Diverse group of people

Love People, Always. Mission Will Take Care of Itself.

Love People, Always. Mission Will Take Care of Itself
by Dr. Patrick Malone, Director, Key Executive Leadership Programs

We often see organizations attempt to balance their focus on organizational mission and people. Most opt for mission. They will often proclaim We’re all about the mission! Or, Mission First, People Always (in an attempt to let people know they matter). Here’s the bottom line: organizations can’t meet their mission without their people, period. So, mission can never be first. People are always first, and just before America found itself in the midst of a pandemic, three important pieces of research were released that gave us an indication of the status of the people in our workforce. The results were quite sobering.

A Gallup survey released in late 2019 addressed the challenge of anxiety in the American worker. The findings were astonishing:

  • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress;
  • US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress;
  • stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day;
  • only 43% of US employees think their employers care about their work-life balance;
  • and work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.

The average American stress levels are 20% higher than the world average.

People most fear corrupt government and medical bills.

And remember, this was pre-COVID.

Americans are also afraid. Each year Chapman University performs their annual Survey of American Fears (CSAF). Here is where we stand. Three of the top 10 fears are directly related to illness, dying, and high medical bills. And American’s biggest fear? Corrupt government officials. So, to put that into perspective, in the biggest pandemic that any of us will likely ever see in our lives, Americans are afraid of everything related to health, dying, ability to cover medical bills, and government leadership.

And remember, this was pre-COVID.

Finally, people are lonely. Loneliness research is a fairly recent, if overdue, phenomenon. The Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index recently found that three out of every five adults, or 61%, report that they sometimes or always feel lonely. And of those, there is a greater feeling of loneliness among people who use social media more frequently, which is precisely what many of us are doing now. And for the Gen Zs, whom many of us consider to be super tech-savvy, well, they may be. But 73% of them report sometimes or always feeling alone, a 4% increase from 2018.

And remember, this was pre-COVID.

So what does this mean for us? It means that as leaders we will need to work harder to love those we lead, and let them know it.

This comes from our hearts. It’s a soul connection, not an intellectual one, not a technical one. Love transcends best practices, design thinking, strategic planning, and all things related. In the DC metropolitan area especially, there are a number of well-intentioned outlets producing leadership reports, how to manuals, future of leadership, today’s leadership, tomorrow’s leadership, and on and on and on. We wait each year for the colorful, graphic laden portrayal so we can learn the latest on leadership. Yet woefully few, if any of these reports ever mention the word love.

Maybe the time is now.

About the Author

Dr. Patrick Malone

Professor Malone is an Executive-in-Residence in the Department of Public Administration and Policy where he teaches courses in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, action learning, leadership ethics, and public administration and policy. He also serves as the Director of American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs. He is a frequent guest lecturer on leadership and organizational dynamics in state and federal agencies, professional associations, and universities. He has extensive experience working with federal sector leaders from DHHS, EPA, IRS, USDA, HUD, DHS, and DoD among others. Professor Malone also regularly presents in international forums to government leaders from the Republic of Vietnam, Panama, Poland, Belgium, and Mauritius. His research interests and scholarship include work in public service motivation, leadership, ethics, and organizational behavior. He is one of only thirty researchers in the country certified to score the Subject/Object qualitative research methodology developed at Harvard University.

Dr Malone spent twenty-two years in the Department of Defense where he served in a number of senior leadership and policy roles including as a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Academic Director; and Dean of Academics for Navy Medicine. His most recent publications include “Thinking Up,” “Selfies in the Workplace: Narcissists and the Public Manager,” “Making Assumptions? Try the Power of Inquiry,” “The Challenges That Set Public Service Apart” and “Enhancing Your Leadership by Tapping into Staff Attitudes.” His TED Talk, “Thinking about Time,” is available at http://tedxtalks.ted.com and his co-edited book, The Handbook of Federal Leadership and Administration, was published in November 2016. He is also the host of the monthly podcast “Take It From Key.”

About the Key Programs

Key is the global public sector leadership program of choice, as it challenges good managers to become extraordinary leaders who become lifelong learners and build an environment of organizational success. Home to the 3rd nationally ranked Executive MPA program and leadership certificate programs, Key’s alumni leave as leaders who exhibit passion for improving public service, act with integrity and authenticity, become a force for personal and organizational change, and empower others to action and excel.  

SPA Key Executive Leadership Programs

5000+

Key MPA and Certificate alumni

 

edwin-hooper-Q8m8cLkryeo-unsplash

Mindset, Mindset, Mindset

Mindset, Mindset, Mindset by Paul Bamonte, Federal Manager, Department of Homeland Security &
Key Executive MPA Alum

March 2020 will go down in the history books, hopefully, as lessons gained from the COVID-19 global pandemic that shook the world and touched every single person worldwide. A crisis so tragic, as of this writing, taking the lives of nearly 5000,000 people.

I say hopefully gained because a repeat of such a tragedy, be it in the realm of possibility, could again change individuals and societies, possibly in more significant ways we can’t imagine.

Take a moment now to consider who we were as a society in February 2020.

For many of us, myself included, we have been able to work from home, a luxury for which I have gained untold gratitude. With the time gained from this new work environment, I have thought deeply about the still disproportionately affected. Especially those who have had and continue to go to work, regardless of the CDC’s guidelines and the ever-looming uncertainty that will surely continue to shape our lives.
A blended image of an essential gloved and masked riding a bike through a city and a child playing at home while their parents works.

I was going to focus this blog post on the Spring 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer update, where global trust in the government is up from 54% to 65% (essentially pre and post-current pandemic). But more sobering, the second update has to do with the flip side of government trust, the rise in societal fears for “those with less education, less money and fewer resources are bearing a disproportionate burden of the suffering, risk of illness and need to sacrifice in the pandemic, and more than half are very worried about long-term, COVID-related job loss.”

This second statistic probably affects every one of us with a family member, friend, colleague, a friend of a colleague, your neighbor, bus driver, dry cleaner, or your Amazon delivery driver.

Then in May, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, and the protests that followed, brought the juxtaposition of mass health and safety, people exercising their the First Amendment rights en masse, and the challenges of the political landscape.

Yes that’s right folks, all of these events in an election year. I am not saying similar events have never occurred on this scale, but with the added pandemic crisis, it tends to redefine many of our previous notions.

So now my fellow professionals, how do we interact with our teams as we reconstitute back into our physical work environment?

How do we digest the totality of what has occurred when presented with a new, uncertain environment, continue to build relationships, maintain and grow our self and social awareness, and yes, achieve the results?

Being mindful of what our employees and colleagues have experienced the past 3 months will ensure they feel invested and valued. Our mindset has enumerable impacts and is key in determining the level of success of our goals and remains one of the key capabilities we have as managers and leaders.

In this new and uncertain environment, tap into that personal courage to remain agile and open to new ways of thinking. Be there for those who need you. Engage with your teams in new ways while being an active listener. And as always, practice that continual learning every day.

About the Author

Paul Bamonte served 20 years in the United States Army in leadership positions that took him across the globe, pursuing initiatives ranging from strategic communications and public affairs, inter agency coordination, international partnership building and organizational change management and strategic planning. Paul currently serves as lead strategic planner within a mission support enterprise in the Department of Homeland Security since 2018. Prior to Paul’s retirement from the U.S. Army, he served as Public Affairs Liaison Officer with the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region to the 2017 Presidential Inaugural Committee as well in the same capacity for the 2013 Inaugural Committee. Previously, he was the Army Music Liaison Officer for Southwest Asia, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, serving as the senior U.S. Military music advisor for U.S. Army Central Command where he initiated the first-even international partnership with the Kuwait National Guard with a subsequent visit to the United States. During this assignment, he also traveled to Afghanistan assisting in the training and partnership building with the 205th Corps Afghan National Army in Kandahar and documented his initiatives as a Public Affairs Officer to the command. In 2017, Paul earned an Executive Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Key Executive Program at The American University School of Public Affairs in Washington, DC. He also holds a Graduate Certificate in International Affairs from The Bush School of Government and Public Service. He is a graduate of the Army’s Intermediate Level Education and the Public Affairs Qualification Course from the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland.

About the Key Programs

Key is the global public sector leadership program of choice, as it challenges good managers to become extraordinary leaders who become lifelong learners and build an environment of organizational success. Home to the 3rd nationally ranked Executive MPA program and leadership certificate programs, Key’s alumni leave as leaders who exhibit passion for improving public service, act with integrity and authenticity, become a force for personal and organizational change, and empower others to action and excel.  

SPA Key Executive Leadership Programs

5000+

Key MPA and Certificate alumni

ad-pictures-6Ju3lZxTrbs-unsplash

Loving Those You Lead: Developing Courageous Authenticity & Combating the Dangerous Silence of Apathy for Managers

Loving Those You Lead: Developing Courageous Authenticity & Combating the Dangerous Silence of Apathy for Managers, By Dr. Reginald Wells, Executive in Residence, Key Executive Leadership Programs

Dr. Malone’s May blog post entitled “Don’t Forget the People,” offered an admonishment to those who choose to lead. Our work forces are suffering from stress, fearfulness, and loneliness and Dr. Malone concluded: “that as leaders we will need to work harder to love those we lead, and let them know it.”  

am compelled, in this moment, to double down on Dr. Malone’s admonition by emphasizing the importance of our connectivity with those under our supervision and the role leaders play in validating shared humanity; and I use recent events as a backdrop for my riff.  

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
  —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In my opinion, leaders capable of molding the consensus we need today must be emotionally intelligent and of impeccable character. They must demonstrate high levels of integrity and show cultural competence; and they must be capable of empathic concern. I have found that it is hard to foster connection and inspire people to perform purposeful work well when those who lead them lack these essential personal attributes. 

The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have sparked an emerging Zeitgeist reminiscent of my adolescent years. Unlike the images of the ‘60s, however, it is encouraging to see that the throngs of citizens flooding the streets in protest this time around reflect the rich diversity of AmericaIt is hard to ignore the shocking images of abuse and murder of Black people now available for all to see courtesy of social media. People of conscience who once questioned the veracity of complaints coming from Black America and other communities of color around the globe have witnessed, in real time, what happens when a society remains in denial of its legacy of institutional and individual racism. Thank God they were disgusted and sickened by the images. Their outrage may portend what many of us have been waiting for: a broader coalition of people who are no longer willing to be complicit in preserving systemic racism through their silence and apathy. 

 

Like COVID-19, recognition of the pandemic of systemic racism has touched a collective nerve. That shared experience should have made it easier for leaders to make a visceral connection with employees, allow them to recognize and appreciate the emotional fatigue many are feeling, and take an action to mitigate their stress, fear and feelings of loneliness. Even if a leader’s frame of reference makes it difficult to reach solidarity with protesters or employees who support their causeit is not unreasonable for employees to expect leadership to appreciate the importance of this moment by acknowledging their concerns. By offering messages of encouragement and reconciliation, and listening for the genuine anguish people are feeling, leaders create a safe space and create an opportunity for connecting with people in a meaningful way. 

Some leaders did the right thing and stepped up to the needs of their people with messages of encouragement and condemnation of systemic racism and injustice. Leadership at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, American University, and the Partnership for Public Service are cases in point.  

When leadership was slow to respond, it was reported in the media that some employees actually took it upon themselves to speak truth to power in an effort to trigger action, such as the group of Black employees at the Department of Justice, reminding us that leadership can be situational and come from unexpected sources.  

Regrettably, some leadership failed to heed the call all together or failed to heed the call in a timely mannerThose leaders failed to acknowledge the “elephant in the room” and, for employees looking to their leadership for reassurance, the silence was deafening. It is causing some to question the ability of their leaders to feel their pain and show the emotional intelligence and courageous authenticity required to lead a diverse and inclusive workforce effectively.  

To Dr. Malone’s point, we have a lot of work to do. Not only do some leaders appear to be incapable of loving those they lead, but they appear to show wanton disregard for the feelings and sensibilities of their employees, or perhaps even worse, show intolerably insulting indifference where genuine concern should be shown. The people we lead deserve our love and we need to enhance our ability to show them how much we love and respect them. It all begins with personal reflection (a look in the mirror) and a call for honest feedback from those we lead, especially those courageous individuals who have shown a willingness and ability to be authentically honest with us. Be willing to listen, connect, and allow yourself to feel what they feel. That is one way we can show them the love. 

Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

About the Author

Reginald F. Wells was named Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of Human Resources effective July 15, 2002 after serving short tenures as Deputy Associate Commissioner for Disability Program Policy and Senior Advisor in the Office of Disability and Income Security Programs. Dr. Wells also serves as the Chief Human Capital Officer for SSA. In his capacity as Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources, Dr. Wells oversees a staff complement of 400 employees with an operating budget of $100 million. Dr. Wells served as Deputy Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities from October 1994 to April 2002. He shared with the Commissioner full responsibility for planning and directing 25 federal staff and programmatic activities, including the University Centers, Developmental Disabilities Councils, Protection and Advocacy Systems and Projects of National Significance with a program budget of over $122 million. From October 1997 to May 1998, Dr. Wells served as the Acting Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities in the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF). Prior to his appointment in the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Dr. Wells had 10 years of extensive public sector experience with the District of Columbia’s (D.C.) Department of Human Services. In 1980, Dr. Wells received a Ph.D. in Psychology from Temple University in Philadelphia. He also earned his M.A. in psychology from Temple University and B.A. in psychology and sociology from American International College.

About the Key Programs

Key is the global public sector leadership program of choice, as it challenges good managers to become extraordinary leaders who become lifelong learners and build an environment of organizational success. Home to the 3rd nationally ranked Executive MPA program and leadership certificate programs, Key’s alumni leave as leaders who exhibit passion for improving public service, act with integrity and authenticity, become a force for personal and organizational change, and empower others to action and excel.  

SPA Key Executive Leadership Programs

5000+

Key MPA and Certificate alumni

 

Diverse group of people

Don’t Forget the People

by Dr. Patrick Malone, Director, Key Executive Leadership Programs

Just before America found itself in the midst of a pandemic, three important pieces of research were released that gave us an indication of the status of the American workforce. And the results were quite sobering.

A Gallup survey released in late 2019 addressed the challenge of anxiety in the American worker. The findings were astonishing:

  • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress;
  • US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress; Stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day;
  • only 43% of US employees think their employers care about their work-life balance;
  • and work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly. The average American stress levels are 20% higher than the world average.

And remember, this was pre-Covid.

Americans are also afraid.

People most fear corrupt government and medical bills.

Each year Chapman University performs their annual Survey of American Fears (CSAF). Here is where we stand. Three of the top 10 fears are directly related to illness, dying, and high medical bills. And American’s biggest fear? Corrupt government officials. So, to put that into perspective, in the biggest pandemic that any of us will likely ever see in our lives, Americans are afraid of everything related to health, dying, ability to cover medical bills, and government leadership.

And remember, this was pre-Covid.

Finally, people are lonely. Loneliness research is a fairly recent, if overdue, phenomenon. The Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index recently found that three out of every five adults, or 61%, report that they sometimes or always feel lonely. And of those, there is a greater feeling of loneliness among people who use social media more frequently, which is precisely what many of us are doing now. And for the Gen Zs, whom many of us consider to be super tech-savvy, well, they may be. But 73% of them report sometimes or always feeling alone, a 4% increase from 2018.

And remember, this was pre-Covid.

So what does this mean for us? It means that as leaders we will need to work harder to love those we lead, and let them know it.

This comes from our hearts. It’s a soul connection, not an intellectual one, not a technical one. Love transcends best practices, design thinking, strategic planning, and all things related. In the DC metropolitan area especially, there are a number of available outlets producing leadership reports, how to manuals, future of leadership, today’s leadership, tomorrow’s leadership, and on and on and on. We wait each year for the colorful, graphic laden portrayal so we can learn the latest on leadership. Yet woefully few, if any of these reports ever mention the word love.

Maybe the time is now.

About the Author

Dr. Patrick Malone

Professor Malone is an Executive-in-Residence in the Department of Public Administration and Policy where he teaches courses in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, action learning, leadership ethics, and public administration and policy. He also serves as the Director of American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs. He is a frequent guest lecturer on leadership and organizational dynamics in state and federal agencies, professional associations, and universities. He has extensive experience working with federal sector leaders from DHHS, EPA, IRS, USDA, HUD, DHS, and DoD among others. Professor Malone also regularly presents in international forums to government leaders from the Republic of Vietnam, Panama, Poland, Belgium, and Mauritius. His research interests and scholarship include work in public service motivation, leadership, ethics, and organizational behavior. He is one of only thirty researchers in the country certified to score the Subject/Object qualitative research methodology developed at Harvard University.

Dr Malone spent twenty-two years in the Department of Defense where he served in a number of senior leadership and policy roles including as a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Academic Director; and Dean of Academics for Navy Medicine. His most recent publications include “Thinking Up,” “Selfies in the Workplace: Narcissists and the Public Manager,” “Making Assumptions? Try the Power of Inquiry,” “The Challenges That Set Public Service Apart” and “Enhancing Your Leadership by Tapping into Staff Attitudes.” His TED Talk, “Thinking about Time,” is available at http://tedxtalks.ted.com and his co-edited book, The Handbook of Federal Leadership and Administration, was published in November 2016. He is also the host of the monthly podcast “Take It From Key.”

About the Key Programs

Key is the global public sector leadership program of choice, as it challenges good managers to become extraordinary leaders who become lifelong learners and build an environment of organizational success. Home to the 3rd nationally ranked Executive MPA program and leadership certificate programs, Key’s alumni leave as leaders who exhibit passion for improving public service, act with integrity and authenticity, become a force for personal and organizational change, and empower others to action and excel.  

SPA Key Executive Leadership Programs

5000+

Key MPA and Certificate alumni

 

hand-play-number-love-heart-red-372665-pxhere.com

A Return to Kindness

by Dr. Patrick Malone, Director, Key Executive Leadership Programs

Over the last many years as part of the Key program one of the things I’ve always admired most about our students, staff, coaches, and faculty is the level of kindness and compassion they exhibit toward one-another. When COVID-19 hit us all, I found this gentleness toward one-another to be even more important. And as we, as a nation, struggle through this pandemic, it appears the previously-existing divisive national landscape, one marked by name-calling, and insults, has taken a backseat to uncertainty, loneliness, and fear.

I wrote an article on this very subject as the 2019 holidays got underway. It read in part:

It’s not always easy for kindness and gratitude to make themselves known in today’s world. Combine our omnipresent, hyperactive environment with a 24-hour news cycle, divisive discourse across our nation, and no time for reflection, and it’s no wonder we snap at one another. Life is hard. Research has even suggested we may possess an intrinsic bias toward negativity. This has been helpful from an evolutionary standpoint. We make decisions that allow us to survive and succeed. But kindness, vulnerability, compassion, and empathy struggle to make the grade in a pressure-cooker world.

community

Prior to this crisis, when we heard a story or witnessed an act of kindness, we often reacted with disbelief. Then we told someone about it, usually beginning with the words, “You’ll never believe what I just saw!” Now it appears different. Our longing for connectedness is more prominent as we socially isolate. We’re seeking connection and the love that is uniquely human. This is because as human beings we may be hardwired for survival, but we’re also hardwired for belonging – especially now.

Zoom is not normal, nor chatrooms, webinars and the like. They serve a purpose to be sure – and they are an important tool for us to use in these challenging times. But they fall short of real human contact. Further, they have diminishing returns with regards to the positive feelings we have in the long run. These platforms – no matter how jazzy they may be, come with the price of sterility. It’s up to us to make them better, more personal, more human. This is where kindness can help bridge the gap. Through our language, tone, and eye contact, we can take a step toward the behaviors that make people feel loved and appreciated – even from miles away.

Author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once stated, “The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” We have a human imperative for kindness, touching others’ hearts, and craving belonging.”

Holding each other’s hand and growing together was a dream of Don Zauderer’s when he envisioned Key. For those of you who are part of this program, in any way, thank you for holding fast in these most challenging times. Love will always win.

About the Author

Dr. Patrick Malone

Professor Malone is an Executive-in-Residence in the Department of Public Administration and Policy where he teaches courses in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, action learning, leadership ethics, and public administration and policy. He also serves as the Director of American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs. He is a frequent guest lecturer on leadership and organizational dynamics in state and federal agencies, professional associations, and universities. He has extensive experience working with federal sector leaders from DHHS, EPA, IRS, USDA, HUD, DHS, and DoD among others. Professor Malone also regularly presents in international forums to government leaders from the Republic of Vietnam, Panama, Poland, Belgium, and Mauritius. His research interests and scholarship include work in public service motivation, leadership, ethics, and organizational behavior. He is one of only thirty researchers in the country certified to score the Subject/Object qualitative research methodology developed at Harvard University.

Dr Malone spent twenty-two years in the Department of Defense where he served in a number of senior leadership and policy roles including as a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Academic Director; and Dean of Academics for Navy Medicine. His most recent publications include “Thinking Up,” “Selfies in the Workplace: Narcissists and the Public Manager,” “Making Assumptions? Try the Power of Inquiry,” “The Challenges That Set Public Service Apart” and “Enhancing Your Leadership by Tapping into Staff Attitudes.” His TED Talk, “Thinking about Time,” is available at http://tedxtalks.ted.com and his co-edited book, The Handbook of Federal Leadership and Administration, was published in November 2016. He is also the host of the monthly podcast “Take It From Key.”

About the Key Programs

Key is the global public sector leadership program of choice, as it challenges good managers to become extraordinary leaders who become lifelong learners and build an environment of organizational success. Home to the 3rd nationally ranked Executive MPA program and leadership certificate programs, Key’s alumni leave as leaders who exhibit passion for improving public service, act with integrity and authenticity, become a force for personal and organizational change, and empower others to action and excel.  

SPA Key Executive Leadership Programs

5000+

Key MPA and Certificate alumni

 

march-blog-2

Rekindling the Flame: Inspiring others to join the public service in the face of cynicism

by Paul Carlson, Executive Director, Seattle Federal Executive Board

After directing a small federal agency, I am making the transition to teaching graduate students and I enjoy it immensely. However, I have been surprised to encounter profound cynicism among the students. They seem to have an overwhelmingly negative view, not just of government, but about our capacity for any significant social change in America as well.

The topic was homelessness. The class was virtually united in believing that homelessness neither could nor would be ended. Considering that we are entering the fifth decade of this prolonged crisis, this pessimism is hardly surprising. But the view of students went much deeper than that.

Homelessness, institutional racism, the perception of growing disparity between rich and poor, unbridled capitalism, neo-colonialism, the pervasive belief that only those born to privilege can succeed, bigotry, racism, and sexism are believed to be not simply present in American society but to define its very character. To many of my students, the overall view of decaying, dysfunctional American government is a foregone conclusion on the basis of overwhelming evidence in the news each day.

How to inspire students to consider public service, when they despair of the efficacy of most agents of political and social change, especially the institutions of government?

Figure in light bulb shaped like an air balloon floating toward a red flag atop a mountain

In our discussion I appealed to recent history and the dramatic changes wrought in the wake of the wars and upheavals of the 20th century. I do not think I made much impression. Historical reference points, as a means of measuring progress, seems dismissed as so many limited “constructs” of particular groups, usually from the dominant power group. I respond that truth can and does transcend the limited constructs of a point in history, or groups within history. We must avoid the fundamental error of believing the constructs of our particular time and ethos somehow stand out of history. There is no meta-construct; no post history prism through which we interpret current and past events.

Yet, oddly enough, this pessimism exists side by side with a kind of hyper-idealism; a stark contrast of the ideal versus real world. As it were, we can find only distorted shadows of the ideal world on the walls of our social order. This dualism seems Manichean: the light of high human aspirations is hidden only in pockets of resistance, while the mainstream social order grows ever darker.

Feeling no estrangement from high ideals, I ask myself exactly how I might share my faith in the values of a liberal society. Government’s function is not merely management of the social order, but to provide meaningful, humane and just service to our citizens.

I believe we want to open a horizon of government service, not merely because there are good jobs to be had (and there are!), but because we want those positions filled with civil servants who aspire to truly serve, who view their work is part of a wide net of services that supports and promotes growth, creativity and change in American civic, social and economic institutions.

I have been encouraged in recent years by my experiences with working with a federal inter-agency program that develops the talents of emerging leaders. This is a two year program comprised of two small cohorts of mid-career federal staff who overlap (1st year, 2nd year) in participation. Each year they choose a group service project, such as hosting a state wide conference on prisoner re-entry, building a tiny house shelter in support of the work of a local non- profit, or other similar projects. This peer led program is overseen by a team of five Advisors, senior federal agency staff. Our program structure is not unique.

However, the content of learning, while important, is subordinate to group process, the interpersonal encounters, friction and camaraderie inherent in their working together as a team of peers. Advisors mix it up in group discussion, candid with general opinions, though careful not to interpose their views in the peer decision-making process. Somehow this whole process becomes remarkably uplifting to spirit and morale, at least for most. Advisors serve less as teachers than co-learners.

To inspire the formation of new leaders in all levels of American government, current leaders obviously have to impart their own notions of service, their own beliefs, sense of duty and civic commitment. Our posture perhaps is that we are in leadership formation together with those we advise and teach. We owe as much authenticity of our character, beliefs and ideas as we can muster.

I do not want to have too ready a response to the students I teach in an academic setting. Their views are strongly held and worth listening to. I can, then, only share myself with them, my ideas and experience, and perhaps encourage them to place themselves within an experiential context of growth towards leadership. Will such an experience shake their cynicism, restore some faith in American society and civic ideals? A professionally intimate, personally engaged approach I believe may be the best way to impress a new generation of leaders, and help them develop a lens through which to find their own sense of meaning and purpose, and thereby to aspire to civic leadership.

About the Author

CarlsonPaul Carlson’s career in housing homeless persons and working on national homelessness policy spans three decades. From the earliest days of the homelessness crisis in the 1980’s he worked to house homeless person with severe mental illness and substance abuse issues. He held key positions with the City of Seattle and later with the federal government developing strategies to end homelessness.

For nine years he represented the federal United States Interagency Council on Homelessness in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The focus of his work was on organizing community strategies to end homelessness and to create an adequate supply of housing and services for disabled persons and impoverished families.

Before entering federal service he was a special advisor on homelessness for the City of Seattle, directing the operations of the Sound Families Initiative, a housing production program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Paul worked for many years as the Director of Housing Services for Harborview Mental Health in Seattle, where he developed the housing program for chronically homeless persons with severe and persistent mental illness.

He currently serves as Executive Director of a federal agency called the Seattle Federal Executive Board. His duties involve working with federal agency executives to organize special inter-agency programs and initiatives.

He received a BA from Dickinson College and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has also attended St. Andrews University, Scotland, and Princeton Theological Seminary.

 

About the Key Programs

Key is the global public sector leadership program of choice, as it challenges good managers to become extraordinary leaders who become lifelong learners and build an environment of organizational success. Home to the 3rd nationally ranked Executive MPA program and leadership certificate programs, Key’s alumni leave as leaders who exhibit passion for improving public service, act with integrity and authenticity, become a force for personal and organizational change, and empower others to action and excel.  

SPA Key Executive Leadership Programs

5000+

Key MPA and Certificate alumni


Experience DC in 3D Audio with ATEC Student’s Film Project

Jolene Carter, recent AU graduate in film and audio technology, shot a short film of her day traveling around Washington, DC. But instead of using a normal microphone, Carter designed a unique rig that connected her camera to a binaural microphone.

Using this setup, it’s possible to hear the full 3D auditory cues around the camera – you can hear buses pass from behind to in front of you, or hear pedestrians spread out near the waterfront. Because this method preserves the exact cues reaching your ears, you will need to listen with headphones to hear the 3D effect.

Three military cyber security professionals look at a monitor.

Current & Recent Research into Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy

By School of Public Affairs

American University’s Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy teaches content knowledge about terrorist groups and threats, as well as skills for evaluating these threats, all within a framework of policy creation and implementation.

Joseph Young, PhD, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Justice, Law & Criminology and his graduate students are researching issues that may impact the fight on terrorism and policy related to U.S. homeland security. Some of these projects include exploring the efficacy of peace initiatives in other countries, interviewing U.S. citizens who go overseas to fight against ISIS on their own, and analyzing ISIS data for predictors of whether someone would prefer joining the cause as a fighter or as a suicide bomber.

Efficacy of Strengthening Local Governments in Colombia

Professor Young is part of a team working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid) to evaluate whether a project to strengthen local governments in Colombia is reducing a perception of corruption. The findings may influence future interventions around the world.

“We’re doing three waves of nationwide surveys about how people feel about the peace process and how much they do or don’t support armed actors,” explains Professor Young.

The five-year, $50 million program is trying to make local governments more transparent, opening up budget processes so people can understand them, and making the mayor’s office more accessible to average citizens. The goal is not only to reduce violence, but to help citizens feel that their governments are transparent, responsive, and representing their interests.

The baseline survey identified that people view their government as incredibly corrupt. The midline survey is currently underway.

“We’re hoping to see the perception of corruption going way down along with a drop in support for armed actors,” says Professor Young. “If the results are promising, these tools could be applied in other places in the world to reduce support of violent actors like terrorist groups.”

Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy Research: U.S. Citizens Joining the Fight Against ISIS

Another project that Professor Young is working on with a PhD candidate revolves around U.S. citizens who are going overseas independently to fight against ISIS. Fighting for ISIS or another designated terrorist organization is clearly illegal for American citizens. But what about those Americans who join forces with foreign organizations and fight against ISIS?

“There are a number of Americans going abroad to fight with Kurdish rebels against ISIS and that falls into a gray area,” says Professor Young. “There’s not a legal structure in place that says this behavior is wrong or illegal.”

The research team is currently interviewing some of these fighters to learn more about what they are doing and why. The researchers began with a core group via social media building a database of about 100 Americans and, so far, have interviewed about a dozen of them.

Their findings so far include:

  • Fighting independently is self-funded. Some fighters have actually held Go-Fund-Me campaigns, but generally they are limited financially and when the money runs out they tend to return home.
  • There is a women-only unit organized by a Canadian woman.
  • Many of these fighters are former military who were injured, dishonorably discharged, or simply at the end of their service. For them, the motivation is often that they had gone to the Middle East on active duty to secure safety in the region and ISIS has disrupted that, so they are now going back to try to finish what they had started.

“The bottom line is shouldn’t we have a policy on whether people should go fight against ISIS or not,” asks Professor Young. “Our research is always informed by how is this going to influence policy and what should policies look like.”

Analysis of ISIS Job Applications: Predictive Traits of Suicide Bombers

Professor Young is working with another PhD student to analyze data obtained by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) based at West Point. The researchers are evaluating more than 4,000 ISIS job applications looking at the factors that might lead someone to choose to be a fighter or a suicide bomber.

“What we’ve noticed is that country of origin explains much of the choice between applicants who want to become fighters versus suicide bombers,” says Professor Young. “People coming from the West, countries like Australia, America, Britain, etc., as well as those from civil war-torn countries are less interested in becoming suicide fighters.”

So far, the research supports the hypothesis that people who have some military experience tend to be more interested in becoming more experienced fighters rather than sacrificing themselves.

“The Americans and the Westerners don’t have a culture very supportive of the choice to become a suicide bomber,” says Professor Young. “The only folks making the choice to become suicide bombers at a higher rate are those coming from countries like Saudi Arabia or Tunisia where they might have more of a stronger cultural pull for doing an action like that.”

Understanding factors relating to the development of terrorist and anti-terrorist attitudes is critical to U.S. security. Professor Young’s research offers a glimpse into the rich and complex projects seeking to understand how we can protect national security, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Teacher with young students in a classroom

Public Policy Research: Impact of Race and K-12 Education

By The School of Public Affairs

Research has shown that when minority students have teachers of the same race, they tend to perform better on several metrics, such as test scores and graduation rates. Nathan Favero, Assistant Professor in American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy is exploring potential causes of this correlation and the implication for future teacher recruitment.

“While there are many ideas about the mechanisms causing this relationship, there’s not a whole lot of certainty,” says Professor Favero. “Our research is looking at the impact of Latino teachers in schools, since although they are less underrepresented than black teachers, there are still many Latino kids being taught by white teachers.”

Several common mechanisms suggest why students may perform better when taught by teachers of the same race. The role model effect posits that students are inspired to perform better because they are more able to identify with their teachers. One model suggests differences in how minority teachers teach, from utilizing more culturally accessible examples in math problems to incorporating more relevant cultural references that make students feel included. Another possibility is that minority teachers are less susceptible to racial bias and therefore less likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of low performance.

Looking beyond the classroom

Much of the research to date has been at the classroom level, focusing on individual teachers and their students. Because of his work in organizational research, Professor Favero is exploring the relationship at the institutional level. One of the key questions is whether simply having minority teachers within the school building makes a difference.

“While we don’t really have strong evidence yet, it seems that there’s some indication that just having more Latino teachers in the building is predictive of students doing better,” says Professor Favero, “even if there aren’t more Latino teachers in their specific grade.”

His research is exploring possible reasons for this correlation. One answer is that diversity among the teaching staff may influence school policy or may lead to collaboration that positively impacts the student experience. Another, from a top-down approach, is that administrators who more actively recruit – or are more inclined to hire – Latino teachers are also more likely to create a school culture conducive to success among Latino students.

Considering policy implications

It’s clear that increasing diversity among teachers, especially in areas with high minority populations, is essential to improving outcomes for minority students. This may begin in the classroom with teachers encouraging students to enter the profession. Policy makers may want to explore implementing policies encouraging undergraduate education programs to actively enroll minority students.

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Top Three Questions About the Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy

With the Answers Prospective Graduate Students Want to Know

By The School of Public Affairs

Offered through American University’s School of Public Affairs, the Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy prepares students for a career or advancement in the federal government, intelligence, or law enforcement. The top three questions we hear from prospective graduate students are:

  1. Do I need a master’s degree for a career in intelligence and security?
  2. Should I do an internship?
  3. Is American University a good choice for my graduate education?

The simplest answer, according to Joseph Young, Associate Professor and Department Chair in American University’s Department of Justice, Law & Criminology, is yes.

Read on for more in-depth answers.

Why Do I Need a Master’s Degree for a Career in Intelligence and Security?

American University’s Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy is useful for an intelligence career at a federal, state, or local level. Students learn important content knowledge about terrorist groups and gain essential skills for evaluating potential threats to U.S. security, both domestically and abroad. Coursework takes a policy perspective, considering what policies should be in place, as well as what impact they may have.

During their master’s education, students build a network of connections that can inform their interests, assist with research, and help navigate their career path. Internships are an opportunity to gain real work experience and may also lead to security clearance, both of which greatly improve standing as a candidate for prospective employers.

“We not only teach about threats to the U.S. homeland and skills to evaluate those threats, we connect students to a network of people within the federal government and intelligence agencies,” says Professor Young. “We also help students through processes like getting security clearance and deciding which agencies are most interesting to them.”

Does an Internship Matter?

Absolutely, according to Professor Young. “You should always do an internship,” he says, “especially if it’s going to get you security clearance or on a pathway toward the career you want.”

Internships expand your professional network within the intelligence communities and can help you narrow your focus. Not only does the real-world experience make you a stronger candidate, many internships lead to job opportunities.

Security clearances, essential to many positions, can be costly and time consuming. If an internship requires security clearance, that may be a perk of the position. And having a security clearance in place will make you a more attractive candidate for employment. Plus, agencies that have invested in their interns may be more interested in hiring them permanently.

Why should I get my master’s degree from American University?

If you’re interested in a career in intelligence, law enforcement, or the federal government, a Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy from American University’s School of Public Affairs provides the education and connections you need. Not only is DC the center of U.S. intelligence and federal government, American University is adjacent to the Department of Homeland Security, enabling convenient access to internship opportunities.

The curriculum features a foundation in criminology, law, and public policy, combined with essential background information and strategies for developing policy-based solutions. Courses are taught by international experts in terrorism and national security research, many with firsthand experience working within the organizations where students pursue internships and future employment.

American University’s professors and students have a strong existing network with connections to all of the major agencies, providing access to key figures for internships, research, and job opportunities. People outside the intelligence community may not be aware that there are actually 17 different federal intelligence agencies each with their own function and area of expertise. AU professors provide insightful advice regarding what career path or agencies best fit student interests.

“There’s no substitute for being in DC,” says Professor Young. “It’s good to be in a network of people that have connections in these places.”

If you are ready to advance your career in and combat terrorism, consider a Master of Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy from American University. Learn in Washington, DC, join a network of connections in intelligence agencies and federal government, and gain the skills and background to position yourself for advancement.

Click here to learn more.

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Are Americans as Anti-Immigrant as They Seem?

By School of Public Affairs

Given recent headlines and racial conflicts, it’s easy to conclude that attitudes about immigration in the U.S. are rooted in racism and prejudice. The Muslim travel ban, Charlottesville protests, and the rescission of DACA all appear to confirm a racist anti-immigrant bias.

While there may be public sentiment for reducing immigration, research by SPA Assistant Professor Matthew Wright and his colleagues indicates Americans may actually be less anti-immigrant than it would appear.

Reconsidering Traditional Thinking

Much of the academic scholarship tends to support the notion that individuals’ attitudes toward immigration policies are related to how they feel about specific groups.

“There’s a great deal of scholarship tying what we’re seeing to a broadly nativist reaction, meaning white native-born people attributing things they don’t like to immigration,” said Dr. Wright. “We’re trying to add a little balance to that perspective.”

Dr. Wright and his team delved into the role of group prejudice vs. alignment with what are often viewed as traditional American values. Their findings suggest that this anti-immigration stance is fueled more by values and misperceptions about groups than what’s traditionally considered racism.

“Our research indicates that people are not motivated by racial bias to the degree that the literature generally assumes,” said Wright. “We think that it’s more likely that people are driven by their values in the sense of broad principles such as following the law, learning basic English, or assimilating to some minimal degree.”

Countering Misperceptions

Wright and his team elicited opinions about immigration with a hypothetical situation involving individuals of different ethnicities. When asked if a person should be allowed to immigrate, participants were less likely to say yes when the individual was Latino than if he were German or Chinese. Further, the biases went away if the interviewer provided additional information, such as that the individual speaks English, is a hard worker, and came to the country legally.

“People can often appear like they’re thinking or acting ethnocentrically, but in reality, if it’s just based on misinformation or an incorrect stereotype that can be countered by information, then that’s very different from people lashing out against immigrants,” explains Wright. “Our interpretation is that there is not a real strong animus at the heart of these attitudes.”

Looking to the Dreamers

The rescission of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a prime example of how values influence public opinion. It seems contradictory, but many people who strongly support ending DACA are also opposed to deporting the children in question. In this situation, the illegal immigrants were brought here by their parents through no choice of their own.

“People are very sensitive to how the question is asked,” said Wright. “You will get a more positive response if you ask about Dreamers than if you ask about illegal immigrants.”

Removing the Abstract

If Professor Wright’s premise is correct, attitudes about immigration rest more on whether the immigrants exhibit values aligned with public opinion. Value judgements, misperceptions, and commonly held stereotypes are much more easily addressed than deep-seated hatred and racism.

“The question for us is whether America, white people, are just fundamentally ethnocentric and prejudiced, and we’re saying no,” said Dr. Wright. “Some people are. A relatively small percentage of people are, and they’re not going away. In many ways, they are louder than ever, but that’s not most people. The American public is not as anti-immigrant as we are often tempted to believe.”

Are you interested in developing policy-based solutions to immigration and homeland security? American University’s School of Public Affairs Master’s programs help you build a career with a purpose. Visit http://www.american.edu/learnmorespagrad/ to learn more about AU’s Master of Public Policy or Master of Science in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy.

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/2017/09/17/551392700/republicans-are-happy-trump-ended-daca-they-re-less-sure-about-deporting-dreamer

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/05/poll-trump-deporting-daca-dreamers-242343

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Avoiding the Gaps: Creating Healthcare Policy That Works

By The School of Public Affairs

The driving force behind most healthcare policy advocates is to maximize access and minimize cost. When evaluating and recommending policy, however, it’s essential to consider all of the implications and potential consequences. Even the most well-intentioned public policy can negatively affect some of those it is designed to help.

The Intent of the Medicaid Expansion

One goal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was to extend healthcare coverage to the portion of the population least likely to be able to afford health insurance. The ACA included a federal expansion of Medicaid funding to provide coverage to those living below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For those with incomes above this line up to 400% of the poverty level, coverage was made affordable through premium tax credits. [1]

The Impact of Opting Out

The ACA did not account for states opting out of the Medicaid expansion. By assuming universal participation, the law’s wording unintentionally created a coverage gap for an already at-risk population. Individuals who would have been covered by the Medicaid expansion are not eligible for the premium subsidies, leaving them without coverage.

“Everyone gets subsidies if they qualify, but there’s a gap where people who are still low income don’t qualify for coverage because their states aren’t participating,” says Dr. Jocelyn Johnston, a professor in American University’s School of Public Affairs. “The extent to which people have to pay for healthcare out of pocket varies from state to state, so you end up with this inequality based upon where you live.”

In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the ACA, but ruled that states could choose not to expand Medicaid, giving the governors the right to decide. States opting out forgo only the additional federal funds earmarked for expansion, rather than Medicaid funding they already receive.[2]

As of the Fall of 2017, 19 states have still chosen not to expand Medicaid coverage, leaving millions of adults not only not covered by Medicaid but also ineligible for the premium subsidies. [3]

“The individuals are caught in the middle,” says Dr. Jocelyn Johnston, a professor in American University’s School of Public Affairs. “It’s the state’s right to opt out, but it’s a burden on those affected.”

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenges the ACA has faced and the disparity it unintentionally created, there has been an evolution in healthcare policy.

“In terms of public opinion, we are reaching some agreement that we should have some overarching federal program to reach everyone,” says Dr. Johnston. “We have to keep experimenting and it’s one of the strengths of our system: we try different things and that’s opportunity to learn and do things better.”

The coverage gap created by the ACA demonstrates the importance of carefully weighing assumptions and wording to ensure that the intent of policy matches with the effect once implemented. With politically charged topics like healthcare, there may not be a second chance to get it right.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.healthinsurance.org/medicaid/

[2] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/news/2013/04/02/58922/10-frequently-asked-questions-about-medicaid-expansion/

[3] http://www.kff.org/uninsured/issue-brief/the-coverage-gap-uninsured-poor-adults-in-states-that-do-not-expand-medicaid/

Woman looks at the departure board at the airport

Countering Terrorism: Implications of the Laptop Ban

By School of Public Affairs

In a post-9/11 world, travelers typically comply with changing security measures without question or hesitation. The reasoning behind these security choices lies deep within policy practices implemented by Homeland Security. The recently ended U.S. laptop ban is an example of how the public experiences policy in action without necessarily having all of the answers.

The laptop ban on international flights with final destination in the U.S.

Beginning in March of 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security required enhanced security at several foreign airports for flights into the United States. The new regulations prohibited electronic devices larger than cell phones in the aircraft cabin, restricting laptops, tablets, game units, and other large electronic devices to checked baggage. Because this measure impacted ability to travel with laptops, it has been referred to as a “laptop ban.”

When first enacted, the ban affected flights from nine specific airlines to the U.S. from ten airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Tricia Bacon, PhD, Assistant Professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs, researches U.S. counterterrorism policy as well as terrorist and insurgent groups’ alliance behavior. She clarifies that while this ban may appear random, it actually represents a calculated move based on current intelligence about terrorists and potential plots.

“A lot of this comes from threats from the Islamic State,” Bacon says. “There was clearly concern specifically about airlines traveling from the Middle East and North Africa to the United States.”

The ban was a hassle for travelers. In addition to concerns about the risk of damage to checked laptops, this ban created a significant productivity loss for business travelers intending to work during a flight that easily could take more than ten hours. These negative repercussions were likely anticipated by policy makers within Homeland Security. According to Bacon, “The duration of the ban suggests that there was a counter calculation; that policymakers also had to consider the effect the ban had on the airline industry and for businesses in the U.S.”

The ban was lifted on flights to the U.S. in July 2017, despite being originally announced to run through October. “The ban would not have been lifted if Homeland Security didn’t think there were security measures in place to counteract the risk,” Bacon clarifies.

Why was the laptop ban implemented?

Intelligence and counter-terrorism experts assess threats, evaluate the impact of policy decisions, and implement policies to counteract terrorism. While it is not clear what information Homeland Security had before implementing the laptop ban, intelligence and security experts know that terrorist organizations have been perfecting their ability to place sophisticated bombs in laptops.

In February 2016, a passenger on a Somali jet detonated a device approximately 15 minutes after takeoff, blowing a hole in the side of the aircraft. Because the flight had not reached cruising altitude, the explosion fell short of destroying the plane. Instead, only one fatality resulted as the suspect was ejected from the plane in the blast. Investigators are confident that a bomb was hidden in a laptop.

Initial reports following the explosion suggested that the bomb had been undetected by x-ray machines, but surveillance footage points to insider involvement. Security tapes appear to show a laptop being handed off to the passenger in question after he had cleared security. Regardless of how the bomb was brought onto the plane, this incident highlighted the need for heightened security measures, especially at airports where the Islamic state has access.

Adjusting to terrorist threats

The laptop ban was just the latest move in the complex interactions between governments and terrorist organizations. In December 2001, Richard Reid, also known as the Shoe Bomber, attempted to detonate a device in his footwear during an American Airlines flight. Security measures were then introduced requiring travelers to remove their shoes for x-ray screening.

British police uncovered a terrorist plot in 2006 to create bombs in flight by combining liquids they had brought on board. Security agencies acted quickly, banning all liquids in passenger carry-on baggage, with the exception of baby formula or prescriptions. The ban was relaxed within two months, although restrictions remain in place more than a decade later.

Policies like these have been largely accepted as part of airline travel in the United States. Bacon explains that such blanket security measures aren’t simply reactions, but also carefully crafted responses. “When there is a non-specific threat, raising security is often intended to deter or delay the terrorists in their plot,” she says.

Was the laptop ban successful?

Measuring the success of the ban is more complicated than estimating how many plots were foiled. Bacon explains that the goal of security measures like the laptop ban isn’t always to prevent identical attacks, but rather to send a message. “Sometimes governments take this kind of action to alert terrorists that they know something, thereby causing the terrorists to delay plots or change their tactics, which costs them time and resources, and can raise terrorist groups’ concern about infiltration. It helps keep them off balance.” she describes. Counterterrorism is thus an ongoing process, requiring intelligence and policy experts to anticipate risks and respond appropriately.

Are you interested in developing policy-based solutions to combat terrorism and protect homeland security? The Master of Science in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy, offered through American University’s School of Public Affairs, prepares students for a career in intelligence or homeland security. Visit http://www.american.edu/learnmorespagrad/MS-in-Terrorism-and-Homeland-Security-Policy.cfm to learn more.

Sources:

https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/03/21/fact-sheet-aviation-security-enhancements-select-last-point-departure-airports

https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/06/28/fact-sheet-aviation-enhanced-security-measures-all-commercial-flights-united-states

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/new-us-airline-security-measures-no-laptop-ban

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35521646

http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/11/africa/somalia-plane-bomb/index.html

 

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How to Build a Compelling Application File for Graduate School

By School of Public Affairs

Building a compelling graduate school application begins long before you actually apply. As you consider graduate school, it is critical that you understand the importance of managing the application process. Learn as much as you can about components required, school-specific preferences, priority deadlines, and decision-making, including who will review your file and in what time frame. Here are 10 steps to building a compelling graduate school application file.

1.      Do your homework.

Learn as much as you can about the program before you apply, from the faculty and administration to student body to available support services.

  • Faculty and Administration
    Start with the faculty directory. Identify key faculty members in your field of interest and review their Curriculum Vitae (CVs) to learn more about their scholarship, teaching, and service. Look for experts and practitioners who are doing work in your prospective field so you can be sure your interests will be supported. Administrators (i.e., admissions officers) also can prove valuable in learning more about an institution’s graduate degree offerings including curricula and the application/admissions process(es).
  • Current Students
    Take advantage of opportunities to meet current students and learn about their experience within the program. While each cohort will be different, you will still get an impression of how well you will fit within the program. Ask why they chose this program, what they like most, and what suggestions they have to ensure your success.
  • Student Service Support
    Student services, such as Academic Advisors and Career Services, can play an important role in academic success, internship opportunities, and future employment. Find out what services are offered, level of support provided, and hours of availability.

2.      Learn about essential application file components.

Most application files for graduate school have comparable requirements. These commonly include:

  • Unofficial transcripts from all previously attended postsecondary institutions
  • Personal statement
  • Resume/CV
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official test scores (i.e., GRE, GMAT)

Be sure to check with the institution directly for any additional requirements. For example, international applicants may be asked for additional test scores related to English proficiency.

3.      Pay attention to the deadlines.

While programs may accept applications on a rolling basis, priority deadlines are often promoted for applicants seeking merit aid consideration. Be aware that submissions received after the deadline may be subject to space and resource availability.

Deadlines for The School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University include both Fall and Spring admission terms:

  • Priority-February 15: Master’s first round consideration for Fall merit awards
  • Priority-May 1: Fall deadline for international master’s applicant submissions
  • Priority-September 15: Spring deadline for international master’s applicant submissions
  • Priority-November 1: Master’s first round consideration for Spring merit awards

4.      Know your audience.

Find out who makes admission decisions. Admissions professionals may have different priorities than a committee of faculty members. At The School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University, faculty-led admissions committees give each applicant’s file a thorough, holistic review. Successful applicants will demonstrate what they can add to the academic community, as well as their professional promise.

5.      Choose your references wisely.

Professors and employers are usually good resources for letters of recommendations. Recommendation letters are important, so take the time to visit with each of your references to discuss your graduate school and career aspirations. You may also consider sharing a draft of your personal statement to seek input and/or to better inform their letter. Finally, most recommenders appreciate your direction on what skill sets and attributes you hope they will speak to in their recommendation. Investing in selecting, informing, and coaching your references may considerably strengthen your application file and set it apart from others.

6.      Write a strong personal statement.

Your personal statement should reflect how you will fit within the program. Address what you want to study and why, how your experience has prepared you, and what you plan to do after completing your graduate degree. Be sure the statement is tailored to the specific school/department, it is succinct (1-1.5 pages, double-spaced), and, most importantly, is, indeed, a personal essay.

7.      Be sincere.

Write your application specifically for the school you want to attend. If the field you write about doesn’t truly interest you, that will come across in your application. Your references also should speak to how you will fit with the program.

8.      Give yourself prep time.

Most programs require admissions tests, and international applicants may also need to provide scores from English proficiency tests. Your scores may be important for both admissions decisions and merit aid consideration. Be sure to check with your schools/departments of interest to confirm what test(s) you need to take, the priority given to the test score(s) within an application file, and recommended test score thresholds.

9.      Position yourself for merit aid.

Start with all of the steps listed above, then make sure your application file is complete before the priority merit-aid deadlines. Proactively seek information from your graduate programs of interest about their merit aid allocation strategy so you can understand what they prioritize in determining merit, the types and levels of merit aid offered, and the timing for these important decisions to be rendered.

Graduate students are also eligible to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for consideration for Federal Loan options.

10. Get the answers you need.

Admissions professionals are available to help. The Office of Graduate Admissions (OGA) at The School of Public Affairs welcomes your questions.

  • Phone: 202.885.6230
  • Email: SPAapp@American.edu

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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Notes from Rome: An Interview with MFA Student Nancy Kidder

Last 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.

AU group in Rome.Nancy Kidder (center), 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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.