Thursday, October 17, 2019

Meet Sari Botton

I’d been aware of Sari Botton for years through her published essays and interviews, her bestselling anthologies, and her editing work at Longreads. When I learned that Sari was teaching a class on anthology publication at Catapult, I signed up right away. I’d had an idea for a literary anthology for a long time, and I couldn’t think of a better person to give me tips about the process. Sari was everything I expected her to be, and more—knowledgeable, thorough, wise, frank, funny, and insightful. When the MFA needed a new Mentorship Lab instructor, Sari came immediately to mind. I was thrilled when she said “yes.” You will be, too, when you read this interview with Sari, a self-described “late-blooming Gen X lady” who just happens to have had an extraordinary life and career. 

You’ve had a varied and interesting career journey, which you’ve been writing about in your subscription e-newsletter, “Adventures in Journalism.” For those who are unfamiliar with your background, can you tell us about some of the significant milestones (or twists and turns) in your writing journey?
I’m 54 and I honestly don’t feel as if I’m as established or successful as I “should be” by my age. I’ve had a very varied career in which I’ve sometimes felt right where I belonged, and I’ve thrived, and other times felt very much in the wrong place, and I’ve floundered. Sometimes that was a function of whether I had enough faith and confidence in my own inner directives to follow them; sometimes it was a matter of market forces and things like recessions killing lots of publications and jobs, and there was also a little thing called sexism holding me back now and then.

The first creative nonfiction I wrote was an essay for a school contest when I was in fourth grade about what I’d do if I won $1 million. (I can’t remember what I said I’d do!) I won that contest, and the same one the following year. The summer of 1986, when I was a junior in college, I managed to get a paid internship on the arts desk at Newsday, where I flourished writing arts features and profiles. But after college, I had a hard time finding myself as a writer. An essay writing workshop I took at NYU in 1992 got me going with creative nonfiction again.

I started publishing personal essays in magazines in the late 90s and early aughts, and knew that was where my heart was. I published two Modern Love essays, one about reprogramming myself away from The Rules and another about becoming okay with not wanting children.

My dad wasn’t happy with what I wrote in the first Modern Love essay, and that began my obsession with trying to figure out how to ethically write about the other people in your life. In 2010, I started a column on The Rumpus called Conversations With Writers Braver Than Me, where I interviewed memoirists about how they handled this.

In 2013, after hearing agents and editors tell me no for eight years, I published my first of two NYC anthologies, Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. The next year I published its New York Times Bestselling follow up, Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers On Their Unshakable Love For New York.

Those books led Mark Armstrong, the founder of Longreads, to reach out to me.

You’re an editor for Longreads, which publishes a wide variety of longform essays and features both established and emerging writers. You also created and edit “Fine Lines” for Longreads, focusing on personal essays about aging in our culture. And you’ve edited and published three literary anthologies. What do like most about editing? What is your primary goal when editing an essay?
Editing an essay is like solving a puzzle for me. I just love the form — love to read and write personal essays, and to help make other writers’ essays sing. I lose myself in editing them because it is such a passion. One of my primary goals, though, is to maintain each writer’s intentions and voice. I try to not do anything unnecessary.

How does editing inform your writing practice, and vice-versa?
I bring my experience as a writer to editing. One of the things I’ve hated most as a writer is being edited by people who are flexing their muscles unnecessarily to justify their jobs. With that in mind, I try to do very spare editing. And I always invite writers to push back against the suggestions I’ve made.

As a writer, editing has made me sharper and more considerate of my editors. I remember in the past filing pieces that were over word count, telling the editor, “I decided to let you pick what stays and what goes!” I will never do that again!

Does your work as an editor influence your teaching practice?
Being an editor, editing two to three longform essays each week, makes me a better teacher because I am so deeply immersed in what does and doesn’t work in the writing. I share this with my students.

Your writing has been featured in multiple major publications, and now you are working on your memoir. What brought you to the point of wanting to write a memoir?
I’ve been wanting to write a memoir for a long time, but have felt conflicted about revealing things about other people in my life, so I’ve been kind of…hiding? I’m tired of hiding. And I think I have figured out how to do this with minimal blood spilled.

Can you tell us what the memoir is about?
It’s about being a late-blooming Gen X lady who has zig-zagged haphazardly through life while battling a case of impostor syndrome, borne of trying to be who I thought people (mostly men) wanted me to be instead of who I actually was. 

What is your writing process like? What techniques or strategies work for you?
I don’t have as much time for my own writing as I’d like. That said, sometimes I’ve written the most when I’ve been the busiest. I try to make it easy for myself to just dive in when a thought strikes me. To this end, I keep a running Word doc that functions as a scratch pad. I also like to get in a room with other writers, and set a timer a few times – for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes at a clip — and babysit each other as we race the clock and get a shitty draft down. I also got a lot out of Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsOfSummer. The first year she did that, in 2018, I rough-drafted a lot of the material for my “Adventures in Journalism” newsletter.

You’re an instructor at Catapult and now teaching for the Bay Path MFA. What made you interested in teaching for us?
I was curious about your program, because I knew my colleague Lisa Romeo teaches there. I had stumbled upon the Bay Path table at Hippocamp a few years ago. When Leanna James Blackwell reached out to me, I was thrilled to get the chance to teach here!

What do you hope to give your students?
I hope to empower my students to hone and follow their instincts; some tips and tools for overcoming the fears and doubts that keep so many of us blocked; and skills for developing, fleshing out, and then reigning in their writing.

Is there any one thing you love most about teaching? If so, what is it?
I love watching and helping writers develop. I also love watching and helping them find their confidence, because it has taken me so long.

What inspires your work as writer/teacher/editor? What interests you most?
When I was coming up, I had a hard time finding mentors and teachers, and vowed that I would fill that void for others.

Who are some of your favorite (or formative) authors? What do you love to read?
Some of my favorite creative nonfiction authors are Leslie Jamison, Kiese Laymon, Lacy Johnson, Jesmyn Ward, Anne Lamott, Sarah Miller, the late David Rakoff, Joan Didion, Maggie Nelson, Chris Kraus…too many to name! I love reading essay collections and memoirs.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Celebrations and New Beginnings

Writers to Watch
I used to believe that good writers should be able to describe anything and everything in language. There are words for all experiences: the birth of a child, the loss of a parent, the feeling of flying in a dream. But I know now that some experiences defy description, and the mix of my emotions during our recent MFA graduate reading is one of them. To say I was proud doesn’t come close. I know what it took for these writers to finish their theses and graduate from the program. I know how hard they worked on their writing, how many long nights and early mornings it took to finish the cascade of weekly assignments, how many books and articles and essays they read, to the point of needing new glasses (or maybe that’s just me). Most important of all, I know how much of their lives they dared to reveal in their work.


Listening to our graduates read from their honest and beautiful work, I found myself in the presence of what the writer Mary Karr calls “the sacred creative” – a moment sanctified by art and by truth. And that still doesn’t describe it. Fortunately, you don’t have to wonder; you can experience it for yourself. We video recorded the event, which you can watch here. You can also browse our photo gallery here (scroll to bottom). And please join me in congratulating the MFA class of 2019:  Kate Anderson, Mary-Warren Bartlett, Karen Bellavance-Grace, Freda Brackley, Christine Brooks, Andy Castillo, L’Tanya Durante, Sarah Gallagher, Nicole Hamer, Jim Henry, Naomi Kooker, Jon Nichols, Melina Rudman, and Maria Smith.  Hats off to all!


New MFA faculty member        
We are very pleased to announce new MFA faculty member Jennifer DeLeon, who joined us this May to teach a course she developed for the program: “Reading and Writing about Identity, Race, and Culture.”  Jennifer, the editor of Wise Latinas (University of Nebraska Press), was named the 2015-2016 Writer-in-Residence by the Associates of the Boston Public Library and has published in Ploughshares, Ms., Brevity, Poets & Writers, The Southeast Review, Guernica, Best Women’s Travel Writing, and elsewhere. Her essay, “The White Space,” originally selected as first place recipient of the Michael Steinberg Essay Prize and published in Fourth Genre, was listed as notable in Best American Essays 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed. She was also named a 2016-2017 Artist-in-Residence by the City of Boston.

Born in the Boston area to Guatemalan parents, Jennifer earned a master’s in teaching from the University of San Francisco’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Social Justice, and an MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts–Boston. In addition to teaching in the Bay Path MFA, Jennifer teaches English at Framingham State University and creative writing at GrubStreet Independent Creative Writing Center. She maintains an active freelance writing, editing, and consulting practice, and travels the country speaking on issues of diversity, college access, and the power of story. Jennifer has published author interviews in Granta and Agni, and will be interviewed in our next MFA e-newsletter…stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

New Season, New Writing



Happy spring! The March equinox brings the usual flood of think pieces and articles about the arrival of spring, our biological clocks, and the curious relationship between weather and writing. One theory posits that writers should refrain from celebrating spring. Frigid, dark weather is good for us, maybe even necessary. Without it, we find ourselves lazing in the sunshine when we should be writing, our books and laptops and notebooks gathering dust on our desks. Would Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume My Struggle have been written if he lived in Palm Springs? There would be no literature without seasonal misery.

This theory falls apart when you look at literature consistently produced in Los Angeles and Miami, in Mumbai and Mexico City and Nairobi—and in our creative nonfiction MFA this spring. It might be warmer outside, the sun beguiling, but our students, grads, and faculty are hard at work on their writing, creating compelling new essays and book reviews that are being published in magazines, newspapers, and journals like Yankee (“Big Night” by Loree Burns ’20); Brevity (Main Street Revisited by Amy Stonestrom ’18); Cleaver (“Adios to My Parents” by Kim Livingston ’20); The Forge (“How to Stay Silent in Twelve Steps” by Heidi Fettig Parton ’17); and the Daily Hampshire Gazette (“Overworked and Underpaid” by Andy Castillo ’19, who placed first in health reporting in the Better New England Newspaper Competition).

Kate Anderson ’19 picked up a first place award from Mythic March short story contest; Kim MacQueen ’18 was noted as a writer to watch in Noteworthy; and L’Tanya Durante ’20 has joined the editorial team of Linden Avenue Literary Journal. MFA faculty member Sophfronia Scott recently appeared at Harvard Book Store in celebration of a new anthology, On Being 40(ish), in which her essay, “I Don’t Have Time for This,” is featured; and Lisa Romeo, MFA faculty and thesis director, recently published an excellent craft essay, “Yes, You Can Write Memoir” in Open Center. Need any more convincing that spring is good for writers? Read graduate Anne Pinkerton’s celebration of early signs of spring, “All Flowers Keep the Light,” at her blog TrueScrawl.

And in the spirit of celebration, please join us for our MFA graduate reading on Friday, May 17, at 3:00 p.m. in the Hatch Learning Center on our Longmeadow campus. The event is open to all, and includes a post-reading reception. We also hope you’ll join us for these upcoming events:

  •         Sunday, April 14: Bay Path’s 18th Writers’ Day, featuring C. Flanagan Flynn, Shanaz Habib, and Jane Yolen
  •         Thursday, June 6: A reading and book signing at the Booklink bookstore in downtown Northampton with MFA faculty Karol Jackowski and former MFA instructor and Writers’ Day presenter T. Susan Chang
  •         August 3 – 10: Creative Writing Field Seminar in Dingle, Ireland, featuring Andre Dubus III, Mia Gallagher, Ann Hood, Elizabeth Peavy, Suzanne Strempek Shea and Tommy Shea, and yours truly. The seminar is open to all writers.
Finally, there are spring releases to look forward to. On my list are The Honey Bus: a Memoir of Loss, Courage, and a Girl Saved by Bees, by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Meredith May; and Women Talking by Canadian writer Miriam Toews. What’s on your list?



Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Holiday Wrap-up


The fall semester is coming to a close, the holidays are here, and 2018 will be a memory in less than two weeks. MFA students have turned in their final essays, thesis chapters, and papers; faculty have turned in their grades. For all these reasons, it’s time to celebrate, but for writers, “celebrate” doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the party circuit or dancing on rooftops (although dancing in the living room to Al Green is a favorite pastime of mine—try it sometime). After sleeping for about three days straight, the first thing that comes to mind for many of us is reading new books. In front of a fire with a mug of spiced tea, stretched out on the sofa, propped up in bed—this is the holiday dream of many a writer. 

With that vision dancing before us, we asked our faculty to tell us which new books top their list of “can’t wait to read”—read on to find out, and while you’re at it, think about your list. What books are you excited to read? Write and tell us! (And if all you can imagine reading after so much hard work this year is Goodnight, Moon, that’s fine, too. It might help you sleep.)

We also asked our MFA grads and students to forget modesty for once and share a boast: publications, new jobs, conferences and presentations. The list is long and impressive, and includes a Pushcart nomination and a tenure-track college teaching job (see below for the full list). Which brings us to the next point, about taking stock. Instead of the typical new year’s resolutions, we recommend an end-of-year congratulations. To yourself.  Life often hurtles by with little chance to stop and reflect about all the ways you’ve created something good in your life, and in the lives of others. All the ways you’ve moved a little closer to your dream. All the ways you’ve gotten smarter, wiser, more compassionate, more confident. Before you find yourself waking up in 2019, take five minutes to remember what you’ve done this year, and to give thanks to the person who made it possible. You. 

We’re excited about what’s ahead next year: a new MFA cohort starting in January (welcome, new students!); a fantastic lineup for our spring Writers’ Day; and a knockout faculty roster for our annual summer seminar in Ireland, which is already filling up. And, above all, more time to spend writing, reading, and talking about books.  Happy New Year, all.

Faculty Book Recommendations


Mel AllenThe Library Book by Susan Orlean and The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery
Adam Braver: The Friend by Sigrid Nuñez (winner of the 2018 National Book Award)
Leanna James BlackwellMilkman by Anna Burns (winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize) and The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Shahnaz HabibThe Wife's Tale by Aida Edemaria
Karol Jackowski: Becoming by Michelle Obama and In Pieces by Sally Field
Anna MantzarisKitchen Yarns by Ann Hood
Lisa RomeoThe Strange Case of Dr. Couney by Dawn Raffel
Sophfronia ScottCrazy Brave by Joy Harjo
Suzanne Strempek SheaGone So Long: A Novel by Andre Dubus III, Kitchen Yarns by Ann Hood, and Becoming by Michelle Obama
Tommy SheaIn Extremis – The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum and The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
Kate WhouleySummer by Karl Ove Knausgaard


MFA student and alum news

New jobs
Andy Castillo was hired as a full-time features writer at the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Jon Nichols was hired as a tenure-track professor of English at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, IL, where he was introduced to a longtime faculty member, Kim Livingston, who happens to be a fellow student in the Bay Path MFA (but whom Jon had never met).
Anne Pinkerton ’16 was hired as digital strategy director and editor at Hampshire College. She beat out the other candidates not only on the strength of her résumé, but on the quality of writing in her literary blog, True Scrawl, which began in Kate Whouley’s publishing course.
Publications
Karen Bellavance Grace has been nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize for a personal essay she published in Forge Literary Magazine.

Christine Brooks published and/or has forthcoming a total of 12 new essays and poems in a variety of literary magazines and websites including The Cabinet of Heed (where Irish writer and Ireland seminar instructor Nuala O’Connor recently published as well); Riggwelter Press; Parhelion Magazine, Amethyst Review; and StorgyMagazine.

Sondra Kline published two new essays this year in the literary magazine  Six Hens and in Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction, the publication founded and edited by creative nonfiction “guru” and Ireland seminar instructor Dinty W. Moore.
Suellen Meyers published two new essays this year in The Manifest-Station and in rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal in October.

Kara Noble ’18 was asked to join the editorial committee of The Icelandic Horse Quarterly and to write profiles for each issue (most recently a five-page spread about the nationwide breed evaluation program for Icelandic horses in the U.S.). She has also become a regular profile writer for Massachusetts Horse Magazine and a columnist for Southwoods Magazine, in addition to freelancing for the Springfield Republican and MassLive, where she wrote about Bob Dylan. (She thanks former MFA faculty member Mieke Bomman for her profile writing chops!)

Meredith O’Brien ‘17, following the publication of her book, Mr. Clark’s Big Band, has published in and is a contributing writer for The Mighty and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s MS Connection website, where she writes about health topics. She is also a book reviewer for Forward Reviews and lecturer in journalism at Northeastern University.

Heidi Parton ’17 published a craft essay in Brevity Blog and a personal essay in The Rumpus.

Amy Stonestrom published a personal essay in Superstition Review, a flash nonfiction piece in Montana Mouthful, and another essay in Jenny Magazine for its Rock ‘n Roll Rebellion issue.

Conferences and Residencies

Anne Pinkerton ’16 recently attended HippoCamp 2018, the conference hosted by Hippocampus magazine, with MFA Director Leanna James Blackwell and former classmates and “forever friends” Heidi Parton ’17 and Kim MacQueen ’18, where they enjoyed MFA faculty member Lisa Romeo’s presentation on turning essays into a book. In addition, Anne was recently awarded a January 2019 writing residency by Straw Dog Writers Guild, where she will wrap up the finishing touches on her memoir manuscript, Were You Close?

Friday, September 28, 2018

Seminar in Ireland 2018

Morning writing workshops. Literary discussions over lunch. Afternoon writing time followed by tea and a talk. Readings before breaking for dinner. Set that daily schedule against the stunning seaside backdrop of Ireland’s acclaimed Dingle Peninsula. Populate it with a gifted group of Bay Path MFA students plus writers from the larger community, and a faculty including bestselling writers and poets from both the U.S. and Ireland. Stand back and revel in the resulting magic.


In a nutshell, that’s the annual Summer Writing Seminar in Ireland offered through Bay Path University’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction. This year’s week, which ran July 28 to Aug. 4, was no exception. Hailing from throughout the USA, our 21 participants studied with American writers Ann Hood, Dinty W. Moore, Suzanne Strempek Shea, and Tommy Shea, and Irish writers and poets Annie and Ted Deppe, Mia Gallagher, and Nuala O’Connor, along with guest speaker and musician Tommy Joe Lynch.


Days prior to the launch of her critically lauded latest novel, Becoming Belle, Nuala O’Connor traveled to County Kerry from Galway, returning to teach for the second time and offering a keynote titled “The Drowsy Swallow,” which focused on writing short fiction and nonfiction - fitting for a week in which many tried their hands (and pens) at flash. Ann Hood dissected the objective correlative, Ted Deppe reminded us that trouble is an element necessary in any successful story, Dinty Moore was serious about offering the keys to humor writing. Mia Gallagher sent us forth with wisdom on sitting through the pain in writing. And Suzanne Strempek Shea and Tommy Shea recreated their desk at home and talked about lessons learned from one another over three decades of sharing the same workspace.

"This week has changed my life as a writer,” said 2018 grad Pamela Estes. 

"My students were some of the most open, bravest, loveliest people I’ve taught,” noted faculty member Ann Hood. 

And MFA student Naomi Kooker had this final observation: "It’s hard to focus on one talk, one reading when the week was rich with wisdom.”


A reading by all participants in our top-floor classroom at An Diseart Centre for Spirituality and Culture closed another memorable week. 

We thank all who helped deliver those innumerable returns. And we look forward to meeting up again in Dingle next summer. Please join us for our fifth annual Summer Writing Seminar in Ireland. Watch this space for specific dates, which will fall somewhere between July 2017 and August 11, 2019. 



Thursday, June 7, 2018

Interview with the incomparable Tommy Shea

Listen in on this delightful conversation between Tommy Shea and Sandy Chmiel, in which Tommy, who will be teaching the Creative Nonfiction Writing I course in the MFA, shares his history as a writer, his memorable moments chasing stories, and his ear for the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

Can you tell us a little about your path to becoming a writer?
I was outside a church when I decided to be become a writer.
          Wait, that isn’t quite accurate.
          I was outside church in Springfield, MA selling newspapers. When I wasn’t selling them I was reading the sports sections. We sold newspapers from New York City to Boston, so many city and town names that if I read them aloud you’d swear I was reciting an Amtrak route.
          I had grown up wanting to be the first American Pope – I had a name picked out and everything, Pope Patrick I – or replace Mickey Mantle as the centerfielder of the New York Yankees.
          At 13, those plans were dashed against the rocks of reality.
          I liked girls and I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be at baseball.
          At a loss for what I was going to do for the rest of my life, it dawned on me – between the 9:15 and the 10:30 mass – I could become a sportswriter.
          The emphasis was on sports not so much writing.
          That would come later – when I discovered the work of Pete Hamill.
           He wrote for the New York Post, a very different newspaper back then. It had a female publisher and actually told the truth about Senator Joe McCarthy, when few media outlets did.
          Pete Hamill wrote a daily general interest column and he really mixed things up: writing about political chicanery, of course; boys returning from Vietnam not quite the same as they left; a poor neighborhood in its struggle to save the local firehouse; his father; what it was like to grow up poor.
          The following week it was different topics, but the same heart and soul.
          There was something about his sentences that made me want to write like him – or at least try.
           I’m still trying.
         
How do you get people to trust you with their stories?
 I’ve never found it hard to have people trust me.
          I have to think why that is.
          My mother always thought I’d be a priest because she thought I’d hear a good confession – and never repeat it.
          Hmm.
          Maybe because I never thought I was the story.
          I want to think I’m a good, attentive listener.
          I’m curious, I know that.
          I do believe people respond if you are truly interested.

          In my nearly 39 years as a newspaper reporter, I was in loads of situations where it could be – I don’t know if combative is the right word, but I’ve had my share of testy exchanges, scenes spilling with tension – but people still talked.
          Even if all they said was “no comment.’’
          That could say a lot.

          At the risk of repeating myself, I think most people just want to be heard. If you care about them – with thoughtful questions and real listening – I think they will trust you.
          That has been my experience.

You’ve written about everything from baseball to music to the Catholic Church abuse scandal. Is there a story that touched your heart more than any others?
I have been lucky– and I know it – to get to have covered the variety of stories I’ve covered.
          Newspapering allowed me this life. I wouldn’t have met my wife Suzanne if I weren’t a reporter. (We met when I was covering high school hockey…)
          But of all the stories, I guess the one that sticks out was one that involved the ongoing coverage of the murder of 12-year-old altar boy Danny Croteau.
          The only suspect in the murder was a Catholic priest. He was arrested 20 years after the murder for molesting two brothers named John and Paul (after the then Pope.)
          I started covering the story in the fall of 1991. So this might have been sometime in 1992, there was a new fact in the story – maybe another charge against Richard Lavigne - and I didn’t get the phone call confirming whatever it was until late. It could have been closing in on 10 p.m. Deadline was 11.
          I needed a reaction from the Croteau family. Called the house, no answer. Called one of their sons. He didn’t want to comment and I asked a question out of desperation: “Do you know where your parents are?’’
          He said they were at BINGO.
          St. Catherine of Siena is an inconvenient ride from downtown Springfield, not far as the crow flies, but too much stop-and-go with all the lights if you are in a hurry.
          When I got to the parish hall it was packed. I started looking for Mr. and Mrs. Croteau.
          I was pointed in every direction:
          He’s over there.
          She’s over here.
          The clock was ticking. It had to be at least 10:30. People were leaving.
          Finally, someone said look in the church.
          I did.
          The lights were so dim it was almost dark, but the sacristy was lit, and in the shadow of Jesus on the cross there was Carl Croteau, Danny’s father – kneeling at the altar, head bowed.
          No one knew he was there.
          It certainly wasn’t a show for me.   Whatever I asked, he answered.
          I rushed back to the paper, not quite blowing red lights, more like easing through them, pressing the gas harder than I usually do when the coast is clear.
          The story, I don’t remember the story or any of the details, just that I made the deadline.
          But I’ll never forget standing in the back in the twilight of that church, wondering what the deniers, liars and character assassins, priests, lawyers, spokespeople, the faithful flock, would think if they saw this: the father of a dead altar boy, humbled before his God, praying.
          It wasn’t for faith. Carl Croteau still had that.
          Remarkably.
         
          I was a witness.
          That’s what all writers are.

You have been a part of the MFA’s Summer Seminar in Ireland since it began. What makes the Dingle experience so memorable?
DINGLE.
          It is a place where confidence is built.
          And inspiration comes from people whose last names you might not even know (yet.)
          Work gets done.
          And you take it home with you. Where more work is done.
          The town is very pretty. The food is great – even at gas stations.
           The people are friendly and helpful.
          I think it is a place well worth the jet lag.

This fall you’ll be teaching Creative Nonfiction I in the MFA program. What about this class are you most looking forward to?
The easiest question!
          I can’t wait to read the work and talk about it until we are all hoarse.
          I know I can offer a tip or two. And present many examples of great creative nonfiction that we will dissect.
          Powerful topics know no boundaries.
         
You are a big music enthusiast. What are you currently listening to?
AH, Sandy, thanks for asking about music.

          What I’ve been listening to:

          Sam Baker: Mercy. He’s like this cross between folk singers John Prine and Townes Van Zandt. His voice isn’t probably for everybody – I love it, but I came to music through the Bob Dylan door.  Sam, who has some back-story, writes with the spareness of an Edward Hopper painting.

           Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air did an interview with Sam a few years ago. Listen in…



Congratulations, 2018 MFA graduates!


Summertime, and the living is easy—especially if you just finished a graduate program after completing 13 writing courses and a 100-page thesis. I’m hoping the members of our 2018 MFA graduating class are taking a deep breath before going on to the next great thing: finishing their books, publishing essays, teaching creative writing, editing for magazines, founding a literary center…the possibilities are as varied as they are. In the meantime, I’m still savoring the experience of hearing our writers read from their finished work at the MFA graduate reading and celebration, held in Hatch Library on May 11. The topics ranged from clandestine horse riding to adventure mountain climbing, from working as a harried school photographer to working in a hair-raising chimp research facility, from decorating a wildly inappropriate cake in a Catholic school contest to running a 26-mile marathon in the wake of a tragedy…and more.

All proving that one can write about anything under the sun and moon and make it interesting—if the writing is good. It was more than good. It was exhilarating, powerful, moving. And in the end, it silenced the room, as graduating student Amy Consolati read from her most recent work about battling cancer via a video she had recorded from her hospital bed.

Amy’s fierce, unexpectedly funny, and truthful reading that day reminded each of us in the room why we do what we do. Why we write. Why we teach. Why we tell stories. Writing helps us not only describe the world but grapple with it. It helps us navigate the shocks and upheavals of daily life. It helps us connect to one another when so much of contemporary society contrives to keep us isolated and alone, in our cars, in cubicles, in front of our screens. As long as we have literature, we are never alone.

Thank you, Amy Consolati, Pam Estes, Carolyn Free, Andrés Moral, Kim MacQueen, Kara Noble, and Andrea Prettyman, for showing us why writing matters—and pointing the way to the writers who will come after you. And deep thanks to the extraordinary MFA faculty who traveled many miles to give each student a personal introduction: Mel Allen, Adam Braver, Lisa Romeo, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Tommy Shea, and Kate Whouley. See the photo gallery for pictures of the reading and the celebration: we toasted, passed around slices of lemon cake, and shared more stories before heading over to the graduate Strawberries and Champagne celebration. A fitting end to a day of joy.