Writing the Books She Wasn’t Encouraged to Read

Carol and kitty

Guess with her cat, Eloise.

Carol Guess ’90 is the author of 20 books of poetry and prose, including Doll Studies: Forensics and Tinderbox Lawn. Her short fiction collection Sleep Tight Satellite is forthcoming in 2023. She is a professor of English at Western Washington University, where she teaches queer studies and creative writing. Guess lives in Seattle.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Completely unaware of who I was and who I would become. Pretending very hard to be someone else. Breaking all of this open was as much my project as graduation!

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

Roommates! The excitement and challenge of living with people so very different from me.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

I have beautiful memories of discovery, but also memories of tension, because the campus had recently gone coed. In truth, I felt excluded at times because so many male professors grumbled about teaching female students and discouraged us from reading books by women. Ironically, this did more than anything else to make me a writer. I was determined to challenge the canon, from within and without. I wanted to write the books I wasn’t encouraged to read. That’s still my goal today.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Butler Library. So much tactile beauty, so many books to breathe in. I fell asleep a lot in the armchairs, but I also began writing poetry and short stories there, taking myself seriously as a writer in a new way.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

My focus was always intellectual and artistic. I definitely missed out on social opportunities. That’s the one thing I’d change.