TCC Adjunct Profile: Dan Musgrave

March 6, 2018

TCC adjunct professor Dan Musgrave tried not to become a writer.

“I didn’t want to be, you know? I really kind of avoided it,” he says. “I only took one class during undergrad, and chose to go into science instead.”

He conducted cognitive research with apes for seven years, going so far as to get a master of arts in Biological Anthropology from Iowa State University. But he kept getting called out for adding a little too much flair to his field notes, for interpreting the apes’ behavior.

“It was at the end of that, when I saw that the things I really wanted to know would take several lifetimes to get at using the scientific method, that’s when I gave in. I want to be in control of what I’m doing. No more real life telling me what to do.”

He began searching for a master of fine arts program for creative writing while at the same time his wife, fiancée at the time, was narrowing her options for doctorate programs.

“We were both figuring out at the same time what was the next step,” he says. The doctorate won, and they found themselves in St. Louis. Dan attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis, though it wasn’t a school that had been on his radar.

“I was pretty determined to figure it out myself, but I needed a writing group,” he says. “I needed people to tell me, ‘don’t go down that path.’ I needed someone to stop me from myself.”

He ended up enjoying the low-key nature of the program, his professors, and the school’s literary journal, of which he became the associate managing editor. Along the way to the M.F.A., he attended several writer’s workshops and was a finalist for the Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize. That essay was eventually selected as a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays 2017 anthology. He’s also had an essay published in The Sun magazine.

Dan arrived in Tulsa through the Tulsa Artist’s Fellowship. The TAF was established by the George Kaiser Family Foundation to “recruit visual and literary artists to Tulsa where they have creative freedom to pursue their crafts and contribute to a thriving arts community.” He had been looking for something to do while his wife finished her doctorate research in Africa.

Musgrave, a registered member of the Osage Nation, saw a link to the fellowship on the Osage Nation Twitter account. Growing up in Kansas, he had visited Oklahoma for tribal dances every few years. The fellowship sounded like a good idea.

“What was I going to do with myself for this extended period of time when she’ll be in Africa? I needed something, and thought I’d try. The worst thing they could do is say no.”

His office sits at the top of the Hardesty Arts Center in downtown Tulsa. One wall features floor-to-ceiling windows and overlooks part of a rooftop covered with some sort of red grass and past that what was formerly known as the Brady district. It’s modern, perhaps even a bit Spartan. It’s not a bad spot for a writer working on essays and novels, which is what’s filled much of his Tulsa time. Though he’s focusing on short stories, he’s had success with nonfiction.

“Every time I’ve let myself do nonfiction, people have seemed to like that. That’s what I’ve been doing most since coming to Tulsa,” he says.

He also spends some of his time shooting photography, which he believes informs and sharpens his writing.

“How much depth of field am I going to give this subject? How abstract do I get? There’s something about the activity of training the eye to see that it helps focus my mind’s eye when I’m writing,” he says.

Last semester, he taught Writing Foundations. This term, it’s Composition 2 and a creative writing workshop. Teaching writing is something he actively pursued.

“I knew I wanted to get involved in teaching,” he says. “My family is full of educators. I’ve always thought teaching was complementary to writing and studying. I like connecting with students. There’s a calling to it, to take people from point A to point B, and hopefully give them something meaningful along the way.”

Adjunct Faculty like Dan are vital to the mission and operation of TCC. Nearly 700 adjunct professors teach at least one course per semester, and each plays a significant role in TCC’s mission to enable student success.

Not only are adjunct faculty vital to the mission and operation of TCC, but they also support HLC Criteria 3.C, which expects TCC to have ”the faculty and staff needed for effective, high-quality programs and student services.”