Leigh E. Graham, Associate Professor of English at Marist College

Hometown: Fayetteville, AR; graduated from high school in Joplin, MO

Graduation year: 1989

Major: English

Sorority: Kappa Kappa Gamma

What other degrees have you earned?

M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Illinois-Chicago

What is your current career position?

Associate Professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY

Please describe your current work.

I teach creative writing, college writing and literature at a four-year comprehensive college in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York. These classes consist of poetry workshops, travel writing, memoir, Magical Realism and, occasionally, Blues Poetry/Blues History that I co-teach with a colleague in History. I advise students, host guest writers, advise student clubs and serve on campus-wide committees along with teaching classes. I also write and publish poems and essays. I am currently at work on my third full book of poems, The O.E.D. Odes, that examines the multiple textures of words and their histories. Along with that, I’m editing a collection of literary critical essays on the work of the poet Michael Anania, and I am translating a book of poems by the Chilean poet Sergio Coddou.

What are your future goals?

To keep writing and publishing poems and essays. I am really interested in writing essays on travel and on the subject of pilgrimage since I have traveled a lot (44 countries at present count) over the years and have walked portions of the Camino de Santiago Compostela several times.

In terms of your professional life, what would you say is your overarching purpose today?

I think mostly it is to help students expand their understanding of the world and language. Also, just to help students build confidence in their own minds.

How did Westminster help you find your purpose?

At Westminster, I discovered how important poetry is to me. What a gift that was not just as someone who now teaches and writes it, but also for the way it has sustained me personally.

Were any relationships you formed at Westminster particularly influential in helping you find clarity of purpose?

The faculty at Westminster was amazing to me: from the spring day walking across campus with Dr. Collins when he said, “Well, you are going to be an English major, aren’t you?” to the inspiring lectures of Dr. Lael on Latin America or the Vietnam War and the enduring support and encouragement of Wayne Zade surrounding my writing. The faculty has been a model and inspiration in my own teaching and work with students. I can’t say enough wonderful things about them.

What did you learn about leadership while at Westminster, and how has that translated into your life since graduation?

I think good leadership has a quiet strength to it. I think about some of my friends during my Westminster days who I admired as good leaders and they always had a sense of measure and thoughtfulness.

What does success mean to you?

It is simply being able to do the work I love to do and which gives me time to travel and keep learning.

What is it about Westminster that makes it the kind of community that empowers students to discover their purpose and find success?

I would never underestimate the power of individual attention to students by faculty and staff. The kind of conversation and encouragement that can be had at a place like Westminster is invaluable for students. You never know what small thing might help.

Favorite Westminster faculty member(s)?

Wayne Zade and Dave Collins

Favorite spot on campus?

Westminster Hall, where I had so many classes and good talks in faculty offices. I also think fondly of the Hill and a memory of some of us going mud sliding one year when there were torrential rains.

Last book you read?

James Welch’s Winter in the Blood

Favorite movie or TV show?

Foyle’s War is a favorite TV show, and my current favorite movie is a Georgian film (the country) called My Happy Family.

Favorite app?


Favorite way to spend a Sunday?

Cooking or watching old movies with my spouse

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.