Djerassi, The Miles

It’s hillier here than I thought it would be. The driveway from my studio door to the gate is 1.3 miles and it gains 697 feet, with a 32.3% grade at its steepest point. That’s not as steep as the trail to Pyramid near our house in Phoenix, but it’s steep enough that there were days I didn’t want to do it.

Most days I did it.

In 27 days I ran 90 miles with a total elevation gain of 20,631 feet.

The trail running was pretty spectacular too, but it was harder to get in many miles without backtracking. So I did most of my running up the driveway to Bear Gulch Road and out to 35. Stunning views.

Total distance: 9731 m
Max elevation: 670 m
Min elevation: 408 m
Total climbing: 573 m
Total descent: -557 m
Total Time: 01:28:44


My Favorite Six

Djerassi, The Books

I had a goal to read 40 books while at Djerassi, because I normally like to raid the Alumni Library and read at least a poetry book a day. But I wasn’t reading as much poetry as I was memoir and fiction. And that’s okay. I ended up finishing 30 books in 28 days, so I’ll take that. I read some REALLY AMAZING books, and you can read my reviews on Goodreads. Some of my favorites were Townie by Andre Dubus III, My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, and Living with a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Thirty for Thirty

Djerassi, The Memoir

My main goal for my time at Djerassi was simple: get the memoir I’ve been working on to a point where I am ready to send it out. I have been working on it for a long time; so long, in fact, that my life keeps changing and sometimes when I go back to revise it there are sections that no longer make sense in the narrative. With the gift of 28 days, I decided I wanted to: cut the memoir from 95K words to 75K, remove some repetitive narration, and create a new structure.

View from My Studio

To create a new structure, I had to first work on the timeline that I’ve been trying to recreate for about 10 years now. I have been gathering a list of events for each month of every year since my grandparents were born, to try to piece together the timeframe of the implosion (okay, explosion) of my nuclear family. So I spent a good deal of time studying documents to verify these events.


Then I wrote two brand new first chapters.

Then I cut three existing chapters.

Then I worked on patching holes in chapters 3-7.

In short, I got a WHOLE LOT accomplished.

I still have perhaps 40 more working hours to add a bit more glue, including some details I didn’t have access to while I was away (my mother’s CIA and FBI files).


My Life in 46 Semesters

Issue 17 Launch Party

Issue 17 Launch Party

Last night was the launch party for Issue 17 of Superstition Review. It was also the last day of my 46th semester teaching at Arizona State University.

When I told my students that I have 14 semesters left they asked, “What happens then?!”

I answered, “I graduate.”

And what an education teaching has been. It has allowed me the immense pleasure of being more deeply immersed in my own field: contemporary literature and publishing. I have had so many wonderful colleagues, smart conversations, and lovely summers off.

But by far the most important lesson I take away is how satisfying it is to identify another person’s talents and encourage them to focus, practice, and excel. Working with Superstition Review is a unique opportunity because the magazine is their portfolio: a tangible item they can present and discuss in job interviews and graduate school applications, and that I can talk about at length when I act as a reference or write a letter of recommendation. Each of the students I mentor has endless layers of enthusiasm, creativity, intelligence, and skill. My great joy is focusing on something specific they do well that we can showcase during their short time working on the magazine. I act as coach, mentor, and encouraging friend.

I can’t say I made up this approach. In my 23 years teaching at ASU I have reported directly to five people: Keith Miller for 2 years, Duane Roen for 2 years, Maureen Daly Goggin for 2 years, Greg Glau for 6 years, Duane Roen again for 3 years, and Ian Moulton for 7 years. It’s rare in academia to have such consistency in leadership. Maybe it’s rare in business too.

But I am so grateful to these five people for helping me to grow as an educator and person. Each one of them gave me opportunity, courage, and encouragement. Special thanks to Duane Roen, who is so nice he hired me twice (and is also currently my Dean and my Provost)! He was also the person who said YES! when I had the idea of starting the magazine. His support and trust made all of this possible.

And huge thanks to my current Department Head Ian Moulton, who has given me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as a teacher and human, including the line: “Think of the work as practice not perfection.” For my Type A brain, this helped me flip a switch that made me more effective in the classroom and while walking around in the world. Ian also offered unwavering support to me when both of my parents died within 5 months of each other. He was gracious, generous, caring, and kind and I can’t imagine surviving that year without him.

I hope to pass on half the strength and help to my students that my mentors have passed on to me.

Here are my 46 semesters by the numbers:


Taught 206 classes at ASU.

Lived in 2 condominiums and 3 houses.

Won 1 book award for poetry.

Published 1 chapbook.

Taught over 5000 students.

Had 1 amazing partner, John Hetrick.

Lost both my parents and both John’s parents.

Won 2 teaching awards.

Traveled to 36 countries.

Received 1 letter from Michael Crow congratulating me on my poetry!

Published 89 poems in literary magazines.

Competed in 88 races from 5K to Half Ironman.

Made $951,583 in salary from ASU.

Made $64,385 as a writer.

Attended 13 AWP conferences.

Loved on 2 cats and 3 dogs.

Published over 700 artists and authors in Superstition Review.

Took over 25,000 photographs.


I am really looking forward to my next 7 years teaching. I’m thrilled about the possibilities, and I can’t wait to see where my students will lead me.

I’m also kind of exhausted. And I’m looking forward to a lovely summer off! I’ll be teaching Travel Writing for ASU Online, and I will spend a month at Djerassi working on my memoir. I’ll attend a family reunion in Minnesota and a friend reunion in Denver. You’ll also see me haunting the trails of South Mountain.

Santorini Day Three

We had a busy day touring the island. Since we were right before the proper season for tourists, many places were closed, including the winery we meant to visit. So we visited a different one and had a gorgeous snack and Uncle Rick even made a friend. My favorite activity of the day was visiting Akrotiri, one of the most interesting prehistoric settlements in Greece.

Santorini Day Two

On Day Two in Santorini, John and I did a lovely hike from Oia to Fira. The views were stunning and we were so happy to be in the fresh air. That evening we managed to find a delicious place to eat, one that even satisfied Uncle Rick!

Santorini Day One

My Uncle Rick was turning 70 so I wanted to do something special. The first plan was to go to Buenos Aires (my favorite city) then tour wine country to savor some Malbec (his favorite wine). But the trip didn’t come together and I asked Uncle Rick: If you could go anywhere where would you go? He said Greece!

The trip would be short for us, though Rick would stay on in London to visit friends. We had just one week of Spring Break to fly to London, then Athens, then Santorini, then Athens, then London, then home.

The trip over was long, and Rick needed a good long sleep. That gave John and I plenty of time to run around and explore.

We stayed in Oia, the town famous for its cliff homes, in a little VRBO house. We were pre season, and when we arrived we found the house next door to be under construction, with all the materials hiked in on donkeys. It was loud and fragrant.

2016 May Swenson Poetry Award

May SwensonLOGAN, UTAH — Patricia Colleen Murphy, of Phoenix, Arizona, is the winner of the 19th annual May Swenson Poetry Award, presented by Utah State University Press and the Literary Estate of May Swenson. Murphy will receive a cash award of $1,000, and her winning collection of poems, Hemming Flames, will be published by USU Press in the summer of 2016.

Judge for the 2016 award was Stephen Dunn, American poet, teacher, and essayist. The Swenson competition receives hundreds of entries each year from across the United States and several countries abroad. Dunn selected Murphy’s work from among 27 finalists chosen by a panel of professional poets and university teachers of poetry. Dunn had this to say about Ms. Murphy’s work:

The curious title of Patricia Murphy’s wonderfully disturbing Hemming Flames doesn’t become clear to us until the last poem in the book. And, as good titles do, it provides a way of understanding what have been the book’s necessities. The last two lines are, “Yesterday I invented fire. / Today I’m hemming flames.” The “today” speaks to almost every poem Murphy artfully offers us, as if the act of writing itself is an attempt to hem what can’t easily be hemmed.

A well-published poet, Patricia Colleen Murphy holds degrees from Miami University and Arizona State University. She teaches creative writing at Arizona State University where she is the founding editor of the literary magazine Superstition Review. Her poems have appeared in many journals including The Iowa ReviewQuarterly West and American Poetry Review. Her poems have received awards from Glimmer Train PressThe Southern California ReviewGulf CoastThe Madison Review, and Bellevue Literary Review. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Stephen Dunn is Distinguished Professor (emeritus) of creative writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and has also taught at Columbia University, NYU, University of Michigan, Princeton, and the University of Washington. He is the author of sixteen collections of poetry, including the most recent Lines of Defense (Norton, 2014), and Here and Now(Norton, 2011). His poem “The Imagined” is included in The Best of the Best American Poetry: 1988-2012 (Scribners, 2013), and he has been the featured poet in The American Poetry ReviewThe Georgia Review, and The Cortland Review.

The May Swenson Poetry Award, an annual competition named for May Swenson, honors her as one of America’s most provocative and vital writers. During her long career, Swenson was loved and praised by writers from virtually every school of American poetry. She left a legacy of fifty years of writing when she died in 1989. She is buried in Logan, Utah, her hometown.

Utah State University Press, a division of USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library and imprint of the University Press of Colorado, is an award-winning scholarly publisher in several academic fields. USU Press proudly sponsors the annual May Swenson Poetry Award.

—Utah State University Press Announcement

My Year in Books


My Year in Books

How privileged and happy am I that in 2015 I was able to read 114 books totaling 26,151 pages. How did I do it? Why did I do it?

In late 2014 I gave a talk as part of the ASU Humanities Lecture Series about how literature encourages empathy. Citing the work of David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Caetano, I highlighted a cause and effect relationship between reading and caring more for others. Since caring more for others (and , specifically, showing that care) has been a long-term goal of mine, and because my job requires me to have a deep familiarity with the field of contemporary American literature, I set a goal to read 102 books in 2015, or roughly two books a week.

I surpassed that goal using several techniques.

1. At any given time this year I had several books going: on my Kindle, my iPhone Overdrive App, on my bedside table, and on my coffee table. I really enjoyed moving between the different books, especially all those times they were in dialogue with each other.

2. I’m going to make a parallel here that may seem crazy. But I kind of approached reading the way I approach running, AND I read while I ran. 114 books and 26,151 pages corresponded to 838 miles and 125,525 feet elevation gain. That running took me over 200 hours, and I read for probably 75% of that time.

My Year in Miles


3. I spent a lot of hours reading. According to, I read at almost 300 words per minute. If we assume a page is 300 words, that means I spent 435 hours this year reading.

My Reading Speed
What were some of the happy byproducts of this reading? First, I found that during conversation instead of quoting Seinfeld episodes I started talking about authors and books I was reading and the rich ideas running through the texts and in my head. Second, I did find that I was understanding more types of human situations. Especially with books like Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (Oh my gosh!) and The Forever War by Dexter Filkins.

So what’s the goal for 2016? I’m going to say 104 again. Will you join me?