CM Burroughs 2003

Poet CM Burroughs '03
  • Associate Professor of Poetry | Columbia College Chicago
  • B.A., English and Creative Writing | Sweet Briar College, 2003
  • M.F.A., Poetry | University of Pittsburgh, 2007

CM Burroughs is a tenured professor of poetry at Columbia College Chicago and is writing her third book. Her second published collection, Master Suffering, was one of 10 to make the long list for the National Book Award for Poetry in 2021 and was also a finalist for both the LA Times Book Award and Lambda Book Award. A critic describes the collection, focused in part of the untimely death of CM’s younger sister at age 11, as “transcendent: revealing anguish, vulnerability, and a guttural beauty.”

CM Burroughs had a plan when she arrived at Sweet Briar: She would earn a liberal arts degree, apply to law school, and join her father’s law firm.

“It was a nice plan; something I had taken solace in for a long time,” she recalls. But after three years studying poetry and literature, she found herself dragging her feet as she filled out law school applications. That’s when her advisor, creative writing professor John Gregory Brown who had once considered a law career himself, told her “We’re just waiting for you to get your MFA in poetry.”

His encouragement was all she needed to take a courageous step. “I remember tearing up those law school applications,” says CM, a 2003 graduate. She applied instead to the University of Pittsburgh for a master of fine arts degree. Two decades later, CM is a tenured professor of poetry at Columbia College Chicago and is writing her third book. Her second published collection, Master Suffering, was one of 10 to make the long list for the National Book Award for Poetry in 2021 and also a finalist for both the LA Times Book Award and Lambda Book Award. A critic describes the collection, focused in part of the untimely death of CM’s younger sister at age 11, as “transcendent: revealing anguish, vulnerability, and a guttural beauty.”

In addition to her published collections, CM has received a range of fellowships and grants, including an artist residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, across the highway from Sweet Briar. Museums have commissioned her to write poetry responding to their art exhibitions, and numerous journals and anthologies have featured her work.

At Columbia, CM teaches workshops in poetry to undergraduate and graduate students, helping them shape their own collection of poems and find the relevance of the verses in their lives. “When I teach poets who resemble and come from backgrounds similar to my students, they see the relevance,” she says.

At a time when some people question the value of a liberal arts degree, CM is grateful to be working at a college focused on the arts. “I don’t have to explain the draw of artistic passion to the students,” she says. “I do have to describe to parents how their kids can make a living with a degree in poetry.”

In that sense, CM offers a perfect example as an educator and published poet. “I love what I do,” she says. “It’s still work. It’s still labor. But I love it.”