BOONE, N.C. — From her classes and poetry workshops at Appalachian State University, to campus green spaces and the many hours spent in Belk Library and Information Commons — every aspect of alumna Dr. M. Soledad Caballero’s Appalachian Experience prepared her for her career as a professor and poet, she said.
Caballero is a 1995 graduate of App State’s Bachelor of Arts in English program, with minors in women’s studies and psychology. She is a professor of English at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, where she also chairs the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program.
Her debut poetry collection, “I Was a Bell,” forthcoming from Red Hen Press in September, won the 2019 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, which recognizes a previously unpublished, original collection of poetry and is open to poets worldwide.
The collection is “a meditation on family, flying and cancer,” she said, and explores “immigration, memory and its ghosts.”
Caballero said it has been important for her to think about and hold on to her memories of her family, as she was a child when she immigrated to the U.S. from Chile.
Additionally, Caballero, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and went through treatment for most of 2016, said “memories of treatment and being sick can sneak up on you like memories of family can, so for me thinking of them together and their ghostliness made a lot of sense for this collection.” She is now in remission from cancer.
“I owe a great deal of my poetry thinking to my time at App State,” said Caballero, who completed her poetry honors thesis — titled “La Voz de Mi Familia” (“The Voice of My Family”) — under the direction of Dr. Lynn Doyle, associate professor of creative writing at App State.
“App State prepared me so well for my future,” she added.
Building a love of literature
Caballero said she learned how to express herself while at App State. And, in her classes, she “learned to read critically and to think about the way that narratives are deeply impactful to our sense of self and our identities,” she said.
Through her English and women’s studies classes, and in poetry workshops taught by Doyle, Caballero explored Native American and women’s literature, along with British Romanticism works. There, she said she “learned how to evaluate narrative, how to engage language and its mysteries, how to read for complexity and humanity, and how to value and pursue justice.”
As an incoming student, Caballero received a full scholarship package to attend App State, which included the Bob Allen Scholarship. Allen was a prominent Charlotte businessperson hired to establish the public affairs and alumni affairs roles at App State during the 1960s.
This scholarship supported Caballero’s senior study abroad at the University of Sunderland in England, an opportunity she could not have afforded otherwise, she said. Caballero added that — from visiting the locations where English poet John Keats wrote his famous odes, to viewing an original draft of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” — this experience cemented her desire to pursue an advanced degree in English.
Between her junior and senior years, Caballero participated in a summer program designed to prepare underrepresented students and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields for graduate school. Through the program, Caballero honed research skills and had opportunities to attend campus and local arts performances.
“The personalized relationships I established with faculty in the English department gave me the courage to try for graduate school,” said Caballero, who also worked closely with faculty through her experience as a student in the Department of English’s honors program.
And in recent years, when Caballero has reached out to her App State professors, she said they “are interested in what I’m up to. I think that feeling of knowing my faculty still remember and value me is among the most meaningful reasons I still value my App State education.”
Caballero holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English from Tufts University. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journal and magazines, and her scholarly works have been published in various books and peer-reviewed academic journals.
Her poetry accolades include the 2019 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, Pushcart Prize nominations and being named a finalist for The Missouri Review’s Jeffry E. Smith Poetry Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Lucille Medwick Memorial Award.
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About the Department of English
The Department of English at Appalachian State University is committed to outstanding work in the classroom, the support and mentorship of students, and a dynamic engagement with culture, history, language, theory and literature. The department offers master’s degrees in English and rhetoric and composition, as well as undergraduate degrees in literary studies, film studies, creative writing, professional writing and English education. Learn more at https://english.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Appalachian State University is home to 17 academic departments, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. CAS aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. More than 6,400 student majors are enrolled in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing App State’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As a premier public institution, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.