Caitlin Scarano has always known that she wanted to write.
She started writing stories at the young age of five and found that words wormed their way into her mind, even while attending church with her grandmother.
“Church can be pretty boring for small children, so my grandmother gave me a pen and the church bulletin to draw on,” said Scarano.
“But instead I made up characters and wrote stories about them in the margins.”
Originally from Florida, but raised in rural southeastern Virginia, Scarano has come a long way from writing stories in the margin of the church bulletin.
Her collection of poems, Do Not Bring Him Water, was recently published by Write Bloody Publishing this fall. She is currently on a six-week book tour promoting her work.
Scarano is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where she studies English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing.
“Any student who becomes a published and prize-winning author contributes in important ways to UWM’s profile and stature,” said Professor Brenda Cardenas, Scarano’s advisor at UWM.
Scarano has a BA in English from James Madison University, an MA in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and an MFA in poetry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Scarano can’t remember why she turned from writing short stories to poetry, but dates it to around the time she was completing her undergraduate at James Madison University.
Do Not Bring Him Water has received stellar reviews, including one from award-winning poet Andrea Gibson, although Scarano believes that only the readers can find what makes her work stand out.
Cardenas believes Scarano has many strengths as a writer.
“I especially appreciate that her poems are not simply beautiful creatures, but that they wrestle with very real hardships that many people face, including multigenerational trauma resulting from abuse, poverty, and alcoholism and its impact on many aspects of an individual’s identity,” Cardenas said.
Both Scarano and Cardenas share a love for the title poem “Do Not Bring Him Water.”
“I wrote that after a very intense and formative relationship of my 20s ended. It is a long, prose poem, written in the 2nd person, and instructional in tone,” said Scarano.
“Often when I read that poem in public, people, especially young women, tell me that they can relate to it.”
Scarano brings more than just human relationships and emotions into her poems, but also landscapes, plants, and animals, often inspired by places Scarano has lived.
“I think there is often a sense of landscape or place in my poems, whether it is my childhood memories of Virginia, my experiences in rural Ohio, or the time I spent living in a cabin in Alaska,” said Scarano.
Scarano has done writing residencies across the country, ranging from the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls, Minn., the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island in Wash., the Sundress Academy for the Arts in Knoxville, Tenn., and at the North Cascades Institute in Wash.
Scarano’s love of travel contributed to her choosing UWM to pursue her PhD, which she hopes to complete by spring 2019 or earlier.
“Graduate school gives me the time and space to write, plus I have the support of a university fellowship and the English Department faculty, which I am very grateful for,” said Scarano.
Her dissertation will be a second full-length manuscript of poems.
“Due to the nature and requirements of her degree, her poetry is essential to her PhD work,” said Cardenas.
“In fact, her poetry is much of her PhD work.”
In addition to her PhD work, Scarano has taught various courses within the English department at UWM, one of which is the introductory course to creative writing.
“Seeing students discover that they don’t actually dislike poetry is pretty exciting,” Scarano said.
Cardenas believes there are many contributions that Scarano makes to UWM that go beyond her own writing.
“She has seen to the publication of others’ work by serving as the Development Coordinator for UWM’s national literary magazine cream city review,” Cardenas said.
Cream city review was started in 1975 and is Milwaukee’s leading literary journal, which is supported by UWM’s English Department.
Scarano worked as the Development Coordinator for cream city review, where she oversaw fundraising and grant applications, in addition to helping coordinate volunteers and events.
For Cardenas, looking toward Scarano’s future writing career is exciting.
“She is so prolific that I suspect she will go on to publish a number of books in various genres and to win major literary prizes,” Cardenas said.
“Caitlin is a writer’s writer – and a gifted one at that – most at home in the world of literature.”
Scarano has won numerous contests and prizes including the Conium Review Flash Fiction Contest, the Indiana Review Poetry prize, and the Sally Greene Hassan Annual Prize in Letters, among others. Close to 100 individual pieces of her writing have been published in a range of literary magazines and anthologies.
Although Scarano’s writing may teach her readers many things, Scarano thinks that writing has taught her much more about herself.
“I think writing has taught me patience and how to be okay with upheaval or ambiguity. Sometimes it can be beautiful to just dwell in questions and complexity,” said Scarano.
For Scarano, she’s not sure what the future has in store but hopes to continue to travel, grow, write, and continue to publish.
“I am always looking for good homes for my work.”