Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Maureen P. Morehead, June 14, 1992

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:12 - Introduction and background

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Partial Transcript: This an oral history interview with Maureen Morehead being conducted by Linda Beattie for the Kentucky Writers Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead names her parents and gives their background. Her family lived for a time in Springfield, Illinois. Her father was a dentist until he went back to school to specialize in one area of dentistry. She is a practicing Catholic.

Keywords: Chlorine gas; Dental equipment; Inventors; Kentucky Literature Oral History Project; Louisville (Ky.)

Subjects: Chlorine; Families.; Genealogy; Louisville (Ky.); Morehead, Maureen Podshadley, 1951-; Oral history recordings

00:07:19 - School years

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Partial Transcript: So you didn't go to Catholic school.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead attended public school, where she was encouraged to be a writer. She recalls her school as being a strict, traditional school. She was taken out of class with a few other children once a week for a creative writing program. Morehead was read to at home as a young child, and could read before she went to school. The family moved often during her school years. Morehead also loved music and science in school. There is a discussion of a connection between mathematics and music.

Keywords: Creative writing; Illinois; Public schooling

Subjects: Childhood; Creative writing; Education; Illinois; Public schools

00:12:11 - High school teachers

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Partial Transcript: But, anyway, um, what about, uh, high school?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead discusses a poem she wrote about her ninth grade teacher, who became very excited about analyzing stories. That teacher introduced Morehead to the power of literature. Morehead's high school experience was intellectually stimulating, yet it did not prepare her to be a high school English teacher. There is a discussion of the pedagogical value of critical thinking and literary analysis.

Keywords: Critical thinking; Literature; The Scarlet Ibis

Subjects: Critical thinking; Education; Literature; Scarlet ibis; Teachers; Teaching

00:20:05 - Education after high school

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Partial Transcript: Uh, what was your own education like beyond high school?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead attended the University of Louisville and then transferred to Western Kentucky University. She graduated and then earned her MA in creative writing, and later her PhD in rhetoric and composition.

Keywords: Creative writing; University of Louisville; Western Kentucky University

Subjects: Creative writing; Education, Higher; Higher education; University of Louisville; Western Kentucky University

00:26:41 - Writing while working as a teacher

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Partial Transcript: And, did--have you been able to write at the same time that you've been teaching during the school year and, and the six year interim between--you know, before you finished your degree, were you continuing to write at that time?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead took three two-year leaves of absence from public school teaching in order to work on her degrees. During these times, she was able to spend more time writing because she had more time and energy than when she was teaching in public schools.

Keywords: Leave of absence; Public schools; Teaching

Subjects: Education; Teachers; Teaching

00:31:18 - Workshop teaching method

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Partial Transcript: Are you able to teach with the workshop method at the high school level?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead has not been able to teach using the workshop method because of the large size of the class, and because of the cost of making sufficient copies of materials for the students. She plans to teach next year's students using this method. It will be a smaller class.

Keywords: Dupont Manual High School; High school teaching; Peer editing; Workshop method

Subjects: High school; Louisville (Ky.); Peer review; Teachers; Teaching; Writers' workshops

GPS: Louisville (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.225333, -85.741667
00:33:16 - The nature of creativity

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Partial Transcript: Um, would you comment on what you think the nature of creativity itself is?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead describes creativity as using the imagination to solve problems and to discover things. Morehead feels that creativity is a mixture of nature and nurture. It can be nurtured.

Keywords: Creativity; Nature versus nurture; Nature vs. Nurture

Subjects: Creative ability; Nature and nurture

00:34:33 - Publishing venues

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Partial Transcript: Um, will you discuss your publishing career, and which magazines you were first published, et cetera?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead's work was first published in a high school publication. Later, Morehead submitted work to other publications at the state and later at the national level, including the Kentucky Poetry Review and the American Poetry Review.

Keywords: Kentucky English Teachers Bulletin; Kentucky Poetry Review; Pegasus; Publishing; Sena Jeter Naslund; Twigs and Wind

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Naslund, Sena Jeter; Publishers and publishing.; Publishing

00:36:26 - Working with a mentor who specializes in fiction

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Partial Transcript: Um, I'm interested in your having had Sena for a teacher so long, and she is mainly a fiction writer; you're mainly a--I don't know if you've experimented with fiction, have you?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead describes writing workshops at the graduate school level that she took with Sena Jeter Naslund. She felt that the other students in her classes were far more mature as writers. Positive reinforcement is necessary to encourage writers.

Keywords: Fiction writers; Poetry writers; Sena Jeter Naslund

Subjects: Fiction--Technique; Naslund, Sena Jeter; Poetry--Women authors

00:40:39 - Authors whose work Morehead reads

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Partial Transcript: I read a lot of poetry.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead feels that her teachers of poetry are the people she's read, and lists some of her contemporaries whose work she admires, including Kentucky writers. The other teachers with whom she works probably do not know of Morehead's work as a poet. It is sort of like leading a triple life: teacher, parent, and poet. Her poetry tends to get neglected in the course of leading the rest of her life, and Morehead feels guilt for not writing more often.

Keywords: Alea Shirley; Bobbie Ann Mason; Bruce Weigl; Gregory Orr; Marge Stanton; Marsha Norman; Molly Peacock; Sheila Knowles; Women writers

Subjects: Mason, Bobbie Ann; Norman, Marsha; Orr, Gregory; Peacock, Molly, 1947-; Shirley, Aleda; Weigl, Bruce, 1949-; Women writers

00:45:41 - The process of writing

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Partial Transcript: Um, you were saying how difficult it is to, to find time to write.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead only blocks out time to write when she has time to devote to writing that she can block. Sometimes poems "just come." She always has assignments in her head. Morehead writes in longhand first, printed, and then revises on a word processor. Seeing the poem in her own handwriting first is part of her process.

Keywords: Composition; Longhand; Word processors; Writing; Writing process

Subjects: Word processors; Writing

00:49:22 - "In a Yellow Room"

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Partial Transcript: Um, your book, "In a Yellow Room," uh, is divided into five sections, starting with the Laura poems and ending with the Purple Lady poems.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead discusses the change in voice in the poems at the beginning of her book, "In a Yellow Room," from the poems at the end. She says that the "Purple Lady" poems are not yet a complete set. The "Laura" poems are about growing up. The "Purple Lady" poems are not related to a popular poem about a woman who talks about her decision to wear purple when she is an old woman and can do what she wants to do. Anne Sexton is an influence on Morehead as a poet.

Keywords: Anne Sexton; Author's voice; James Dickey; Laura poems; Mental illness; Purple Lady poems

Subjects: Dickey, James; Mental illness; Sexton, Anne, 1928-1974

00:56:12 - Author's voice

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Partial Transcript: Um, you talked about Frank Steele's essay.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead uses language to come to terms, figure things out, and answer questions, yet poems sometimes don't answer the questions they propose to answer. She knows that people are reading her work, and feels a sense of responsibility for that reason.

Keywords: Anne Sexton; Emily Dickinson

Subjects: Sexton, Anne, 1928-1974

01:01:25 - Influence of Emily Dickinson

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Partial Transcript: Um, we've talked about, uh, Anne Sexton being a poet that influenced you and also I've read that Emily Dickinson was another one.

Segment Synopsis: Emily Dickinson uses words with ambiguous meanings, and writes to come to terms with life. There were not many women writers on the syllabus in the courses offered at University of Louisville. Morehead found reading the male poets to be stifling, although she learned from them.

Keywords: Emily Dickinson; University of Louisville

Subjects: Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886; University of Louisville

01:06:25 - Writing in high school

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Partial Transcript: Had you written during high school, or?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead wrote on her own during high school. She was not satisfied with her writing at that time. Morehead and Beattie both noticed the negative attitudes their students brought to the study of poetry.

Keywords: Creative writing; Diaries; Persian Gulf War; Poetry

Subjects: Diaries; Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988

01:09:15 - "Martha Jones Poems"

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Partial Transcript: Um, I understand that you've recently completed a sequence of poems entitled the "Martha Jones" poems based on the diaries of a Kentucky woman during the Civil War.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead visited the Filson Club to find inspiration for some poems. She found the Civil War era diaries of a woman who was a Confederate sympathizer in Kentucky during the war. Martha Jones kept a diary from 1860 to 1864.

Keywords: Confederates; Crane; Diaries; Filson Club; Filson Historical Society; Red Badge of Courage

Subjects: Crane, Stephen, 1871-1900; Diaries; Filson Historical Society; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865

01:15:18 - Tooth Fairy poems

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Partial Transcript: Um, and, you talked about poems that you're writing now.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead is currently writing a series of poems called the "Tooth Fairy" poems. They seem to be autobiographical. The feeling she gets from the "Tooth Fairy" poems is similar to the feeling she got from watching the movie, "Grand Canyon." With her earlier work, Morehead conceived of single poems, which later evolved into a series. Now she conceives of the series, and writes the poems.

Keywords: AIDS; Autobiography; Stress; Tooth Fairy poems; Violence

Subjects: Autobiography; HIV (Viruses); Mason, Belinda; Stress; Tooth Fairy; Violence

01:18:05 - The poet's changing voice

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Partial Transcript: Um, Frank Steele writes that he believes that with the "Martha Jones Poems," your poetry is undergoing a change in voice.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead analyzes her changing voice. She feels that her autobiographical poems are becoming more conversational. She is more conscious of the audience. She discusses a poem she wrote about Belinda Mason's death, and how the work is less sophisticated than other work.

Keywords: Author's voice; Frank Steele; Poetry

Subjects: Poetry; Style, Literary

01:23:17 - Writing short fiction

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Partial Transcript: Um, let's see, I commented on Sena here.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead writes short fiction when she is trying to figure out political or social problems. She does not usually deal with social issues or politics in her poems. Morehead used to think of herself more as a woman writer. Morehead believes that men and women perceive the world differently. She thinks that men will be able to find her "Martha Jones" poems more accessible because men are interested in history.

Keywords: History; Politics; Women writers

Subjects: History; Political science; Women writers

01:31:12 - Funding, grants, and outreach

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Partial Transcript: Um, I was also wanting to ask you about grants you've received.

Segment Synopsis: Kentucky Foundation for Women offered a grant for work on her "Mary Cassatt" poems and her "Georgia O'Keeffe" poems. Morehead does poetry readings, starting with the Bluegrass Poetry Circuit. She has to read her poetry aloud to be able to understand it. Students appreciate listening to poetry read aloud, because they can understand it. Morehead is teaching a course for elementary school teachers at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. The teachers earn college credit for the course, which aims to teach teachers how to teach creative writing in their own schools.

Keywords: Bluegrass Poetry Circuit; Georgia O'Keeffe; Kentucky Arts Council; Kentucky Foundation for Women; Mary Cassatt

Subjects: Cassatt, Mary, 1844-1926; Kentucky Arts Council; Kentucky Center for the Arts; Kentucky Foundation for Women; O'Keeffe, Georgia, 1887-1986

GPS: Kentucky Center for the Arts
Map Coordinates: 38.257306, -85.758806
01:39:20 - Sharing the writing process

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Partial Transcript: Do you have enough, uh, writer friends, or at least friends who are able to critically appreciate your work?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead does not discuss her work with anyone, rarely even to her husband. Sometimes she reads her work to her students. Students would not dare to say something critical. She finds her writing to be a lonely activity. When she needs help, she asks her teacher, Sena.

Keywords: Critique; Editing; Editors; Feedback; Husbands; Influence; Isolated; Judgment; Mentors; Poems; Poetry; Review; Sena Jeter Naslund; Students; Teaching; Writers groups; Writers' groups

Subjects: Naslund, Sena Jeter; Writing

01:44:14 - Difference between Morehead's work and Naslund's work

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Partial Transcript: Um, is there anything that we haven't discussed that you think is particularly important to know about you as a poet or as a person?

Segment Synopsis: Morehead says that Sena Naslund describes her own work as having "sustaining points" in it, which she conceptualizes in a vertical way. Naslund describes Morehead's work as having a horizontal track for the sustaining points. Morehead describes being compelled to write, even though it does not pay the bills. Morehead and Beattie discuss writers' abilities (or lack thereof) to switch between genres.

Keywords: Ability; Affirmative; Affirming; Fiction; Genres; Horizontal; Poems; Poetry; Sena Jeter Naslund; Sustaining points; Vertical; Vision; Visualization; Writers

Subjects: Naslund, Sena Jeter; Writing

01:50:02 - Morehead reads some of her work

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Partial Transcript: I was wondering if you would read a few of your poems from "In a Yellow Room."

Segment Synopsis: Morehead reads the poem she dedicated to her teacher Sena Naslund. She named the poems the "Laura" poems after a very critical high school friend. Morehead reads poems from the set inspired by the Kentucky Quilt project, a set called "Quilts." Morehead reads the poem about getting married, one of the "Purple Lady" poems.

Keywords: Birdhouses; Challenger Disaster; Christa McAuliffe; Elvis Presley; Metaphors

Subjects: Birdhouses; Challenger (Spacecraft)--Accidents; McAuliffe, Christa, 1948-1986; Metaphor; Presley, Elvis, 1935-1977

02:02:16 - Using poetry as a means to discover God / future work

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I'm wondering, you're, um, talking about writing poetry as sort of a personal quest, and also you were talking about having returned to the Catholic Church.

Segment Synopsis: Morehead is using poetry to rediscover God. She describes this as the end of the quest. She is going to read some of the theologians, including Thomas Merton. She can picture herself writing poems about Merton, from a woman's perspective. She is going to explore what happens when the focus in her life changes from a focus on her husband and raising her child. Morehead describes how her son gives her joy. She used to feel the need to write coming upon her in a visceral way. She does not feel as productive in her life now, and does not write as much as she did at a workshop. Morehead finishes the interview by expressing what a great teacher Sena Naslund is.

Keywords: Abbey of Gethsemani; Catholic Church; Thomas Merton,Sena Naslund

Subjects: Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.); Catholic Church; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Naslund, Sena Jeter; Religion