Joelle Biele Breaks Ground (on Bishop and Balance)

BishopSince getting her PhD in 1998, Joelle Biele has split her time between writing and family.  She’s written essays, fiction, and one play.  She’s had two Fulbright scholarships, taught at universities in Germany and in Poland, and taught from time to time at colleges in the Baltimore area.  She’s also gotten married, had three kids, and moved to the suburbs.  She now drives a mini-van, which she jokes is “something [she] never thought [she’d] do.”  Also on the list of things she never imagined for herself: an expert knowledge of Star Wars and the ability to differentiate between bob-cats and front-end-loaders.  But, she says in an enthusiastic and off-hand way, “I can and I’m very proud of that!”  When asked about favorite career accomplishments, Joelle recalls living in Poland with her children when they were three, four, and seven years old.  “I learned a lot from my colleagues and students at Jagiellonian, and Krakow itself is beautiful and fun to explore.  We traveled quite a bit, rode the tram, and took lots of hikes in the mountains.  It was our big adventure.” 

In addition to mothering her children, Joelle has published a collection of poetry.  White Summer was praised in reviews by “The Journal,” the “Carolina Quarterly,” and the “Antioch Review.”  She also recently edited a book entitled Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker.   The book and its material were called “uncut catnip” by Dwight Garner of The New York Times.  Since writing Elizabeth Bishop, Biele has spoken at places like The Regulator Bookstore (in North Carolina) and the Georgia Center for the Book.  The book is a collection of letters based in part on her dissertation, which came out of a seminar paper written for Richard Cross.  Years later, Joelle still feels “extremely fortunate to have [had] Richard as [her] dissertation director.”  Joelle attributes her positive writing experience to Richard’s “guidance” and “understanding of what it is to be a scholar and a [parent].” Joelle also remembers workshops with Michael Collier and Stan Plumly as favorites—“ I loved sitting around seminar tables talking about poems.  It was exciting.”  Joelle’s favorite department memory is also about Stan:

One memory that comes back is sitting in Stan Plumly’s office.  Stan had a fancy rug, which I spent a lot of time staring at, and lots of books, the titles of which I would strain to read while he read my poems.  One time, he seemed to be reading very slowly, and when he finished he looked down at the page for a very long second.  Then he gripped the edge of his desk, moved around in a kind of circle, and said in the teasing, affectionate way he does, “Whaaaaat are you doing?!”  He made me laugh.  I knew I had to start over.  I laugh every time I think of it.”

Joelle isn’t sure she’d have ever written the way she’s writing now, had she not come to Maryland.  She is thankful to the faculty here for providing examples of literary lives.  Joelle writes, “My professors took me seriously long before I did, and for that I will always be grateful.”  Please support Joelle by checking out her book on her website or on Amazon.

Joelle Biele's Advice to Students:

"For undergraduates, try out all kinds of classes outside the department and to try a team-taught class.  Some of the classes that ended up being most important to me
were outside my major.  They gave me different ways to think about books.  I loved team-taught classes because I got to see people with very different areas of expertise
get together and talk about a particular topic.  They modeled the process of learning.
For grad students, I would suggest thinking carefully about what your options are after
you graduate, particularly if you’re a woman."