Q&A: Professor Herb Kauderer

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by Kaitlyn Halper

News is spreading on Professor Herb Kauderer’s departure from Hilbert occurring at the end of Spring 2019. An English professor on campus, he teaches classes including creative writing and literature of horror. Writing poems and short stories he was nominated for the Elgin Award twice, the Rhysling Award four times, the Dwarf Star Award, and Pushcart prize three times. He won Asimov’s Readers Award for best poem. The Scribe sat down with him to get to know him before he says his final goodbye to the school he’s been with since 2000.

The Scribe: Where did you grow up?

Herb Kauderer: I lived in Buffalo until around April 1st of third grade. And then from third grade to college I lived in South Cheektowaga. I think I am the fifth generation that was born in the city of Buffalo.

TS: How did you get into writing and English?

HK: So I’ve always been into English and writing in particular I think came from two sources. The first of which was my father was an absolutely amazing man when it came to swearing and cursing. He was in the infantry and a mechanic and for a while a truck driver before he made it up in middle management, so he didn’t just swear, he did it creatively, interestingly, beautifully. Gave me an appreciation for words. In terms for writing it down, when I was growing up the emotional value of the house, I was living in was very loud pretty much 24/7 so you really couldn’t look at any words unless they were written down. And so that gave me an outlet for communicating even with my mom, I could write a story or poem and she would read it and it would be the only time the words were being communicated rather than the emotions.

TS: I know you have successes with writing, can you talk about them?

HK: Sure, and it comes in many flavors. Note I have always written and strangely because I didn’t know that such things existed until today but I am a classically trained poet so when I was an undergrad at Buff State I took every course on poetry and I was always writing. I was writing for the school newspaper. I was writing for pleasure, but as in actually getting to the successful level I started sending out poems to get published around 89’. Started getting published regularly and after a while started getting a lot critical notice in speculative poetry community, things like dark fantasy poetry. Which is interesting, I didn’t always know I was writing that. For instance, I joke but I think there is great truth when I say that for more than thirty years, I’ve occasionally written letters to the ancient Greek Gods. So, I started grad school and needed to get published in literary markets, so I started getting published in a lot of literary markets. Somewhere along the line, I think some people have a signature piece. Mine is Wedding Song and it was first published I believe in 1999 and it’s the one I’m identified with. And that’s a wonderful thing. I also started getting into poetry readings circuit, that would have been sometime in 2000 so after that poem. And because I tend to be a loud dramatic reader, I became quite popular in that circuit which was a nice additional income in a time when I was short with money. After that it just continues, there was a stretch where I was publishing a lot less because I was raising three kids on my own. And there is a stage of writing that has a great deal of focus, when you sit down and polish something up and you actually send it out. And I found that I was constantly writing but not polishing because I didn’t have the quiet and the focus to do that with the three kids. I continued to occasionally publish just because editors would ask for something and I would send them something specific. I considered that very flattering. And then there was the great reboot in 2014. I say that it kinda started the year before that in 2013 when a feature film I wrote was released. The title of the film was Beyond the Main Stream. So that was way cool. To see the words I wrote on the big screen next to Iron Man 3. But what happened, people always say why is there so much more right now, and I say three years in a row, one of my kids moved out. Not only did I have time, but I had ten years of rough drafts, I just cleaned everything, found the rough drafts, put everything in a box, and recreated my book keeping system to be an online book keeping system. Because again when you’ve had 1,600 poems published and 55 short stories, I honestly don’t know how many book reviews or articles I’ve had published, it’s a whole lotta book keeping with that. I have excel spread sheets just to keep track. So that’s a little crazy but very quickly in 2014 I have to say one of the things that kept me on I received an arts grant from Hilbert College to produce an arty book called The Book of Answers and it was a book of answer poems that answered specific poets or individual poems by poets and I really wanted to get it out even though it had been delayed again and again. One of my funny stories is when it really seemed like it was going to come out, then the publisher said that the graphic designer couldn’t do the cover and it was going to take another couple months and I said nope we’re going to print it and I drew the cover, but that book met with a great deal of success. Where I am now. I have had sixteen chapbooks and books published. I have two more in press. Interestingly, I wrote this book, which is photos, prose, and poetry about the epic snowstorm in November of 2014 thinking that no one would ever want to read it. I turned out to be incorrect and for one week it made it all the way up to number one on Kobo’s American Poetry best sellers list.

TS: What are your hobbies past writing?

HK: Too much fantasy football. I’ve been getting into drawing again just because my twelve-year-old daughter has been taken up with it. I love animation. Some of it is offshoots. For example, I have an entire bookcase of collections of comic strips. I think comic strips are an amazing American art form that endures and has the added benefit of making me laugh and therefore making me healthier. I also might confess to occasionally playing the drums.

TS: Why does the horror genre interest you so much?

HK: In 1995 I get the request to be interviewed by a horror magazine. Why do you want to interview me? About your horror poetry and I say I write horror poetry? And I said I should realize that people think I am writing horror and be a little aware of it and go from there. So, horror isn’t necessarily the part the captivates me, yet it is one flavor that captivates me. What I’m always looking for is that we are both emotional and rational human beings. And we’re surrounded in a world that often presents one side at a time. So as I look to the current world or the future I often as myself what happens if we push an emotional side on a logical situation as a result often I end up with horror. I’ll admit here that since I came out of science fiction and Ray Bradberry said, “science fiction isn’t in the business of predicting futures, rather it is in the business of preventing futures.” And I just recently reread Fahrenheit 451 and it might as well be a horror book. It wasn’t until after I started teaching horror that I joined the Horror Writers of America and the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers.

TS: What would you be doing if English wasn’t it?

HK: I’d be writing. Um I am a retired teamster, I worked twenty years in a factory. I’ve operated every piece of equipment and driven almost everything with wheels, including driving a tractor trailer on the I-90 between the hockey arena and the baseball stadium. I was never really good at it and it was very frightening. So, I had a whole other career and I like to think I’m headed toward another career as I ponder retirement. But writing is the constant in my life, so I feel like its going to be writing related. I do know I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. It’s like my second love. To me the study of literature and the study of psychology is the study of the same subject matter in different ways. But I have no particular interest to go become a psychologist.

TS: I heard you are retiring at the end of spring 2019, what are you going to miss about Hilbert?

HK: I think Hilbert is an amazing place and I’m sure I’ll miss my students most of all, but I think my collages are absolutely amazing. I used to jokingly say I used to be a factor worker and now I’m a professor where at least everyone smells better. And to me that is kind of the metaphor for we don’t know what’s going to happen, but at the end of the day I get to come to work with rooms full of young people trying to improve their lives. That’s amazing, very few people in that factory are trying to improve their lives, most of them are just hanging around. Then I come here into a room full of people that are here to improve the word, they’re gonna improve the world in a few years. I think that is a privilege. Yesterday I gave my most famous lecture for the 61st and final time on the use of deduction as a tool of argument and it was amazing. And when I got done the students got up and said it was the best class ever, best lecture ever and the real compliment is when they leave the room in packs talking about the lessons. Wow this has really been a privilege to come here and talk to students.

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