MFA.CRWR

Julianne Iverson

Written Word Comes to Life Through Animated Short Film

Kyle Dargan, director of American University’s MFA Creative Writing Program, has received many accolades for his poetry collection Honest Engine (University of Georgia Press, 2015). It was a finalist for the 2016 Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards recognizing the best in Black literature, as well as the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award given annually to honor a poet at mid-career.

Most recently, as part of its seventh season of film adaptations, Motionpoems commissioned graphic artist Julia Iverson to turn one of Dargan’s poems from the collection “The Robots Are Coming” into a short animated film. The film premiered at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis in October 2016 and will be shown at two more screenings in Los Angeles and New York.

 

Check out the AU Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

DC Capitol

The 10 Best Works of Literature Set in DC

Our location in Washington, DC is central to our identity as an MFA program. Our students explore some of the world’s best literary organizations and activities – and find quiet spaces to write and get inspired throughout the District.

Our students also take their place among a long lineage of other writers with DC connections, many of whom have set their novels, memoirs, short stories and poems in the city we call home.

Below are 10 of the best works of literature set in (or concerned with) DC – in alphabetical order by author name.

Do you have a favorite DC-inspired work? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

S Street Rising, Ruben Castaneda

S Street Rising, by Ruben Castaneda

Ruben Castaneda covered the crime beat for The Washington Post at the height of the crack epidemic – and struggled with his own addiction. His memoir tells the story of “S Street” – the infamous 24/7 open air crack market Castaneda visited during his off hours – and the characters that populated it, from church leaders to drug dealers to police officers.

 

 

 

 

 

River, Cross My Heart, by Breena Clarke  

Breena Clarke’s debut novel follows the aftermath of a five-year-old girl’s drowning in the Potomac. Her parents and sister have moved to the city from North Carolina and must make a life for themselves in Georgetown, even as they struggle with grief.

 

The Maverick Room, Thomas Sayers Ellis

The Maverick Room, by Thomas Sayers Ellis

Thomas Sayers Ellis grew up in Washington DC and attended high school in Truxton Circle. His first full-length volume of poetry has five sections, named for the quadrants of DC (NW, SW, etc) and showcase a range of styles and subjects – from family confessionals to Bootsy Collins tributes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go-Go Live, Natalie Hopkinson
Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City by Natalie Hopkinson

In this social history, Natalie Hopkinson writes about DC’s “Chocolate City” – the black DC that outsiders couldn’t see in the 1960s and onward. The “Chocolate City” Hopkinson describes was defined by the 1970s emergence of go-go music and fed a vibrant community known, at first, only by its insiders. Hopkinson maps economic and political movements, cultural developments and community evolution onto musical milestones.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in the City, by Edward P. Jones

Lost in the City, by Edward P. Jones

Edward P. Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who continues to make his home in DC. His short stories tell of a girl who raises pigeons, of neighbors who frequent a small grocery store, of a woman who lives in a house bought with her son’s crack earnings, and of other African Americans living their lives in Washington, DC in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

 

 

 

 

 The Black History of the White House, by Clarence Lusane

Clarence Lusane’s history takes a look at DC’s most iconic home through the lens of African American experiences and racial politics, from the generations of enslaved people who built the White House to the first black First Family to live there. Specific events at the White House are situated within their larger cultural context, and the stories of individuals become the stories of a nation.

 

Watergate, by Thomas Mallon

Watergate, by Thomas Mallon

Thomas Mallon’s novel retells the famous Watergate scandal, weaving pieces of famous historical detail into a fresh, compelling narrative that gets closer to the heart and truth of some of the scandal’s mysteries. Seven characters take readers throughout Washington, DC and the Nixon administration in a suspenseful story that goes beyond what we’ve heard before.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu

Dinaw Mengestu’s novel tells the story of Sepha Stephanos, an immigrant who lands in DC after leaving Ethiopia. Sepha opens a grocery store in a poor neighborhood. His primary friendships are with other African immigrants, but as his neighborhood begins to change, he befriends a white woman and her biracial daughter. The novel traces the changing racial politics of the community and the friendships – and how they both impact Sepha’s future.

 

 

 

 

 

Flying Home: Seven Stories of the Secret City, by David Nicholson

The title’s “secret city” refers to the city that goes unnoticed by tourists – the “real” DC, populated by generations of real people. In his story collection, David Nicholson weaves the lives of reappearing characters across decades, anchoring the narratives around LeDroit Park. A changing neighborhood is the backdrop for changing lives of a black woman who works as a housekeeper for a white couple, a BMW driver who runs into an old friend from LeDroit, a barber watching his shop change, and others.

 

Clotel: or, The President's Daughter, by William Wells Brown

Clotel: or, The President’s Daughter, by William Wells Brown

A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Williams Wells Brown was often overlooked – but his novel has taken its place among American classics. Clotel is considered the first published novel by an African American, inspired by the rumors that Thomas Jefferson had fathered children with one of his slaves. Wells Brown calls one of the children Clotel, and this is her story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See our info-graphic on these works of literature. Join us in Washington, DC. Maybe your book will make it onto a list like this one day. Check out the AU Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

graduation reading

4 Tips for Transitioning to Post-MFA Life: Advice from Alumna Chelsea Leigh Horne

The “post-MFA blues” could rightly be called a rite of passage for early career writers. After spending two or three years focusing on craft, with the seriousness of literary work affirmed by teachers and peers, writers reenter a world that doesn’t seem to care whether they finish their novel or collection – or, really, if they ever write again.

Chelsea HorneThe transition can feel jarring. But habits developed and connections made during the MFA can make it easier, as can the steps writers take upon graduation. We reached out to recent graduate Chelsea Leigh Horne to learn how she is navigating the transition.

“For three years at AU, I was surrounded by peers and professors who encouraged, supported, and helped me hone my craft. It’s a truly wonderful environment and one that offers a rich atmosphere in which writers can really blossom,” Chelsea said. “On the other hand, because the MFA program does such a great job at creating this sense of community, it’s very easy to lose urgency – that is to say, to write for workshop rather than for a living.”

Chelsea sees the transition as an opportunity to shift to a long-game focus on the writing career. Below are four tips for transitioning to post-MFA life, informed by Chelsea’s insights.

 

  1. Don’t “Take a break” from writing after graduation: Keep writing, publishing and networking.

Chelsea graduated from AU’s MFA in Creative Writing in May 2016 with a number of literary accomplishments behind her. She describes her three years in the program as “intense and productive.” She received AU’s Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level Award, and she read from her fiction thesis at Politics & Prose alongside her MFA classmates.

“It’s so wonderful that AU’s program creates this opportunity for their students, as a bridge to becoming part of the professional literary community,” Chelsea said. After the intensity of the MFA experience, some writers feel tempted to take a break from their work – but not Chelsea. She walked across that bridge and got to work.

“I’ve been submitting, submitting, submitting, and I keep on writing, so there is always something I’m working on creatively,” she said.

The efforts have already started paying off. Last summer, Chelsea’s essays were published in The Atlantic and The Rumpus, and her work also appears in the Paterson Literary Review and The Washington Independent Review of Books. She’s an editor at Ragazine, the global online magazine of arts, entertainment, and information. She was awarded a 2017 DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Artist Fellowship for her fiction work.

“I’ve continued doing readings in DC, sharing my work at The Inner Loop Reading Series and Art All Night DC,” Chelsea said. “Also, I teach literature and writing at AU and I lead a winter session study abroad course in London each January.”

Chelsea has harnessed the momentum she developed while in the MFA to propel the early stages of her career.

 

  1. Lean on peer connections and mentorship from your creative writing professors.  

Chelsea continues to exchange work with MFA classmates and to value the connections she made with her teachers.

“In my experience, when you take a workshop class, your instructor becomes your mentor, providing individualized and focused feedback on your work,” Chelsea said. “For example, Richard McCann is a master at asking tough questions of us as writers and of our stories, seeking to enhance the internal, emotional lives of our characters. His voice is something that has stayed with me and helps guide me today. And Stephanie Grant’s incredible awareness of story organization as well as cause and effect in plot was very enlightening for me.”

“And the list goes on,” Chelsea said, naming John Hyman, David Keplinger, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Rachel Louise Snyder as other influential teachers.

But mentorship can also happen outside the classroom, Chelsea points out. “In my case, that happened with Kyle Dargan,” she said. “He has been exceptionally and unwaveringly supportive of all my projects, publications, readings, and awards. And that support is there for all of us. As Kyle mentioned during our MFA graduation reading, the support doesn’t end when we graduate.”

 

  1. Write across multiple genres.

Writing across genres gives Chelsea a measure of creative freedom, allowing her to match the discourses of her work with the forms that best suit them.

“In today’s writing world, I believe it’s important to be able to competently cross genres,” Chelsea said. “It helps that when I get an idea, the piece lets me know what it wants to be: flash, short story, novel, poem, or an essay,” Chelsea said. “When moving between projects, the key is to always accomplish your goal with a piece, to either finish a first draft or to reach a clear stopping point.”

Right now, Chelsea is completing research for a coming-of-age post-apocalyptic novel about the environment, climate change, and freerunning.

“It takes a lot of balancing and discipline to manage this project with the rest of my life and writings. The good news is that I love what I do,” Chelsea said.

 

  1. Use your time in the MFA to develop your style, attend events, and plan your future projects.

“Enjoy your time during your MFA,” Chelsea said. “Try new styles, experiment with your voice, take risks in your writing. And feel free to fail – this is how to discover yourself as a writer.”

She also highlighted the vast opportunities offered by the program and by DC life – from MFA readings to community literary events. “The simple act of hearing other authors read their work and respond to audience questions gave me a first-hand look into the ways these professional writers worked, thought, and answered questions about their writing. I found these events both inspiring and educational,” Chelsea said.

Chelsea argues that it’s important to develop some sense of a plan for how you want to use your time in the program. “AU’s MFA is a great and nurturing community that wants to help you thrive in your writing life,” Chelsea said. “You get as much out of it as you put in; cliché perhaps, but very true. To paraphrase Toni Morrison (and a mantra I repeat to myself often), as a writer make sure that everything you do helps to advance yourself, your work, and your career.”

 

Experience how AU can help launch your writing career. Check out the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.  

DC

The “Non-Traditional” MFA Student: Insights from Susan Bucci Mockler

Some students come to the MFA in Creative Writing program shortly after graduating from college, but we are consistently thrilled when students who have had more life experience decide to join us. As Director Kyle Dargan put it, “Students who fit that profile tend to be some of our more dedicated and successful writers.”

One such writer is poet Susan Bucci Mockler, who found her way to the AU MFA program after pursuing other careers, raising three kids, and building a solid foundation of creative work. “I am happy to know that I don’t fit the profile of the typical MFA student,” Susan said.

We reached out to Susan over email to learn about her life before the MFA and how she has enjoyed her time at AU.

 

Susan’s Journey to the AU MFA

Susan began her academic studies and her career life with a focus on the sciences. She studied biology and geology in college and, pressured by her professors to pursue a career in the oil industry, she headed to the University of Louisiana and began an MS in petroleum geology. “It was not for me—but I’d made some good friends and started taking some courses I wanted to take—like creative writing,” she said.

Susan

Susan in in Fredericksburg, VA, in front of a catalpa tree that inspired one of her in-progress poems. The tree is at Chatham Manor, which was converted into a hospital during the Civil War. Walt Whitman stood in front of this same tree when searching for his brother who had been wounded, and amputated limbs were piled in front of the tree before being carted off.

Susan ended up completing an MA in English with a creative writing track at the University of Louisiana. She developed close friendships with fellow poets. She worked for the university literary magazine and then moved to DC in search of editing jobs. “I envisioned myself as the cool poet hanging out at coffee shops in Dupont Circle, which I did,” she said. “I went to readings and took some classes at the Writer’s Center, but the career track was taking priority. I worked nine-to-five jobs at the American Geophysical Union—a very cool building at twentieth and Florida—and at the National Research Council.”

Then life called her away from the city. She said, “Fast forward to a husband, a move to the suburbs, and three children, which made writing challenging, to say the least.” Through it all, Susan stayed connected with the DC writing community, worked on her poems, and took workshops at the Writers’ Center and through the Jenny McKean Moore seminars at George Washington University. “I found other writing moms, and we’d get together to write and talk while the kids played,” she said. She led poetry camps and became a poet in the Arlington Public School system, and she continues to visit Arlington classrooms each spring.  She volunteered in her children’s classrooms and led poetry projects for their classmates from the time they were in kindergarten.

Her chapbook, Noisy Souls, was published a few years ago, and her work has been published in a number of literary journals. It was time to take another step forward in her writing career by pursing her MFA.

 

The AU MFA Experience

“People have asked me why I wanted an MFA, and why I need one, et cetera,” Susan said. “Some of my reasoning is purely selfish—I want to be part of a writing community, to be inspired by ideas, to be challenged, and to learn from others. I keep meeting the most interesting people.”

While Susan has had different life experiences than some of the MFA students—such as having children and a career—she doesn’t think she brings much that is different to the classroom. “I may have more contacts in the literary community, but from what I see of the AU MFA students right out of undergrad, they have life experiences to write about, too,” she said. “They are thoughtful and careful in their writing and feedback in workshops. I learn from them.”

Susan has enjoyed her poetry workshops and fulfilling the literary course requirements. “The students are bright, supportive, and offer thoughtful feedback,” she said. “The community is very positive and noncompetitive. People are willing to share publishing and reading opportunities and are generally happy for others’ success.”

She has also enjoyed the different learning experiences provided by poets and instructors David Keplinger and Kyle Dargan. “Their personalities and teaching styles are very different,” she said. “David is the extroverted, often effusive supporter—and he’s very talented at finding what is working in the poem and very kind about the parts that are not. Kyle, on the other hand, is quieter, more reserved, but, he, too, gets right at what is and isn’t working in your poem. They both push you and challenge you to turn in your best work and to take risks with your writing you may not have taken.”

 

Where Susan’s Writing Goes from Here

Susan has already experienced a great deal of success in her writing career. In addition to publishing her chapbook, her work has appeared in journals including Poet Lore, The Paterson Literary Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Cortland Review, and Voices in Italian Americana. She also has a poem in the anthology, My Cruel Invention, and a book review forthcoming in The Florida Review.

Susan recently won the Arlington Arts Moving Words Poetry Competition – for the second time – which means her work will be displayed inside Arlington’s ART Buses, she will receive an honorarium, and she will be invited to give a public reading in the spring. Susan wrote her poem with bus commuters in mind, considering what someone would like to see while journeying between work and home. “The poem was a memory, a sentimental piece about my mother’s old rolling pin—one of the items of hers I kept after she passed away,” Susan said. “I hardly use it, although she used it quite a bit—and I can still see her rolling out the pie crust dough. That memory and image form the root of my poem.”

For Susan, the Moving Words Poetry Competition serves a vital purpose for poetry. “The more that poetry gets out there in the public, the more it can do its work—whether it is simply giving someone a short break from their own thoughts, or helping to heal an individual or even a community or nation, or just providing the feeling that someone else has had a similar experience or feeling. Poetry can be a tremendous unifier,” she said.

Susan is currently a second-year student in the program. She has been working part-time as an adjunct professor for composition courses since her children were young, and she plans to continue that work after the MFA as well, though she is also open to other possibilities. “Opportunities just keep popping up at AU and in the lively metropolitan DC literary community,” Susan said. “I definitely plan to keep moving forward.”

Our students’ experiences in the MFA in Creative Writing program lead them to new interests and passions. Find out more about the MFA in Creative Writing program.

Girls

Taking the MFA to TV: A Conversation with Alumna Diana Metzger

When MFA students arrive at AU, they bring expectations for their workshop experience– expectations shaped by past workshops, by reports from friend and teachers and, as of the past couple years, by HBO’s Girls.

When Girls sent its main character, Hannah Horvath, to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, viewers who had never even heard of MFA programs watched Hannah’s classmates dissect her work and saw Hannah fumble her way through interactions with new writing colleagues. But how close to reality can a TV experience get? And, let’s not forget: those episodes were written by writers like us. How does TV writing differ from the type of writing we do in our prose and poetry workshops?

We reached out to someone with some perspective on both questions. Alumna Diana Metzger has spent time in the Los Angeles TV writing world, and she enjoyed watching Girls after having her own MFA expectations both upheld and challenged at AU. Over email, she shared her insight.

 

The evolution of Diana’s TV writing experience

Diana MetzgerBefore coming to AU to pursue her MFA, Diana lived in Los Angeles and worked as a writer’s PA/Assistant on the TV show Greek. She built a connection with one of the writers, Carter Covington, who went on to create Faking It.

“About a year after graduating AU, I found I really missed TV writing, and when I saw that Faking It had gone to series, I asked Carter for the opportunity to work on the show,” Diana said. “He’s been an amazing champion of my writing and read my short stories I used as my AU application.”

Because Diana had been out of the TV world for five years and was untested at screenwriting, he asked her to come on as a writers’ assistant at the beginning of the season and promised to work to get her her own script. Working as an assistant, Diana relearned the feel of the the writers’ room and had the opportunity to pitch her own ideas, and then she finally got the opportunity to pitch her own script, for the episode “Lust in Translation,” which aired in 2014.

 

Inside the writer’s room: How the scriptwriting process works

“TV writing for the most part is a very collaborative experience, almost like an MFA workshop would be if you were all working on the same story together,” Diana said. “All the writers work together to come up with the general story, then get more specific with acts, detailed scene beats, and even specific dialogue within the scene.”

The executive producers – the show creator and the showrunner – give final approval on story ideas generated in the writers’ room.

One writer then goes off to turn the group-generated story, called a beat sheet, into a detailed outline. The show creator and other executive producers will give outline notes, and the writer will go back and implement those notes. The next outline draft then gets approved, edited, and sometimes rewritten by the show creator, and submitted to the network for additional notes.

“The writer incorporates those notes and then goes off to write the script. I had about a week to write my first draft. I then went through the same process I did with the outline: a series of notes and revisions.”

Once those revisions are made, the actors do a table read of the script, and more rewrites can come out of that process and from the filming process.

“Revisions get identified by different pages in the script, so, by the end, the physical script looks like a rainbow with all the large and small revision to the script,” Diana said.

 

How well did Girls represent the MFA?

“First off, I’ll say that I’m a big fan of Girls,” Diana said. “I know it’s a polarizing and flawed show, but I’ve always found a lot that I related to, and I think Dunham and her writing staff are incredibly talented,” Diana said.

The show consistently sparked lively discussion about storytelling between Diana and her classmates K. Tyler Christensen (MFA ’14) and Philip Dean Walker (MFA ’13) in particular, and the episodes in which Hannah was at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop gave her peers even more discussion material.

“I think Hannah’s workshop experience was very heightened and condensed, which didn’t surprise me,” Diana said. “I knew they were only going to shoot a limited number of episodes in Iowa, so she was obviously going to have to leave for some reason within a short period of time.”

Diana pointed out that Hannah, like some writers in Diana’s AU cohort, came into the MFA with specific life experiences she wanted to work into fiction. Also like some writers in MFA programs, Hannah struggled with feeling exposed as her work was critiqued and even felt bullied by harsh feedback.

“Workshops are made up of writers with disparate personalities, and we don’t all get our ideas across in the same way. When you’re putting forward a new poem or story, presenting it to other writers while you just sit there, you can feel incredibly vulnerable,” Diana said.

“It’s almost like giving birth to a baby and presenting your newborn to relative strangers, and having them say your baby is ugly. I mean, they probably didn’t say that, but you’re sensitive and are going to read into every grunt or mumble as a harsh judgment on this beautiful, flawless angel you’ve brought into the world.”

Unlike Hannah’s experience portrayed in the show though, Diana says workshops do get getter as you move forward.

“As an MFA student, you learn which professors best work for your style and interests as a writer, and you learn which other MFA-ers are going to be your best ‘plot whisperers’ and allies,” Diana said. “I think if Girls had more time in Iowa and Hannah was a less immature and reactionary character (though that’s what makes her so entertaining), we might have seen her find those workshop cohorts and professors that ‘got her.’”

While a smoother progression might make for a personally enriching MFA journey, though, Diana pointed out that it wouldn’t make for the most dramatic TV. “Although,” she said, “Ask me about the time I dropped an entire bottle of red wine in the middle of the street before my first MFA meet-and-greet party. That felt very Hannah.”

 

The post-MFA, TV writing life

Diana says she has moments of “existential crisis” like writers in all mediums. She wonders about moving back to LA to pursue writing, which she was doing already before her MFA, and whether the investment in the MFA was worth it. Ultimately, though, she is able to see how the MFA gave her skills that prepared her to return to the TV world.

“For one thing, I’m a much faster, more productive writer. When you have to write a new short story in a matter of weeks, it teaches you that you can’t be so precious,” she said. “You’ve got to deliver. I love a good deadline and the MFA gives you that.”

The MFA has also helped her hone her skills at following plotlines and identifying plot holes. She explained, “Hours of MFA critiques taught me to look closely at stories, and now in a writers’ room, I’m able to take a step back and look at the acts and beats and find what’s missing or when a plotline is not fully realized.”

When Diana was working on Faking It, the executive producers complimented her on her ability to follow several story threads at a time and to keep the threads focused. “That’s all my MFA training,” she said.

Beyond the practical skills, the MFA was also a time of discovery for Diana. “The MFA workshops were the chance to play and take risks and challenge yourself as a writer. It’s in that room that you discover the kind of stories or poems you should be writing,” she said.

In addition to pursuing TV writing in LA, Diana is also at work on a new prose project: a comic memoir about her experiences as a Millenial mom raising her baby and herself in Hanoi over the past year and a half. Diana said, “The beautiful thing about my MFA studies is that not only has it informed my scriptwriting, but it has also given me the dexterity and confidence to move within many different writing forms.”

 

Interested in making your own writing discoveries? Check out the AU Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

Publish Your Work: Insights from Arielle Bernstein

Publish Your Work: Insights from Arielle Bernstein

arielle_headshot

Arielle Bernstein graduated from the AU MFA in Creative Writing in 2009 with a mixed-genre thesis, and she has now joined us as a professorial lecturer.

Arielle’s career – with wide publication in both fiction and nonfiction – offers an example of where AU’s cross-genre focus can lead. Her cultural criticism, personal narrative and reviews can be found on The Atlantic, Salon, The Rumpus, and The Millions. Her short fiction has found homes on the pages of journals like PANK 10, Literary OrphansThe Puritan, The Rattling Wall Issue 4, and Connotation Press. Now, she’s working on a book.

With her varied experience and some heavy-hitting publications under her belt, we thought Arielle might have some advice to share with other writers – and we were right. Below, learn about Arielle’s experiences and get a peek into the nonfiction publishing process.

 

On Cultural Criticism…

“One of the things I love most about writing essays is the sense that the work I’m doing is actively participating in ongoing conversations about art, culture and politics,” Arielle said.

Writing as a cultural critic means plugging into the zeitgeist – reading widely, keeping up with events and discussions, and honing a perspective that offers something fresh. The pace feels fast, and the work requires stepping into a current that is already flowing.

When Arielle wrote Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter for The Atlantic this past spring, she received messages from readers across the globe – some of whom shared her particular experiences, and others who had different relationships with Marie Kondo’s ideas about minimalism. “As a writer, my goal is to not simply tell my own story, but to use my personal experiences and ideas as a way to talk about current cultural issues,” she said.

“For me, fiction is a much more private experience,” she said. “I’ll work on a story for months and months, and I won’t send it out until I think it’s absolutely perfect.”

As her publishing record suggests, Arielle is comfortable working on multiple projects at once. While she drafts her book, she has shorter pieces underway as well. “I find myself most motivated when I’m engaged in a number of different projects—from solo work to collaboration with artists, writers, and filmmakers,” she said.

 

On Logistics of Non-fiction Versus Fiction…

While fiction writers need completed stories or books before seeking publication, a brief pitch – often a proposed headline and two or three short paragraphs – serves a first introduction between a freelance nonfiction writer and a potential editor. Some outlets list an email address to which writers should send their pitches, while others list contact info for specific section editors.

Arielle always pitches ideas before drafting articles. “Different magazines have different audiences, and I am conscious of developing my work with that audience in mind,” she said. “I think meeting and talking with other writers is really important, especially when you first start out. Often, people are working on interesting projects and actively seeking talent. As you continue in your writing career, cold-pitching becomes more comfortable, since you can link to previous work and accomplishments. I tend to pitch places where I really love and value the work, and where I can see my writing (both in terms of content and style) fitting in.”

The timelines also differ vastly between fiction publications and cultural criticism. When fiction writers send their stories out for possible publication, they usually wait months to hear whether a journal thinks a piece is a good fit. Because the turnaround time is so long, most literary outlets accept simultaneous submissions: a fiction writer might send her story to ten or more outlets at once, and wait for the responses to trickle back into her inbox.

Pitching cultural criticism is more time sensitive, and editors typically respond within a day or week’s time. Pitching multiple editors with the same idea – without waiting for a response – is considered a faux-paus. Once a pitch is accepted, the process between writer and editor can also feel more collaborative.

“Different editors have different styles. Some will be very hands-off, while others will be very hands-on, wanting to see multiple drafts and making a lot of sentence-level edits,” Arielle said. “In general, it’s very normal to receive editorial feedback and for there to be a lot of dialogue between writer and editor. I find this discussion to actually be very fruitful for my own work—it helps me to develop ideas more fully and also see how different audiences might respond or react to my ideas in different ways.

 

On the Publication Process…

“The process of writing a proposal is actually incredibly helpful in terms of helping a writer articulate her ideas more fully, as well as think more critically about the business side of things—who the target audience is, for example, and how will you as a writer go about marketing and promoting your work,” Arielle said. “Once you have a solid proposal, you can start sending query letters to agents, which is how I found representation.”

Arielle has recently turned her attention to a longer project: a book-length work of nonfiction. She has devoted some time over the summer to writing a book proposal. While writers of novels and memoirs need to submit full-length manuscripts when seeking representation, writers of other nonfiction need to first grab the attention of a publishing house with a well-written explanation of what the book is about and why it needs to be in the world.

 

On Advice for Aspiring Non-fiction Writers…

“My biggest advice is to be persistent about topics and ideas that are important to you,” Arielle says.

“If an idea doesn’t work for one venue, it might be a better fit elsewhere. Use the feedback you receive from positive rejections as a way to tailor your work. It really helps to think about framing your ideas in terms of the conversation you are responding to, and how you think your ideas add to that.”

Arielle learned how to navigate the publishing world, in part, through a role as Saturday editor at The Rumpus. “Being on the other side of the desk gave me insights regarding how to make an initial pitch, how to take a positive rejection, and why an editor might want to make certain kinds of edits on a piece,” she said.

“My other big piece of advice is to keep submitting—if an editor seems excited about working with you, but not totally sold on an idea, that means you should read more work that is featured on the site and see if you can come up with an idea that is a better fit. Even when you’ve worked with an editor for a long time, they will occasionally pass on an idea, or ask you to reframe an article in a new direction. The best editors are actively seeking excellent work and will push you to fully develop your ideas. Keep going!”

Keep up with Arielle’s work by following her on Twitter.

 

Interested in pursuing your own writing career? Learn more about the MFA in creative writing.

Poetry books

How Do Poets Make a Living?

As Robert Graves put it, “There is no money in poetry, but there is no poetry in money, either.”

Poets don’t pursue poetry for the cash, but the truth is that we all have to make rent and buy groceries.

While it’s rare for a writer in any genre to make a living solely off the sale of their work, financial rewards for excellent poetry are especially hard to come by. At AU, we find ourselves encountering early-career poets eager to hone their craft but nervous about their financial prospects. We hear the same question again and again. How does a poet make a living?

Our goal is to send writers out into the world with talents sharpened and professional opportunities opened. We want our poets to have tools to support themselves so they can sustain artistic lives. Below are some of the ways that our poets go on to support themselves financially as they pursue their art:

 

Poets write in multiple genres.

Some of the most beautiful prose is penned by poets, with their sensitivity to sound and rhythm. Poets frequently write in multiple genres – and the cash advance that a writer gets when she sells her memoir can sometimes stretch further than the sales of a poetry collection. By writing journalism or creative nonfiction or fiction, poets can diversify their publications in a way that becomes financially sustaining.

AU poetry alumna Sandra Beasley has published three collections of poetry and placed her poems in top journals, and she published a work of nonfiction, a cultural history of food allergies, as well.

When we interviewed Sandra in January, she discussed her experiences at AU taking a class in journalism and a class in translation. “These classes broadened my sense of a literary community, and of what I could do with the degree,” Sandra said. “I can thank Richard McCann for introducing me to the craft of creative nonfiction. Not every program allows students to cross genres so freely. He said you have to find the nerve, the place where it hurts—and then press on it. That advice has stayed with me.”

Our new studio track makes time in students’ schedules for extra creative writing classes, enabling them to receive additional instruction and feedback in their chosen genres.

 

Poets work a range of professional jobs where their talents are valued.

The MFA is seen as valuable by employers seeking strong communicators. We have written before about non-teaching career paths that our writers pursue.

One alumnus, poet Jay Melder, has lent his skills to the political world, where he currently serves as Chief of Staff at the DC Department of Human Resources. Other alumni have found work as editors, radio producers, coordinators for arts and lectures series, public relations officials and writers in communications and marketing roles.

Our new professional track gives students the chance to take classes that expand their career options by providing supplemental skills and exposure to new work options. The bottom line? An MFA in poetry shows potential employers that you are a serious and accomplished writer—a valuable asset in today’s workforce.

 

Poets teach creative writing.

Teaching writing is a time-honored tradition among poets. W.H. Auden taught. Elizabeth Bishop taught. Langston Hughes taught. And many of our own graduates teach their craft to other new writers.

A 2009 graduate Jenny Molberg writes poetry, serves as poetry editor for Pleiades, and works as assistant professor of English at the University of Central Missouri.

When we interviewed Jenny in March, she described how she balances her teaching and writing life. “It’s difficult, especially because I am in my first year of a tenure-track job, but I find that I am constantly challenged and inspired by my students, who make me want to go home to write,” Jenny said. “Sending work out and applying for grants and residencies becomes difficult with a very busy teaching load—sometimes I just dedicate a Saturday to reading, writing, and sending out poems.”

Our new teaching track allows students to earn credit toward their MFA while taking classes that will prepare them to teach.

 

Ready to pursue poetry in the District? Learn more about the MFA in creative writing program.

Grants-Reconciliation-1106

5 Accomplished Writers You’ll Connect with at AU

We are proud of our accomplished creative writing faculty, whose achievements include acclaimed publications, national awards and reputations for excellence. There has been a lot of great work published in recent months and years.

If you are applying to, or just considering, our MFA in Creative Writing, we encourage you to check out the work of our teachers and to familiarize yourself with their styles and interests. You’ll get a sense for how they might support your own development, and you’ll gain a well-rounded understanding of how you’d fit into our program—which we hope you’ll detail in your statement of purpose.

Below we’ve gathered just a small sample of recent faculty work, available online for free. Enjoy.

 

Kyle Dargan, Associate Professor and Director of Creative Writing

Kyle Dargan has published four four collections of poetry with University of Georgia Press, most recently Honest Engine (2015) and Logorrhea Dementia (2010). His first collection, The Listening (2004), was the winner of the 2003 Cave Canem Prize, and his second collection, Bouquet of Hungers (2007), was awarded the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in poetry. Public Pool recently published a video by Kyle, featuring DC landscapes and Kyle’s reading of his poem on gentrification, “White. Bread. Blues.” From “White. Bread. Blues.”:

“The Islander on U Street will be shuttered says the metro section of the Washington Post. I had my first and last plate of their curry bird after Heroes Are Gang Leaders hit at Howard.”

 

WASHINGTON, DC-NOVEMBER 6:DC Fiction writer Kyle G. Dargan likes to spend time in the atrium of the National Portrait Gallery to reflect, read and meet up with friends.(Photo by Lucian Perkins /for The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON, DC-NOVEMBER 6:DC Fiction writer Kyle G. Dargan likes to spend time in the atrium of the National Portrait Gallery to reflect, read and meet up with friends.(Photo by Lucian Perkins /for The Washington Post)

 

Stephanie Grant, Assistant Professor

Stephanie Grant has penned two novels, The Passion of Alice (Houghton Mifflin, 1995) and Map of Ireland (Scribner, 2008), and has won a number of fellowships and awards. Her essay “Postpartum” explores the experience of reconsidering one’s parents through an adult lens. The essay was published in the New Yorker in December, 2015. From “Postpartum”:

“After my older brother Bill was born, my mother had a devastating postpartum depression: she cried all day, refused to dress, could not take care of the baby. The grandmothers were brought in, and she was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, for electroconvulsive therapy.”

 

David Keplinger, Professor

David Keplinger is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently The Most Natural Thing (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2013) and The Prayers of Others (New Issues, 2006). His first collection, The Rose Inside (Truman State University Press, 1999), was chosen by the poet Mary Oliver for the 1999 T.S. Eliot Prize. David has also published translations and won a number of prizes for his work. His poem “Wave” was featured as Blog this Rock’s Poem of the Week in 2013. From “Wave”:

“Lincoln, leaving Springfield, 1861, Boards a train with a salute: but it is weak. To correct it, he slides his hand away From his face as if waving, as if brushing The snows of childhood from his eyes.”

 

Richard McCann, Professor

Richard McCann is the author of the acclaimed linked story collection Mother of Sorrows (Vintage, 2006), and the award-winning poetry collection Ghost Letters. He is also the editor (with Michael Klein) of Things Shaped in Passing: More ‘Poets for Life’ Writing from the Aids Pandemic (Persea Books,1996) and his work has appeared in several esteemed publications. In March 2016, the Washington Post published his essay, “How Bette Davis became a boy’s unlikely pen pal — and, for a time, gave him strength.” From the essay:

“One afternoon, maybe a month after mailing my letter, I came home from school to find in the mailbox a manila envelope, with my name and address written in large letters across the front. I recognized the handwriting at once — the blocky cursive; the oversized letters, drawn with what looked to be a hard and definitive hand; the penchant for fat dots suspended above the i’s and dramatic underscorings.”

 

Rachel Louise Snyder, Associate Professor

Rachel Louise Snyder is the author of two books: the nonfiction Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade (WW Norton, 2007) and the novel We’ve Lost is Nothing (Scribner, 2014). She has contributed journalism and commentary to public radio, print and online outlets including This American Life and the New Yorker. In July 2015, the New York Times published her essay “Life, an Unspooling,” on family and parenthood. From “Life: An Unspooling:”

“A marriage proposal for a woman at 38 is rarely really a marriage proposal. Or, rather, it’s not a choice of two people; it’s a choice of child or no child. It’s a last chance. I got engaged on the Mekong River, sitting in the front of a kayak, while my boyfriend attempted to get on one knee behind me.”

 

 

Would you like to study with these writers? Start your application or learn more about the MFA in creative writing.

Coffee Cup

An Interview with Valzhyna Mort, Poet & AU Graduate

When poet Valzhyna Mort arrived at AU as a student, she already had several accomplishments behind her. She had published a collection of poetry, Factory of Tears, in the United States and in Belarus, and been the youngest person ever featured on the cover of Poets & Writers magazine.

Valzhyna has since published another collection, Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2011), and edited two poetry anthologies, Something Indecent: Poems Recommended by Eastern European Poets (Red Hen Press, 2013), and Gossip and Metaphysics: Prose and Poetry of Russian Modernist Poets, with Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris (Tupelo Press, 2014). She has received the Lannan Foundation Fellowship, the Bess Hokins Prize from Poetry, and the Burda Poetry Prize in Germany.

During her time in the AU MFA Program, Valzhyna immersed herself in cross-genre workshops and focused deeply on her craft—much as the program’s new studio track will invite students to do.

Now a visiting assistant professor at Cornell University, Valzhyna is an Amy Clamitt Foundation fellow in Lenox, MA. We reached out to her to learn about how her time at AU fed her work and to discuss how she has spent her time since.

I know that you came into the AU MFA program with several accomplishments already—Professor David Keplinger once described you as having come here “fully formed.” What led to your choice to pursue an MFA?

Valzhyna MortIt’s true that when I applied to the AU MFA I already had my first book published in the States and at home, in Belarus. I was mostly confused about what MFA programs entailed. I was convinced that I had to be a published poet in order to be accepted into one. But don’t be fooled by this “fully formed” statement because even now, and perhaps especially now, after years of writing and reading, I have no idea how one writes a poem.

Let me say this, though. I think one does have to come to an MFA program formed, by that I don’t mean that one should have a manuscript ready or a book published, not in the least. But one does have to have a sense of herself as a writer, a vision of one’s voice, even if in a dream. Otherwise, it could be very distracting to hear 10 other writers say to you in a workshop: “you can do this and that in your text.” There are so many things a poem can do, so many directions it can take, and it’s important to keep your own vision in mind. Paradoxically, people who might be told that they have their writing figured out and are “fully formed” would benefit from going through an MFA most.

What was your primary focus during your time at AU?

An MFA program is a time to learn writer’s discipline. Talent is important but it’s nothing without hard work, without daily discipline of reading, of being attentive. Poetry is a religion. You have to practice it—you have to worship. An MFA teaches you this discipline, gives you tools to establish it against the routines of your daily life. In a way, an MFA is a way to delay your daily life, to create a bubble of timelessness within the mercilessly fast time, to say “pause now, let me hear my voice before you sweep me away.” People talk of it as a privilege—to have these few years of focusing on nothing but writing—but I don’t think it’s a privilege, it’s a right of every artist.

Another thing about poetry is that it’s historic—you are always writing after somebody: after Dante, after Rilke. You have to know these poets you are writing after! My favorite thing about the AU MFA is the never-flinching focus on reading. You come here for your own work, but you stay for Elizabeth Bishop, for Gwendolyn Brooks, for C.D. Wright.

What types of classes did you take while you were in the MFA program, and did any make a particular impact?

I took all the workshops—poetry, fiction, non-fiction, translation, journalism. Poetry and translation—with David Keplinger. He is, apart from being the most beautiful poet himself, a very insightful, generous mentor. I still marvel remembering how precisely he got what I was trying to write. All his comments on my work—as if from my future-self that knows better. Non-fiction workshop with Richard McCann was very impactful. He has that best skill of best mentors: to effortlessly mix wisdom with humor.

Every literature class I took at AU, with MA students and as my two independent studies, changed my life, nothing short of it. There are so many gaps in my literary education, such large empty gaps that are like tumors that would silently eat at your writing if you don’t eradicate them. I feel very strongly that without literature classes an MFA is a waste. You have to learn to be a reader as much as a writer.

How has your writing life looked since you finished your MFA? Do you find it challenging to balance your writing with other work, such as your teaching?

I’m writing these responses from Amy Clampitt’s house in the Berkshires. It’s a writing residency I’m holding for half a year—no teaching, no obligations, just poetry. So the challenge of balance has been figured out, at least for half a year. On the other hand, I do love teaching poetry. I can get quite overwhelmed with my love for a certain poem in class, in front of the students. They become the captive audience to my literary passions, so how can I not feel grateful? In return, I make sure that a workshop remains a space where we allow ourselves bad writing days, a space where, even though we are each other’s captive audience, nobody feels pressured to write poems to please anybody present.

What advice do you have for current or prospective MFA students?

Always read crazy dead poets. They will steer you away from writing that special brand of “MFA poems.” Don’t allow any normalcy, any comfort, to settle in your workshops.

 

If you’re interesting in studying in a variety of genres, and in focusing intensively on your craft, learn more about the new studio track in our MFA in Creative Writing program.

Director Kyle Dargan

A Look Inside the District’s Only Creative Writing MFA

The multi-genre focus. The vibrant location. The engaged community of writers with diverse backgrounds and rigorous insights.

For more than 30 years, the District’s only creative writing MFA program has fostered the talents and ambitions of writers who have gone on to make their mark in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—and to make their mark on their communities.

In the video below, Director Kyle Dargan reads from his own work and offers his take on what sets our program apart.

Interested in joining our community? Start your application or learn more about the MFA in Creative Writing.

 

writers-colonies-blog

4 Northern Virginia Writers’ Colonies & Conferences to Explore

We’re lucky to be within close proximity to a number of great writers’ colonies and conferences in the Washington, DC, metro area.

Writers’ colonies offer quiet space and solitude to support the creation of new work, and to remove daily distractions like friends and families and routines from the writing process. Workshops and conferences offer the vibrancy of community—energizing conversations, sharp feedback, and inspiring instruction.

Below are a few of the opportunities that we encourage AU students to explore in the area:

  1. Virginia Center for the Arts
    Tucked into the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, writers, artists, and composers enjoy private studios, bedrooms, and three meals a day. They spend their days working alone before coming together for dinner to get to know other colony artists.

Length: Offering residencies between two weeks and two months

Cost: Fellows are asked to contribute as they can

 

  1. Hurston/Wright Summer Writers Weeks
    At Howard University in the heart of DC, the Hurston/Wright Foundation offers a safe space for fiction and nonfiction writers, in a week of intensive master classes and workshops. The program includes workshop sessions led by award-winning writers—this year it’s Ralph Eubanks in creative nonfiction and Elizabeth Nunez in fiction—as well as craft talks, public readings, and private writing time to put new learning into practice. Breakfast and lunch are provided.

Length: One week (this year, August 6-August 12)

Cost: $700 tuition (housing not included, but discounted hotel rates are available)

 

  1. Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop
    On the campus of Hollins University, writers gather for workshops in a range of genres and forms—novel writing, genre writing, poetry, flash fiction, and more—to receive guidance from experienced teachers and to work alongside other serious writers.

Length: One week (this year: June 12-17)

Cost: $795 tuition (plus additional fees for housing and meal plans)

 

  1. Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference
    Fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and poets are invited to gather on the historic University of Virginia campus alongside committed writers at various stages in their careers. They participate in workshops and craft talks with distinguished faculty—this year it’s Major Jackson, Meghan Daum, and Bret Anthony Johnson. In the evenings, students and faculty have the chance to explore Charlottesville’s great restaurants and night life.

Length: One week (this year: July 13-17)

Cost: $1,100 (tuition, lodging, and meals included)

 

You can also build community even without going to a residency or workshop. Get involved with the Inner Loop or explore other literary organizations and activities for DC writers in our previous post.

 

Interested in joining the DC writing community? Check out the only creative writing MFA program in Washington, DC.

rls-blog-header

Why Exploring Multiple Genres Matters and Other Insights from Rachel Louise Snyder

RLS_Author_PhotoA distinguishing feature of AU’s MFA in creative writing program is the opportunity to explore multiple genres, discovering how poetry, fiction, and nonfiction can feed one another and lead to expansive career opportunities.

AU Associate Professor Rachel Louise Snyder has a body of work that embodies our cross-genre values, with achievements in both fiction and nonfiction.

Since receiving her MFA from Emerson, Rachel has written nonfiction for a number of publications including the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and Glamour, and contributed to top radio shows including This American Life, Marketplace, and All Things Considered.

Her first book was a work of nonfiction called Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade (WW Norton, 2008), which was excerpted on This American Life and won an Overseas Press Award.

In addition to her extensive nonfiction credits, she has a novel called What We’ve Lost is Nothing, which follows the aftermath of a crime in an Illinois suburb (Scribner, 2014), and which was named one of Vogue.com’s “Ten Best Suspense Books.”

We connected with Rachel to discuss how cross-genre work has shaped her career.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer working in multiple genres?

I’ve always moved organically through the genres. I’ve kept journals off and on since I was eight years old, and as a teenager I wrote very bad poetry and fiction. In college, most of the classes I took were in fiction. Early in grad school, I gravitated toward poetry, but had a terrible experience in a class one day with a professor and it scared me away from poetry—which is too bad, really. I always saw myself as a fiction writer, primarily.

My thesis was a book of short stories. But I took one class in nonfiction in my final semester of grad school and published work from that class, so it became a de facto genre, mostly because you could earn money writing nonfiction much more easily than fiction—a fact which holds true still today. So nearly all of what I’ve learned as a journalist has been on the job.

 

What do you see as the relationship between your novelist self and your nonfiction writing self?

I think all art informs other mediums. I also paint and listen to music like a lunatic, and I consider these almost meditations for my writing. If I’m stuck in a writing project, I will often pop into a museum and study the lines of a painting or some other piece of art that grabs me. But to answer your question, there is a difference not so much between nonfiction and fiction for me, but between fiction and journalism, or nonfiction work that is creative in nature and journalism, which at its core is about someone else, and also about the reportage.

Journalism is more like a math problem. I have to figure out the formula and put everything in a particular order, but there’s not something necessarily for me to discover (beyond the stakes of the piece). With fiction and more personal nonfiction, there is always that discovery, and so it exists in a different place in my mind and body. I can’t work on two creative pieces simultaneously, but I can work on journalism and a creative piece.

 

How did your own MFA program help you move closer to your writing goals, or shape you as a writer?

I’m glad you asked that, because there is this raging debate going on about whether or not an MFA degree is worth it, and to me it’s sort of a ridiculous question. Maybe some people at 22 years old, or 24 or whatever, have enough confidence in their own abilities to not go through the MFA experience, but I was not one of these writers. I was riddled with self-doubt.

For me, the MFA is about time to develop your writing muscles. Yes, a moment in life when someone will actually care about what you’re writing, but it’s also about cultivating the tools you’re going to need out there in the world of writing and publishing—which can be very cutthroat, and brutal, and unforgiving. It’s about learning self-discipline, learning that rejection is relentless (but hopefully so are you!), learning what writing will and won’t be in your life.

No one ever questions a graduate degree in business, for example, like they do with the arts. Why is that? What do you learn in business school that you can’t learn from experience in the workplace? (Lots of things, is the answer, and in a context in which there are no stakes. It is precisely the same for the arts).

 

What advice do you have for current or prospective MFA students who are interested in writing in multiple genres?

My first piece of advice is embedded in the question: even if you consider yourself a poet, or a journalist, or a fiction writer, learn other genres. I spent three months last spring reading nothing but poetry and from that experience wrote some of the most powerful nonfiction material I’d ever written.

If you’re naturally inclined toward multiple genres, then you’re already ahead of the game. We don’t live in vacuums and we ought not confine ourselves to them in any of our endeavors, in my opinion. But it’s also hard to find an MFA program that will allow multiple genres in the way that AU does. So that would be one of the primary questions I’d ask any potential program.

 

If you’re interested in exploring multiple genres, check out the Creative Writing Program at American University.

Startup Stock Photos

How an MFA Professor’s Challenge Led to a Student’s First Book

Written by Glen Finland

American University Professor Denise Orenstein was adamant—“Write about the one thing you don’t want to write about.” It wasn’t easy, but she was right. Once I got up the courage to try it, the truth popped out. Ten years later, Putnam published my book Next Stop.

In 2002, at age 50, I decided to go back to school. I’d taken a decade long kids-raising shift away from journalism and was now keen to step into the world of teachers, visiting authors, and everyday folks like me who simply love the written word. Even though I fit into the category of non-traditional student—shorthand for being the oldest face around the MFA table—I learned to never underestimate how being present in other writers’ lives enriches one’s own. Of course, we all know that writing is hard work and often done in seclusion, so it didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen in a bubble. It developed over 10 years inside Washington’s community of writers—and it started with that professor’s dare at AU.

The first time I read my nonfiction aloud to a group of MFA candidates young enough to be any of my three sons, Professor Orenstein came and sat next to me at the start of class. No one could see that under the table she was holding my hand, squeezing me onward, graf by graf.

Over the next three years in that same room, I often witnessed the power of community. With every Can you say more? The genuine curiosity of my fellow writers gave each of us a deeper way into our work. A few were quick to raise a flag over verbal clutter in a work-in-progress or a missed opportunity in a short story; but rather than resentment, the humor and depth of purpose around the table seemed to breed trust. I realized each of us were there to improve our craft. Sitting in that circle forced me to pay more attention to what was not being said, to write more about the ordinary fleas of life.

Some of my best tips came after class, from fellow writers who invited me to bivouac with them in local coffee shops to pick over our stories with tiny, pointed scalpels. Over time, an intimate understanding of each other’s work turned on repeated threads from those stories. This created an intimate trust. Three of us formed an intergenerational writer’s bond that still exists.

After one of my revised pieces was published in the Washington Post Magazine, a New York agent sent me a simple but life-changing email: “Would you consider writing a book proposal?” Yes, I wrote back without hesitation—then turned to my writing club pals and The Writer’s Center to figure out how the hell do I do that! Three months and a book proposal class later, the agent sold my idea to Putnam. Next Stop: Letting Go of an Autistic Son was published in 2012.
That spring I returned to AU as a Visiting Writer to read aloud from my original manuscript. When I finished, I took a deep breath and looked into the generous faces of my fellow everyday writers. No one looked away, and in that moment I knew the writing would hold.

 

About the Author

finland_glen_webGlen Finland is the author of Next Stop (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam), a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick and Penguin’s 2012 Book Club selection for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Glen’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Family Circle, Revolution, Parenting, American Magazine, Wired, Special Needs, Babble, and Autism Speaks. A featured autism advocate on NPR and CNN, Glen received the 2012 Dean’s Medal for Excellence in Communication from the University of Georgia. The mother of three grown sons, Glen received her MFA from American University in 2006.


 

If you’d like to experience a writing journey like Glen’s, please check out the MFA creative writing program at American University.

 

 

Startup Stock Photos

An Interview with Jenny Molberg, Poet and English Professor

Jenny MolbergMany graduates of the creative writing MFA program pursue rewarding teaching opportunities to accompany their writing careers. A 2009 American University graduate, Jenny Molberg is a poet, serves as poetry editor for Pleiades, and works as assistant professor of English at the University of Central Missouri.

Jenny’s debut collection, Marvels of the Invisible, won the 2014 Berkshire Prize and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in December 2016. Her poems appear in The Missouri Review, North American Review, Copper Nickel, Mississippi Review, The Adroit Journal, Poetry International, and other journals. Her awards and honors include the 2013 Third Coast poetry prize, and she was featured in Best New Poets 2014.

After receiving her creative writing MFA from AU, Jenny pursued a PhD from the University of North Texas. She currently teaches creative writing and literature courses. We talked with Jenny over email about her experiences at AU, and how she balances life as a writer and a teacher.

 

 

What led you to choose AU for your MFA?

After living in the South, I wanted to experience something different, and focused my MFA applications in that area of the country. I was drawn to AU by the diversity of courses offered in the program—especially translation—and was impressed by the work of the faculty. Once I visited the campus, I knew AU was right for me. Campus was bustling, it was spring in DC, and I felt I would find a home in the program. When I met David Keplinger, who would be my best teacher and one of my greatest friends, I knew I had made the right choice.

 

What were some of the highlights of your time in the program?

The people I met at AU were the biggest highlight of my time in DC. To this day, those people are my best friends, even though I moved away when I graduated. My favorite classes were my poetry workshops with David Keplinger and Kyle Dargan, and I also really enjoyed my course in translation with David. Keith Leonard taught a class called Performing the Word that blew my mind, and I did an independent study with Erik Dussere on Morrison and Faulkner. My scholarly interest in literature grew immensely with those two courses.

Outside the classroom, two experiences stand out in my mind: I was able to work as an assistant editor for Poet Lore, where I met Ethelbert Miller, from whom I learned a great deal about publishing and contemporary poetry. Then, in 2008, the Obamas hosted a night of poetry, music, and the spoken word at the White House, and I was able to go with a couple of my peers as a local poetry student. That was an amazing experience. We heard an early rendition of a song from Hamilton, James Earl Jones performed a soliloquy from Othello, and Joshua Bennett performed an unforgettable poem. It was an incredible time to be in DC.

 

In what ways did you grow as a writer during your time in the MFA program?

I think I grew enormously as a writer because of my teachers and peers who held me to high standards and pushed me to want to be better, to out-write my old self. I learned how to obsess (in a good way) over words, thanks to David and Kyle. I grew as an editor, reading the work of my peers, and I also grew more in my passion for poetry. It’s a love that never stops growing. My friends and I used to sit late into the night, drinking wine, reading poems to each other, falling in love with the words.

 

Please describe your current teaching position. What courses do you teach?

I am an assistant professor of English at the University of Central Missouri, where I teach Advanced Poetry, Introduction to Creative Writing, and modern and contemporary American Literature. I also serve as the poetry editor for Pleiades and the assistant director of Pleiades Press here at UCM.

 

How do you balance your writing life and teaching life?

It’s difficult, especially because I am in my first year of a tenure-track job, but I find that I am constantly challenged and inspired by my students, who make me want to go home to write. Sending work out and applying for grants and residencies becomes difficult with a very busy teaching load—sometimes I just dedicate a Saturday to reading, writing, and sending out poems.

 

What experiences from your time in the MFA program have been most beneficial in feeding your teaching career?

Watching and learning from good teachers. I often think WWDD: what would David do? One thing I learned from David that was so invaluable was that you can be positive, excited about poetry, and encouraging to your students, and this will help them grow immensely as writers in ways that harsh criticism fails. Criticism is not always bad, but when you help a young writer to see what they are doing right, they will want to keep doing that thing. I try to help my students to see that. Also, the MFA program helped me to think and talk deeply about literature, to ask the difficult questions, to consider the responsibility of writer to the reader. This kind of thinking helps me (try) to convince my students to fall in love with poetry as I have.

 

Is there any advice you’d give to prospective or current MFA students about pursuing a teaching career?

Keep reading and writing voraciously. In the job market now, it seems helpful to have a book published, so if you are able to do this soon after you complete your MFA, you will be more competitive on the market. Don’t shy away from sending your work out: rejection is hard, but the validation of seeing your work on the page and joining the creative conversation is worth it. Pay attention to the way your best teachers guide and mentor you. Go to conferences and attend (or participate in) pedagogy panels—this can be extremely helpful, and you will probably pick up great teaching ideas. If you can gain teaching experience while you are at AU through the teaching-track, I’d encourage you to do so, if a future in teaching is one of your goals.

 

If you’d like to share Jenny’s experiences writing in DC, and perhaps pursue a teaching post in the future, please please check out the MFA creative writing program at American University.

Architecture of Rome by Alex Proimos

Notes from Rome: An Interview with MFA Student Nancy Kidder

RomeLast summer, the AU creative writing MFA program launched an annual study abroad program in Rome, through a partnership with John Cabot University’s Institute for Creative Writing and Literary Translation. The program allows our students to spend five weeks with a writer in residence and take literature and writing classes—all while exploring Rome and nearby areas.

Nancy Kidder, who will graduate from the creative writing MFA program this spring, participated in the program last summer. She spoke with us over email about her experiences at AU and in Rome.

 

Tell us us a little bit about your background. What led you to the AU creative writing MFA program?

Despite an early interest in writing, I stopped writing creatively by high school. I thought I needed to be responsible. I went to Duke University, started as pre-med, and ultimately changed my major to English. Yet I never allowed myself to take a writing workshop. I never studied abroad. I got married. Moved to DC. Worked for a senator. Had a daughter. Moved to Ohio. Then moved back to DC. In the spring of 2013, I applied to American University’s MFA program. What had changed? I finally realized why I wasn’t writing: I was scared. I now embrace this fear and try to funnel it into my writing. Yes, I risk ridicule or rejection, but the rewards have been worth it.

 

What has been your focus in your MFA studies, and how has the program put you in touch with an international writing community?

I chose AU for its impressive faculty and diverse workshop opportunities. Yet, I have discovered so much more. While I came in writing fiction, I later fell in love with creative non-fiction, eventually constructing my thesis from personal essays.

For a translation class, I reached out to and ultimately established a close relationship with a young Turkish poet, Yaprak Oz, who I traveled to meet in Istanbul in early 2015. Oz would later visit Washington, DC, in September 2015 for readings with the AU community and the American Turkish Association.

And I got to write in Rome. During my second year, I learned that the AU MFA program was partnering with John Cabot University. Not only would our credits be transferred, but JCU would provide a discount on tuition, a balance that would help offset travel expenses. In other words, studying in Rome would be essentially the same price as taking a class here in DC. As you can imagine, having missed going abroad as an undergraduate, I was on board immediately.

 

How would you describe the learning environment and instruction in the Rome program?  

One incentive to go to Rome was the opportunity to take a poetry workshop with AU professor David Keplinger. Not only did Keplinger encourage a poetry novice like myself to take risks (I wrote a sestina!), he incorporated the Roman landscape into class, prompting us to roam churches for inspiration and bringing us to the Yeats-Shelly Museum, the final home of young poet John Keats.

Professor Elizabeth Geoghegan’s mesmerizing American literature class, “How to Read Like a Writer,” helped us understand the prose maneuvers of writers such as Flannery O’Conner, Thomas Mann, and Jennifer Egan.

We were also fortunate to have acclaimed nonfiction writer, Edmund White as a writer in residence at JCU. He provided gems of wisdom, including the necessity of a few “dumb sentences.” According to White, a reader sometimes needs a break in order to appreciate the longer, more eloquent phrases.

 

What was it like to spend time in Italy? How did the landscape and culture inspire your work?

JCU is in the heart of Trastevere, an ancient district of Rome located on the west bank of the Tiber. It is home to ancient homes and churches and winding streets lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Walking along these alleyways, ducking past locals and tourists, it’s evident that Rome is a city of noises. From the church bells of Santa Maria, to the scooters whizzing by, to the accordion players stationed in the square, it’s a feast for your ears. My roommate and I would often wake up to children voicing, “Ma-Ma! Ma-Ma!” Later, we’d hear the stomping footsteps of a tour group, the guide describing the everyday lives of our previous medieval homeowners. At night, the cries of seagulls, former ocean dwellers that have recently taken residence in a now saltier Tiber, pummeled through, making known that we were not the only new residents in this city.

We were within walking distance from the Forum, the Colosseum, the Vatican, and the Spanish Steps. The Termini train station was a long walk or short taxi ride away, allowing for easy access to other cities. During my stay, I visited Florence, Venice, Pompeii, Sardinia, and Barcelona. I have been back for eight months and I still have mountains of writing material to unpack.

 

How would you describe your immersion in the city? Do you have any advice for other student travelers?

From Gio (“Please, don’t call me Sergio”), the bartender at our local espresso bar to Rudy, our favorite waiter at Popi Popi pizzeria, Rome quickly felt like a family. An expat JCU graduate, Jahan Genet, manages a club just off the Piazza Santa Maria and holds weekly readings for students. I am proud to say almost everyone from AU read some of their work. A couple of us even played guitars.

As for how to navigate Rome, four words: sit back and wait. Everything will take forever. Restaurants, stores, wi-fi, travel. But it’s worth it. Not only will you eat some of the best food and view some masterpieces, you’ll start to enjoy the “dolce far niente,” which translates to “sweet doing nothing.” Unlike the urgency of the Beltway, Romans take pleasure in doing less.

 

 

Would you like to see what Rome can do for your writing? Learn more about studying abroad with the AU creative writing MFA program.

New Tracks in the Creative Writing Program

New Tracks in the Creative Writing MFA

The Creative Writing Program is pleased to introduce a slight change: the addition of tracks of study in the MFA that will help our students clarify their goals and prepare for their post-MFA lives.

 

What does this mean?

The addition of tracks will clarify the options available for our students and enable them to more specifically direct their studies from the moment they enter the program.

 

What will the tracks look like?

Students can direct six credits toward one of the following three tracks:

  • Professional Track: Apply six credits toward one or more internship; or combine these six credits with elective credits and work toward a graduate certificate in another field, such as arts management or audio production.
  • Teaching Track: Put six credits toward the “teaching of composition” sequence, LIT-730: Teaching Composition and LIT-731: Teaching of Writing Practicum.
  • Studio Track: Take six credits of additional writing workshops and literary craft classes.

 

When will the tracks go into effect?

Students will be able to choose tracks starting in May 2016.

 

Why are we making this change?

As the creative writing MFA program continues to admit larger numbers of students with varied academic backgrounds, the expectations and expressed needs of the program’s population have changed.

With students seeking diverse outcomes from the program, distinct tracks within the existing curriculum not only make it easier for faculty advisers to guide students, but also encourage students to begin thinking about their post-MFA options earlier.

Our hope is that tracks will enable our students to design and plan the degree experience that best supports their distinctive professional and artistic aims.

 

How will this change distinguish the AU creative writing MFA?

While most creative writing MFA programs offer tracks related to the genre of writing a student may study, AU has always allowed students to work in multiple genres. This is one of our program’s selling points, and often enables our students to launch more diversified careers (for one example, check out our interview with poet and nonfiction writer Sandra Beasley).

By adding tracks that focus on outcomes separate from genre, AU sets itself apart in yet another way. We’re focused on helping our students with their professional development in addition to their writing, and these tracks highlight the flexible, customizable nature of the creative writing MFA at AU.

 

We hope that the new tracks—in addition to our existing MFA curriculum—will support you in reaching your goals. If you’re interested in learning more, please check out the MFA Creative Writing Program at American University.

Get Your MFA in Creative Writing at American University

5 Reasons to Get Your MFA in Creative Writing

Looking to connect with a community of writers? American University offers the only MFA in creative writing in the District. You’ll find lawyers, journalists, poets and authors collaborating in workshops on our campus.

 

American Univ_CW_Infographic_for print.ai

 

The priority deadline for fall 2016 enrollment is just around the corner. Get started on your application today.

student-849825_960_720

4 Tips for Writing a Successful Personal Statement

A promising creative manuscript is the key to a successful MFA program application. But, as the admissions committee reads applications, they know they are selecting more than good writers: they are also selecting members of the program community.

Your personal statement plays a critical role in showing the admissions committee who you are and how you’d fit into that community. So, how best to tackle it?

Kyle G. Dargan is the director of the MFA program in creative writing at AU, and he has read stacks of personal statements over the years. Below, he offers his top four tips for crafting a personal statement that stands out.

 

Advice from Kyle G. Dargan:

Tip #1: Tell us what or who you are currently reading or have read in the past. How has your reading influenced what you are attempting to, or what you want to, write?

Writers are readers first and foremost. One comes to an MFA program seeking a literary community, and one of the clearest ways of assessing what kind of literary community member an applicant will be is to get a sense of how and why she or he reads. Don’t worry if you have not read “the classics.” We aren’t interested in assembling a group of budding writers who have all read the same canon. We want to know what sincerely inspires and challenges you as a unique voice.

 

Tip #2: Articulate what it is that you want to do with the MFA degree.

An MFA is not a plug-and-play degree with a select set of professional outcomes. The opportunities are wide open, but one needs to be proactive about curating an MFA experience that will lead to opportunities to satisfy her or his own interests (as well as earning a living to support one’s writing). Even if your plans are not firm, throwing out some ideas will help us develop a sense of how we can guide you and allow us to begin considering you for certain opportunities.

 

Tip #3. Avoid telling us about how you’ve wanted to be a novelist since you were three years old (which many applicants actually do).

Even if you’re being sincere, telling us about your kindergarten stories and poems won’t particularly endear us to your application. You are likely a much different person now than you were as a child. We are particularly interested in what is bringing you to apply for an MFA at this point in time. That may, of course, include some of your personal history, but tell us what specifically is motivating you at this moment.

 

Tip #4. Convey that you know us.

We’re becoming familiar with your work via your writing sample. You should consider taking some time to familiarize yourself with our faculty—specifically those writers with whom you want to, or will likely be, in workshop. We want to know that you want to work with us. One’s experiences in writing workshops are very sensitive to the dynamic between the writer and the workshop leader. It helps to be familiar with the work of an MFA program’s faculty.

 

Ready to tell us about yourself? Get started with your application for the MFA Creative Writing Program at American University.

Sandra-Beasley-blog

An Interview with Sandra Beasley, MFA Graduate & DC Writer

Sandra Beasley by Milly West photoPoet and nonfiction writer Sandra Beasley graduated from the AU creative writing MFA program in 2004, and she has continued to make her home in Washington, DC, in the years since.

In addition to her three collections of poetry—Theories of Falling (2008), I Was the Jukebox (2010), and Count the Waves (2015)—Sandra’s memoir, Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life (2011), offers a cultural history of food allergies. She attributes her movement toward creative nonfiction to her cross-genre workshop experience in the MFA program.

Sandra’s poetry has appeared in such magazines as Tin House, The Believer, and Ploughshares, and her nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post Magazine, Oxford American, and the Wall Street Journal. Her numerous honors include a 2015 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

A strong voice in the DC literary community, Sandra gives readings, visits schools, and coordinates events for the Arts Club of Washington.

We reached out to Sandra over email to find out more about her time at AU, and to get her advice for writers looking into MFA programs or launching writing careers in DC.

 


What led you to choose AU’s MFA program?

In the spring of 2002, I was finishing my degree at the University of Virginia, and I wanted to build on the mentorship I’d found in workshops. I applied to programs all over the country, but I felt a pull toward home in the DC area. At UVA, I’d interviewed Henry Taylor* for 3.7, a literary journal. Our scheduled hour turned into an afternoon-long conversation that included discussion of Henry’s own UVA memories, how writing had anchored him during a battle with cancer, and the craft of sonnets and clerihews. So when Henry left a message on the voicemail in my dorm room—saying he had reviewed my application, asking if I’d come study poetry with him—that settled it. All young writers dream of being heard. The American University community made me feel like my voice could matter.

[* Henry Taylor taught literature and co-directed the MFA program in creative writing from 1971–2003.]

 

What were your most meaningful experiences in the program? 

Thanks to the Visiting Writer Series we had incredible authors come through, such as Nick Flynn and Thomas Glave. But what really stayed with me were two unique components of the program’s requirements for study: the journalism class, taught by Henry Taylor, and the exposure to world poetry and poetry in translation, taught by Myra Sklarew. These courses should be part of every MFA curriculum. These classes broadened my sense of a literary community, and of what I could do with the degree. I can thank Richard McCann for introducing me to the craft of creative nonfiction. Not every program allows students to cross genres so freely. He said you have to find the nerve, the place where it hurts—and then press on it. That advice has stayed with me.

 

How has the MFA program made a difference in your career since graduation?

You don’t need an MFA to be a great writer. But an MFA-vetted manuscript can provide the basis for your first book, as it was for me with Theories of Falling. You can use an MFA as a foundation for a career—especially in cities such as Washington, DC, where a terminal degree is highly valued. My MFA was taken as a qualification for consultation opportunities, and my alumni community continues to provide connections to readings and freelancing. At American University, I was the editor-in-chief for Folio; when I later worked at The American Scholar, I applied the layout and correspondence skills I’d honed at the journal.

 

What advice do you have for current or prospective MFA students?

Don’t fixate on perfecting the draft at hand. Focus on acquiring skills to revise. The tough thing, after the indulgence of a graduate-level workshop, is learning to be your own best editor. That means conceptualizing the upper level of questions and proofing line by line. Be open to writing and learning in all genres, because you never know where career options will veer. Identify a few friends you might want to keep in touch with beyond the program, to trade manuscripts and moral support. Don’t be afraid to ask your professors frank questions about the publishing world—conference experiences, agent relationships, even finances. That’s not a “dirty” or shameful topic. That’s part of the business at hand, if you aim to support yourself though your writing.

 

How would you describe your involvement in the DC writing community? How has living in the District influenced or inspired your work?

For me, to be a writer is to be a writer in DC. Washington is where I write poems; it’s the place where I find myself in situations, realistic and surreal, that inspire poems. Sometimes the texture is subtle, in the form of referring to a bus line or a neighborhood cemetery. But where else are you going to find yourself in the same theater as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, taking in an evening show?

Washington is where my readers are, and I’ve been fortunate to receive financial support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. I host a literary series at the Arts Club of Washington, and I try to make as many readings as I can around town. If I’m in Dupont Circle, I swing by Kramerbooks. If I’m up on Connecticut Avenue, I drop in to Politics & Prose. If I’m getting my shoes repaired at Philip’s, I walk across the street to Upshur Street Books. If a local school asks me to visit, I say Yes whenever I can.

If there’s ever a chance to champion this town in print, I do, because DC deserves more credit for what it offers artists. Music, sculpture, dance, theater: it’s all here. And often free.

 

What advice do you have for writers looking to become more involved in the DC writing community?  

DC is full of places in which to participate. There’s no “one” scene. On a given night, there might be readings going on at five different places. Check out Bridge Street Books and the Folger Shakespeare Library’s O.B. Harrison series, if you haven’t already. Workshop with kids at 826DC, step up to the open mic at BloomBars, or absorb a lecture at Georgetown University. Just look around. When you do attend something, be sure to introduce yourself to the organizer or host. We remember your face—and we appreciate making the connection. One last thing: find a friend who agrees to meet up, and hang out for sushi before or a martini afterwards. DC is my home, and there’s tons to do, but even for me it can get lonely. You have to create community within the crowd.

 

If Sandra’s experiences in the MFA program and in the DC community sound like experiences you’d like to share, please check out the MFA Creative Writing Program at American University.

Interested in working with Sandra? Join her for a poetry intensive on March 13 at The Writer’s Center.

826dc-blog

Join Us: A Literary Evening with a Cause

We hope you’ll join us on January 27 for our Annual Faculty Benefit Reading, the only MFA faculty group reading of the year.

We’re supporting an excellent cause: the important wok of 826DC—and we plan to have a good time doing it. 826DC is a nonprofit that supports students ages 6 to 18 with their writing, and helps teachers inspire their students to write.

Everyone is welcome at the benefit reading: current students, MFA applicants, and anyone who wants to check out our writing community.

 

What: The Annual Faculty Benefit Reading, a special night in our Visiting Writers Series, features the faculty in our MFA program—and raises funds for an amazing cause. The suggested donation is $5. Donations can also be made online.

Where: 826DC, in their brand new location on the Mezzanine level of the Tivoli Theater (across from their old location), 3333 14th St. NW, Suite M120. They’re a block away from the Columbia Heights Metro station, on the green and yellow lines.

When: January 27, 2016, 8:00 p.m. (doors open at 7:30 p.m.)

Who: A lineup of six accomplished MFA faculty members, listed alongside their most recent books:

-Kyle Dargan, author of the poetry collection Honest Engine

-Stephanie Grant, author of the novel Map of Ireland

-David Keplinger, author of the poetry collection The Most Natural Thing

-Rachel Louise Snyder, author of the novel What We’ve Lost Is Nothing

-Richard McCann, author of the linked short story collection Mother of Sorrows

-Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of the novel Balm

 

The Work of 826DC

We’re proud to support 826DC, a vital community resource for the District.

826DC is one of eight affiliates of 826 National, which was co-founded by author David Eggers and by veteran educator Ninive Calegari, with the goal of working alongside teachers and students on exciting, meaningful writing.

The staff at 826DC offers drop-in tutoring, field trips, after-school workshops, in-school tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. They also collaborate with teachers to design workshops, project-based learning opportunities, and more.

Now in a new location, the organization also has a new storefront: Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Co., where the magicians among us can pick up the essentials—capes, gloves, and far beyond.

 

Our Visiting Writers Series

While this particular reading highlights our own faculty, we’re also proud to mention writers on this year’s lineup, such as Claudia Rankine and Alexander Chee. The full schedule can be seen online.

 

Would you like to join our writing community? Learn more about the MFA creative writing program at American University.

podcast-blog

5 Podcasts All Writers Should Know About

Podcasts carry value for writers that goes well beyond entertainment.

They highlight poetry readings. Author interviews. Vivid narratives.

Not just a writer’s goldmine, podcasts are also a platform for showcasing a writer’s work. Most narrative podcasts accept story pitches, and as you publish, podcasters may be interested in interviewing you for a show.

The five podcasts below are hand-picked recommendations from Kyle Dargan, creative writing MFA program director, and offer a solid start for writers’ listening.

 

  1. Library of Congress Poet and the Poem

Produced by the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, this DC-based podcast has featured accomplished AU alumni, including Abdul Ali and Sandra Beasley.

Award-winning poet and playwright Grace Cavalieri hosts the (approximately) monthly podcast. Recent episodes interviewed poet Kwame Alexandre, DC resident and author of 10 books, and Carlos Parada Ayala, recipient of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Larry Neal Poetry Award.

 

  1. Make/Work Podcast

This monthly podcast explores the ever-present question for writers and artists: how can we balance the relationship between time spent writing and time spent working? Hosted by Scott Pinkmountain and produced by The Rumpus, Make/Work features discussions with both emerging and established artists working in multiple creative mediums—focusing on how they sustain their creative practice.

The most recent episode features Abeer Hoque, a Nigerian-born writer with Bangaldeshi roots who now lives in New York. After recently publishing her new book in India, Abeer discusses the long road to publishing, the publishing landscape in India, and more. Make/Work also sometimes produces more focused sub-series, such as one that zeroes in on the unique challenges and rewards encountered in romantic partnerships between artists.

 

  1. Poetry Off the Shelf

This weekly podcast from the Poetry Foundation “explores the diverse world of contemporary poetry,” and puts poetry and culture in conversation. Right now, they have a mini series running, in which poets take over mic to discuss hot topics. Recently, Franny Choi and Saeed Jones discussed “Social Media, Race, and Disney Princesses,” and Erika L. Sánchez and Jacob Saenz had an episode on sex in music and poetry. Past episodes include an introduction to Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, and a recommended selection of poems to read at gay and lesbian weddings.

Not just for poets, this podcasts keeps writers immersed in the conversations happening around the writing world.

 

  1. RISK!

Produced by Maximum Fun, each episode of RISK! is a place “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.” The host, Kevin Allison, performed with the TV sketch comedy troupe The State. RISK! featured Janeane Garofalo, Lisa Lampanelli, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, and many others telling candid, raw stories in entertaining ways.

 

  1. Snap Judgment

Hosted by Glynn Washington, this weekly podcast boasts a “stories with a beat.” Glynn told the Guardian, “We want to get into these societal fault lines of race, class, gender, culture. We want to do deep dives to help people really understand another person’s experience. The only way to report that is through storytelling—what happened to one person.”

Recent episodes of Snap Judgment include stories of elementary school crossing guards, the haunting aftermath of a car accident involving a clown car, and a record collector’s best find in decades. This is the perfect podcast for your walking commutes—putting a beat in your step and passing the time with vibrant stories.

 

Our MFA program is home to a community of interesting people, listening to interesting podcasts (among many other activities). Interested in joining us? Learn more about the creative writing MFA program at AU. We also offer a graduate certificate in audio production for writers who want to produce their own podcasts and other audio recordings.

Writing-in-DC-1106w

6 Places to Write & Get Inspired in Washington, DC

Written by Creative Writing Program Staff

Most of a writer’s work is solitary, but that doesn’t mean it can’t occur in the city’s most vibrant locations. Whether you’re seeking a quiet location or would rather be immersed in music and art, here are six great spaces to write and get inspired in Washington, DC:

 

Bridge Street Books:

Since opening in 1980, the independent Bridge Street Books has offered a diverse selection of titles to readers in Georgetown. This place has one of the best poetry selections in town, and the owners and employees are beyond knowledgeable, willing to find the perfect book for you—the perfect book you may not have even known you were looking for. It’s cozy and warm. It draws in local writers and touring big-names. Don’t miss out.

 

Hirshhorn Museum:

With a high-profile location (on the National Mall) and an unbeatable admission price (free), the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is a popular stop for our students. The architecture—a renowned Gordon Bunshaft design—is a cylindrical building, and the adjoining plaza boasts a sculpture garden.

Here you’ll peruse cutting edge work in contemporary and modern art, and witness culture-making outreach: exhibitions, public programs, research and conservation projects, and cutting-edge film screenings. Take a notebook, wander, and find your next idea.

 

IOTA Club & Café:

IOTA Club & Café provides Arlington with the ideal space for “sipping, supping, and hanging out,” with Wi-Fi and private nooks rumored to conjure the best poetry and prose. Serving local Ceremony drip coffee and Revolution tea, and fueling you with snacks and entrees, IOTA has all you need for a day or evening of dedicated work.

Don’t miss out: The IOTA poetry series is held on the second Sunday every month, hosted by a local poet.

 

Potter’s House:

The Potter’s House bookstore, café, and event space first opened in 1960, and it now bills itself as “a key place for deeper conversation, creative expression and community transformation.” Read a book over a cup of pour-over coffee or jasmine tea. Sip a house-made thyme soda while pecking away at your manuscript. Enjoy a plate of shrimp and grits while enjoying a book of poetry. An Adams Morgan icon and nonprofit, Potter’s House remains the perfect venue for serious literary work, quiet talk, or social justice-minded organizing.

 

Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse:

Politics and Prose opened in 1984, and it’s gone through a few iterations—all of which have continued to build its prominence in our city’s literary scene. Politics and Prose supports local groups, rotating artists and an open mic night. This place is dedicated to fostering not just individuals, but the full writing community. The calendar here is packed, hosting at least one writer every day. And the café opens an hour before the bookstore, so you can start your writing day early.

 

DC Public Library:

With their vast seating area, wide selection of resources, and free internet access, the DC Public Library System offers a friendly place for writers. A branch of the DC Public Library, the recently renovated Shaw Library is particularly inviting, sporting a sleek modern design and a bright, inviting atmosphere. Reserve a private study room, claim a desk, or browse the impressive film collection on the main floor. Find yourself a writing corner full of natural light, surrounded by books and book lovers.

 

The District is full of interesting and inspiring places to write and to seek ideas—our creative writing students find new spaces every day. Learn more about the MFA program at AU.

Washington,_D.C._-_2007_aerial_viewc

6 Literary Organizations & Activities for DC Writers

Washington, DC, and the surrounding areas are home to wide networks of writers, with varying skill levels and interests, and to several organizations eager to connect.

Find microphones and stages ready to welcome slam poets. Find speakers dishing out insider tips about the publishing industry. Find opportunities to share your writing skills with youth. Find a place to get inspired.

The following six organizations offer particularly vibrant spaces for literary experiences:

 

  1. The Writer’s Center: Founded in 1976, this robust literary center has it all. Offering workshops, more than 50 literary events per year, an immense book gallery, supportive fellowships and awards, and workspaces for rent, the Writer’s Center is a key player on our city’s local arts scene.

 

  1. Split This Rock: This organization encourages poetry that provokes social change—and they put on readings, workshops, community collaborations, and an annual poetry festival with which our students can connect. Their poetry contest has been judged by Kyle Dargan, Mark Doty, Naomi Shihab Nye, Tim Seibles, Jan Beatty, Chris Abani, and others. Split This Rock is particularly invested in encouraging poets of diverse backgrounds, ages, and levels of experience.

 

  1. Hurston/Wright Foundation: Founded in 1990 and named for literary giants Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, the Hurston/Wright Foundation is a resource center devoted to amplifying the unique experiences and voices of African Americans in literature. The Hurston/Wright Foundation provides support and opportunities to Black writers at every level of their writing development. Interested? Get involved with weekend readings, mentorships, multi-genre writing workshops, classes on the publishing world, and awards opportunities for Black students and adult writers.

 

  1. The Inner Loop: Established by two graduates of the Sarah Lawrence MFA program, the Inner Loop is a monthly reading series that carves a space for emerging fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction writers to read alongside established guests—guests of Pulitzer caliber. You can submit your work for consideration on their website, and browse both famous and emerging names on their list of featured past readers.

 

  1. Northern Virginia Writers Club: If you’re looking to get publishing questions answered and to meet writers from outside your classes, the Northern Virginia Writers Club should be one of your first stops. The Northern chapter of the Virginia Writers Club holds workshops, speaking series, and panel discussions at libraries and other venues—usually on Saturdays—all intended to help bolster your craft or give you insight into the writing business. The group also offers resources for connecting with other writers online.

 

  1. Humanities DC: The Humanities Council of Washington DC is an independent non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through projects, events, and grants, Humanities DC strives to bring together community members across cultures and throughout all DC neighborhoods. Just recently, Humanities DC hosted a reading called “Current Literary Voices of the District.” By plugging in here, you’ll find both a support network for your own work and a chance to learn from fellow artists.

 

Don’t end your exploration with this list. DC’s offerings go on and on. Local bookstores, including Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse, hold literary events and readings. Presses and journals, including Barrelhouse, host events and workshops. Knowing the liveliness of this community, something new has probably sprung up since we began penning this post.

The important thing is to find your people—the writing community that best feeds your work.

 

Get connected with the District’s writing community.

Your time in the AU Creative Writing Program will connect you with a coterie of student writers, but DC is home to nearly endless opportunities to expand your network beyond our walls. We would love for you to join us here and discover the organizations that connect best with your work.

CW_Blog_4_-_Communications_Image

5 Non-Teaching Career Paths for MFA Grads

While some creative writing MFA graduates pursue academic teaching posts, plenty of writers also apply their talents to other rewarding career paths. Our AU MFA grads find success in a range of fields – journalism, marketing, editing, politics, entertainment, and more – often while rigorously pursuing their own creative work. Here are a few examples of the successes our MFA grads have found in various industries:

 

  1. Communications & Administration. In the time our MFA candidates spend in the DC area, they have access to a diverse range of organizations and activities, and some use their writing talents to get involved in the political or publishing worlds. A recent example is Madeline Pillow, a recent graduate hired on as editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate. Jay Melder, another AU MFA graduate, has lent his skills to the political world. He now works as a Chief of Staff at the DC Department of Human Resources. His previous roles include a role as director of communications and external affairs at the US Interagency Counsel on Homelessness.

 

  1. Radio. With a variety of news and entertainment outlets calling DC home, our graduates sometimes snag jobs that take their word skills off the page and onto the airwaves. AU MFA graduate Teri Cross Davis spent five years as a radio producer for WAMU on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, and now coordinates lectures and poetry readings at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

 

  1. The National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA – an independent federal agency that funds the arts – is an amazing resource for our nation’s artists, and being located in DC, it’s right at our fingertips. AU MFA graduate Amy Stolls has distinguished herself as the NEA’s literature director – she’s been with the NEA’s literature program for more than 15 years and now oversees grantmaking in literature. Stolls’ own writing continues to figure prominently in her life: her publishing credits include the young adult novel Palms to the Ground (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), winner of the 2005 Parents’ Choice Gold Award, and the novel The Ninth Wife (HarperCollins, 2011), as well as more than a dozen personal and literature-related essays.

 

  1. Nonprofits in the Arts. Just as it is home to a range of government agencies, DC has doors open to nonprofit organizations in the arts – including Americans for the Arts and Culture Capital – some of which become of students’ and graduates’ places of work. Many students also become involved in nonprofit organizations outside DC. Our alumnus Michelle Franke (Meyering) has distinguished herself as the executive director of PEN Center USA, as well as the founding editor of literary journal “The Rattling Wall.” She has produced over 200 literary events across Southern California and was named a 2013 “Face to Watch,” impacting the writing world even beyond her own publications and her teaching record.

 

  1. Television. MFA program graduates hold down TV positions from Hollywood writers’ rooms to news broadcasting stations. AU’s very own Glen Finland has not only had successes in her writing career, publishing NEXT STOP (Putnam), a Barnes & Noble Great New Writers 2012 Discovery pick, but she also spent ten years as a reporter/producer at Potomac News.

 

Inevitably, MFA students encounter a friend or family member who asks, “But what can you do with a creative writing degree?” In addition to the most important answer – focusing on improving your craft – you can now offer five more examples of potential career paths. We hope you’ll consider joining us.

Learn more about American University’s creative writing MFA program.

CW_Blog_3_-_Walt_Whitman_Imagec

7 Great Writers You Didn’t Know Lived in DC

While the presence of the nation’s capital certainly characterizes Washington, DC, culture, there’s more to the city than that: Several great writers have made their homes here over the years. In New York, writers will tell you that there’s a sense of competition—writers at all levels scrambling for a piece of the spotlight. By contrast, in DC’s smaller but still-vibrant literary community, writers of all levels are able to carve a space for themselves.

 

DC is a great place to be a writer. These seven accomplished talents prove it:

Walt_Whitman_-_Brady-Handy_restored 1. Walt Whitman lived for a time in Washington, DC, where he worked during the Civil War in the army paymaster’s office and volunteered as a nurse in the army hospitals. He used to watch President Lincoln ride up and down 16th street, and his experiences engaging with soldiers and observing the President were instrumental to his writing. He was profoundly impacted by Lincoln’s death and wrote several poems inspired by Lincoln.

 

MacArthur Foundation and Pulitzer prize winning author Edward Jones in Washington D.C. Tuesday Sept. 21, 2004. (AP Photo/ Matt Houston) 2. Edward P. Jones is one of the literary treasures of our time. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Known World, and he has collected a range of awards including the PEN/Hemingway award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, and the MacArthur Fellowship. His short story collections, Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children explore the experience of African Americans in DC. He told the Rumpus about how the opening of his story “A Butterfly on the F Street” came to him: while he was standing on the street, in transit around DC. The Washington Post says of Jones, “The bar he has set for himself, to more or less to do for black Washington what James Joyce did for Dublin, is in the literary stratosphere.” For Edward P. Jones’ presence alone, DC’s literary community is worth belonging to.

 

walter isaacson 3. Walter Isaacson leverages DC’s political landscape to forge his career as President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute, as well as to feed his writing. His most recent book is The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, and he is best known as the author of Steve Jobs. His other works include Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992).

 

Ta-Nehisi_Coates 4. Ta-Nehisi Coates currently lives in Harlem, but he has made his stamp on the DC literary landscape—and he often reads and speaks here. Coates is the author, most recently, of #1 New York Times Bestseller Between the World and Me, and he is also an Atlantic National Correspondent and has written important pieces including the acclaimed article “The Case for Reparations.” Coates lived in DC and attended Howard University.

 

colbert king 5. Colbert I. King is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post whose DC roots run deep. He was born in DC and earned his bachelor of arts degree in government from Howard University. Before taking his role at the Washington Post, King served in many public service roles, including working for the State Department and serving as US executive director to the World Bank—again demonstrating how rewarding government positions coexist with the writing life in DC.

 

Sandra Beasley 6. Sandra Beasley is a poet and nonfiction writer, and an AU MFA alumna who has made her home in DC. She won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize for her collection I Was the Jukebox. Her first collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize. Her work appears in distinguished magazines including Ploughshares, Tin House, AGNI, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry, and The Believer, and she remains active in the DC literary community, coordinating events for the Arts Club of Washington.

 

Marita Golden 7. Marita Golden, an AU graduate, is the author of 14 works of fiction and nonfiction, and an integral part of the DC writing community. Golden grew up in DC and has held teaching appointments at schools including George Mason University and here at AU. She has also served as Writer in Residence at the University of the District of Columbia, and co-founded the in 1990, which presents the nation’s only national fiction award for college writers of African descent.

 

 

 The Only MFA Program in the District

From historical literary giants to prize-winning journalists to early-career MFA graduates, writers have found DC to be a place where their work can thrive. Would you like to be part of this community?

Learn more about the AU creative writing MFA program.

 

U.S. Capitol at Dusk

Supporting Yourself While Pursuing Your MFA

Given Washington, DC’s, reputation for having a high cost of living, prospective students sometimes wonder how to make their finances work while pursuing an MFA. Through a mix of careful spending choices, fellowships, and funding, our students make it work—and they thrive every year.

 

Seeking Awards and Loans

We extend merit awards to a select group of promising students, and some awards include part-time work opportunities. When we can, we also support work-study positions, and we encourage students to connect with the Graduate Financial Aid office to seek out more options.

Beyond the walls of American University, our students often find local and national scholarships and grants, and even win prize money. Poets & Writers has a handy, searchable list of writing contests, grants, and awards available for writers.

If you live in the District, you may be eligible for artist fellowships to help cover your expenses. The DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities offers individual support for writers, in the form of $5,000-10,000 yearly fellowships. The Maryland State Arts Council offers similar grants. One of our students applied and received an award last year, and we’ve seen many of our alumni apply and receive it, too.


Working and Writing

While carving writing time out is essential, our program has a schedule that accommodates writers who pursue careers during the day. All of our workshops and Visiting Writers Series events start after 5pm. Most of our students find maintaining some kind of employment manageable, and full- or part-time work helps them avoid taking out additional loans to cover living expenses.

As in any city, the range of available job varies widely. Some students work as freelance writers. Others have part-time bartending jobs. Many find interesting work with government agencies. We have lawyers and teachers working on their MFAs in the afternoons and evenings. In short, our program accommodates our students’ employment needs—helping them build the habits that will sustain them once the program ends.


Finding Affordable Housing

You may have heard that DC is a pricey place to rent an apartment. While it’s certainly true, it’s also true that DC is a vibrant city where writers can—and do—find jobs and make their homes.

The Gateway Arts District is home to multiple rental opportunities for low-income artists. Artspace and the Housing Initiative Project offer affordable and Metro-accessible apartments in Mount Rainier and Hyattsville. As you’d imagine, these projects are popular, so we encourage prospective students to reach out to the organizations early to inquire about availability and, if necessary, get a name on a waiting list.

Many students choose to live outside the District for lower rents. With robust public transportation, it often makes sense to secure affordable housing in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. While living a bit farther from the campus means commuting to classes and social events, geographical space between living and work spaces has its benefits—especially for writers—including fewer writing distractions around your home, and reading time on the metro.


Cheap Eats and Entertainment

Keeping expenses low shouldn’t mean missing out on the DC experience. When it comes to looking for low-cost meals and activities, you are far from alone: the District is full of artists and students on tight budgets, and you’ll find lists like Serious Eats’ “Washington DC’s Best Cheap Eats Under $10” and DC Eater’s “20 New Dishes Under $10” popping up left and right, ready to direct you toward the best bites for the least cash.

Beyond food, it’s no secret that the best of DC’s offerings are absolutely free.

Between exploring the Library of Congress, catching free performances at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, and spending time on the National Mall, “bored” is a word our students never use. These activities and 97 more can be found on “100 Free (& Almost Free) Things to Do in DC.”

This is one town where you can have a great time without emptying your wallet.


Funding, Fellowships, and Strategic Spending

The bottom line is simple. While Washington, DC, can feel pricey, living here is actually manageable. And the experience is worth every penny. Upon your admission, our faculty and students will be happy to share our experiences and discuss the funding options that make the most sense for you.


We can see you in DC already.

Do you see yourself here? If so, find out more about the MFA Creative Writing Program at American University.

Writers-Desk

Authorpreneurship Defined

What It Means to Be a Writer in Today’s World

For writers focused on creative work, talk about the “business” of writing can feel like a distraction at best and, at worst, like a betrayal of our artistic practice.

Even the business speak-y ring to “authorpreneurship,” which the Economist unpacked back in February, can send new writers running for their typewriters and burrowing into the recesses of unplugged, isolated rooms.

But running away from the business of writing—from the demands of “authorpreneurship”—would ultimately be a mistake for any new writer striving to find their audience in current times.

In today’s connected literary landscape, the writers who “make it”—who sustain long, rewarding careers built around their craft—are those who learn to position their work as a business endeavor and build successful brands for themselves and their writing.

Starting Out
Talk to agents and editors about signing with new writers, and here’s what they’ll say: While they consistently seek fresh work that excites them—the type of work we’re creating at American—they are more likely to take a risk signing a new writer who brings a pre-built network of potential readers. The best thing you can do while plugging away at your novel manuscript or polishing poems or stories for a collection is start building that network.

Some of your network will build itself organically, as you meet classmates at American, as you attend conferences and summer workshops and readings, and as you share work and links through the social networking platforms on which you already have a presence. Your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and personal blog readers will likely buy your first book and invite friends to your readings before strangers will. In the meantime, participating in those communities and sharing the work of others will both support your peers and help you build goodwill for the day when you need support.

Some of your network will come through intentional steps to promote your writing early on. Publishing your finished pieces in print and online, even in respected publications that can’t afford to pay you, can ultimately pay off when it comes time to publish your book. Often, editors with whom you’ve built relationships will agree to publish a review or an interview once you start promoting your book. Similarly, when you read your work or help to organize even a low-profile reading series or event, the people you’ll meet will become your network when you arrange your first tour.

Once You Have Your Book
The introverted and private lives so often enjoyed by writers throughout history have become difficult, if not impossible, to sustain in today’s technology-driven world. Now, the publication of your first book is far from an invitation to retreat home and take a nap: instead, it’s an invitation into the world of self-promotion.

While some publishing houses still boast robust teams of publicists, much promotional work is now shouldered by writers themselves. Some hire private publicists. Some strive to the garner attention of celebrities and strategize to push for book release dates that will give their books the best chance of hitting best-seller lists.

Nearly all lean heavily on their personal and professional networks—anyone whose ear and respect they’ve gained—to ask for support and help in promotion.

The Reality of the Writing Business
Very, very few writers—even among the prize-winning and renowned—make their full income from their books of prose and poetry. Writers hold teaching positions at community colleges and universities. We work at summer conferences and weekend workshops. We seek out paying speaking engagements. We pitch magazine features, look for copywriting gigs, and pursue meaningful professional careers that help us pay the bills while leaving the mind space and time we need to devote ourselves to our next book.


 

While at American, our students take advantage of opportunities to network and build resumes across the varied organizations of Washington, DC—and many leave able to put writing at the center of their lives, and still make a living.

Would you like to join us? Learn more about the MFA creative writing program at American University.

To learn about opportunities an American MFA creates, you can read about graduates who have pursued writing careers outside academia, and check out a list of recent alumni publications and awards.