This Autumn Quarter Ex Libris correspondent Matt Adams sat down with MAWP and graduate assistant Eric Houghton for an interview. The human interest piece that follows is an elegantly written celebration of Eric’s unique path to DePaul and passionate study. Ex Libris hopes students can take a moment out of their busy finals schedules to appreciate the work of one of their peers.
Student Profile: Eric Houghton
To call first-year MAWP student Eric Houghton’s journey to DePaul a winding one would be an understatement. Eric graduated high school in tiny Lakeview, Michigan twenty-five years ago with few other goals than getting away from the cloistered environment in which he grew up and getting his stories onto a page, something that had been on his mind since he was seven-years-old.
“Writing was the only thing that I was ever good at,” Eric said. “In second grade, we had a thing called Young Authors, and my story was chosen as the winning entry. It sounds cheesy to say it, but I knew at that time that it was something I wanted to do.” He would often write stories in his free time and pass them to his sister, who is two years older than he is, to give to her English teacher to critique. “He gave me feedback on a few,” Eric said, laughing, “but he finally told my sister to tell me, ‘Eric’s just going to have to wait until he takes my class.’”
After high school, he spent a year at Grand Valley State in Allendale, Michigan, then floated between odd jobs and odd places before ending up in Seattle, where he lived for a decade. During that time, Eric decided to go back to school, receiving his associate’s degree from Seattle Central Community College in 2004. It was there, in the Emerald City, that Eric’s writing talent, which is so evident today, really began to take shape. In fact, his work was good enough to earn him a spot at Columbia University, but it wasn’t meant to be. “I got cold feet and I bailed. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to live in New York, and go into debt while doing so.”
Instead, in 2007 Eric moved to Chicago and tried to break into the publishing industry. There was only one problem. “Every time I applied for a job, I was told that I needed an English degree,” he said. That rejection is what initially led him to DePaul as an English undergrad and, ultimately, to the MAWP program.
“When I first went back to school, I thought that I wanted to be a professor, but I’ve changed my mind about that,” said Eric. “I would love to get my MFA one day. I’m taking a novel-writing course now, which I’m looking at as sort of an experiment to see if I can buckle down and become the kind of writer that I think I want to be.”
Besides being a gifted story teller, Eric is a born hustler, holding down four jobs to help support himself and his wife, Lena Breitkreuz, while going to school. He is in his second year working at DePaul’s Center for Writing-Based Learning, where he reviews and edits student papers, and is an editorial assistant at Big Shoulders Books, a role that he calls one of the highlights of his time at DePaul. He’s also served as editor-in-chief for Crook and Folly.
“I finally feel like I’ve found my groove by being here,” he said. “I’ve never had a quarter where I didn’t like the classes. I’ve come to think of myself as a writer who just takes breaks for my jobs; it’s changed my perspective.”
When asked about the advice he would give other students, Eric doesn’t hesitate: “Don’t turn anything down, and maximize the value of your time here. From the day I started taking classes, I met my professors and took advantage of office hours. When you do that, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that you’re engaged, and they bring opportunities to you.”
Both of Eric’s published works have come by way of Professor Miles Harvey’s encouragement. One, a personal essay that juxtaposes the strangeness of big-city life against his rural upbringing, was published in Chicago After Dark, a compilation of stories put together by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.
Currently, Eric works alongside Ex Libris editor Jordan Weber on the I Remember: Continuation Project, an online platform for publishing stories from Chicago-area veterans. The project has become a passion for him. “We’re reaching out to veterans and asking them to contribute stories and essays,” he said. “It’s designed for people who want to write, but who don’t feel like writers. We’re just getting it off the ground, but hopefully it will be done around Veterans Day.”
Looking forward, Eric is determined to forge a career in writing and publishing. “If it were up to me, I would stay in school until they kicked me out,” he joked. “I’m working towards my two-year college teaching certification, so that’s one option. I would still love to get into publishing. Regardless, I’m going to continue writing.”
—Matt Adams, MAWP