Oliver Egger by Route 9 Sign

c/o Oliver Egger

Oliver Egger ’23 is undoubtedly a Wesleyan personality. In his four years at the University, Egger has founded the Route 9 literary collective, managed several literary projects within the collective, and compiled and edited the Route 9 Anthology, published by Wesleyan University Press. Egger sat down with The Argus to talk about his experiences with the University’s literary scene, rebuilding community after COVID-19, and the importance of fucking up.

The Argus: Why do you think you were nominated to be a WesCeleb?

Oliver Egger: Well, what a question. I mean, it’s the honor of a lifetime. Nothing’s ever going to be better than this victory for me. I’m kind of outward-facing, I guess. I do a lot of literary stuff on campus with the Route 9 literary collective and The Lavender. Other than that, I really don’t know. Maybe I’m just kind of a Wesleyan personality. I don’t know. I’m honored though. 

A: What is a Wesleyan personality?

OE: Just a character, a goofy little character. I’m just kind of around doing a bunch of random stuff, being really enthusiastic about getting people to submit poetry and writing. And I’m hosting a bunch of events, [so] people from across various class [years] might recognize me. I feel like that’s kind of a Wesleyan personality. 

A: What drew you to the English major and religion minor?

OE: I’ve always loved poetry and creative writing, since I was a little kid. My dad made me memorize poems when I was eight years old to get a bike. I’ve had a love for [literature] ever since then. I knew when I came to Wesleyan that I was probably gonna study English. 

And there’s a lot of amazing professors in the English Department. [Associate Professor of English] John Murillo [is] on sabbatical this year, but I really recommend everyone take a class with him. [Associate] Professor [of English Marguerite] Nguyen and [Assistant] Professor [of the Practice in Theater Edwin] Sanchez really supported me a lot and reminded me how much I love English and reading and writing. And Professor [of English Stephanie] Weiner is awesome too.

[The] religion [minor] was kind of a shock. That definitely wasn’t part of the plan, but I’ve just always been really interested in studying, learning, [and] thinking about Judaism and Christianity. I grew up in the South around primarily Christian communities. I was really interested in thinking, “How does Christianity affect how people view politics and culture?” 

I’ve always been really interested in Christianity as a Jewish person. And I just had some overall good classes there. It’s a very different way of thinking than in the English major. [It] kind of challenges me. I appreciate that about it. 

A: You kind of started to answer this already, but are there any particular classes and/or professors that significantly influenced your time at Wesleyan?

OE: I would say [“Advanced Poetry Workshop: Radical Revision”] with John Murillo definitely had a huge impact on me. 

Professor [of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Susanne] Fusso [is] just the best. I took this class with her, I think it was last year, and it changed my life. She’s a Wesleyan personality. She’s a legend. I love her. 

Professor Nguyen’s [“Kill Anything That Moves: The Vietnam War in Literature and Film”] is kind of a known classic class. I took the class over Zoom, and it was still so engaging.

A: You founded the literary collective Route 9. Can you talk about your inspiration to do that and experiences with it?

OE: When I came to Wesleyan in the Fall of 2019, campus was pretty different than it is now in terms of the literary scene, because COVID hadn’t happened yet. There were all of these literary magazines that no longer exist and clubs that no longer exist, which is pretty sad. So, my freshman year, I was like, “I want to do something with a literary magazine. But I wanna do something that’s unique or different.” And I met with [Emeritus Professor of English] Tony Connor, and he [had] started this theater organization that included at least one Middletown resident, one Wesleyan professor, and one Wesleyan student in every production.

I thought that was a really cool idea. So I came up with this idea called the Route 9 magazine, a Wesleyan publication that would include work from all three groups. Then COVID happened, and when I came back, I was like, “Wait, there’s like no other publications on campus. There’s no Wesleyan literary magazine happening…. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. That cannot be happening.”

Then I started the Route 9 literary collective and The Lavender. I started Poems of our Climate, which runs in The Argus now, [managed by] Sofia [Baluyut ’23]. I was able to actually complete my major goal, which is doing the Route 9 Anthology, a book of writing from across Middlesex County and Wesleyan published by Wesleyan University Press in September. 

Now, there’s just so many committed, thoughtful people who are involved with it that I’m able to be way less hands-on. Anything new that people wanna start, we support literary magazines getting off their feet. I just wanted to revitalize the literary community at Wesleyan because I was sad coming back and seeing that we were all shell-shocked. I think [the literary community is] one of the best parts [of Wesleyan]. 

A: Honestly, I didn’t realize that these had not been around for years and years and years.

OE: That’s the goal. I was talking to someone about The Lavender and they were like, “Oh, was it stressful, taking over?” I was like, “I didn’t take over it. I just made it.” I think it’s a really weird opportunity I had. It came out of a really bad situation, which is COVID. We [had to have] a reset because these two classes graduated and no torches were passed. All the torches were blown out. We have this opportunity to rebuild a community here, all in the same vein of continuing literature and literary tradition of Wesleyan. 

A: What legacy would you like to leave behind?

OE: The most obvious answer is I want to keep these publications going and [be remembered for] helping revitalize and create spaces for our entire community to come together. 

But I also hope I’m remembered through this article. I want people years from now to be like, “Wow. Oh my God. What a guy. What a lost legend of Wesleyan.” That’s a joke. 

But for real, just, [maintaining] the publications and continuing to have those spaces [carry] meaning and value. I feel like my legacy was that I really helped us [give] these amazing writers spaces to showcase their work. 

A: If you could have dinner with any author, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

OE: I’m gonna say two. I’m gonna break the rules. We’re gonna do two possible worlds. One world is the world where I speak German, and that would be the poet Rainer Rilke. He just seems like an amazingly inspiring person for a young poet. I mean, [Rilke’s] “Letters to a Young Poet” is already kind of doing that. I feel like he could teach me so much about writing and community building and care for other people. He’s just such a deeply empathetic person. 

But in the alternate universe where I can’t speak [German], I think it’d probably be James Baldwin, just because he’s the writer who got me into reading. I read “If Beale Street Could Talk” when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and I was like, “Alright. This is what I love.”

And I also think he had his fingers on the pulse of America and what it is like to be a person of color in America, or what it’s like to be a poet in America, what it’s like to be a human in America and in the world. I would love to hear him talk to me for nine hours about everything he thinks about our world today. There’s just no one like him. I don’t think there’s going to be for a really long time. 

A: Do you have any advice for current and prospective students?

OE: There’s obvious ones which are like “Talk to your professors, become their homies.” There’s so many great professors and there’s a lot of people out there who want to support you and care about you. 

But I think what I would’ve liked to hear as a freshman is [that] the stakes aren’t that high. It’s all gonna be okay. And the most important thing is [to ask] “Are you surrounding yourself with relationships that make you feel good? And are you doing the work, whatever that is, that makes you feel empowered, or makes you feel like you’re contributing to this community?”

If your answer is no, it doesn’t really matter how good [the] grades you’re getting [are]. You’re never gonna have the experience of being in a place like Wesleyan again. Wesleyan is a really unique and special place. [Ask] “How can I take the resources here and grow here?” without being like, “Oh my God, if I fail somehow, it reflects on me as a whole.”

There’s no failing. It’s just [not] taking yourself too seriously and [asking] “Do you feel like you’re in community and do you feel like you’re working for community?” You’re also just gonna fuck up over and over again until you die. We all suck a little bit. But we’re all trying our best. 

A: What are your plans beyond Wesleyan?

OE: I have all of these dreams and visions for myself as a writer in the world, which [are] hopefully true. But the main thing is I want to be around a community and people that I love next year. I don’t want to be isolated for the sake of some sort of clout or some sort of idea that if I don’t do this one thing, it’s over. It’s not over. It’s a long road. That’s something I really wanna prioritize for myself. 

I am applying to a few MFA programs in poetry, but I think more likely than not, I either won’t get in or I will defer for a year.

I don’t know what kind of work I’ll probably be doing, but I work at Wesleyan University Press and I really like editorial work. So I might see if I could be an editorial assistant at another university press or something. 

I will be real with you. It’s still kind of up in the air. But I know that I just wanna be around a community [and] poetry, and I’m trying not to freak out about it. ’Cause I don’t really think [that’s] helpful.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kat Struhar can be reached at kstruhar@wesleyan.edu


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