Megan Baxter teaches a session at Arts Camp 2019.
Megan Baxter (IAC 02, IAA 02-04) has been a YoungArts advisor, farm manager, and a Crossfit trainer.
It’s all a part of the bold, energetic life that former Interlochen Arts Academy faculty member Mike Delp prescribed to her and other aspiring writers.
Between her careers, Baxter has continued to write and study, earning her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems, memoirs, and personal essays are inspired by these diverse experiences, and have appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Florida Review, and Hotel Amerika, among others. Her accolades include the Faulkner Society’s Gold Award and the Pushcart Prize. She published her first book, “The Coolest Monsters: Essays,” in 2018.
Baxter recently returned to Interlochen to teach fiction and nonfiction at Interlochen Arts Camp. We caught up with Baxter to learn more about her artistic journey, advice for students, and experiences as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
How did you start writing?
I started by being a reader. I loved books, and I wanted to recreate what I was reading. In the fourth grade, I illustrated and wrote a book about getting our puppy. It was a runner-up in the Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest.
Tell us about your time at Interlochen. Do any memories, events, or people stand out?
I started out as a camper. My public high school was an exceptional, competitive academic environment that wasn’t focused on the arts. I had an amazing teacher who forced me to apply to Camp because she knew I needed to get out of that space.
As soon as I got here, I knew I had to find a way to go to school here. What struck me was that all the kids were like me. We were all artists, and I wasn’t the “weird one” anymore. I could talk to the kids here about things that I would never have dreamed of talking about with the kids at my public school.
I applied to Academy during Camp, and was accepted. I was part of the first Academy class to move into the Writing House. I spent a lot of time here, writing, drinking coffee and tea, and attending classes.
During my senior year, I decided I wanted to win every national prize that I could: The Scholastic Art and Writing Portfolio Award, the YoungArts competition, and Presidential Scholar in the Arts. I was a Presidential Scholar and received the highest honor that YoungArts offers. I got silver awards for two of my portfolios from Scholastic—which I sort of consider a win. It became really exciting to see how competitive I could be and how Interlochen could get me to that level.
Tell us about being a Presidential Scholar.
The most interesting experience from my time as a Presidential Scholar was having my work displayed in the gallery with the visual arts winners. They printed my poem up on a big poster and had me stand next to it to answer questions. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn how to speak about my writing.
Did you have a mentor? What advice did they give you that you still follow today?
My closet teacher at Interlochen Arts Academy was Mike Delp. He taught me so much beyond writing. He was almost a Yoda figure.
His teaching was almost—and he would hate this word—spiritual. He taught with the presumption that the spirit of the work was more important than the work itself. He encouraged us to live bold and energetic lives that would appeal broadly on the page.
One of his phrases was “don’t be a newt.” A “newt” was someone who never did anything, never went outside, never got sun on them. I shaped a lot of my 20s on that “don’t be a newt” manifesto: I actually spent 15 years managing an organic farm. Art is a practice that includes more than just the creation—it’s the life you live, the experiences you have, the people you talk to, the books you love.
You work primarily in essays and memoir. How do you develop the vulnerability to share your life with strangers?
It’s a shifting debate. Strangely, I’m a very private person, but the process of writing is a protective veil. I speak about things better in writing than in face-to-face interaction. I think it’s a matter of material and what I’m most comfortable expanding on lyrically.
Now that you’re a teacher, what advice do you give your students?
Be relentless. The people who succeed are not necessarily the best, but the most persistent. For some people, that means having faith. For others, it means moving forward even if you don’t believe in yourself.
Be patient. We all have different seasons of creativity in our lives, and our process changes depending on where we are. Students here at Interlochen are in this moment of tremendous productivity that isn’t likely to occur after leaving this space. Don’t be afraid of the ebb and flow: it’s a natural process.
As an alumna yourself, what words of advice would you have for first-time campers?
Take advantage of the opportunity to meet people outside your discipline. As writers, we don’t go into higher education areas where we might be exposed to performing arts. After Interlochen, it’s rare to be able to sit down and speak to a modern dancer, a filmmaker, and a musician all at once. Having that exposure can be really influential in your work.
You can be exactly who you want to be here, which is so refreshing for a young person. Any kind of baggage or persona you’re carrying with you doesn’t have to exist here.
I’m an outdoorsy person, so I would also say get out and enjoy the campus. It’s tremendously beautiful.