Robbie Maakestad is an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus and is writing a biography of place about the City of David archaeological park in Jerusalem. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Ball State and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from George Mason University. He has been published or has forthcoming work in Essay Daily, Bad Pony, The MacGuffin, Free State Review, and Bethesda Magazine, among others. In 2017, Robbie was shortlisted for the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer Award. Follow him at @RobbieMaakestad.
How did your English major lead to your current position? What skills did you learn as an English major that helped you transition into that job?
Without a degree in English, I certainly would not be prepared to teach or edit as I do now. After getting my BA in English from Taylor University and my MA in Creative Writing at Ball State, I attended George Mason University in Fairfax, VA (where I still live) to get an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. After graduating in May ’17, I started editing for The Rumpus and teaching nonfiction as adjunct faculty at George Washington University (GWU)–both positions that would have been unattainable without the experience afforded by my degrees. Studying English in undergrad forced me to practice critical thought in regard to my own writing and to the writing of others, which has proven essential in both my teaching and editing. Workshop in creative writing courses laid a foundation for leading discussion in my own classroom and for knowing what to look for as I select essays to publish.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Mondays and Wednesdays I teach at GWU in Washington D.C., so I commute an hour into the city by metro, teach two sections of Historical Creative Nonfiction, hold office hours, and put in several hours of my own work before heading home. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I head to the library for 8-10 hours and grade, lesson prep/read class materials, and read and edit essay submissions. I’m currently about two-thirds of the way through writing a history of the City of David–an archaeological site in Jerusalem–so I also spend a lot of my library time working on the book, and reading archaeological reports, biographies of archaeologists, and texts about ancient Jerusalem in order to mine the history for a narrative.
Do you have any advice for English majors who are trying to figure out what comes next in their lives?
It’s probably cliché, but if you know what it is that you love to do, position yourself in order to make it happen as your career. Post-undergrad I thought that I might want to teach college English, but I wasn’t sure, so I pursued my MA in order to get teaching experience while getting a writing degree. It turned out I loved teaching at the university level (and I’ve always loved writing CNF), so for me an MFA was the next step in pursuing both of those passions. During my MFA I edited Phoebe Journal where I learned that in addition to writing my own work, I love publishing other writers, so after graduating I found an editing position. Things fall into place eventually; it’s just a matter of networking and gaining experiences that will qualify you for the job that you want eventually.