This essay spotlights Creative Writing Professor Clare Rossini, of the English department at Trinity College. Affectionately known as Prof. C, personally I can say that she is one of my biggest supporters, as she is kind and helpful, and those traits shine through in her role as my advisor. As proof of that, even though she knew that this assignment was an interview about her, as soon as we started, she asked me how I was doing. That warmed my heart and reminded me of why she’s a really good person. Though we were on Zoom, the setting of her room was fitting—it was yellow, which reminded me of the sun and her radiant personality that added sparkle to the atmosphere.
Full disclosure, my planned questions were to mostly be about Prof. C’s experience at Trinity. Though I did ask her those questions, as Prof. C and I spoke, somehow, we shifted the discussion to be about her life overall, and I tapped into rich, valuable insight about her. For starters, Prof. C is one of eight children of an Italian family. Likely due to having a big family, Prof. C quickly learned the value of meaningful relationships. In one instance, Prof. C gave me this experience about her father, “my dad and I used to get up together and that was kind of a wonderful time ‘cause it was hard to ever catch either of my parents alone ‘cause there were so many kids in the house. He would read the paper and I’d read the paper… the sun was pouring in the living room window.” In her childhood, this was a part of her regular routine, but now, she looks back on moments like that fondly instead of physical mementos. Even today, she nurtures the family she has left by maintaining contact with her siblings. “We all make a point of texting and talking,” and she tries to see them as often as possible. I thought it was special that she values family a lot.
Prof C has also been shaped by treasured experiences of her past. She recognizes how her parents valued learning, as her father was a high school teacher, and her mom also taught before she had children. Prof. C adopted that love of learning by starting to write in fourth grade. Seemingly, she wanted to learn by observing her own world and writing about it. She even said, “I think I was always more introspective.” Prof C also prized learning by having a love of reading books. I thought that it was incredible how that influenced her adulthood, because the room she sat in basically had a mini library in it.
Although you’d expect that Prof. C would become an educator, the perfect combo of interaction and learning, in her twenties, she had a political career and planned to “run for president one day and save the world,” which still coincided with her love for humanity. She worked for Minnesota’s state government and had great experiences, including working with the governor and flying to different places. Despite this success, she found herself taking creative writing classes because she “realized that the inner life of mine that was fed by and articulated by poetry was really important to me.” So when the opportunity arose for a long-term position in government, she knew that she couldn’t continue to do it because it didn’t fulfill her passion for reading and writing. Following her heart’s desire was the right move for Prof. C. She began graduate school in Iowa and her love for reading and writing poetry developed; soon after, she was offered a teaching position to have her own class. That was when Prof. C flourished the most because she discovered that she loved teaching, “I loved being in the classroom and guiding discussions sharing… something that I thought was really beautiful and important.” As much as she would have loved to write poetry, she knew that she couldn’t make a living out of it. Yet, as I said, teaching was perfect for Prof. C because it married learning and interaction—the integral parts of Prof C’s core sense of self.
Speaking of marriage, Prof. C and her husband, retired Trinity Professor Joseph Byrne, were able to teach together in Iowa. She stated, “That was fun. We went out to schools, public schools… and led these sessions, where kids would both write and paint and that was really fun. The sad part is that many small-town public schools only had this experience for the year. They didn’t have a budget for the arts.” Nonetheless, Prof. C, ever so caring, did what she could to make an impact in these kids’ lives, and her husband did too. Once they started working at Trinity, the married professors teamed up again to enhance Trinity’s Inter-Arts department. She enjoyed that experience as well. However, Prof C’s personal dynamic with her husband was what captured me the most, as she recalled:
“Ninety-five percent of the time it’s been absolutely wonderful… For Joe and I, it’s always been 50/50. He was never the kind of guy who said you’re gonna change the diapers and cook and do the house stuff. We were totally 50/50 which was really important to me as a woman, and we’ve been 100% supportive of each other’s creative life. We both knew how hard it was going to be to fit that in around everything else. Those have been two really great amazing things. I sensed that about Joe early on, that he was gonna give me room to be what I wanted to be.:
These were heartwarming words because it was great to learn that Prof. C has someone who has supported her in a way that resonated with what she defined as helpful. It’s no surprise that the two have been together for forty-four years and have raised a son together.
This year, Prof C is retiring from Trinity. When I asked her about what she cherished from her Trinity experience, unsurprisingly she values the connections she’s made with her students. Reminiscing fondly, she said, “My students, the many students I’ve had, met, worked with, moments in classrooms when the room exploded in laughter, or I felt that all of us were sort of struck by something and a kind of quiet would descend upon the room ‘cause we just altogether experienced a profound moment in a poem or a story.” Prof. C even remembered names of students that she was able to bond with individually, which was another reason I could tell that she valued people. Also, she appreciates the friendship she’s made with Prof. Sheila Fisher.
When I asked Prof C what’s next for her, she said, “I am gonna be a full-time writer, and I’m so excited. I have so many poems I want to put into books… I’m so looking forward to having time to do that. I also would like to write some essays that I’ve got thoughts about… the experience of growing up in a large family… I hope to do some volunteer work around environmental issues.” Clearly, Prof. C will continue to tap into caring for humanity and writing. It was a pleasure getting to know my advisor Professor Clare Rossini so closely. She’s a great person.