Rock ’n’ roll prof is a new chair with a new book
English professor Joe Oestreich (pronounced A-strike) has: a new book out; a new administrative position as chair of the Department of English at Coastal Carolina University; a teaching job; a new rock ’n’ roll album (untitled) with his band Watershed that’ll be released next spring; and a second new book on musician Ryan Adams being published in 2018.
It’s a busy time. It is so busy, in fact, that he woke up at 4:30 a.m. the day of the July Faculty Senate meeting to be able to write for a couple of hours before the children got up and his day at CCU began.
“I like to stay busy,” says Oestreich. “My greatest fear is laziness, the potential for inertia. I find if I keep busy, I stay busy. When I talk to students about writing, I tell them you just put your butt in the seat, and somehow it (writing) gets done. But you have to show up.”
This summer, Oestreich toured with his Ohio-based band Watershed, performing concerts and promoting his new book.
“Partisans,” from Black Lawrence Press, is a collection of essays drawn from 10 years of work between 2006 and 2016; most were published previously in literary journals and magazines.
“Oestreich piles his readers into a tour van and barrels unflinchingly down the highway into subjects like guilt and murder, race, privilege, youth, music, marriage, work, and other deep territory of contemporary American life,” says Amazon reviewer Steven Church. “Guiding you with a mix of muscle, humor and grace, these essays are part escapist travel narrative, part personal essay, all blended with artful but fearless critical reflection on social issues, ethics and morality. We’re not just watching road signs go by in this book; we’re stopping and living, truly experiencing people and places from the neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio, to the resorts and jungles of Mexico, to Paris, to the suburbs of South Carolina. ‘Partisans’ is always driving, always pushing us to consider where we stand and how we understand our personal and collective legacy of youthful angst and artistic idealism. To read this book is to be bounced, rattled and changed by the ride.”
The book is Oestreich’s third, following “Lines of Scrimmage” (2015), which he wrote with CCU English instructor Scott Pleasant and which told the story of the racially charged 1989 high school football season that divided the city of Conway, and “Hitless Wonder” (2012), the account of Watershed’s years in “minor league rock ’n’ roll.”
Oestreich dropped out of Ohio State University before the fall of his senior year to tour with Watershed as the bass player and singer. Ten years later, after he got a record deal and lost it, he dropped back in. He shares this story with students to let them know it’s OK not to finish college in four years.
“You might not know at 19 or 20 what you want to do the rest of your life,” says Oestreich, who started out as a political science major with plans to become a lawyer. “Then I decided I wanted to be a rock star.”
Watershed toured the country, procured a record deal and nearly made it until the deal soured. “We were so close, and then it all went south,” he says. He dropped back into Ohio State University, earned a bachelor’s degree and went on to earn an MFA in 2007. Before coming to Coastal, he taught creative writing at Ohio State and at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.
Creative nonfiction is his love and his area of expertise, but he’s thinking about writing some fiction as well.
“Creative nonfiction doesn’t mean you make it up – it means you use the tools that fiction writers use. You develop characters, pay attention to details and description and a sense of place. They are the best ways to tell a story.”
Oestreich is married to Kate Oestreich, an associate professor of English at CCU who specializes in English literature of the long 19th century; digital storytelling and adaptation; critical theory and sartorial semiotics. They met when she was in high school and Joe was a college student. “It took three months for my parents to relent [and allow her to date him],” she says.
They have been together for 27 years and married for 17 of them. There is this vision of two married English professors engaging in daily literary discussions, but that’s not the way it is, says Kate. “When we were dating, we would buy the same book and read it together. These days, we’re so busy that although literature still comes up a lot in our house, we’re more likely to be offering recommendations, sharing trivia, or making nerdy jokes than holding long discussions.”
They have two children – Beckett, 8, and Ellie, 5, who both love to read and play music.
Oestreich is in his 10th year at Coastal Carolina, and he’s looking forward to the challenges in his new administrative role as chair.
“The best thing about Coastal’s short history is we’re all growing something together here,” he says. “Coastal is unique in that we do have smaller size classes, but most writing classes are small anyway. The difference is you see the same students more often. Because of the nature of writing classes, they tend to be more intimate because of the sharing of personal experiences.”