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I am Arts and Sciences: Taylor Byas

  • October 18, 2021

Through language, poets help us better understand and navigate life. However, the journey to a career in poetry is not always clear (or easy).

Taylor ByasThrough language, poets help us better understand and navigate life. However, the journey to a career in poetry is not always clear (or easy).

For Taylor Byas, a renowned poet who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati, her dream of becoming a writer emerged when she was a child.

“I’ve been a bookworm since I can remember,” said Byas. “I think I always knew that I wanted to pursue English and to pursue something that has to do with language.”

Although English was her first passion, she found herself on the pre-medicine track when she arrived at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2013. She chose this path because her mother was a successful doctor, and because several people questioned her future career prospects if she focused on English solely.

“Along the way, I let people discourage me… I let them ask ‘What are you going to do with an English degree?’” said Byas.

She stuck with pre-med for a year, but, deep down, she felt out-of-sync with the coursework. Eventually, after receiving support and encouragement from her emerging network of friends and mentors, she pivoted back into the English program.

“I stepped into the confidence to be fully myself,” said Byas. “UAB created a culture of perseverance. It also instilled a mindset in me—of not being afraid to fail and believing in my ideas.”

As her confidence grew, so did her talent. While pursuing her B.A. in the Department of English, Byas’ creative voice shined, and, before she knew it, she was considering the department’s graduate program. Immediately after earning her bachelor’s degree in 2017, she matriculated into the M.A. program with a focus on creative writing.

“My master’s degree, specifically, is where I found my voice in writing,” said Byas. “It was the support of that wonderful department… I was loved and believed in—well before I found it for myself. That support system was so crucial.”

Along with finding her voice, Byas also benefited from the overall rigor of the program.

“I think we never really know…how rigorous something is until we step out of it and apply those things,” said Byas. “When I arrived at my Ph.D. program, I found myself not struggling. I really have had a fairly smooth time in my doctorate degree.”

Her smooth transition into her doctoral program also allowed her the space and time to launch a fruitful career as a poet and writer. Over the past year, she secured a literary agent, released her first chapbook of poetry, sold her first full-length book manuscript to Soft Skull Press, and won the Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize—a series of significant milestones for a young poet.

“This last year has been incredibly busy and also life-changing in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated,” said Byas.

Byas maintains a down-to-earth and welcoming demeanor amidst her noteworthy achievements. Although she recognizes her talents and creative voice brought her to this moment, she also credits much of her success to her network—her community.

“We aren’t designed to do this life alone. Finding your people, finding your community, is one of the most meaningful and important things you can do for yourself,” said Byas. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the community I found and created.”