By Elexis Baltimore, Contributing Writer
Featured Picture: Courtesy of Dr. Jenny Mueller
“Wow, your parents have a lot of books!”
With a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet for a mother and a father who was deeply engrossed in the arts, Dr. Jenny Mueller heard this a number of times as a kid. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where her parents would make the 45-minute commute to attend art events in the city including a number of poetry readings. Dr. Mueller recounts that in suburban life it was almost unheard of to go to the city for anything other than shopping and school field trips, which often made her feel different, “but in a good way.” She says.
Years later, when Dr. Mueller became a poet herself, she did not have to deal with the typical pushback from her parents about making a life within the art world. However, she did a lot of self-reflection to determine whether she was writing for herself and her passion or for her family legacy. “I found the answer to that when I was in graduate school and really struggling with depression and anxiety,” Dr. Mueller recalls. “I dropped almost all of my classes except the poetry writing workshop, so that showed me that writing poetry really mattered to me after all.” This desire to write did not seem to stem solely from her upbringing, but rather something that has helped her navigate through the hard times in her life. While the desire still seems to “come and go,” Dr. Mueller finds that the challenging part is finding a way to respond to the culture, feelings, and things she sees in a way that is interesting and meaningful to her as a person and poet.
Between teaching creative writing and English courses, Dr. Mueller has written two books, State Park and Bonneville. She also has a number of published works, which have appeared in magazines and journals such as Atlantic Monthly, Denver Quarterly, Chicago Review, Fence, Interim, New American Writing, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. This semester Dr. Mueller is on sabbatical from McKendree University, exploring new territories and working on her newest collection of poetry. Over the past summer, she stayed at artist residencies in Oregon, New Mexico and Canada, which give writers and artists a way to travel and write with other artists.
Her latest residency in Lama, New Mexico is located in the northern part of the state, approximately 8,000 feet within the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. Much like many of the other places in this area, it has a community irrigation system that was created by Native Americans centuries ago. There Dr. Mueller said she was surrounded by a number of talented and skilled individuals, people who could do a number of impressing things, such as “raise animals, play several musical instruments, practice Buddhist rituals, build their own homes from scratch, take care of the mountain land, and do several forms of visual art.” Meeting people who could do such amazing things combined with the beautiful, natural view made the experience both humbling and magical for Dr. Mueller.
Currently Dr. Mueller is travelling to Sirmione, an ancient town in northern Italy, near the town her grandfather taught German-Jewish children who were unable to attend German schools before World War II. Although her family was not Jewish, Dr. Mueller informs me that her grandfather opposed the Nazi rule and was kicked out of teaching in Hamburg, Germany. He began teaching in Gardone Riviera, Italy for parts of 1935-1937 before relocating his family to the United States. During Dr. Mueller’s time in Italy she hopes to find inspiration that will allow her to incorporate this journey and history into her writing.