Professor Monica Wendel says the best thing about the career she chose is getting paid to think and talk about books all day.
Although she loved reading and writing since childhood, Monica didn’t intend to study English or write in college. In fact, she planned to major in environmental science or public health and premed. “I changed majors more than anyone I know,” she says. “I tried sociology, anthropology, and economics before deciding on philosophy.”
After graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Geneseo, she went to graduate school at New York University, where she studied poetry and honed her craft. Today, Monica is an award-winning poet whose work has been featured in numerous books, anthologies, and journals. She’s published several books, including “English Kills and Other Poems” (Mayapple Press, 2018) and “No Apocalypse” (Georgetown Review Press, 2013) which won the Georgetown Review Poetry Prize.
Monica appreciates the talents of many writers, but one whose work has been particularly influential throughout her life is Jack Kerouac. She couldn’t have been happier or more inspired a few years ago when she was awarded a prestigious three-month residency at The Kerouac House in Florida—where Kerouac was living when he published “On the Road” and where he wrote, “The Dharma Bums.”
Monica joined the faculty at St. Thomas Aquinas College as an adjunct in 2010 and has been teaching English, creative writing, and poetry ever since. Now, as an associate professor, she values the College’s community and the close bonds students have with their professors and professors have with one another. She also admires the students’ commitment to service.
Earlier in her career, Monica taught creative writing at Goldwater Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital for Children where she worked with children and adult patients. “People don’t often think about poetry as useful,” she says, “but when we sat down together and wrote or read poems, we were doing something vitally important and necessary.
Literature about illness and disability has been the focus of her research for several years. More recently, Monica has been exploring middle-grade and young-adult writing and how children’s literature engages with social and political issues.
“I think children develop an ethical framework through their imagination, and the books they read are paramount to that development,” she explains. “Children are working to make sense of the world; part of how they do that is through literature. How are young-adult and middle-grade books representing contemporary political issues? In what way do those books empower or disempower children? I have a lot of questions worth exploring.”
A Long Island native, Monica now lives in Harlem with her husband and two-year-old son. She treasures family time spent visiting the park, beach, and local museums.
A little-known fact about her childhood: When she was nine, Monica was chosen to be an American Girl paper doll, a series of dolls based on real-life girls that were published in American Girl magazine. Among the details about her and her family, she shared that books by Roald Dahl and Sydney Taylor were among her favorite things. She also said that her ambition was to be an author, a wish that has come true.