Domer Diaries

My Domer Diary: Janet McNally

Writing Stories that Matter


Editor’s Note: Domer Diaries is the newest storytelling series from the Alumni Association where members of the Notre Dame family tell their stories in their own words. This week’s Domer Diaries comes from Janet McNally ’05 MFA, an accomplished author of three books, including a book of poetry, and professor of English at Canisius College. 

Name: Janet McNally
Class Year:
2005 MFA
Student Activities:
Editorial assistant for the Notre Dame Review
Occupation: Author, Professor of English at Canisius College

Why did you choose Notre Dame?

The Notre Dame MFA program is fantastic and I was thrilled to study with the professors there. I knew that being a graduate of Notre Dame would help open some professional doors, because it's a school that's so widely known and respected. It didn't hurt that my grandfather had been a big fan of Notre Dame from far away (like so many Irish Americans, I guess), and it made my dad happy when I went.

Share a short update about your work and your life changes since graduating. 

I've published three books since I graduated: a collection of poems called Some Girls and two novels, Girls in the Moon and The Looking Glass. I'm associate professor of English and director of the All-College Honors Program at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, and I have three daughters. That's a pretty big life change. 

What books, music, movies, television shows or other forms of art have had a lasting impact on your life?

I'm a huge fan of music, which would come as no surprise if you read my first novel, in which the protagonist is the odd one out in a family of musicians. My taste is pretty wide-ranging, so it's hard to narrow down — I seek new music obsessively and make a playlist of new songs every month — but some artists I'm loving recently are Girlhouse, Boygenius, Bartees Strange, and Waxahatchee.

My true literary love is stories, whether that means a novel or the way a poem can tell a story in miniature with lots of pieces missing. My favorite aesthetic, I always say, is the funny-sad. Sadness is a part of life but it's unsurvivable without humor, in my opinion. This is why Lorrie Moore was an early favorite of mine, and more recently I've fallen for Miriam Toews (especially All My Puny Sorrows), Rachel Khong (Goodbye, Vitamin), and Lily King (Writers & Lovers). Since I lost my dad and joined the grievers club, I love art that examines loss even more. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s TV show Fleabag does this better than almost anything else I’ve seen. We have to keep ourselves going in a world where we can lose those we love, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to read and watch things that teach me how.