Student Stories

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Recharting His Path: Peter Pearson MFAC ’12

What do playing the banjo, practicing astrophysics, and directing a prison writing workshop all have in common? They lead to writing a children’s book on how to eat an airplane.

Well, they did for Peter Pearson, MFA-Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) ’12, anyway. Pearson is the author of How to Eat an Airplane (Katherine Tegen Books, 2016), a picture book “about how to consume a jetliner and not embarrass yourself in front of your friends, which I think is something we can all relate to,” as he puts it. 

Pearson has always loved to write, but he didn’t consider a career as an author until later in his life. Instead, he received his bachelor’s degree in science, focusing on math, physics, and philosophy. He thought he was going to be a science professor, but along the way decided that it just wasn’t for him. During his undergraduate career, he had taken a class on children’s literature, and it was something that stuck with him, but not something he pursued right away. 

In fact, it wasn’t until about ten years after he received his bachelor’s degree that he found his way into Hamline’s MFAC program. The really great thing about Hamline, he said, is that students in the program come with a wide range of writing experience—some people have only been writing for a year or two, and some have already published ten books. It brings a variety to the table, and as Pearson said, “The common thread is that everyone is really serious about it and is devoted to the craft, and that’s an energizing thing.”

Pearson wrote How to Eat an Airplane during his third semester at Hamline. He had written a middle-grade novel manuscript and was working with faculty member Phyllis Root on picture books. During that time, he sat down and randomly wrote, “If you want to eat an airplane, the most important thing is to mind your manners.” 

“And I thought, ‘That’s a weird sentence; I’m curious about that,’” Pearson said, laughing. 

It seems like a strange topic for a picture book, but when Pearson explained where it originated, it made more sense. 

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records,” Pearson said. “[How to Eat an Airplane] ended up being related to a guy in the Guinness Book of World Records who actually did something kind of similar in the late 70s.”

Appropriate, for a children’s book author to cite a book he read in third grade as his inspiration. 

“This book wouldn’t exist without Hamline, honestly,” Pearson continued. “Hamline is a place where you can incubate your strange and interesting and beautiful ideas.” 

Person went on to talk about the Hamline community, which he said is “small enough that it feels really intimate, but large enough that there’s just like this robust community.” 

“I think Hamline really hits the sweet spot of the size of a program that you would be looking for. One where you get a lot of individualized attention, but you also have a lot of comrades-at-arms who are doing the same stuff.”

When embellishing on the amount of individualized attention students receive from faculty, Pearson added, “It’s really similar, honestly, to working with an editor.”

How to Eat an Airplane is the first of a two-book contract, but Pearson has his sights on a career that envelopes much more than just two books. 

“Right now, at this exact moment, I can honestly sit here and tell you that my career as an author is starting,” Pearson said. “Five years from now, I hope to have my novel out and some more picture books, and just be on the way to having a long, enduring career in this crazy world of children’s literature.”

The best thing Pearson said he has gained from becoming a published author is the change in mindset it has created. 

“I thought, ‘oh, I’m the kind of person who can write a novel, I guess’, like that’s really cool,” he said. “And it changes what you think of yourself as being capable of, and that’s huge.”

Pearson’s final note on the program was this: “So, honestly, I’ll tell you a secret: attending the Hamline MFAC program is the closest thing that you can get in real life to going to Hogwarts. It’s this magical school with these amazing, magical professors, and you look around yourself and think, ‘Is this really graduate school? Am I having this much fun and learning this much and it’s really this enjoyable?’ And the answer is yes, actually, this is a real thing. But it’ll take a while for that to sink in.”

Find out more about Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults degree on the Creative Writing Programs website or contact Hamline's Graduate Admission Office to learn more about joining the Hamline community.