Professor of magic: The story of an award-winning poet at UCM

(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – At 6 years old, Jenny Molberg drew a portrait of what she imagined herself to be as an adult. She drew herself in a robe and a hat and labeled the picture “Professor of Magic.”

She feels that picture is not too far off the mark.

“I feel like teaching poetry makes me a professor of magic,” Molberg said.

Teaching poetry was not originally her plan. While pursuing a journalism degree at Louisiana State University, she worked for the school newspaper. That is until she was fired from the paper for asking too many questions.

After trying to cover an injury to Mike the Tiger, the school’s live mascot, the newspaper felt she was pressing too hard and digging too deep, so they let her go.

She laughs about it now.

“I left and took a poetry class, and I never looked back,” she said.

From LSU, she went to American University for her MFA in poetry, and then to the University of North Texas for her doctorate in English and creative writing. She applied for over 30 jobs around the country and got hired at UCM in 2015.

Molberg isn’t only a poetry teacher. She is herself a poet. In 2013, she received the Third Coast Poetry Prize for her poem, “Narrative,” and she’s had poems published in literary journals all across the country. Her collection “Marvels of the Invisible” won the Berkshire Prize in 2014 and was published this year.

She said waiting for her book to be published was an interesting experience.

“I waited so long for it to be published,” she said. “While I was waiting, it was building anxiety. What are people going to think? When it was published, the poems were so old. I did a book tour and it was like revisiting my old self.”

Teaching doesn’t distract Molberg from writing, nor does writing detract from her attention to teaching. In fact, she describes the two as having a sort of symbiosis.

“I love teaching,” she said. “Teaching helps me remember why I love poetry.”

She said students challenge her. They offer different points of view and sometimes contextualize poems differently than she does. She said she learns from teaching.

In addition to writing and teaching, she’s the co-editor of Pleiades magazine, UCM’s literary journal.

“I want to remain active in the literary community and be a part of helping unheard voices be heard,” she said. “I think being an editor is a great place to be for that.”

Phong Nguyen, co-editor of Pleiades magazine, said Molberg “is a tireless advocate for the magazine and its contributors.”

“She has boundless energy and initiative, and her imagination when it comes to her vision for the magazine is a constant reminder to me how important it is for a journal to adapt and change to stay vital,” he said.

Molberg said she is thinking about her next book, though she isn’t necessarily sure what it might be.

“I’m working on some essays right now, so I may try my hand at some nonfiction soon,” she said and then smiled. “But I’ll write an essay, and then I’ll turn around and write a poem.”

Students at other universities, learning from different professors, are reading Molberg’s book in class.

“I have friends that have taught my book, which is humbling,” Molberg said.

She traveled to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, to meet with students who had read and discussed her book.

“It was really humbling to hear them talk about it,” she said, “and to have ideas about it that I never thought were there. I enjoy that. I learn about these people too, what they’re looking for, what they’re interested in.”

Mostly, she wanted to impart upon those students – those aspiring writers – that not everything is going to work, and it’s not a problem.

“I had hundreds and hundreds of poems that I kicked out of this book,” Molberg said. “I wanted them to see that it’s OK to write bad poems. Writing is hard. It’s hard for writers.”

That difficulty is what accentuates her recent success.

“It’s surreal being the author of a book, talking to people, answering questions about it,” she said. “I feel like a kid in grown-up’s clothes.”

Six-year-old Jenny Molberg saw the magic in it years ago. Now, in the small community of Warrensburg, her students, colleagues and readers get to see it too: Dr. Jenny Molberg, Professor of Magic.

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