Rush Creek, Wisconsin
Major: Creative Writing
Michael Walsh ’97 spent more than seven years editing Queer Nature, a poetry anthology featuring LGBTQIA+ voices and perspectives. After Autumn House Press published it in 2022, he's been told that the collection is the first of its kind.
"You would think that someone would have edited an anthology like this before me, but no. I couldn’t believe that," Walsh said.
Walsh sees Queer Nature as a significant cultural piece of literature. With the book beginning to be taught in queer literature as well as environmental literature classes, Walsh understands that Queer Nature makes a unique contribution to both fields of literature. The book is now a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in the Anthology.
"I’m proud of the representation. It’s one of my greatest successes," Walsh said. "I know that, since it hasn’t been done before and so many national conversations about Queer literature are toxic, the fact that it exists now is important to readers."
His studies at Knox were punctuated by excellent interactions with faculty. Two in particular, Poet-in-Residence Sheryl St. Germain and Philip Sidney Post Professor of English Robin Metz, made an enormous impact on his writing career and continued to help him develop after graduation. While Metz helped him develop his love of fiction, St. Germain was there to foster a love for poetry. Together, Walsh left Knox with a toolbox of writing skills to deploy in a number of different styles.
"At the time, I wasn’t aware of how diverse everyone's reading lists were. Robin and Sheryl expanded my reading list outside of white male authors and showed me how vast the literary world could be," Walsh said.
Walsh says his college experience was about much more than studying. As a Queer student, he felt he could connect with faculty and have deep conversations about how to express himself.
"Robin always made people feel as if they were the center of attention, like they were the only student in the room," Walsh said. "So many of my professors were truly there for me. That mattered a lot to me as a young, Queer kid."
Walsh returned to his family farm in Minnesota after graduating. He needed time to reflect on his life, taking a simple job in town and focusing on everything that he had learned over the previous years. He later received his master's in fine arts from the University of Minnesota and published his first collection of poetry, The Dirt Riddles, which received the Miller Williams Prize from the University of Arkansas Press and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry.
Now, Walsh and his husband live in the Driftless, an area of the Upper Midwest characterized by steep, rugged landscapes and the largest concentration of coldwater streams in the world. The pair is developing an annual writing workshop that will enable participants of any writing level to live within the area’s natural settings and work on their fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. They hope to launch the workshop in 2024.
"I only ended up where I am now because of relationships in Knox’s creative writing program," Walsh said. "I can see a direct line from Robin and Sheryl back to me. I could have walked down an infinite number of paths, but they guided me and helped me become the person I am today."