Professor Profile: Whitney Mackman contributes to New Orleans literature


Courtesy of Whitney Mackman

Professor Whitney Mackman teaches Creative Writing at Tulane. She also teaches at Xavier University and writes poetry inspired by New Orleans.

From Walker Percy’s existential novel, “The Moviegoer,” to John Kennedy Toole’s Southern classic, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” New Orleans is deeply rooted in its literary history.

Tulane’s Creative Writing department gives students a chance to not only study some of these works, but also contribute their own stories and perspective to the literary scene. In small workshops of about 12 students, experienced and often published professors guide students through the process of writing creatively in different genres.

One of Tulane’s creative writing professors is Whitney Mackman. She has written poems of all kinds, many of which arise from what she terms New Orleans’s “strong sense of place.” Her first book, “What Ties Us,” a collection of some Mackman’s best works, is available for pre-sale now and will be released this June.

Courtesy of Finishing Line Press
“What Ties Us” is Mackman’s book debut. She teaches at Tulane and Xavier as a creative writing professor.

“[The work] seeks to find understanding and love through the tangible and intangible elements that connect human beings to one another,” Mackman said.

In addition to writing, Mackman teaches classes at Tulane and Xavier University. After class, she can often be found running in Bayou St. John or City Park, working out ideas for her next poem. When she thinks of the perfect line, she repeats it over and over to herself to the rhythm of her run, hoping not to forget it by the time she gets home.

Mackman said she hopes to motivate students in her creative writing workshop to find their own sources of inspiration, whether it be in nature or elsewhere in their lives. For each genre or style of creative writing, Mackman challenges students to examine their preconceived notions about which genres they prefer.

According to Mackman, many students enjoy writing creatively more than they thought they would even if the class doesn’t fit directly into their majors.

“I’ve had science majors tell me they’ve added English as their minor,” Mackman said. “I had one student who’s off to veterinary school, and [her brother] told her ‘You have to take a creative writing class. No matter what you’re majoring in, you have to take a creative writing course before you leave.’ … It opens up a whole new world.”

Creative writing doesn’t just help students find a new hobby. According to Mackman, learning to write creatively offers real-world skills that are invaluable in the workplace.

“You’re always kind of selling something, your message or your product or whatever,” Mackman said. “So how do you want to do it? For the writer, you have to find the fun in it, even if it is just regular content writing explaining a mattress or a coat.”

According to Mackman, adding a touch of humor or intrigue to otherwise dry material is the key to writing effectively, whether it be in the world of academics or business. Mackman has been able to apply this to her own career, writing content for various companies.

In addition to teaching and writing, she coaches a mountain bike team in Boulder, Colorado, during the summer. Last summer, Mackman went mountain biking in the Scottish Highlands and the backcountry of Iceland.

When she isn’t seeking adventure or coaching mountain biking, Mackman is looking to impact people in other ways.

On campus, Mackman is directing CockTales, a play of monologues written by men about “a woman or experience with a woman that changed that man for the better.” The show will take place April 12 and 13 at Rogers Memorial Chapel. According to Mackman, the performance seeks to bring the perpetrators, not just the victims, into the discussion.

“Men are responsible for the majority of sexually violent acts towards women, yet their voices are largely absent from the discussion,” Mackman said. “We need to solve this together.”

Mackman said she is seeking male actors to read the monologues of CockTales. If you are interested, email her at [email protected].

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