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    SPRING 2012: Dreaming Forward

    SPRING 2011: Before the Season Turns

    FALL 2010: Thresholds

    SPRING/SUMMER 2010: Heart on Page 


    Spring 2012


    A new semester has begun and with it, a new issue of the CWP Exchange, thanks to MFA student and CWP communications assistant Ben Kowalsky.  Ben has taken the reins from Carlee Tressel, former communications assistant extraordinaire, bringing his own unique lens and creativity to the enterprise.  A good deal has happened since our last CWP Exchange.  We have lots of news and ideas to share.

    On the difficult side, we learned that our MALS degree in its current form will no longer be offered at Hamline.  This decision was made as a result of a months-long program review process that occurred last year.  MALS was considered at risk because it had been experiencing dropping enrollment over a number of years.  While changes to the required curriculum and more proactive marketing helped, the increase in enrollment was very modest.  As a member of the program review committee, I recommended that the MALS program, due to its long history and strong reputation, be continued.  I believed that the degree had a strong enough foundation and provided solid enough value and meaning to students to warrant re-visioning.  Given the lack of evidence that further re-visioning would ensure significant growth in MALS, the decision was made to discontinue the program. 

    We know that this has been a painful decision for students, alums, faculty, and staff.  We are working with current students to ensure that their programs retain rigor and integrity and that each student completes his/her program with satisfaction.  The quality of the degree does not change with this decision; it maintains the same high standards and reputation it has always had.  In my role as Director of the Office of Graduate Programs and New Program Development, I will be working with my colleagues in the College to explore opportunities for other Master’s degree programs in the liberal arts.  It may be that a new version of the MALS degree will emerge from these discussions. 

    While this decision has come as a blow to our community, there’s a great deal happening in our programs to be excited about.  I want to applaud those students across our programs—BFA, MFA, MFAC, and MALS—who are entering their final semester and working on their senior seminar and capstones.  These students are diving deep into challenging and possibly life-changing projects.  As they create new works of art and scholarship, they are taking risks, striving for excellence, and synthesizing what they’ve learned at Hamline.

    We have launched a search for a new, tenure-track position in fiction to replace David Marshall Chan, who is not returning.  To date we have received a sizeable number of very strong applications from accomplished and experienced writers and teachers.  The search committee, made up of CWP and CLA faculty and a current MFA student, is hard at work.  We hope to bring finalists to campus sometime in March. During this visit, candidates will meet with the search committee and others, will make a presentation on craft to an MFA class, and will have the opportunity to meet with students.  Our aim is to hire a writer with excellent teaching credentials whose reputation and potential will enrich the faculty in CWP and attract students to our programs.

    What’s in store for summer?  We’ve created a new approach to our June course offerings, taking inspiration from the medieval June calendar.  We’re titling our offerings Making Hay—Writers at Work: A Month-Long Immersion.  Our goal is to offer students the opportunity to throw themselves into a particular form of writing, learn everything they can about it, and write their hearts out.  We’re offering “The Short Story” with John Reimringer, “Voice in Young Adult Fiction” with Swati Avasthi, “Poetry Forms: Sonnet and Fragment” with Juliet Patterson, and “Travel Memoir: Sharing the Journey” with Catherine Watson.

    For those students eager to return to Northfield in July for the annual Summer Writing Workshop, or those wanting to give this rewarding experience a try, we’re offering week-long sessions with three outstanding, award-winning writers:  Bob Hicok in poetry, Lia Purpura in creative nonfiction, and Nami Mun in fiction.  As usual, students can choose to commute to class each day or can stay on St. Olaf’s picturesque campus where—in addition to writing—they can use their free time to read, reflect, hike, and socialize. 

    Earlier in July (July 5-15), we’ll be deep into residency mode for the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.  Cris Crutcher, author of fourteen books for younger readers, including Angry Management, his most recent, is the keynote speaker for this summer’s commencement ceremony.  Also with us in July will be David Small, Caldecott-winning illustrator of multiple books for children and author of the graphic memoir, Stitches.  New MFAC faculty member Gene Yang, author of the graphic novel, American Born Chinese, winner of the Michael L. Printz Awar, will be joining the program in July.

    Our first two BFA graduates—Lewis Mundt and Chris Kinnibaugh—will receive their degrees in May.  Lewis is applying to MFA programs across the country while Chris is applying to law schools.  The word is out about Hamline’s newly launched major in creative writing/BFA, and we’re corresponding and meeting with a good number of prospective students—first year and transfer—interested in majoring in creative writing.  We’re also been engaged with our colleagues in the English department in discussions about how best to structure and staff undergraduate creative writing at Hamline.  This includes the BFA (major), the concentration and minor, and creative writing courses open to all students.  Together we have decided that while the English department will determine the requirements for the concentration and minor and will advise on the makeup of courses, the actual course content and staffing will be provided by CWP.  We’ll be able to spell this out in more detail in our next CWP Exchange. 

    Do read the recent news regarding awards and publications for our faculty, students, and alums.  New books, poems, essays, articles, and short stories being published; recognition and awards for completed work; new initiatives launched and jobs begun—it makes an impressive array of accomplishments.  Just this month, two of our MFA alums won highly sought-after awards in young adults fiction:  the Cybil Award for Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast, and a Stonewall Honor Award for With or Without You by Brian Farrey.

    On February 29, a large contingent of Hamline faculty, students, alums, and staff are heading for Chicago to attend the 2012 Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference.  Six faculty—Barrie Jean Borich, Sheila O’Connor, Mary Rockcastle, Katrina Vandenberg, Phyllis Root, and Jackie Briggs-Martin—are presenting or moderating panels and giving readings.  CWP and Water~Stone Review are hosting a Happy Hour On Friday, March 2, at Elephant & Castle Pub, 111 West Adams Street in Chicago.  The Conference sold out early, and we fully expect our Water~Stone Review/CWP booth to be a beehive of activity.

    While we’re still formally in the middle of a Minnesota winter, it feels closer to spring than usual.  Maybe that’s a state of mind rather than weather.  Either way, may we all go on creating, reading, dreaming, and striving.

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    Spring 2011


     As I write this, the cherry blossoms are in bloom ins Washington, D.C., crocuses are up in New York City, and We've just had another snow storm in the twin cities. I hope the lilacs are out when you read this new issue of the Exchange. We will be looking ahead to the end of the semester, final capstone conferences, and commencement for thirty-eight of our MALS and MFA students. Before the season turns, however, I'd like to reflect on some of the highlights of this past winter

    AWP and Publishing

    In late February, a number of faculty, staff, students, and alums attended the AWP Conference in Washington, D.C. Water~Stone Review was one of hundreds of literary magazines and presses represented in the cavernous Book Fair. Assistant Poetry Editor Gretchen Rueth drove from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., with a carload of Water~Stone Reviews and Hamline promotional material, gamely staying ahead of the blizzard that shut down parts of the Midwest. Meghan Maloney-Vinz admirably oversaw the staffing (with generous help from faculty, students, and alums) of our two tables, selling the strengths of our programs and of Water~Stone Review.

    Barrie Jean Borich served on two creative nonfiction panels and, as a board member of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, was in the thick of the controversy generated by VIDA’S survey of gender imbalance in literary publishing (see “The Count 2010”). Our adjunct faculty made a strong showing. Katrina Vandenberg gave a reading and engaged in a discussion of her work with Daniel Slager, editor of Milkweed Editions. Swati Avasthi was on a panel focusing on young adult fiction, and John Reimringer presented with MFA alum Haley Lasché on the challenges of writing from a Catholic perspective.  

    I attended a session devoted to works inspired by Melville’s Moby Dick, the focus of one of our MALS courses this spring (“Reading Moby, Reading America”) taught by Garvin Davenport. One of the panelists was Dan Beachy-Quick, author of The Whaler’s Dictionary, a text being used in the course. Dan talked about the life-changing impact this great American novel has had on his life as a writer: “Moby Dick was the book that offered up what the world of writing in all its complexity could be. I asked myself, ‘How can Ishmael’s experience make me a better writer?’ When you read something of this quality, work is required from you in response. The act of reading, for me, becomes an act of writing. Literary criticism isn’t about stepping back.  It’s about stepping into the squall.”

    A conversation with Richard Bausch set the stage for the stimulating visit he made to Hamline in early March. “Being a teacher,” he said, “means providing a place for someone struggling with her talent, being as supportive as possible, letting the writing be what it is. When I teach, I get to be an apostle, get to turn people on. I don’t teach writing—I teach patience.” When asked if he thinks writing becomes easier with age and success, he said, “Being a writer gets harder, never easier. The more you know, the more you know about the possibilities in every line you write. Confusion, doubt, and uncertainty are all normal for the writer. If you feel doubt, that doubt is probably your talent.”  

    Another session at AWP focused on what editors love in the work they choose to publish. Editors and publishers from Tin House, Orion, Graywolf Press, McSweeney’s Books, Milkweed Editions, and Soft Skull Press shared what makes them stop and take notice when reading a manuscript: engagement and authority—an author in complete control of his or her world; singular language that speaks the truth; believable characters being human; a heightened level of curiosity about the world; expansive intelligence; language that is luminous, compelling, curious, and original; fully accomplished upon arrival.  

    Asked about the importance of publishing in prestigious magazines in order to place a manuscript of short stories, Andrew Leland of McSweeney’s replied: “Of course that helps, but don’t aim only for the most elite magazines. Aim for a magazine whose work you like that you would be proud to be published in.” Other editors concurred.  

    I followed up on this question with an email to Katie Dublinski, Associate Publisher of Graywolf Press. “We do consider the magazines where an author has placed his or her stories,” she wrote, “but the work itself is the first consideration. We accept full manuscripts as the first submission, so previous publication history has become less important . . . If we take on the book, previous publications put the book in context for our marketing team, the sales force at FSG, booksellers, etc. Obviously it’s good to start with the top tier magazines, but the author also should look for smaller ones that publish work that s/he admires . . . . If it’s a first book, I’d recommend looking at some of the available contests—especially the Bakeless Prizes, for which Graywolf publishes the winner. They have a good process, and in addition to publication, the winner gets a scholarship to Bread Loaf.”

    I also asked Chris Fischbach, Associate Publisher of Coffee House Press, for his input on this issue of publishing short stories. “For me, it is helpful to list at least some publications . . . . The New Yorker is impressive, yes, of course, but for me, Conjunctions or Conduit might be a lot more telling, aesthetically. I look at those for their aesthetics mainly, not their prominence. That said, if they (i.e., publications) aren’t impressive, or if the author doesn’t have any, don’t draw attention to it. I’m more interested in the brief description and highlights of the collection, anyway. How they talk about their work is very important, way more so than the list.”

    This point of view was seconded by Richard Bausch during his recent visit. Winner of the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story and author of stories placed in Best American Short Stories, O’Henry Prize Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and The Granta Book of the American Short Story, Bausch has published stories in magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and Harper’s. He is also proud of the stories he’s published in literary magazines like Wig Wag, Five Points, and Glimmer Train Stories. His advice is to read a range of literary magazines and submit work to those magazines you admire. (For more insights from Bausch's visit, read current MFA student Gerri Johnson' s reflection in this issue of the Exchange.)

    Another thing for the short story writer to keep in mind is that many agents read widely among literary magazines looking for talent. Siobhan Fallon is the author of the debut short story collection, You Know When the Men Are Gone (Amy Einhorn Books, 2011), that received stellar reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and the New York Times Book Review. “I’d been sending stories out to literary magazines for over ten years,” she said in an interview in Irish America, noting, too, that she attempted unsuccessfully to secure a literary agent or book publisher. Finally, an agent contacted her, having read one of her stories in Salamander, a literary magazine in Boston. He asked her what else she had. “It was like winning the lottery,” Fallon said.

    Out-of-the-Box Projects from Students and Alums 

    Our students and alums are creating innovative ways to put their passions and educations to work in the world. Here’s a sample: Jen March, MFA '08, founded Co-Kisser, a poetry-film production company that produces one film based on a poetry manuscript per year. Current MFA students Nuria Sheehan, Pam Schmid, and Elizabeth Brenner started GROUT, a blog meant to expand the discussion of creative nonfiction. Naomi Kinsman Downing, MFAC '10, founded the Society for Young Inklings, whose goal is to empower young artists (ages 6-16) to tell their stories through school residencies, development of game-based writing curriculum, and teacher training (read an essay by Naomi in this issue of the Exchange). Jeffrey Ledermann, MALS '94, created the Eco Experience Exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair, a joint project with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Alison Morse, MFA '06, founded Talking Image Connection (TIC), an organization that connects emerging poets and writers with adventurous visual artists and new audiences. Kelly Westhoff, MALS ’01, has gone public with her love for haiku poetry with Haiku By Two, a website dedicated to discussing, posting, and reviewing haiku. Elissa Cottle, current MFA student, just launched a new reading series—Gwendolyn’s Room—held at art spaces across southwest Minneapolis. Maya Washington, MFA '06, founded White Space Poetry Project, dedicated to illuminating the poetry, ideas, and performance of talented artists throughout the world.

    Current student Julia Jensen and alums Meg Masterson, MFA '11, Kate Shuknecht, MFA '11, and Meghan Maloney-Vinz, MFA '07, founded Broadcraft Press, a book-arts cooperative dedicated to publishing beautiful hand-made books. Geoff Herbach and Brady Bergeson, MFA '06, Stephanie Ash, MFA '08, and Sam Osterhout, MFA '03, co-founded the Lit 6 Project, which gave birth to Electric Arc Radio, a stage performance that combines literature and rock ‘n’ roll, and Electric Arc Productions. John Medeiros, MFA '06, and Andrea Jenkins, MFA ‘10, co-curate Queer Voices: A GLBT Reading Series, co-sponsored by Intermedia Arts and Hamline University. Justin Maxwell, MFA '00, Rebecca Weaver, MFA '01, Nathan Thompson, MALS '03, and Ralph Pennel, MFA '03, co-founded Midway Journal, on online literary journal which publishes “boundary-crossing” work by new and established writers. Singer-songwriter Erik Brandt, MALS '07, created Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet, which has played at venues across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Steve Mueske, MFA '02, founded Three Candles Press, committed to publishing fine contemporary poetry. Lewis Mundt, current BFA student, published his first book of poetry and short prose, You Better Close That Window; They Say It's Gonna Rain Tonight, and founded the Hamline University Poetry Slam (HUPS) that combines poetry and theatrics with hard-hitting delivery and competition. (For more accomplishments by our students and alums, visit the Muse News page in this issue of the Exchange.)

    Water and the Future  

    As parts of Minnesota brace for spring flooding, large portions of the southern United States remain under a severe to extreme drought watch. The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan have taken the lives of thousands of people to date, and parts of Japan are still underwater. Meanwhile, Japanese workers continue to pump gallons of seawater into damaged nuclear reactors to prevent nuclear meltdown. It is timely and very fitting, then, that water is the subject of the fall AGLSP (Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs) Conference in Saratoga, New York. The conference will explore how interdisciplinary approaches and dialogue can illuminate and address problems and solutions to issues presented by this crucial natural resource.

    “If I had written a novel in which an 8.9 magnitude earthquake erupted off the northern coast of Japan, an earthquake powerful enough to move the earth’s crust and shift its rotation, leading to a deadly tsunami and a possible nuclear meltdown, killing thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands missing or homeless, you would have said it was nothing more than another unlikely sci-fi romp.” So wrote MFA alum David Oppegaard, author of two published novels of speculative fiction, on his blog. “This is why science fiction matters!”

    In a March 28 “Talk of the Town” piece in The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote, “As the disaster in Japan illustrates, so starkly and tragically, people have a hard time planning for events that they don’t want to imagine happening. But these are precisely the events that must be taken into account in a realistic assessment of risk. We’ve more or less pretended that our nuclear plants are safe, and so far we have got away with it. The Japanese have not.”

    So I look to the future with hope, fear, and faith in the power of the imagination. My concern over the complex national and global problems we face is mitigated by my belief in the work all of you are doing to create change in the larger world through your ideas, ingenuity, and art.

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    Fall 2010


    I was lucky enough recently to walk through the woods in western Wisconsin, near the cabin my husband and I own, just when fall colors were peaking. I experienced this perfect moment years ago, but every year since I’ve managed to miss it—too early, too late, too busy, too overcast. I love two things about this moment: the experience of absolute, if temporary beauty, and immersion into such a rich, liminal state of being. For this brief pocket of time, summer and I are on the cusp, the sky raining quaking golden leaves.

    This is also what I love about being part of the Creative Writing Programs at Hamline—as a leader, teacher, colleague, fellow learner.  All of us standing at, and then walking across, the threshold of one world into another: who we are, who we want to be. I’m as excited by the students in the MFA Core Seminar I’m teaching as I hope (to God) they’re excited by me. With each book we read, each discussion we have in class, and each project students turn in, I’m thinking about my own evolution as a writer as well as theirs.

    I just returned from the annual AGLSP (Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs) Conference in Dallas, Texas. The theme was The Transformation of the 21st Century City. One of the presentations I attended focused on the evolution of the brain in a digital age. Drawing on the work of such cognitive neuroscientists as Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, the presenter discussed the kind of brain needed for the deep reading and reflection demanded by the humanities and the multi-mobile capabilities of a digital world. One of the questions he raised has stayed with me: How do we, as educators, ensure that our students are prepared for this digital, multi-media world without losing the reflective capacities of the reading mind? We need to move fast and be able to multitask as well as slow down enough to allow for the more time-consuming cognitive processes of contemplation. As students of liberal studies and creative writing, we embrace rapidly changing virtual worlds as well as Socrates’ slower-moving examined life.

    So, what’s going on in this fall? Our MALS and MFA students are in the thick of classes and hard at work on their capstone projects. MFAC students are working diligently on their monthly packets—here in Minnesota and across the country. Three courses are underway in the College for students in or contemplating a BFA. New issues of rock, paper, scissors and Water~Stone Review are just out (WSR reading on October 22), and our annual Colloquium is set for November 13. We’re looking ahead to January (especially our MFAC residency) and a rich line-up of spring courses.

    Two new faculty will be teaching MALS/MFA elective courses this spring. Poonam Arora, the Associate Vice President of Diversity Integration at Hamline, is teaching a course entitled “Woman, Power, and Peace” that will examine the role of women in institutions of power and the building of peace in their respective societies. Garvin Davenport, former Dean of CLA and Vice President of Student and Academic Affairs,  is teaching “Reading Moby, Reading America,” an exploration of the role that Moby Dick has played as an American icon, inspiring academic texts as well as novels, opera, paintings, films, illustrations, cartoons, and political commentary.

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    Spring/Summer 2010

    Heart on Page

    After a too-long hiatus, Exchange is back—with a new format and a new editor. For those of you who prefer the look and feel of a paper copy arriving in the mail, I hope you will make the leap to our online versions. It will enable us to come out more regularly, with more options regarding style and content, and far less cost. We're very happy to welcome our new editor for the Exchange, MFA student Carlee Tressel.

    So what’s been happening? It’s no exaggeration to say that we’ve been charging full steam ahead. In fall 2009, I returned to the classroom to teach a second MFA Core Seminar alongside Deborah Keenan. While I have enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to serve as Dean of GLS, I have now re-experienced the sheer joy of teaching. I loved the intellectual and creative challenge, the interaction with students, and the feeling of a day well spent as I walked across campus to my car each Monday evening. It made me value anew the gifts and generosity of the faculty in GLS and the courage and commitment of our students who have made the decision, sometimes with great sacrifice, to pursue the dream of an advanced degree in creative writing or liberal studies. I plan to be back in the Core Seminar classroom in September.

    This spring we launched a new undergraduate major in creative writing and a BFA program, the first of its kind at Hamline. We are drawing on the expertise and experience of faculty in GLS and the English department to offer this exciting new degree. Students choosing the BFA will complete fifteen courses in the major: nine courses in creative writing taught by GLS faculty and six courses in English taught by members of the English department. This new degree will make Hamline the first university in the United States to offer three fine arts degrees in creative writing.

    Our January residency for the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults ended with a beautiful commencement ceremony on Sunday, January 17—keynote address given by award-winning author Jane Yolen—and a raucous, exuberant banquet in the Kay Fredericks Room complete with a student talent show and a buoyant sing-along with Kelly Krebs on piano and our no-words-to-describe-it faculty choir. Over and over the students starting the program came up to me and said, "This is amazing. It’s exceeded all my expectations."

    In her keynote address, Jane Yolen talked about the power of Story for us as individuals and as a society. She called upon the graduates and their fellow students to hold fast to the dream and power of story regardless of how quickly and dramatically the world is changing:

    There may not be books in quite the way we know them now, but stories will still be told. There might not be movies or poetry or songs the way we know them now, but there will still be storytellers, still be bards and singers, so relax. Think of it this way: would Guttenberg get the Kindle? Would DaVinci enjoy Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics? Would Michelangelo paint Harry Potter images on the ceilings of college halls? Would Sappho understand Sylvia Plath’s angst over a male poet? Would Mozart be able to parse Jesus Christ, Superstar or Puccini be flattered by Rent? They were the challenges and game-changers of their day.

    Her parting advice: "learn to love the work itself (and possibly hate it in equal measure), do it regularly, and learn the magic word—BIC. That stands for Butt in Chair. And its corollary—HOP: Heart on Page."

    I’m mindful of Yolen’s words as we launch a new creative writing major/BFA degree. There’s an inherent contradiction in the fact that so many students want to study creative writing at the undergraduate and graduate levels and yet the traditional vehicle for publishing one’s work—the mainstream literary marketplace—is only a shadow of its former self. Dozens of publishing houses have closed up shop or been absorbed into bigger companies. What seems to drive the industry today is not the thirst for literature as we know and admire it but the desire for plot-driven narratives with high-concept appeal. The good news is that a very large alternative small and university press industry has emerged in the vacuum, committed to good writing with a seriousness of purpose that reflects the complexity of the human condition. While these presses are still publishing good poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, they don’t pay what the mainstream market once did. In other words, today’s writer needs a good day job to pay the bills. Teaching is an option, but there simply aren’t enough teaching jobs to employ all of the creative writing graduates. So what does this mean—give up creative writing or the dream of becoming a published author? NO! You do, however, need to be smart about making a living.

    This holds true for all of our graduates—MALS, MFA, MFAC, and BFA. Our job is to give you the best education we can to help you realize your dreams of becoming well-educated, skilled writers and thinkers and to equip you in selling your skills to potential employers.

    All of us together, however, have another, bigger, job to do. In addition to being the disseminators and creators of big ideas and good writing, we need to be avid consumers of good books and good literary and alternative magazines. These magazines are the places where our MFA and MALS graduates will publish their work, will be discovered, will build credentials for teaching and for winning grants. If we don’t do this, who will?

    Jane Yolen said we should not fear the changes electronic media may bring to the book as we know it. The work itself—the creation of literary art, research-based nonfiction, and other, text-based material—will live on regardless of the changing mediums. In GLS we’re committed to making that work—whether it’s presented orally, on the page, or digitally—the best it can be in terms of quality and relevance. Let’s commit together to making best sellers of the kinds of books we want to write and read, and to creating a healthy marketplace for literary and alternative magazines.

    One of the questions we regularly ask our students is, "What’s your stuff?" What is it you stand for, believe in, care about? In grappling with this question, students explore issues and questions that are deeply meaningful for them, and, in the process, gain the skills and confidence to create work that has the potential of touching hearts and minds. We ask our writing students to write what haunts them, to plumb their own depths for "images that shimmer around the edges," in Joan Didion’s words. As we attempt to answer these questions and to uncover the patterns in our own lives that reappear in our creative endeavors, let’s be mindful of the challenges facing us in the larger human and natural world.

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  • News


    MFAC faculty member Anne Ursu received the prestigious "starred review" from Kirkus Reviews for her forthcoming novel, "The Troubled Girls Of Dragomir Academy."


    MFA alum Susan Triemert's flash essay 'Snowball,' was recently published by Anti-Heroin Chic. Anti-Heroin Chic is a collective journal of poetry, photography, art work, stories, essays, interviews and more.