Poetry in motion: Penn State DuBois alumnus carries on legacy of faculty mentors

Wes McMasters

Penn State DuBois alumnus Wesley McMasters recently published a collection of his original poetry titled “In Which My Lover Tells Me About the Nature of Wild Things”.

Credit: Penn State

In his home office Wesley Scott McMasters has a small stash of books in a box near his desk. Each copy of the book bares his own name on the cover. Recently, the 2010 Penn State DuBois Letters, Arts, and Sciences graduate published this volume, a collection of his own poetry, titled “In Which My Lover Tells Me About the Nature of Wild Things."  The book embodies the concept of coming full circle, as it was published by MAMMOTH Books, an independent publishing company owned and operated by Penn State DuBois Associate Professor of English Tony Vallone. During McMaster’s time as an undergraduate student at Penn State DuBois, Vallone helped him to find his voice, and now, Vallone has helped him to share that voice with the world.

“I had my very first poetry workshop years ago with Tony,” McMasters recalled.  “I remember him saying you can make almost anything into a poem. So, I still take a lot of everyday, beautiful things, and turn them into poetry. That concept Tony offered really shaped my vision for the book.”

McMasters said the book is the product of many years of feelings and emotions, captured through hand-scrawled prose in notebooks and on scrap paper, representing different stages of his own personal growth and evolving views on relationships and family. He shared, “In a lot of ways the book is about understanding yourself; your past self, your present self, and your future self. Some of the work comes from a person who I don’t feel like I am any more. Some of the poems come from a person I never thought I would be.”

While publishing a book of his own work is a dream come true for the young author, so is his day job. While working remotely during the pandemic, he’s not far from the campus of Carson–Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee, where he is an assistant professor of American literature and creative writing. He recalls finding his path to this career, and into publishing his work, during his early days at Penn State DuBois.

“It’s really hard to overstate the impact of those early semesters with Tony and the other English faculty at Penn State DuBois. It literally changed my life,” McMasters said. “Building a life doing the things you care about can be hard and scary, but it’s worth doing. I didn’t even know this career path I took was an option until Tony guided me this way. There is no way I would be where I am without that support.”

While earning his bachelor’s degree in letters, arts, and sciences at Penn State DuBois, McMaster’s was mentored by Vallone, who helped him to tailor course offerings within the program to fit his goals and interests. He focused on creative writing and poetry, completing that degree in 2010. McMasters recalled, “At 18 years old I felt my life couldn’t get any better. To sit in class and talk about poetry, my life really made sense for the first time.”

McMasters, originally from Patton, Pennsylvania, went on to earn a master’s in literature from the University of Maine in 2012, where Vallone had professional connections and was able to recommend him for an assistantship. McMasters secured the assistantship and began teaching at the University of Maine as he completed his graduate work there. He returned to Penn State DuBois to teach writing as an adjunct instructor for one semester in 2013 and went on to earn a doctorate in literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He secured his current position at Carson–Newman in August 2018, just before finishing his doctorate program in January of 2019. Through it all, however, McMasters fondly remembers where his career first took root.

“I realized the things I wanted to do at Penn State DuBois. Every moment of that college career was molded by people who really inspired me in the English faculty. People like Tony, Jim May, and Richard Kopley.  People who drove me to be the best student and best person I could be.”

Vallone and McMasters remained in touch frequently over more than a decade that has passed since their first classroom encounters, and Vallone has seen his student become his peer. This due, in no small part, to wise mentorship that Vallone humbly attributes to just doing his job.  Vallone said, “Good teaching is simply helping people to realize that they can do whatever it is that you’re teaching them to do.”

McMasters did exactly what he was taught to do this year when he contacted Vallone and MAMMOTH Books about publishing “In Which My Lover Tells Me About the Nature of Wild Things." The two collaborated on the project in order to bring a new work to the public eye, following the mission Vallone had in mind from the very launch of his own publishing company in the 1980’s.

“It has been my dream to work with students like this and help them through the whole process,” said Vallone, who has taught English, creative writing, poetry, and literature courses at Penn State DuBois since 1989. He is also the program leader for the letters, arts, and sciences program, from which McMasters graduated. “Wes being able to work with young people through teaching, to carry on these lessons, and for him to publish his work; this is my dream. To see my students succeed in the life that they want is the legacy I worked for.  This is the life I wanted and, fortunately, it is the life I have.  It’s what I hoped for and exactly what I got.”

Copies of “In Which My Lover Tells Me About the Nature of Wild Things” are available at http://mammothbooks.org/contact.htm

For more information on programs offered at Penn State DuBois, visit https://dubois.psu.edu/academics