The Words of Music

Central Michigan University faculty member combines professional passions as musician and creative writer

Central Michigan University School of Music faculty member Joanna White, an alumna of the Master of Arts in Creative Writing program, recently received a residency with Ragdale, one of the most prestigious interdisciplinary artist communities in the country. She spoke with Department of English Language and Literature faculty member Robert Fanning about her recent journey and what it means to be given time and space to write.

Fanning: You are not only a successful musician and Professor of Music, but you’ve recently been developing your Creative Writing life as a parallel passion. How has your writing journey led you to where you are now? 

Closeup image of Joanna White wearing a black shirt and standing near trees.
Joanna White

White: I know I am only one of many affected by the inspiring teaching going on in the Creative Writing program at CMU. Learning to explore language and communicate in a deeper way has enhanced my work in my own field of music immensely and has opened up a whole new facet to my life. As a musician and CMU music professor, my musical/literary collaborations with you and Professor Jeffrey Bean inspired me to explore my previous love of writing. Taking one creative writing class at a time over a number of years from them and others, I “accidentally” ended up with a Master of Arts Degree in English in 2016, which eventually led me to a poetry book contract for a collection rooted in both music and medical humanities.

Fanning: Poetry has not been your only Creative Writing avenue; however. You’ve also been exploring non-fiction?

White: Although my forthcoming poetry book is still delayed from the pandemic slow-down, I am now using the poetic skills I learned for a creative nonfiction exploration of musician’s focal dystonia, an often career-ending neurological movement disorder, and a storytelling of retraining my brain, relying on neuroplasticity, in order to overcome it.

Fanning: You recently applied to several artist’s residencies, to give you time to work on that project. What does it mean to you to be accepted by Ragdale?

White: While my spring 2024 sabbatical project did not rely on landing an artist’s residency, I applied for some and was astonished to be accepted to Ragdale, which was my first choice! With the assistance of a CMU faculty research grant, I will be able to attend this 18-day program in Lake Forest, Illinois, in March. Artists in far-ranging disciplines are granted time to write at this gorgeous estate surrounded by acres of prairie. For me, the most thrilling aspect is the chance to mingle at dinner with artists who might be scholars, sculptors, musicians, dancers, and dreamers.

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