KINGSTON, R.I. – April 3, 2014 – Youthful and driven, URI Professor of creative writing Josie Sigler entered college with an interest in marine biology and a simmering passion for writing. Numerous publications, awards, and experiences later, Sigler has been awarded a $25,000 Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose (fiction) from the National Endowment for the Arts.
While attending the College of the Atlantic, an experimental school located on an island in Maine, she remained focused on her scientific roots. But, Sigler’s developing love of writing constantly made its way into her everyday life.
“Because my school was in a fairly remote area, college allowed me to live a writing life from a really early age. It winter, all the restaurants would close and you’d just be sitting on a pile of snow in the middle of Maine and if you loved to write, that’s what you were going to do,” said Sigler as she reminisced on her undergraduate years.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in human ecology, she decided to pursue a graduate degree in writing. Sigler moved on to the University of Maine where she received her master’s degree in English and creative writing. Later she earned her doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California.
“I wanted to have more time to write,” she said. “I was compelled to teach so it came down to getting teacher certified for high school or going to get my masters degree to become a professor. I made the right decision, I have grown to love teaching college students.”
Similarly, Sigler’s students have grown to love her in return.
“The first day of class, Josie introduced herself and encouraged all of us to call her by her first name, leveling the playing field and embracing a communal attitude in the classroom,” said senior Ryan Caldarone, who took Sigler’s Advanced Fiction Writing workshop. “On a personal note, she helped me realize the level of work I’m capable of. She helped me be courageous and attempt to tackle things I am capable of and things beyond my own level. I think the beauty of Josie’s skill as an instructor was the subtle way she allowed us to follow our own goals without friction.”
Other students also value her class and the way she composes herself as an instructor.
“Josie is an energetic and engaging teacher. She is really good at connecting with students and making us want to learn. In my five years of college, Josie’s class was the first one I ever looked forward to going to every day,” said senior Britnee Bloschichak, another student who took Sigler’s writing workshop last fall.
Although Sigler is now a confident, experienced, and knowledgeable fiction writer, she hasn’t always been that way. Before graduate school, Sigler had mainly focused on poetry but after her first book of poetry was published, she became curious about what the world of fiction writing had to offer.
“I had always been more of a poetry writer, and in fact, I really didn’t have any sense of how to even build a story,” Sigler admitted.
Graduate school opened many doors when she found a friend and mentor in one of her professors. “She would just sit with me in her office for hours and ask me the questions I needed to transform my writing. I always thought I was being really clear, but I wasn’t. I was trying to mimic other authors and she made me realize I didn’t have to,” said Sigler.
And that’s all it took. She was instantly captured by the world of fiction and saw the possibilities within her own imagination.
“Fiction helps you become the human being you want to be. In our stories we can imagine other lives, other ways of being, for ourselves, and for other people. Not to mention other ways of telling stories that get people to listen more closely. When we read fiction, it offers us an incredible level of understanding about the lives of others, and our own. I believe it makes us more compassionate. That’s how fiction helps me become the person I want to be,” the professor said.
Her collection of short stories, The Galaxie and other Rides, was published by Livingston Press in 2012 and won the Ruby Pickens Tartt First Fiction Award that same year. Similarly, her other works, including the very short story, The Compartment, and many of her poetry books have drawn praise from critics. Today, Sigler devotes much of her time to her upcoming historical novel, which takes place in Rome during World War II. After learning about people who take care of artifacts in the Vatican, she was inspired to start writing.
“These people worked with art and objects that are sacred to many people. During the war, when the Germans were occupying Rome, the Vatican was considered a safe city. These workers were among the few people who could go back and forth over the line between Vatican City and Rome. This meant they occupied a special position that enabled them to carry information between the two cities.”
With curiosity about Roman culture and serious interest in improving the factual evidence of her novel, Sigler traveled to Rome this December on a URI Humanities Center Grant. She also plans on using some money from the NEA grant to travel to Rome to continue her journey as a writer. “I have written every day of my life since I was 12. I don’t know where I learned that you should write every day, but I did, and that’s what I do.”
This release was written by Sabrina Galiney, a URI Marketing and Communications intern and Public Relations major.