Student Stories

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Counting Your Chickens: Lucie Amundsen MFA '14

In a state rife with the frenzy of micro-brewing, Lucie Amundsen, a 2014 graduate of Hamline’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA), and her family have brought another “micro-brood” into play: their 2,000 pasture-raised chickens.

These chickens are the cornerstone of Amundsen’s recently published book, Locally Laid, published by the Penguin imprint Avery in 2016, which chronicles her family’s journey through the shotgun decision of starting a farm. A decision that started at a Mexican restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota, and ended in what Amundsen referred to as a full-fledged “farmgument.”

“I can never, ever go back to Mexico Lindo,” Amundsen said with a laugh.

After Amundsen’s husband flew out to Cambodia for a family emergency and witnessed his brother’s close encounter with death, he knew he could not go back to a cubicle lifestyle. It started with five chickens—the Amundsen’s “gateway livestock”—which led to Amundsen and her husband roost-training 2,000 chickens that had never seen the sun until coming to their farm. Withdrawal from the sun strips chickens of their natural instincts, such as roosting, and forces farmers who believe in pasture-raising to essentially rewire the birds. 

Which makes it a good thing that sleeping chickens are comparable to “malleable drunks,” as Amundsen says, because she and her husband spent two to three weeks staying up at night transferring sleeping chickens onto perches in order to roost-train them.

The whole leap into the world of middle agriculture was a learning experience to be sure, and one that Amundsen was not always on board with, but it makes for fascinating writing.

Amundsen started out writing about the experience in a blog about the family’s trials and successes with the birds, but along the way, she realized she could do more with it.

“Creative nonfiction takes you through incidental learning you might not otherwise come across,” Amundsen said, referring to both her own learning process and the learning process she hopes to provide for readers. “If I’ve done my job right, you care about the middle agriculture segment when you close the book.”

After moving from the Twin Cities up to Duluth, the subsequent removal from her writing contacts, and starting the chicken farm, Amundsen’s career as a freelance writer began to suffer. She needed something new, but she wasn’t sure what to do next. It wasn’t until she was walking on the beach and ran into a Hamline MFA graduate that she began to seriously think about going back to school.

It was a challenging three and a half years for Amundsen—she commuted down to the Twin Cities for class once a week and woke up at four a.m. every day so that she could put in writing time before tending to the farm—but Amundsen said she could not have written this book had she not studied in Hamline’s MFA program.

“I was a writer before—a reasonably successful one—but this program gave me the structure and confidence to write a longer work,” she said.

It also gave her a deeper understanding of craft that her journalism background hadn’t afforded her.

“There was this light bulb moment where I started to understand the interplay of summary and scene,” she said. “I was learning how to read as a writer and deconstruct all the tenants of good writing.”

And even though Amundsen had to commute two and a half hours each way to class, she said it was worth it.

“As a freelance writer, I really lacked that writing community,” she said. “Finding people who dig your minutia, who also want to talk at length about this craft, is really helpful.”

Beyond just the sphere of the Hamline community, Amundsen relishes her forays back into the Twin Cities. 

“Being steeped in a writing culture that values this art form makes all the difference,” she said. “To live someplace where people turn out for readers, that puts money into their libraries—you can really hold your head up and say that you’re contributing to this body of work and feel good about it. You don’t feel like a fish out of water here.”

What Amundsen could not express enough, though, was her gratitude for such an involved thesis process.

“The thesis process is so robust here,” she said. “Not a lot of programs have a two-semester thesis where your advisor reads and gives comments and you turn in a second draft.”

Overall, Amundsen said her Hamline experience made Locally Laid, which was named the Midwest Independent Bookseller’s best selling nonfiction book of the week the very week that is debuted, possible because of the confidence it gave her both in her writing and in herself.

“I definitely had some personal growth as well as growth in my writing process,” she said. “This program made me a stronger writer holistically.”

Find out more about Hamline’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree on the Creative Writing Programs website or contact Hamline's Graduate Admission Office to learn more about joining the Hamline community.