English Professor Jaydn DeWald Had a ‘Delightfully Rowdy’ Childhood
This series spotlights the people who educate Piedmont University students. We ask them about their childhood, their first jobs, and why they love what they do.
As the son of a public high school band teacher, Dr. Jaydn DeWald spent “countless hours in rooms crowded with teenagers overblowing saxes or banging on timpani like apes.”
“Rowdy. My childhood was delightfully rowdy,” said DeWald, an Assistant Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Piedmont.
Long before he was a professor, he was a professional bassist. His first paid gig was a “strange art-as-work experience” playing “for suited World War II veterans and their ball-gowned wives” at (the now former) McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California, on New Year’s Eve. His fellow musicians were in their 60s. He was 12. The job taught him that “the pursuit of art, especially a performance art like music, requires a commitment to strange experiences.”
DeWald continued to play music at night after high school. Taking courses at Cosumnes River College “seemed a respectable way to fill the daylight hours.” A degree, or even final grades, “didn’t cross my mind,” he said. He took courses that “sounded cool,” like philosophy, religion, history, and literature.
“I wonder now if those were the code words to activate the Winter Professor. Immediately some long-slumbering part of me awoke, wide-eyed, ravenous for books. I felt an unrestrainable desire to read and write, to ingest language and contend with ideas,” DeWald said. “Twenty years and three degrees later, I’m still ravenous. If you see me on campus, odds are I am walking, sipping coffee, and nearsightedly reading poetry at the same time. Like Mr. Magoo.”
DeWald said he is “tempted to intellectualize” what drew him to higher education, but “the misty-eyed truth is that it changed the rhythms of my heart.” Teaching at the university level is, “no joke,” his dream job, and he loves Piedmont.
“What brought me here was the opportunity to teach creative writing courses. What kept me here was our ultra-talented students and exceedingly supportive, whip-smart colleagues,” DeWald said.
For DeWald, writing is a team sport. Community is the best part of the job.
“We work together to actualize individual projects/goals. In my creative writing classes especially, there’s an instantaneous bond forged among the students. Do writers imprint on other writers? Yes—I witness it every semester. Though I hold an authority position, I have no interest in being a kingly arbiter, a defender of taste, or what Gertrude Stein once called Ezra Pound: ‘a village explainer.’ I’m a writer, too. I work with and for and alongside my students. We’re in it together,” DeWald said.
Student-author interaction is key to another of DeWald’s roles on campus. He organizes Piedmont’s Readings in the Humanities Series, which features authors like Whiting Award winner Reginald McKnight, American Book Award winner LeAnne Howe, and Reuben Jackson, a poet, educator, radio host, and longtime curator of the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington Collection.
DeWald also founded and serves as managing editor for COMP: an interdisciplinary journal, a publication of Piedmont University’s undergraduate Creative Writing Program. Edited by Piedmont students, COMP is a journal dedicated to creative and critical writing with accompanying process notes and/or author interviews. The next issue is due out in May.
An author himself, DeWald wrote the essay collection Sheets of Sound (Broken Sleep Books, 2020), a cross-genre book, The Rosebud Variations (Broken Sleep Books, 2021), and several limited-edition chapbooks, including common tones in haunted time (Salò Press, 2023) and A Love Supreme, winner of the 2019 Quarterly West Chapbook Contest.
DeWald holds degrees from San Francisco State University (BA in English), Pacific University (MFA in Poetry), and the University of Georgia (PhD in English/Creative Writing). He lives in Athens with his partner and three children.