Real People Empty Nesting
An Interview with Juilene Osborne-McKnight
Juilene Osborne-McKnight is author of four critically acclaimed novels: I Am of Irelaunde (2000), Daughter of Ireland (2002), Bright Sword of Ireland (2004), and Song of Ireland (2006). Currently, she teaches Celtic and Native American Myth and Culture, and Creative Writing, at DeSales University (near Allentown, Pennsylvania). During her career, Juilene has worked as a newspaper stringer and as a magazine and newspaper columnist. She has taught for more than two decades. Juilene has also trained as a traditional storyteller, or seanchai, in the ancient Irish tradition.
Juilene took her MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction at the sister colleges of Carlow University (Pittsburgh) and St. Patrickís Carlow College (Ireland). She completed an MA in Celtic and Native American Writing at Antioch University.
EN: Juilene, you are a professional author and teacher and have developed your career over many years. How did you become involved in writing, and teaching writing and Celtic lore?
I became interested in Celtic legends while teaching Arthurian literature to high-school students. In researching King Arthur and his antecedents, I found that the chivalric code of honor was based on the Fenian code, from third-century Ireland. The code advocates caring for women and children and upholding honor. My research led to a fascination with Celtic studies and evolved into my teaching the same. My MA in Celtic and Native American Writing was the natural progression of my interests. It led to my current teaching position at DeSales.
EN: Tell us about your family and how you managed to juggle career and family in the early years.
As Mara grew older, I wrote when she was in school—I wrote around her schedule. I began to teach at the college level and worked that around her schedule, as well. I was able to choose classes that were scheduled when she was in school, and I could opt not to teach in the summer, when she was off.
EN: How did your life change as you entered your empty-nesting years? How has this period affected your career?
Because of my change in teaching status, I am now dealing with the ways in which a full-time teaching schedule will affect my writing. I spend more time on campus (five days a week) teaching and advising, so I will need to be more creative in fitting in regular, disciplined writing. I used to be a night-time writer, but with 8:00 a.m. classes now, that wonít work! I canít not write, though, so the question is, where I will put writing in my own schedule? Iím just working through these issues.
When Mara went off to college, empty nesting opened up the time for me to pursue an MFA, which DeSales requires of its full-time writing instructors. Carlow University offered a unique situation whereby I took courses online but also did on-campus summer residencies in Pittsburgh and Carlow, Ireland (southwest of Dublin). As I was already teaching some graduate courses in the evenings, I was better able to dovetail my own studies with my teaching through the Carlow program.
During the school year, Mara lives on campus. She has been living at home in the summers while she works full time, but each of us has our own schedule, so we donít see a lot of each other. We do have a loose communication system, though. Even if we donít meet up often, Mara usually tells us where sheíll be. Mara and I make it a point to travel together each summer. This year weíre off to the West coast. Then, toward the end of the summer, my husband, Tom, Mara, and I take a trip as a family. So, we end off spending some quality time together.
Tom and I, of course, are doing a lot more together since Mara is away. We go out to dinner more often now—we have "dinner date nights." We also exercise more than we did when we were parenting a young child. No more homework to deal with! We joined a gym now and go every day. Golf has also become one of our favorite activities.
We expect that Mara might move home after she graduates, to get her "feet on the ground." Fifty percent of college grads live at home for up to 1 to 2 years after they graduate. Many parents donít realize that!
Way down the road, when itís time to retire, Tom and I may move back to Ohio, our home state. Weíll reevaluate in light of what Mara decides to do, though.
EN: Tell us a little about Mara and the career she is headed for. Would you say the two of you are close?
EN: What are your plans for the future? Are there any new novels or writing or lecturing ventures on the horizon?
EN: What else in your future are you looking forward to?
Iím really excited about instituting an Irish study abroad program for my students at DeSales. Iím setting one up now in which participants will have the opportunity to work with Irish writers. Most of my students who are interested in studying abroad are English, Creative Writing, or Celtic Studies majors, so the program will be perfect for them.
EN: Is there anything you want to add, in closing?
Your dating and empty-nest years are the bookends on your life. Rediscover your spouse. Thereís a danger in letting yourself get bogged down in empty-nest worries. Life goes on, as it should.
To learn more about Juilene Osborne-McKnight, her works, or her lecture series, please visit the following websites:
© 2007 Spring Mount Publications