Creative writing professor Bill Allegrezza explores words, helps IU Northwest students find their writing voice
When Mississippi-born, southern-educated Bill Allegrezza moved to the Chicago area, it was a true culture shock. The differences were huge, even down to the way Midwesterners pronounce the word “poem,” he said. In the South, the word is pronounced “pome.” In the northern states, there are usually two syllables in “po-em.”
A creative writing professor notices things like that… words are at the heart of what makes him tick.
Allegrezza also teaches professional writing, composition and literature classes at Indiana University Northwest. When he is not teaching, he is writing. His inspiration?
“I try to see what comes up.”
He spends a lot of time in nature, hiking and backpacking in several national parks. He also keeps a journal wherever he goes. “I’m just into language,” he says.
In his most recent book, “To Hush All the Dead,” Allegrezza explores words, geography, space, time and decision-making — particularly the ways they were transformed by the pandemic.
“It's looking at the place you're at, trying to figure out how you move forward,” he says.
Allegrezza's path to poetry
Being a poet wasn’t on Allegrezza’s first list of future jobs. “I kind of got started in high school,” he said. “I was a musician who also wrote lyrics. I ended up liking the lyrics the most.”
As an undergraduate, he realized in the first semester of his freshmen year that his plan to major in chemistry wasn’t going well, so he gave it up. What he really enjoyed was sitting around and reading literature. And that, perhaps, is where the idea came to him to pursue a higher degree to teach at a university.
“As a freshman, I realized I loved things the teachers did, I loved sitting around talking about literature,” he said with a laugh. He also knew that he wanted to do writing that was not “mainstream writing.”
“I just wanted to do my own thing,” he said.
Allegrezza has found a way to do his “own thing” in his own, unique voice. He has published 18 books of poetry, 11 poetry chapbooks (small books of poetry focusing on a common topic), as well as many poetry reviews, articles and poems. His work has been translated into several languages, including Italian, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. He wrote five books of poetry during a sabbatical last year.
When asked about producing that number of books in a few short months, he laughs. “Well, I had been thinking about them a lot before, so it isn’t as though they just appeared.”
In his IU Northwest poetry and creative writing classes, his goal is to help students find their own voices. He doesn’t want to push a particular style on them.
“I’ll just show the students different styles, like slam poetry,” he says. And, even if it's not a style he enjoys writing, “I try to be wide open as a teacher and show them what's possible.”
Allegrezza says that teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was possibly the hardest thing he had ever done, especially with the rapid shift to online classes. Adding that as the nation prepares to end the COVID-19 public health emergency this spring, it will be interesting to see what we do in a post-pandemic world.
Within that new time and space, Bill Allegrezza will be watching and listening and, most likely, writing about the world around him.