Meet Globe-La Crosse’s new Instructor Jeffrey D. Briggs
Q. Nick Name, Degree Earned, Home Town
A. I go by Jeff or Jeffrey. I earned a B.A. from Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and an M.A. from the University of Denver. Both degrees are in English Language and Literature with an emphasis on writing. I’ve studied both journalism and creative writing. I’ve also had the opportunity to study writing at the University of London and Oxford University. That was pretty heady stuff for a small-town boy from rural Michigan. I grew up in Vermontville, Mich., a town of 700-people where the annual highlight is the Maple Syrup Festival. In fact, working in the sugar bush making maple syrup was one of my first jobs. But the place I consider my real hometown is Seattle, Wash. Until moving to Rochester, Minn., about 9 months ago, I spent the past 30 years in Seattle, a jewel of a city wedged between mountains and the sea.
Q. Who was your favorite teacher and why? Share a short memory of him/her.
A. I had an English teacher in high school named Dorothy Carpenter. I had known Mrs. Carpenter most of my life, as she was mother to one of my best friends. But our relationship changed when I got into high school. She inspired me to write. She taught me to love Shakespeare, poetry and the classics. She encouraged me to read protest novels of the ‘60’s, like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five, and Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. She took me to professional theatre, where I was mesmerized by plays like “Romeo and Juliet,” “All’s Well that Ends Well,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” The thing I remember most about Mrs. Carpenter is how she always challenged me to be better, to think better, to write better. If I turned in a half-assed paper, which happened on more than one occasion, she’d give it back to me with a note scribbled on it, “Try again. And this time try.”
Q. Besides pumpkin carving, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
A. In Seattle, I was pretty much a water rat: I lived on a sailboat for ten years; then my wife and I bought a house not far from the beach. I sailed and kayaked throughout much of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve sailed the Pacific Coast from Southeast Alaska to Mexico’s Sea of Cortes. This followed an indigent youth when I delivered boats from Tampa, Fla., to the Caribbean. In Seattle, I wrote magazine articles and books about boats, I edited a boating magazine, I produced boat shows, I sailed boats across oceans and up and down the Pacific Coast. If it had to do with anything boating, I was probably involved.
Other than boats, I have always been passionate about baseball and books. I read constantly and love all kinds of books in a wide variety of genres. And I write. I write every morning, and try to produce at least 600 words per day every day of the year except for Christmas. With that schedule, I’ve written hundreds of magazine articles and five books. Now, I’m still waiting for the three books in the Seattle Waterfront Mystery series to be published, but it will happen, it will happen. I am also a foodie and share a cooking column with a writing friend of mine. I just finished a column for a beef roast with Madeira sauce and a side of herbed Yorkshire pudding (a traditional British Christmas dinner). I’m currently working on a recipe and story for Shepard’s Pie. So we’re eating a lot of lamb at home at the present time.
Q. If you could have coffee with anyone, who would it be, where, and why?
A. That’s a good question. I probably could never settle for one, so I’d hold court in a coffee house/pub and invite Shakespeare and Dr. Samuel Johnson, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Emily Dickenson, Herman Melville and Neal Stephenson to stop by for a latte, a hearty stout or two, and a lively conversation on books and writing, religion and politics, philosophy, and life. Of course, getting the reclusive Emily and the prim-and-proper Jane to frequent a pub might be a challenge, though that shouldn’t be a problem with Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson. After all, it was Johnson who said, “There is nothing which has been yet contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” That answers the who and where. But the why? Because these people understood life, the sad and the sublime, the joyful and the tragic. It’s life lived to its fullest.
Q. What actor/actress’s personality most represents your teaching style and why?
A. That’s a hard question since movies and television are art forms I don’t pay much attention to. It would probably be a combination of, say, Gary Cooper and Buster Keaton. I suppose that would make it someone like Robert Downey, Jr. Why? I take teaching and writing very seriously, but I also try to have fun and I want my students to have fun while taking their classwork very seriously.
Q. What do you believe is the number one ingredient that an employer is looking for from an applicant seeking a position?
A. That’s easy: the ability to communicate. Learn to write. Without the ability to write persuasively—using correct grammar and proper spelling, etc.—job applicants will have a difficult time even getting to an interview. A recent study polled the HR departments in a thousand companies large and small. The single biggest reason an applicant didn’t get considered for a job was because of a poorly written cover letter and résumé. So my advice for all students, no matter the program, no matter the field of study, who are interested in a long and productive career: Learn to write. Learn to communicate.