Undergrad Student Spotlight: Zach Zoeller

M.M. Carrigan reads at the 10th Annual Rock and Roll Reading at AWP in Seattle, WA (8 March 2023)

I was almost late to the 10th Annual Rock and Roll Reading, which, if you know anything about rock and roll readings, would’ve been about the most punk thing I could’ve pulled.

I’d been on a boat with some friends that evening, doing lazy little donuts on the belly of Lake Union. I’m a Seattleite now so I’m flirting with becoming a boat guy. I mean, okay, I’d been too nervous to take my turn at the steering wheel and – fine, fine – every time a wave rocked our boat a little too far to the right, I felt my bladder do a somersault. But I still really dug the idea of being a boat guy. The idea of it was what mattered. 

For the record, Seattle’s full of ideas. That’s possibly the best thing about this city. I’m from Manhattan, Kansas, originally – the Little Apple, if you want – where, sure, there’s plenty of ideas, but the kind that don’t always grab you by the shoulders and spit in your face a little bit as they yell at you to “FEEL INSPIRED, YOU ABSOLUTE JACKWAGON!” It was probably just the familiarity of everything, the uniformity that comes with living in one small city your entire life, but stumbling onto some real-deal inspiration felt like squeezing the same lemon over and over again to make twenty pitchers of lemonade. Then stuff happened, I moved here. And guess what? Not only am I an absolute jackwagon that’s feeling inspired, I’m an absolute jackwagon that’s feeling inspired on a boat.

Okay, sorry, I’m not actually on a boat anymore. I’ve moved on from that idea for now. My new thing is AWP, or the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Most of you reading this probably have at least some idea of what this is, but in case you don’t, I’ve provided a simple definition:




1.      Where writers go to flex their literary superpowers for four straight days. There are bookfairs, reading events, informal meet ups at dive bars and pubs… It’s basically Coachella for nerds.

“Zach is going to explode if he doesn’t get his book signed by Sequoia Nagamatsu at AWP.”

With this year’s convention being held in my new home city, the universe was basically screaming “HEY, JACKWAGON! HOW’S THIS FOR AN OPPURTINITY, EH?” I loved what AWP could mean for me. Prides of writers and artists gathered to celebrate creativity in one of the most lavish ways imaginable – by getting drunk at a bar and cheering on the best damn poetry or essay or short story or crazy-hybrid-of-the-three you’ve ever freaking heard. Think karaoke but with a bit more planning, a concert but with a bit less singing. I was ready for some action. And what better way to kick things off than at the 10th Annual Rock and Roll Reading?

It was held at the Central Saloon, the first Seattle bar that Nirvana ever played. Carefully curated by K-State’s own Dan Hoyt, the lineup was packed full of writers that I both knew and didn’t, admired and would soon enough. I was thrilled that it was time, that the months-long drumroll leading up to this night was finally tapering off. The backpack slung across my back sagged heavily with the weight of books I hoped to get signed, and as I approached the venue, I kept thinking that this, this right freaking here, is what Seattle is all about.

And yeah – it absolutely ruled. I spent the first fifteen minutes just soaking it all in. Gawking at familiar faces – Aaron Burch is much taller than I’d imagined! Also, am I really standing right next to Michael flipping Mlekoday? – and trying my hardest to be the coolest looking fly-on-the-wall that anyone in there had ever seen. I caught up with Dan, grabbed a cold beer (A Rainier, dude, duh), and made myself at home in a cozy corner of the bar dedicated to In Utero.

These writers, man… Ironically, words don’t do them justice. Each commanded the stage in their own idiosyncratic way – Aaron Burch tag teamed a story about a jukebox scuffle with surprise guest Kevin Maloney, M.M. Carrigan (pictured above) spoke on the personally relevant and universally polarizing Beatles’ cut “Michelle,” Monica Prince closed things off with a sultry poem about sex with the lights off, thank you very much. In this moment, with the stage lights flooding them in blue, the crowd laser focused on the stories they’d written, they were the Bowies and the Jimis and the Kurts and the Joplins of the night. In more ways than one, this really was a rock and roll reading.

I feel very privileged to live in a city that fosters such passion for the arts. To live in a city where I can be a boat guy in the afternoon and a books guy in the evening. Like Batman if he had an MFA instead of nunchucks. Or maybe like if Bruce Wayne has never become Batman at all. 

I’m of course privileged to have experienced AWP, too. To have been accepted into a community of writers that are both furiously inspiring and incomparably original. Kurt Cobain once said, “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are.” If I had to guess, then, I think he’d be amped as hell about what went down March 8th at the 10th Annual Rock and Roll Reading. 

— Zach Zoeller (BA ’23)

2 thoughts on “Undergrad Student Spotlight: Zach Zoeller

  1. I taught him! I wish I could claim that Zach honed his writing skills in my AP class,
    but no — Zach already was just that good. Love this spotlight. Hope he keeps sharing his writing.


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