He wasn’t always interested in writing. That didn’t really come about until college.
But Thomas “T.E.” Hahn has held a passion for storytelling ever since he was a child.
“It started first I think with being drawn to people in my family who were great storytellers,” said Hahn, who graduated from the Long Island Campus of St. Joseph’s University, New York in 2008 with a B.A. in English and a Concentration in Adolescence Education. “Like my dad, he was a Nassau County sergeant for the police, and he’s just one of the funniest people I know. And he was so good at telling stories and weaving tales.”
Now, Hahn’s a published author with an MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. on the way.
“When I was in college, a lot of people were telling me, ‘You’ve got to grow up,’ and ‘You can’t always wear black,’ and ‘You can’t keep listening to these (emo) bands,’ and ‘You can’t keep acting like this and going to shows and playing music like this and still be considered serious,’” said Hahn, who published his book “Open My Eyes” in 2019 with Running Wild Press.
“And I’m like, ‘Why not?’ That was actually one of the defining moments of me growing up: realizing they’re wrong — I can do that,” continued Hahn, who also teaches 9th grade English and 12 AP Literature at Great Neck High School, as well as world literature and creative writing at St. John’s University. “I can write and teach. I can get a creative degree and an academic degree. You can do whatever you want if you have the time and money, or if you’re given money.”
Becoming a Writer
Before writing novels, Hahn felt drawn to a different literary genre.
“Honestly, I started by writing really sappy emo poetry,” Hahn, 38, said. “I was really into bands like Taking Back Sunday, Alkaline Trio, Less Than Jake and NOFX, and I went to shows and I was in a punk band and a surf rock band.
“And somehow that made me want to write sappy emo poetry. And then I found that poetry was too confining,” he continued. “I felt like I wanted to tell more and write narratives, rather than just fragments.”
And before attending St. Joseph’s University, Hahn started out at Suffolk County Community College while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. It was there that he met Adam Penna, a professor and poet who inspired him in more ways than one.
“He wrote beautiful poetry,” Hahn said of Penna. “And having him as a professor, I kept thinking, ‘I wish I could do that for a living.’ Not only do I love writing and poetry and short stories and novels, but I could make that into a job? It didn’t seem real to me. That eventually led me to want to teach, too.”
Getting Inspired at St. Joseph’s
Hahn’s decision to become a teacher stemmed from his desire to instill that same kind of passion for reading and writing in other students, the way teachers had done for him.
“Seeing inspiring professors and knowing that that’s what you could do in that position?” said Hahn, who’s mom and sister were also teachers. “There is a life beyond reading and writing, and it can continue in this way. You can give that gift to someone else — of appreciating literature and being so inspired by it.”
Once Hahn made that decision, his next one was easy.
“That’s why I transferred to St. Joseph’s, because it’s known for its education program,” he said. “And I said if I’m going to do this, like everything else in my life, I’m going to do it 100 percent; I’m going to be that teacher who’s super excited and passionate about language and narratives and storytelling, and hopefully that’ll rub off at some point on at least one student.”
It was at St. Joseph’s that Hahn met more professors who helped solidify his decisions and passions.
“I remember specifically certain professors that stand out to me, like Dr. Ricciardi of course and all of his Ricciardi-isms, and Dr. Mascuch,” Hahn said of Marc Ricciardi, Ph.D., and Peter Mascuch, Ph.D., both associate professors of English. “I still speak with Dr. Ricciardi. I just spoke with him a little while ago. Love that guy. And Dr. Mascuch — brilliant, compassionate and always available to help students.
“And Dr. Phagan was like my mentor there,” he continued, speaking of Judith Phagan, D.A., professor and chair of the English department at St. Joseph’s University. “She kind of took me under her wing. She’s just a lovely human being. If you know her, you know just how wonderful and special of a human, of an academic she is — a brilliant mind, and just such a compassionate human.”
Getting to know T.E. Hahn
Read on for a Q&A with Hahn to learn more about the author and St. Joseph’s University alumnus.
OnCampus: Tell us more about the Ph.D. you’re working on.
Hahn: I’m at St. John’s University, where I’m working on my Ph.D. in English Literature with a specialization in Contemporary American Short Fiction… and Eco and Gender Studies kind of, too. I’m hoping to defend my dissertation in October.
OC: What’s your dissertation about?
Hahn: I’m looking at the identity of the American short story, tracing its origins and history, and essentially establishing that it’s a queer literary formation — this sort of hybrid between a novel and poem. I’m focusing on Benjamin Percy and how he is using that identity and the heightened ambiguity in order to establish a different type of relationship between heterosexual men and the environment.
OC: What have you been working on since finishing your novel?
Hahn: My dissertation (laughs). Every now and then when I have a pocket of time and I’m really inspired and I have this itch to write something creative, I’ll do it; I’ll allow myself to. But lately it’s been a lot of academic stuff. Ideally, after the Ph.D., I’d like to… I have an idea for a new novel. I have probably enough short stories for a collection at this point. I’d like to edit them a little more, polish them up and send them out individually, maybe get them published in different journals. Those are some of the things I think I’d like to do.
OC: Do you have a favorite book?
Hahn: I can’t pick just one. Some of my favorite stories are
- Aimee Bender’s “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt,” hands down.
- Benjamin Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh” — amazing, some of the best short stories I’ve ever read in my life. I didn’t even know stories could do those things. Constant page-turners. So much tension and suspense throughout the stories.
- Paul Harding’s “Tinkers” — gorgeous prose, just beautifully written.
- James Salter’s “Light Years.”
- Really anything by Margaret Atwood.
- Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties.”
- James Joyce’s “Dubliners.”
- There’s too many great things out there; I can’t keep up with it.
OC: Favorite author?
Hahn: Right now it has to be Benjamin Percy. It must be. He’s had the biggest influence on me as a writer and also because of my dissertation. He’s definitely had a tremendous impact on me.
OC: Any interesting plans this summer?
Hahn: I recently got accepted into a selective writers conference this summer, the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference. They only selected 12 people in the nation. I’m actually going to be studying under Benjamin Percy himself. And I got a 30-min spot meeting with him, so he can look at my fiction and give me some feedback. I can’t even tell you how excited I am.
OC: Who’s your biggest inspiration in life and why?
Hahn: It’s cliché to say your parents, but it’s true. I would say especially my sister and my dad. They both have Parkinson’s disease. They have the sort of grit and determination and the persistence to not just roll over and let it take them. That’s inspiring. And my mom always supported me growing up with my writing, especially when she found out — and my dad for that matter — when they found out it was an actual thing that I loved. I can’t ever remember a time when they did not support me, and I can’t say that for some of my fellow friends. That’s inspiring to me. That’s inspired me as a dad, no less a writer.
OC: Talk about your family.
Hahn: I live in Rye, New York, with my wife Ashleigh and our daughters Evelyn, who’s 7, and Dylan, who’s 4. They’re amazing, fantastic kids. I’m lucky. And Ashleigh’s a teacher as well, she’s a high school choral director. She’s easily the most talented teacher I’ve ever met in my life.