2023 has been a busy year for CU Denver Associate Professor Nicky Beer. In the spring, the poet and educator won a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. Beer was one of eight poets in this year’s group of 171 scholars, artists, and writers who will receive monetary awards to support their work. Past Guggenheim fellows include Zora Neale Hurston, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, and Alice Walker.
Then, in June, Beer’s Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes poetry collection (Milkweed Editions, 2022) earned a 2023 Lambda Literary Award in the Bisexual Poetry Category. The “Lammys,” as the awards are known as, have supported and celebrated LGBTQ+ works for more than 30 years. We recently caught up with Beer to learn about what’s next, her students, and advice for aspiring writers.
You’ve had a lot of good news recently. How has it changed your day-to-day life?
Being a creative writer is not always about outside acknowledgement, but it can’t hurt, especially when you’re writing poetry. But I’m always telling my students that it doesn’t matter how many things you might get published or work that you win prizes for—in the end, it’s still just you and the blank page.
What makes CU Denver a place where you can grow creatively and reach these big milestones?
I have so many talented colleagues in the English Department. It’s really ridiculous. If you just go through the roster, the whole department—lecturers, instructors, senior instructors, clinical teaching track faculty, professors—is full of extraordinary, accomplished people who are so smart and who work so hard.
And also, the students are absolutely incredible because they all come from such different backgrounds. As you can imagine, when you’re in a creative writing classroom, that is crucial. It enriches the kinds of conversations that you can have when students are being exposed to such a wide variety of each other’s life experiences. And they’re consistently so kind and generous with one another. That’s an amazing student body to work with.
I’m working on two books, including my fourth book of poems (as of yet untitled). In that book, I’m trying to write, even more explicitly than I did in my third book, about my queerness and my mental illness. And then I’m also working on a book of creative nonfiction. It’s basically a collection of memoir essays, and my ancestor, the writer Thomas Beer (1889 – 1940), is a recurring figure in them. Though he was very popular in his day and wrote many short stories for The Saturday Evening Post, he’s pretty much forgotten now. He was also a closeted gay man, served in World War I, and rubbed shoulders with many celebrities of his time. I find him to be a fascinating subject. So those are the two things I’m working on right now.
What would you say to an aspiring writer or a student who is interested in coming to CU Denver? What makes this program unique?
I think one of the things that’s really wonderful about our creative writing workshops is that, as a student, you’re in an environment where everyone is taking your work seriously—and taking their own work seriously. And that is a very rare and precious experience. And I like to think that our creative writing faculty really pushes student writers to take risks, to be curious, and to be ambitious with their work.
One of the things that makes our program unique is that undergrads have the opportunity to work on Copper Nickel, CU Denver’s national literary journal. There, they gain professional experience in literary publishing, and learn about the inner workings of how issues come together. And they get to see a snapshot of the contemporary literary world as it exists now, and that literature is so much bigger and vibrant than what they’ve learned in a textbook.
There are so many exciting things going on in the English department, in our classrooms, in our research, and in our service work. I’m really proud to be part of such a vibrant, innovative department with so many great colleagues and so many great students.
Want to know more about how CU Denver’s programs cater to the needs of its students? Click here to learn about the 2030 Strategic Plan.