English Professor Maxine Beach says ‘resilience’ is a writer’s best bet
By: Missy Arneson
“It was very dark,” Meramec Professor E. Maxine Beach said about her book, “Neurotica.” She said the book is a short story cycle, which is a novel comprised of several short stories, and is a heavy tale about women’s sexuality interspersed with humor.
Aside from being a published author and poet, Beach has been teaching at St. Louis Community College—Meramec for eight and a half years because of her desire to give back.
“I was a trouble student,” Beach said with a smile. She said several professors really worked with her and inspired her, so much so that she wanted to help future students and encourage them the way she had been encouraged.
Before working at Meramec, Beach held the position of Chair of Creative Writing at Austin Community College and also advised a student creative writing club called the Writer’s Guild.
“I tried to start something similar here when I first started teaching here,” Beach said. “But it never took off… you really need that one student with passion [to lead the group].”
Beach also used to advise the “Currents” student literary magazine, but she had to give up the position when she took on the role of chair of the English department.
“If I had my way, I would just [advise “Currents”] and teach creative writing,” Beach said, laughing.
Beach said that while she makes sure to jot down ideas and bits of writing whenever something comes to her, her favorite place to write is her home office, complete with a “go away” sign on the door.
“My family knows that when I’m in my office and the door is shut, I expect them to go away,” Beach said.
Although Beach published a book and several poems, she said the process of publishing is extremely difficult. She said she enjoyed writing and promoting her book, but not so much the in-between part. Between finding an interested publisher, figuring out a publishing contract and working with designers to create the cover and illustrations, Beach said the legwork was her least favorite part of the publishing process.
After promoting her book, Beach said she felt a little sad. Promoting was fun, but then the fun ended.
“It was a let-down,” Beach said. “Once it’s over, it’s [dead]… like a dancer feels after she walks off the stage.”
Beach said her best advice to young writers was threefold: students need to grow a thick skin, review and edit with other writers and read widely.
“Any artist is going to experience rejection,” Beach said. “The actress who auditions for a hundred plays may only be cast in one. She has to suffer 99 rejections, but she got one.”
Several students said they enjoy Beach’s classes, as well as her manner of teaching. Student Leo Hedrick said he really enjoyed Beach’s open approach in her creative writing class, which he felt left writers room for creativity.
“I looked her up on that ‘rate your teachers’ site [ratemyprofessors.com],” Hedrick said. “She had really good reviews.”
Hedrick said the best part of the class was the workshop — peer reviewing with classmates — and that he would definitely recommend the class to other students.
He was echoed by Debbie Corson, who said she has known Beach since 2011 and known her well for three years, but that this is the first class she’s taken with Beach.
“It’s been fabulous,” Corson said. “She’s got a great way of inspiring students and letting them write without that critic on their back… She also gives them freedom to be themselves.”
Corson said she really got to know Beach on a service learning trip to New Orleans. Corson said she was leading the trip, and Beach fell ill early on, though she was soon joined by Corson. She said the two of them spent all day talking, which really deepened their friendship.
Corson’s favorite aspect of Beach’s personality is that she’s not afraid to speak her mind.
“She’s authentic,” Corson said. “She knows who she is.”
Beach said the message she wanted to give to the world with her writing was one of perseverance.
She said her stories were about people who had been knocked down and persisted.
“If there’s anything that I want to tell people, especially women, and especially young women, is that no matter what comes at you — if you have built up some resilience… take that ugly dirt and mud that’s been slung at you, just pick it up and mold it… into some nice pottery… you’re gonna be probably a better person in the long run,” Beach said.