teaching. I’d like to teach in Europe for a while. And it’d be great to develop classes for more advanced students eventually.
What is the single most rewarding experience in your career thus
That would have to be my recently published book: My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009). This is an anthology of essays I edited. The experience allowed me to write, edit and work with amazing writers. It took me all around the country and into Canada, was widely reviewed and even got me on the radio a couple of times.
You hold two master’s degrees. What inspired you to pursue two master’s courses of study?
I did the M.A. at San Francisco State University immediately after the BA. It was an M.F.A. program that allowed the option to stop part way through, and earn an M.A. first. I opted for that because I knew at 23, I didn’t have much to write about yet and wanted to save the M.F.A. for later on, when I had more experience. That is what I did: taught and wrote after my master’s and then went back for the M.F.A. at The New School. It worked out well for me.
Was your primary career aspiration to be an author? When did you discover this was your passion/talent?
Growing up, I always wrote and loved it. But I never really thought about it as a career: that seemed unreal, too good to be true. It wasn’t until I started taking creative writing workshops and working with actual authors who took me and my writing seriously that I saw this as a career option. It was also there and then when I saw that I could critique the work of others, which cleared a path to teaching.
How long after graduation did it take for you to become a published author?
I started to publish poetry and short stories in journals and magazines a year or two after graduating from Hofstra. I didn’t have my first book (a chapbook of poems) until 15 years after graduation. The year after that, my larger book, My Diva, came out.
What advice would you give – both as an English professor and a published author – to Hofstra English majors who wish to become published?
Always put the work first. Write what matters to you, what excites you. Not what you think will please others or sell. Take workshops. Start your own. Meet writers. Go to readings. And of course read. Patience helps too.
The teacher's note on Michael Montlack's second grade report card said, "Michael has a gift for telling stories." And all these years later, he's still telling them.
After growing up on Long Island and earning a B.A. in English/creative writing from Hofstra University in 1992, Michael moved to California, where he earned an M.A. in English/creative writing from San Francisco State University. During this time, he published his first stories and poems in literary journals. He then decided to move back to New York, where he taught as an adjunct professor in Hofstra's Creative Writing Department and worked as an assistant to a literary agent.
In the late 1990s, he settled in New York City’s East Village and began to teach writing and literature full time at Berkeley College in Manhattan. In 2003 he entered The New School's M.F.A. program, where he studied poetry and finished his first small book of poems: Cover Charge, which won the Gertrude Chapbook Competition in 2007. Two other poetry chapbooks followed: Girls, Girls, Girls (Pudding House, 2008) and The Slip (Poets Wear Prada, 2009).
While completing the M.F.A., he was awarded the first of several residencies/fellowships, which gave him time and space to write and an opportunity to travel around the United States: Ucross Foundation (WY), Soul Mountain Retreat (CT), Tin House Conference (OR), VCCA (VA) and Lambda Literary Retreat (CA).
While writing poetry, publishing them in journals, and reading at various downtown literary venues, Michael started a project, which would become his first larger book – My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009).
My Diva – an anthology of essays he edited, which explores the relationship between gay men and strong female icons – has been widely reviewed and well received by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, Camille Paglia/Salon.com, Michael Musto/Village Voice, etc. Out Magazine listed it as a “Top Summer Must Read” for 2009. Within months of its release, the book went into a second hardcover printing and is scheduled for paperback in fall 2010.
Michael is still touring with the book all over the United States: from Barnes & Noble in New York City, the W Hotel in San Francisco, and The Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles to literary conferences in Atlanta, Denver and New Orleans. He has also given readings at libraries, writers centers and universities such as NYU, CUNY, University of Rhode Island, and Hofstra this past fall.
Still in the East Village most of the year and teaching at Berkeley College, Michael lives and writes in San Francisco during the winters. He will be there this winter, finishing the edits on his first novel.
Perhaps he's just trying to prove that second grade teacher right.