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College of Arts and Humanities

New CAH Associate Dean: Katharine Whitcomb

CAH is proud to announce Katharine Whitcomb as the new Associate Dean. Whitcomb is a renowned professor-poet. She has previously been serving as the CAH Interim Associate Dean. Her work The Daughter’s Almanac (Backwater Press, 2014) won the 2014 Backwaters Prize, chosen by Patricia Smith; and Saints of South Dakota & Other Poems (Bluestem Press, 2000) won the 2000 Bluestem Award, chosen by Lucia Perillo. She was a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University from 1996-1998. CWU honored her as a Distinguished Professor of 2016.

Whitcomb says she became interested in administration and leadership while being a program director in the English Department, and while serving as chair of the Faculty Senate. “I found that I enjoyed having a broader view of the university and getting to know lots of people across campus.” She looks at the Associate Dean position as a way for her to serve and advocate for the creative, dynamic fields of study that bring important value to a university education. To her, the transition from professor to dean, in many ways, seemed natural.

Whitcomb is proud to work for the College of Arts and Humanities. She says, “Our departments and programs empower students to think critically, be creative, engage with complexity, and make their mark.” She feels fortunate to have built her life as an artist within academia. “It has brought so many wonderful students, writers, colleagues and friends into my life—those connections sustain me. That and making my father proud.”

Whitcomb earned her undergraduate degree from Macalester College, in Wisconsin, and an MFA in Poetry Writing from Vermont College of Norwich University. Whitcomb says there was never any question in her mind about what her major in college would be: “I always wanted to study creative writing, especially poetry, though I would have double majored in Creative Writing and Studio Art if I could fit in the credits.” She says being a poet is an inextricable part of her identity, stressing her love for its creative engagement with the world. “This way of being nourishes me every day.”

She began teaching at CWU in the English Department in the Fall of 2004, happy to be returning to the Northwest. Whitcomb grew up in Cheney, WA while her father was a professor at Eastern Washington University. She is the third generation of professors on her dad's side to live east of the mountains in Washington. Over the years, she has taught all levels of creative writing, poetry writing, poetics, mixed-genre writing, contemporary poetry, hybrids and collaborations, etc. 

Over the last decade, Whitcomb has also helped shape much of the curriculum in CWU’s English Department. Most-recently, she helped design the Professional and Creative Writing B.A., and the new online Professional and Creative Writing M.A. “We've tried to bring an exciting mix of craft practice, important texts, and solid critical foundations to the students. We've been able to distinguish our program by offering the students a range of technical and creative writing classes, as well as exposure to a great series of visiting working writers, the Lion Rock Visiting Writers Series. The focus of that series,” she says “is to bring diverse voices to campus for CWU students and community.”

Though her faculty role has changed, Whitcomb stresses her intellectual and emotional engagement with poetry has not. Although, she says, “the amount of free time I have in my life has! Poetry makes me happy, so I make sure that I keep that engagement alive with a poetry writing group in Seattle and setting goals for my writing.” To students interested in becoming poets and/or creative writers, she urges them to embrace the writing process and not resist revision. “That was the most important lesson I ever learned--to let go of my ego and to revise through many drafts.”

Whitcomb describes a new project she is working on, called Hotel Poem, as a collection of poems that are formally inventive. “Some of them are linked by a ‘map’ theme, many of them play around with the use of space and break unexpectedly.” Whitcomb will be reading next at the Pie & Whiskey reading at Get Lit! in Spokane on April 20th.

Media Contact: Zarchary Eddy, CAH Office

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