Professor Wurth educates students while living her dream of creative writing

Erika Ward

 Erika Wurth, associate professor of creative writing at Western Illinois University, has long searched for her ideal job. She found it at Western.

Wurth decided to be a professor after pursuing 14 different jobs. “This is the one I felt like I would have lots of time to write,” Wurth said.

While some may find writing to be terrifying and fiction nearly impossible, it is what Wurth has wanted to do since she was a young girl. 

“I had a strange moment when I was six or seven,” Wurth said. “It was probably because my dad was reading Louis L’Amour and ‘The Martian Chronicles’ to me when I was really, really young. I just wanted to be a writer even though I knew no other writers. I just decided that in my head.”

Wurth, who is Apache, Chickasaw and Cherokee, recently finished a novel which took her 10 years to write. “Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend” is about a young Native American girl stuck in a small town, who wishes to escape her life for something better.

“I wanted to write about where I was coming from,” Wurth said. “There was so many novels and stories by writers who were from the rez (reservation) or even not from the rez who were writing about rez life. I wanted to write about what I know and where I came from and this sort of weird mix of cultures that I grew up with.”

Wurth has lived in places all across the world. Born in Los Angeles, her parents moved her away when she was two years old. She lived in various places in Colorado, including towns outside of Denver, Durango and Boulder. She also lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico as well as Toledo, Ohio and has commuted from Iowa City, Iowa to Macomb, Illinois. She lived abroad in England in West Sussex too. 

Wurth is accustomed to travel. She embraces the new places and faces wherever she goes.

“It’s been wonderful,” Wurth said. “People have been insanely supportive. People have come out — the community has come out like you can’t believe. My friend, Miriam, had me at University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh and a bunch of native students came out there and were great.”

Wurth has been on a cross-country tour promoting her booksince September. 

“I loved just genuinely meeting new people and seeing all of the great bookstores was great. There’s one in LA called The Last Bookstore. It’s like an amusement park It was so beautiful and weird. Just looking at that was my favorite thing.”

Wurth likes coming home and relaxing whenever she gets a break in the tour to spend time with her cat, Dinah, and watching “Star Trek.”

“I don’t put that I have a cat in my ‘About the Author’ section because the rule is if you’re a single woman are: Don’t talk about your cat outside of your house and don’t have more than one cat,” Wurth joked. “I always violate the first rule.”

Wurth is an advocate for diversity in modern writing.

“I actually just wrote a piece about diversity for Publisher’s Weekly, but it kind of blows my mind because I don’t really understand why I’m always asked to justify the existence of my work and a lot of white male writers are asked about their craft,” Wurth explained. “It’s just insane that we have to keep justifying why we need to exist. I just wish the industry would shift so that people could read the story and see if they liked it or not, rather than putting so muchon it.

“People see that a story is about diversity and it’s like, ‘Oh no, diversity. That must mean it’s a lesson.’ It just saddens me.”

Writing a fictional novel is not something that a person can just pull out of thin air, however. Wurth believes that writing becomes a part of you.

“In some ways, it’s your whole life,” Wurth said. “I live in a really teeny-tiny town away from my family and community. I prioritized my whole life around it. It’s kind of frightening to think about sometimes.”

Wurth has been published in multiple journals, such as Boulevard, Fiction, Pembroke, Stand and many more. Wurth also has a collection of poetry called “Indian Trains.”

Wurth encourages aspiring writers to read.

“Read. Read. Read. Take workshops and ultimately understand that you have to be a bulldog if you want to be a writer,” Wurth advised. “You have to continue to not take rejection seriously, but at the same time not be arrogant.”