Author and educator Caroline Hagood, ’09, calls her discovery of Buffalo State University a “happy accident.”
The Brooklyn, New York, native and Vassar College graduate had recently moved to Buffalo in the early 2000s with her partner, who was enrolled in medical school. While attending a poetry reading in the Elmwood Village, Hagood spotted a flyer advertising Buffalo State’s master of arts in English program.
“I was planning to apply to a master’s program in Brooklyn, but then thought, Why not attend a school within walking distance of where I was living at the time?”
That happy accident ended up being a life-changing decision for Hagood. After completing the Buffalo State program, she went on to earn a doctorate in English at Fordham University, secure a tenure-track position at St. Francis College, and publish five books.
Hagood will share highlights of her career, which she has balanced with raising two young children, on Thursday, March 16, at 12:15 p.m. in Ketchum Hall 113. Sponsored by the English Department and the Women and Gender Studies Interdisciplinary Unit and funded by the campus Grant Allocation Committee, Hagood’s talk, “Womanhood, Motherhood, and Writing,” is free and open to the campus community.
“I had such a positive experience at Buffalo State,” Hagood said. “The classes were so exciting and inspiring. They made me realize I wanted to stay in that kind of program for years, really for the rest of my life.”
While she praises the whole English Department, she points to faculty members who particularly inspired her, including Peter Ramos, Barish Ali, Jennifer Ryan-Bryant, and Aimable Twagilimana.
“I was able to do such incredible, hands-on work,” Hagood said. “Dr. Ali asked me to co-write a paper with him, and we were published together. Dr. Ramos recommended me for a literature conference, and Dr. Ryan was so inspiring. I remember at the end of a women’s poetry class, we all stood on our desks to honor her like Robin Williams’s students in Dead Poets Society.”
“I had such a positive experience at Buffalo State. The classes were so exciting and inspiring. They made me realize I wanted to stay in that kind of program for years, really for the rest of my life. I was able to do such incredible, hands-on work.”
Twagilimana, whom Hagood considers a mentor, secured a mini-grant to bring her to campus.
“I wanted to show our current students where a Buffalo State education can lead,” Twagilimana said. “Caroline has created a name for herself in the writing circles of New York City. Bringing her here also seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate Women’s History Month. Caroline writes about how womanhood and motherhood have shaped her as a writer.”
In February, Twagilimana invited alumna Ayo Sekai to campus as part of Black History Month. A graduate of the undergraduate program in English education, Sekai is an author and political scientist who founded Universal Write Publications (UWP) in 2004. She now serves as the CEO of UWP, which focuses on Black academic excellence and Afrocentric narratives. She is also a Fulbright specialist with a doctorate in political science from Howard University.
“We have so many impressive alumni who can really relate to our students,” Twagilimana said. “If we had the funding, I would love to bring an alumnus to campus every semester.”
Hagood said she hopes to inspire students and other attendees by sharing insights into both the publishing and teaching worlds. She said she feels fortunate to have landed at St. Francis, where she teaches literature and composition to undergraduates and creative writing to graduate students.
“I was warned how hard it would be to get into a doctoral program and how hard it is to find a tenure-track job,” she said. “All of those things are true, but it is possible. What worked for me and what has worked for my graduate students is just to not stop trying. It took me two years to get into a Ph.D. program. I tell my students: You have to keep improving your craft and your applications. You have to experience massive amounts of failure to have one little piece of something work.”
Perseverance paid off for Hagood in publishing as well. Her first book of poetry, Lunatic Speaks, was published by FutureCycle Press in 2012. It was followed by the poetry collection Making Maxine’s Baby (Hanging Loose Press, 2015); two book-length essays, Ways of Looking at a Woman (Hanging Loose Press, 2019) and Weird Girls: Writing the Art Monster (Spuyten Duyvil, 2022); and the poetic novel Ghosts of America (Hanging Loose Press, 2021). Her novel Filthy Creation will be released this May by MadHat Press.
“My last two books, which were very different but had similar themes, were rejected for two years and then accepted within two days of each other by separate publishers,” she said. “It was almost like giving birth to twins.”
And it speaks to the importance of not giving up, she noted.
Hagood also advises aspiring writers to read everything they can, enroll in craft workshops, and become part of a literary community.
“Most of us won’t become famous authors,” she said. “Building a life around a writing community, however, makes me satisfied. It transcends just wanting to be famous. You have to think not about what you’re getting from that community, but also what you are giving to it.”