I stood outside the office of Zack Bean, Ph.D., waiting for him to finish meeting with a student. From inside, I heard him suggest she strengthen a certain character or chapter. They both sounded excited and conspiratorial; the unique voice of those wholly involved in creative endeavors. Eventually, she emerged and I walked in. “Ah, I forgot to give back her book,” Bean said, gesturing at a sizeable stack of printer paper. It must have been a hundred pages of typing. “She wrote all that?” I asked. “And you read all that?” Bean teaches creative writing and literature at MSU, and did indeed read his student’s entire manuscript.
Bean has accomplished a lot on and off campus in his three and a half years teaching creative writing at MSU. His book, “Man on Fire,” was accepted for publication last summer. ln a world where the odds of getting published in a literary magazine feel akin to winning the lottery, getting accepted for a book of short stories is exceptionally rare.
The stories are the fruits of 10 years of writing, and three years of submitting the book to publishers. “I’d include some stories and not include others. I was mixing it up, trying to find the right combination of stories to the right publisher,” he said. Eventually, Bean found the perfect combination that led to “Man on Fire,” which can be found at Renne Library.
“I grew up in Arkansas so this book is really about the different subcultures [found in the South],” Bean said. “Many of the stories have their genesis in those parts,” he added. Of the stories, Bean recommends students begin with “Lucky Dog,” one of his favorites. When asked to describe “Man on Fire,” Bean paused only a moment before responding: “Stories that explore the line between affection and violence.”
Bean wrote “Man on Fire” mostly in the morning. He woke up at 5:30 a.m. and wrote for a few hours before his children got up. “When I was in college I’d go to Denny’s and write until three in the morning,” Bean reminisced. “There’s stories in there, some of the shorter stories, that I wrote in a day, in an afternoon at a coffee shop, and revised them once and they were done” he said of the stories in “Man on Fire.” One story, “Signs of Life,” was written over a period of a year and a half to two years.” The professor saved all thirty versions of the story, to document “what went into a story that proved to be a different kind of story [than when I started].” Writing “Man on Fire” has inspired Bean to work on something longer. Going forward, Bean is working on two full-length novels.
Bean has also championed the effort to bring a wider range of creative writing courses to more students. In his time at MSU, two new creative writing courses have been added to the English Department, one of which is a CORE class and therefore open to all students. The demand for CRWR 240, Introduction to Creative Writing, is “through the roof” so far. Bean described his aspirations for the Creative Writing program at MSU as “fuzzy thoughts for the future,” adding that he’ll have to see how the two new creative writing classes are received over the next few years. One day, Bean dreams of a creative writing minor and a poet in residence. “Right now,” he said, “I want to find ways to offer courses the best way we can and make sure students are getting what they need out of those courses.”