A Poet in the World: Zanni Schauffler '95

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Writing defines the life of Zanni Schauffler ’95

Not many writers are as lucky as Zanni Schauffler ’95, whose days are immersed in the art of writing. A published poet and recipient of a 2007 Oregon Literary Arts Award for poetry, she works for Fishtrap, a writer’s organization in eastern Oregon’s Wallowa County; she teaches writing; and she writes poetry. There’s nowhere she would rather be than doing what she does in the state’s most breathtaking landscape.

“You don’t choose poetry: poetry chooses you,” says Zanni. After she earned a degree in creative writing from the University of Montana, she found herself continually returning to poetry as she tried to forge a career path. “The idea of a master’s in writing got a hold of me,” she says. She earned that master’s from PSU and went on to earn an MFA from the University of California-Irvine.

During her time in Irvine, Zanni volunteered for two summers at Fishtrap. “I fell in love with Fishtrap and the country there,” she says. Fishtrap loved her back and created the job of program director for her, a position that became necessary as the nonprofit organization grew. Today Zanni oversees efforts that include SMART, a literacy program for children; eastern Oregon and Wallowa County writer in residence programs; and Fishtrap College, a program for local high school students.

Working with the local students has proven to be the most rewarding part of Zanni’s job. She teaches classes in writing skills in cooperation with Blue Mountain Community College. Her classes—held in the banquet room of a local restaurant— give these children of ranchers and farmers, who attend school only four days a week, a leg up in college. Zanni has learned a lot from the kids, too: “They made me realize that in Oregon there’s Portland, and then there’s the rest of the state. I see sides of issues that I haven’t before.”

The good part of working for a literary organization, Zanni says, it that they encourage her to “go home and write!” She’s surprised herself by starting to write fiction, even though she resists the idea of a piece of writing that is obliged to go somewhere, unlike poetry. She’s preparing a manuscript of her older poems for publication, she’s sending poems out to magazines and getting them published, and she’s writing new poems.

“I can’t not pursue life as a poet,” Zanni says. “It’s always a matter of figuring out how to be a poet in the world.”