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We Are Knox...

Will Boast '01

Winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award

Author of Power Ballads

Major: English

by Christopher Poore '14

Will Boast '01 has lived in a lot of places. Born in England, he spent his childhood in Ireland and Wisconsin, and he now calls San Francisco home. But somewhere amid his travels, he managed to spend some time in Knox College's jazz house as an undergraduate student interested in literature and playing the drums. These interests certainly haven't died out. His first book, Power Ballads, which won the 2011 Iowa Short Fiction Award, zooms in on the lives of the obscure, down-and-out musicians who fill America's seedy bars and cafes. Boast's fiction and essays have also appeared in Narrative, Glimmer Train, and The New York Times, among other publications. He's served as a Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University, and more recently, as a Charles Pick Fellow at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

Book cover for Power BalladsHow did you originally find your way to Knox?
My parents didn't go to school and didn't really know anything about it, so I think I just did the inevitable search through a large stack of brochures. Whatever it was about this school -- it just fit something I was looking for. I visited on jazz night, interestingly enough, and thought that it was awesome. From then on, I knew I was going to come here.

Once you got here, what were some things that you enjoyed about this place?
Rob Smith's American Literature class was very exciting for me. It was the first time that everyone in the room wanted to talk all at once. I also enjoyed being a part of the Jazz Ensemble and playing a lot of music that I wouldn't have gotten to do at a large school. It just felt like things were very open and accessible and if you wanted to do it, you could try it. That was pretty exciting.

When you came to Knox, did you know you wanted to write?
Maybe I had a vague idea about it. I had an underground newspaper in high school that was super ridiculous. I was interested in that -- but I wanted to do history and music, and writing came only towards the end of my junior year.

Who influenced you while you were here?
I remember that Rob really taught against dogma in a really nice way, and I think there was a strong feeling that you had to figure things out for yourself and that you couldn't just accept some ready to hand notion about what a text was about -- that was lazy. So I appreciated that.

What did you take away from Knox?
I discovered a lot of stuff that really turned me on here. Part of that was finding things on my own; another part was being introduced to it by teachers. There was also a deep seriousness and a deep engagement among my fellow students. I think it was important to realize that books weren't something created long ago that you just had to revere. Instead, they were made by people you may one day know. You realized more and more that they had something to do directly with your own life.

What do you see on your horizons?
I'll probably stay in San Francisco for a while, but I'm not sure how long. I'd love to do some narrative long-form journalism. I'm writing a novel. I'm writing a memoir as well. I'll probably teach here and there, and play music as long as it makes sense to. I play drums -- not as well as the character in the book but with less professional angst.