The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Every moment counts: a GV creative writing professor’s journey

Courtesy | Tyler Steimle

For 17  years, Grand Valley State University Professor Todd Kaneko has been a part of the Writing Department. A professor of poetry and creative writing, he first started teaching at GVSU in 2007 as an adjunct professor but soon turned to the tenure track in 2015.

Despite Kaneko’s role as a creative writing instructor, it’s far from what he originally thought he’d be doing with his life.

“I graduated high school and I flunked out of college because I didn’t wanna go, and I ended up playing music for 10 years,” Kaneko said. “My dad was a poet, a fiction writer and a playwright. I think I resisted going into the family business for years and years.”

Drawn to the creation of art, he redirected his path toward graphic design and illustration, staying in the field until he was told he wouldn’t be able to make any more money without having a degree. After truly capping out in that field, Kaneko shifted gears, deciding in the ‘90s to further his career by getting a bachelor’s degree in graphic design.

However, that’s where his whole life trajectory changed.

“I had this really great English teacher who was my first-year composition teacher. First-year writing was a half intro to (literature), half writing class,” Kaneko said. “In that class, I rediscovered my love for the written word and I made my decision.”

Kaneko went on to attend Arizona State University for an MFA in Creative Writing specializing in narrative writing. He graduated from ASU in 2006, and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan soon after with his partner, Caitlin Horrocks, to teach together at GVSU.

“One of the cool things about being a writer is you don’t have to go to school to be a writer. But when you do go to school to be a writer, you end up meeting like-minded people, and you create that community for yourself,” Kaneko said. “Those people end up being the people that you write with and exchange work with.”

Kaneko said many of his longest-standing writer friends are from his days at ASU. Since then, he has met several people in creative spaces and added several accolades to his professional portfolio. 

With three poetry books, one textbook and many publications in journals and magazines under his belt, Kaneko is considered what many people would define as a “success” in the industry. However, he sees little point in defining accomplishment with how often one’s work is printed and bound. 

“The thing that I want my students to understand is that their writing is about their art. They have to divorce that from any notion of a career or sales or success. As long as you’re writing, you’re a writer and success is what you determine it to be,” Kaneko said. “Some people are gonna say, ‘Well, I don’t have a book, so how can I be a success, right?’ But if that’s your measure of success, that’s a very limited measure of success, and a very difficult one to achieve. Most people in the world haven’t published a book.”

Something Kaneko strongly believes in is that “who you are as a person feeds into who you are as a writer.” Being a longtime creative and now a dad of three, he emulates this ideology on multiple levels.

“I have an eight-year-old and I have a pair of three-year-old twins. On one hand, they make me a terrible writer, because I don’t have time. I don’t have the brain space. When you’re a dad, you take all that brain space and put it into being a dad,” Kaneko said. “When I am writing, I’m a better writer, because having three kids means I have three more points through which to live.”

Juggling teaching, parenting and writing has taught Kaneko to be smart with his time, and has contributed to a shift in his poetry. He said it’s “much easier to get in and out of the creative space” with the shorter form of creative writing.

“Poetry has given me more than sometimes I think I deserve, or that I’ve thought I was actually pursuing. I know a lot of people who haven’t been able to publish a book,” Kaneko said. “I feel very fortunate that the stages of my life have led me to where I am.”

These stages of life haven’t just led him to his current successes, though. They’ve also played a role in forming not only who he is, but, like most writers, informing the art that he creates.

“Sometimes someone will say, ‘How long did it take you to write that book, or that poem, or that story,’ and there’s two answers. ‘Well, it took me an hour, or it took me a day, or it took me four years,’ the real answer is my whole life,” Kaneko said. “Everything, every moment, every experience leads us to our art.”

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