From Rockstar to Writer: Nic Brown’s Path to Clemson University
Before starting his career in academia, Nic Brown was an established musician, working for Atlantic Records and as a studio session drummer in New York City. Brown’s music career started as early as eighth grade, forming a band with his friends to perform at their school dance. He jokes that he “peaked in middle school.” His career excited him and gave Brown time to arrange music, write and read often.
Following his music career, Brown went back to school, attending Columbia University for his undergraduate degree. He was then offered a fellowship at the University of Iowa to receive his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Brown studied creative writing, but he did not begin teaching right away. Rather than teaching, he published several novels, including “Floodmarkers” and “Doubles.”
When asked how his music career inspired him to pursue writing, Brown said, “Living in the arts gave me a little more confidence to pursue writing.” He added, “It’s possible to make a career out of passion.”
Brown’s teaching career started at the University of Northern Colorado, and he later became the writer in residence at the University of Mississippi. In 2014, Brown sought out a position at Clemson, an area already familiar to him since his grandparents had retired there. Even though he did not know much about the college town, he said that he “remembered the paw prints on the road.”
Ironically, Brown believes that being hired at Clemson was very full-circle. A creative writing professor at Clemson, Keith Morris, was the first person to publish one of Brown’s stories.
“In a way, Clemson was the start of my writing career,” said Brown.
Along with Brown’s many fiction workshops, he also teaches screenwriting and creative nonfiction. Many English majors become passionate about creative writing. Brown helps students develop the skills to learn how stories are constructed and think like a writer, regardless of their futures in writing. All of his students will continue to be readers, and they will be able to incorporate these skills into their reading experiences.
One of the most exciting aspects of Brown’s teaching career is the dynamic nature of his classes. There is never a set curriculum because he is unsure of what he will be teaching until he gets students’ stories back. His teaching methodology depends on the story because each one creates its own logic. Working closely with students and helping them develop a handful of questions that they can use to improve their writing is the biggest takeaway from Brown’s creative writing courses.
“The things that are working are just as important as the things that aren’t working […] Students turn in work on purpose; they know something is working,” said Brown when discussing how he helps students get to their best draft.
The cohorts within his classes are typically smaller in numbers allowing him to build relationships with students and learn about their writing styles. Every class has its own “flavor and vibe” that helps separate the work from past semesters and bring the group together. It also helps that Brown loves learning himself. When Brown left music, he was scared that he would miss it. However, he does not miss it at all because of the opportunities he found within academia and writing.
Brown continues to write outside of the classroom and has recently completed his book, “Bang Bang Crash.” The new nonfiction memoir is a project that is out of his fiction comfort zone. Brown’s obsessions have historically inspired his previous works. One book is about a pregnant young woman, which he wrote when his daughter was very young. Brown also wrote a book about doubles tennis players because one of his closest friends was one of the world’s top doubles tennis players during this time. Inspiration from obsession has been great for generating Brown’s creativity.
“Nothing is stupid if you are obsessed with it,” said Brown.
“Bang Bang Crash,” set for print in spring 2023, is a memoir about his life and involvement in the music industry. Brown is most proud of this book, adding that he “hopes to always be most proud of the thing he is working on at the moment.”
Brown’s career path is unique, moving from a record deal with Atlanta Records to his role within Clemson’s English department. There have been many surprises throughout his journey and immense success. The English Unbound team is excited to see what Brown does next. If you are interested in taking one of Brown’s English courses, he will be teaching the Fiction Workshop (ENGL 4450/6450) and the Creative Non-Fiction (ENGL 4490/6490) courses during Fall 2022.
Written by: Chandler Brown