There’s Patrick Carberry the writer, and then there’s Patrick the Intern. The latter has been a recurring character on The Encyclopedia Show, an award-winning literary variety show at Stage 773 in Chicago. Carberry describes the character he created as “a man-child who can’t do a whole lot” — except to serve as a hilarious vehicle for Carberry’s short works of comedic fiction.
The Encyclopedia Show was founded as a humorous, less competitive alternative to the poetry slam scene. Local artists present work on a theme — serial killers, floods, cheerleaders — juxtaposed with real experts on the topic. The show recently ended a successful six-year run. But it has been only one part of Carberry’s writing career, which will soon include a master of fine arts degree from Northwestern University School of Professional Studies (SPS).
Carberry grew up surrounded by books and developed an interest in the performative aspect of literature, such as reading aloud, storytelling and plays. He earned a bachelor of English at Illinois State University, where his speech team won the American Forensic Association’s national tournament in 2005, and he won an individual event, program oral interpretation, in 2006. Carberry went on to earn a master of English and then returned to Chicago to teach writing part time in local colleges. While working on the show and teaching, Carberry was also publishing his work in small journals such as SmokeLong Quarterly and Pank. But he was ready to do more.
“I was already immersed in the local writing scene,” he says. “But I wanted to take my writing more seriously and position myself for full-time teaching. I knew that with real deadlines and a sense of urgency I could accomplish more.”
Carberry credits SPS’s workshop model and his instructors, especially writer Steve Amick, with helping him define his voice, push past his comfort zone, and take on an ambitious thesis project — his first novel. “Steve’s approach and dedication has been wonderful, and a workshop environment that’s honest helps you see how real, serious readers view your work,” he explains. “In one workshop a student said, ‘that must be a Carberry story.’ It probably wasn’t meant as a compliment, but I took it as one. In the MFA program, you can find your voice, a style that is unmistakably you.”