American children’s novelist Jerry Spinelli has called English professor Jason Schossler’s collection of poems and short stories, titled “Mud Cakes,” “a masterpiece.”
The collection earned him a first-place Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize in 2010. The same year, he was also recognized for the runner-up position for the Paterson Poetry Prize.
“I’m grateful for all of [those recognitions],” Schossler said. “I think the hardest is to make time to celebrate that. And that is what I try and tell students.”
Schossler said it was a change in career direction after he was an undergraduate student at Kutztown University majoring in English and professional writing that has enabled his success so far. One of his undergraduate professors, Harry Humes, encouraged him to attend graduate school to expand his career opportunities.
Schossler said he knew he wanted to tell stories since before he was 6 years old and recalled his grandfather encouraging him to use his creativity. This remained his goal after graduating from college.
After he received his degree in English and professional writing, which included magazine writing and public relations, he said he realized he “didn’t want to be a corporation mouthpiece.”
This became clear to him, Schossler said, when he worked as a legal journalist for Andrews Publications in Wayne, Pa., for two years and said he “had it all, but was miserable.”
Hoping to realize his dream of being a creative writer, he quit his job and began a master’s program at Temple where he studied under Joan Mellon, whom Schossler said he considers his “Yoda.” Reflecting on his educational experience inspired Schossler to share his passion with others, he said.
“I want to give [my students] my heart and soul, if they want it,” Schossler said.
Now, Schossler splits his time between freelance journalism, teaching at Temple and working on short stories and poetry. While “Mud Cakes” is a collection consisting mostly of poems, Schossler said he wants to be known as a storyteller. He said his poems are narrative.
“There is a lot of fiction in ‘Mud Cakes,’” Schossler said, “I will never say what is true and what is not. I felt a need to put my creative energy into trying to figure [adolescence] out.”
Schossler said the moment he learned his book was going to be published was “immensely exciting.” He visited nine states on his book tour, but the one that resonated the most with him, he said, was his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio, where he signed books, read an excerpt and gave an interview on National Public Radio.
Though it’s not as important in his Technical Writing class this semester, he focuses on many of the authors he has been inspired by in his classes like Creative Writing, including John Steinbeck, Raymond Carver and Gary Soto. He said his class features an open dialogue style that gets students talking and learning about each other’s works.
“I like to get everybody talking,” Schossler said, and added jokingly that he will “try to slip in a lesson in every now and then.”
Schossler’s wife Nicole Banas also works at Temple in the English department, teaching international students. The couple, who married in May 2013, brainstormed and co-wrote a screenplay together. Though they enjoy co-writing, they recognize each other’s style differences, Banas said.
“It’s helpful in that you can read each other’s work and are there for encouragement,” Banas said. “I feel like not a lot of people would understand coming home from work and wanting to start working on something else.”
While writing is his first love, Schossler said teaching is a close second, especially if he can help someone else discover his or her passion.
“I really do believe in following your dreams,” Schossler said, “You have one shot, one life, but that does not mean to just drift around. Find your passion. Whatever it is, live it, eat it and become it.”
Paige Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.