Michael Clark: Rising to the Occasion

by Joseph Bentz

fFor Michael Clark ’97, Ph.D., a typical day—teaching, working on his novel at Starbucks, or spending an afternoon at the beach with his wife and three children—suggests a master plan that led him to his ultimate goal, but reality tells a different tale. Clark entered a new phase of life this fall as an associate professor of English at APU, but his journey from APU undergraduate to APU professor led him through three careers.

A willingness to step up where needed, coupled with a series of unexpected turns, guided Michael to this new job he never imagined. When I picture Michael the way I first encountered him as an APU student in the mid-1990s, I see a slightly rumpled young man standing in my office doorway early on a Thursday morning. He has not slept since at least Tuesday night. He serves as editor-in-chief of The Clause, the APU student newspaper I then advised.

Becoming The Clause editor was not part of Michael’s original plan. In fact, as a freshman with an undeclared major, he didn’t have much of a plan at all. Eventually, he wound up in my Introduction to Journalism course and had to write an article for The Clause—it was my first inkling that he had a unique talent. But what I appreciated most was his willingness to take on any challenge that would make him better. His ability to rise to the occasion was put to the test one night as we faced a crisis at The Clause. The newspaper was due at the printer the following morning, and our feature editor had unexpectedly quit, leaving her pages unfinished. Michael had never served as an editor, and even though I had seen his potential and hoped to move him into one of those positions some day, I had planned to give him some time for preparation and training. Still, the paper had to get finished, and Michael was sitting right there. I promoted him on the spot, and he surpassed my expectations.

Michael finished his pages that night, and from that moment until his graduation, he was the student leader I relied on most. Over the next couple of years, he not only moved up to the top spot in the newspaper, but also to the editor-in-chief role of the campus literary magazine, The West Wind. He later earned a position in summer journalism workshop in Washington, DC, where, among other things, he secured a brief phone interview with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and wrote articles that were published in the Los Angeles Times and San Gabriel Valley Tribune (SGVT).

The momentum continued: He then won a prestigious Pulliam Fellowship, which allowed him to work as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star. After graduation, he became an SGVT reporter and won writing awards from the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the Los Angeles Press Club.

While covering the education beat for SGVT, Michael decided to push his writing energies in a different direction: teaching. He taught English at Whittier High School for six years. Although he loved that role, he rued the lack of time to pursue his own writing projects, so he risked big again and pursued another major career change. He and his wife, Heather (Murphy ’97), M.A. ’06, moved their kids from sunny California to snowy Milwaukee, where he earned a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin. That bold decision paid off, and in 2010, Point Loma Nazarene University hired him to teach the same kind of aspiring writers he once had been at APU. As a writing professor, first at Point Loma and now at APU, he pours his energy into teaching innovative courses in the area of his passion: storytelling. Whether teaching fiction or nonfiction, he aims to help people tell their own stories better. As he explains, “I work with writers who range from the college students I see on a daily basis, to inner-city kids with so many stories to tell, to adults who are only just beginning to think they may actually have something to contribute. And I love nothing more than helping them all find words for the things they often aren’t even aware they want to say.”

To follow Michael Clark’s journey and read some of his writing, visit michaeldeanclark.com.

Originally published in the Fall '14 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.