Erin Celello

My day job is assistant professor and author.

I teach freshman-level English and a creative writing class at UW-Whitewater and I’ve published two novels: Miracle Beach and Learning to Stay. The second one became a play in 2017 thanks to a commission from Forward Theater Company. James DeVita, whom most people in Madison know from his great work at American Players Theatre, wrote the script and Jennifer Uphoff Gray directed.

I’ve always enjoyed reading and wrote books as a small child—my mom hired a tutor to help me write books when I was a kid and she recently sent me one I wrote and illustrated! But as an adult I never envisioned myself writing a book. Maybe part of that was growing up in a small town: Writing a book seemed like something other people did.

I audited my first creative writing class in college and my teacher was a woman named Kyoko Mori, who’s an author and a poet. She encouraged me to submit a poem I wrote to a competition and I won.

Although that gave me the confidence to switch my major to English, part of me still felt like I needed to do something practical. I took the LSAT and spent some time working at my dad’s office—he’s an attorney—but the first brief I wrote killed my soul! On a whim I sent some writing samples to an MFA program and ended up getting a Master’s degree in composition and an MFA in fiction.

I’m thrilled to be doing this and credit my parents for being so supportive while I explored.

My most memorable caffeine is impossible to pick. Caffeine is essential to my writing and I can’t get going without it. My cup of coffee might get cold before I finish it—a sign the writing is going well—but the smell and the ritual of coffee is part of my process.

My current caffeine of choice, or should I say my aspirational coffee of choice, is black coffee. Ten years ago I was into lattes and hazelnut but now I’m trying to get to the other end of the continuum.

My favorite place for caffeine is any coffee shop in Madison. I’ve probably been in all of them over the years. I love the sense of community and I need to leave my house (I have two small kids) to get anything done. I do especially like the Colectivo on Monroe Street. It’s cozy and they have great food and even sparkling water on tap!

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with are Barack Obama and Pope Francis.

Think of the conversation you could have with the two of them. I’d talk with Obama about his legacy and ask the Pope what it’s like to lead the Catholic Church in these changing times.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  the lack of civility. It’s all fed a general sense of impatience with other people and other points of view. That’s not to say there’s still not a need for “good trouble,” to quote John Lewis—where people are willing to stir things up a bit by standing up against injustice. I’m not totally sure we could solve world peace over coffee, but if we sat down more often, face-to-face, with those who we might not agree with, we might find that there’s much more that unites than divides us.