Nick Stillman, ’15: Pushing for the Unexpected

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Graduating with a BA in writing studies with global honors, Stillman found himself going way beyond "all I wanted to do was learn how to write."

Nick Stillman, ’15, graduates with a BA in Writing Studies with global honors. Nick served as Fiction Editor for UW Tacoma’s literary arts magazine, Tahoma West. He is a recipient for this year’s Haley Writing Award for his paper “Of Ghosts and Spaceships,” in which he examines how Chinese national identity is reclaimed through science fiction. Nick answers three questions about UW Tacoma, sci-fi, and how a poetry class transformed his fiction writing.

How did you choose UW Tacoma as your university?
I chose the University of Washington Tacoma because it met all of my college criteria: close to where I was raised (Puyallup), great financial aid (I was a Husky Promise student), an undergraduate writing program, and a small campus where I could focus on learning.

All I wanted to do was learn how to write. I didn't expect all of the things that happened, to happen—working for Tahoma West, The Ledger, independent studies, global honors, studying abroad, the Washington Press Association awards, the Haley Writing award, Latin honors—I’ve never been that type of student. Ask around, no one expected it (except my mom, but she thinks I’m a genius). My 4th grade teacher told my parents that I was "pretty much average."  UW Tacoma kept providing opportunities, and all I had to do was say yes.

The faculty, class sizes, and close-knit cohort are what allowed me to go as far as I was willing to push myself. And I pushed. 

When did your love of science fiction begin?
While I was raised with genre literature for most of my life, thanks to an undercover nerd for a mom, it wasn't until I left home and began to obsess over my own future that I started reading sci-fi. It's tricky to pin down the moment, but I read this big anthology titled Brave New Worlds, edited by super-editor John Joseph Adams. It contained the best dystopian short stories ever written. It was very depressing. But it was incredible how old some of the stories were and how closely their fears for the future were aligned with the stories I was reading on NPR. That's when things shifted for me. Science fiction was more than just fun! It was serious literature! It was science! It was social commentary! It was... everything! It's a credit to the university that I was able to pursue a genre that wasn't even on the curriculum.

What class impacted your writing the most?
There have been so many different impacts that my writing timeline is a series of craters. Janie Miller's Advanced Poetry course changed me. Not just my writing, but how I use writing to process my experiences. I was going through a very stressful period where I wanted to stop everything. I was overwhelmed and had no ability to cope. The material in that class stretched my understanding of writing and poetry, and the office hours helped me sort out my life and writing's place in it. Professor Miller helped me see poetry as an outlet, rather than an assignment. As primarily a fiction writer, I think the difficulty of transitioning into poetry was something that has affected my writing tremendously. I don't write poetry regularly, but I feel the tenets of good poetry sneaking into my fiction. Thanks, Janie!

Read profiles of other amazing 2015 graduates of UW Tacoma...

Written by: 
Rachel Ervin / June 8, 2015
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or