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KAREN RIGBY, MFA 2004, Poetry

Karen RigbyA graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Minnesota’ s MFA program, Karen Rigby is currently one of the co-founders and co-editors of Cerise Press, a journal of literature, arts, and culture based in the United States and France. She has published in a variety of journals, and received a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Rigby currently freelances in Arizona. She won the 2011 Sawtooth Poetry Prize and her first collection will be published in 2012 by Ahsahta Press.

Writing had long been an art I knew would play a role in my life, but Minnesota clarified what I would concretely do on a day-to-day basis, which turned out to be not the teachingof writing, but the shepherding of it – through editing, publishing, interviewing, and reviewing. The optimism, limitless talents, and unparalleled drive in my colleagues – all of whom are flourishing – reaffirmed that there is room for risk-taking endeavors, and that however many publications exist, there are still greater voices to be heard. Were it not for the three years spent in a setting that encourages independence, the path would have been much different. I consider it a privilege to have featured several alumni in an international venue; their work stands among the innovative voices of today.

 

AMY SHEARN, MFA 2005, Fiction

ShearnAmy Shearn is a graduate of the University of Iowa and University of Minnesota’s MFA program. Her first novel, How Far Is The Ocean From Here, was published by Shaye Areheart Books in 2008. Her second novel, tentatively titled The Double Life of Jenny Lipkin, is forthcoming from Touchstone in 2013. Her writing has appeared in Poets & Writers, The L Magazine, Opium, Five Chapters, and elsewhere, including the 2009 Found anthology Requiem for a Paper Bag. She has taught for Sackett Street Writers, Gotham Writers' Workshop, and NYU, and currently writes for Oprah.com. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two kids.

I think of my years in the MFA program at the U as being kind of like a writer’s fantasy camp. How lucky, to get to play Writer for three glorious, funded years! And what better place than icy Minnesota, where winter pleasantly oppresses you into long hours of writing (while the Twin Cities’ literary community lures you out again)? I loved getting to teach, I loved that it was only one class at a time, I loved being encouraged to take out-of-genre courses, I loved my smart classmates.
I was lucky to work with brilliant writers and teachers here: Charlie Baxter taught me to see through my characters’ eyes, how to avoid melodrama without avoiding action, and crucially, how to teach; Maria Fitzgerald generously put me through novel-writing boot camp; Steven Polansky led me to reconsider prose style and its place in fiction. Invaluable lessons, all. And then fantastic out-of-genre courses like David Treuer’s semester-long study of Nabokov’s Pale Fire. John Minczeski’s eye-opening poetry seminar and Joyce Lyon’s undergraduate painting class set my brain zinging in wonderful ways. Also, I really like Kathleen. It’s been exciting to see my classmates from my year go on to publish great works –Kevin Fenton’s Merit Badges, Cheri Johnson’s Fun & Games and Stephanie Johnson’s Kinesthesia are among my favorite books of all times -- and do various other interesting things. So in answer to Somebody’s Grandma, who I heard at our graduation ceremony saying loudly, “They have a DEGREE in CREATIVE WRITING?” – Yes, and it’s real, and it’s spectacular.

 

ALYSON SINCLAIR, MFA 2007, PoetrySinclair

Alyson Sinclair’s work has appeared or in the journals Tin House, Makeout Creek, and 110, among others. After leaving the program, she worked as a publicist at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York City and at the legendary City Lights. She is now the Publicity Director at McSweeney's.

I am grateful to the University of Minnesota's Creative Writing Program for giving me the opportunity to teach, but I am even more appreciative of the support I received to explore publishing as a career path. Julie Schumacher and Maria Fitzgerald encouraged my interest in literary publishing. My first year in the program, I was a poetry editor for dislocate and that year we brought the first print issue into the world. The following year I was the Managing Editor and I became interested in finding ways to increase the quality of our submissions and increase our readership. This is when I first became interested in publicity and marketing. At this time, Maria Fitzgerald was working hard to bring the undergraduate literary journal back to life. She understood that MFA students should have other career opportunities besides teaching, and supported MFA-alum Marge Barrett and I in helping relaunch the undergrad journal Ivory Tower. I am excited to see that dislocate and Ivory Tower are still going strong. Both journals owe a great deal to the efforts of both the students who put in long hours and to the MFA faculty who gave us the space, funding, and support from the very start.

 

NATE SLAWSON, MFA 2008, Poetry

Nate Slawson is the author of Panic Attack, USA (YesYes Books, 2011) and two
chapbooks. He lives in Chicago and is the publisher and editor of cinematheque press.

SlawsonUpon arriving at the University of Minnesota, I knew next to nothing about writing, about myself as a writer, about the great young writers beginning to publish around the country,
and so much more. I did, however, know three things: I needed time, I wanted to teach, and I was going to die trying. Some people argue about MFA programs, some people
call them “factories,” as if a university program turns out the same finished products year after year. That’s the lazy skeptic’s thinking anyway. Skepticism be damned! Towork three years on project after project, failed manuscript after failed manuscript, all the while talking your way through idea after idea and book after book and poem after poem with the most welcoming teachers/mentors a worker-in-progress could have: Julie Schumacher, the ambassador of cross-genres, and Ray Gonzalez, the poet’s poet. This is another great thing about the three-year MFA program at Minnesota: you can plan
as daunting a course as you like, and you can make sure you will work your ass off—everyone, and I mean everyone, at the university is there to help you navigate.

 

SUSAN TAYLOR, MFA 2001, FictionTaylor

Susan Taylor earned a B.A. in English Language and Literature from California State University, Los Angeles and an M.F. A with fiction emphasis and a minor degree in Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy Studies from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in 2001. She participated in the Loft Literary Center Mentor Series in 2003-2004. Her work has appeared in Rosebud, Binx Street, 3A.M. Magazine, The Rake, Moondance, and the anthologies From Inside Grief: Death, Loss and Bereavement, published by Wise Press, and Blink: Sudden Fiction by Minnesota Writers, published by Spout Press. Her flash fiction piece, “Bomb Threat” will be included in the upcoming Spout Press release Blink Again. She is a member of the English faculty at Saint Paul Community and Technical College.

If it hadn’t been for the University of Minnesota offering me a fellowship, I would never had dared to take my own writing seriously enough to pursue an M.F.A. The M.F. A. program did, and that vote of confidence and offer of support gave me the courage to throw what would fit into a decrepit Toyota and come here. It changed my life: I had the opportunity to work with gifted writers who are also talented, generous teachers, like Julie Schumacher, Valerie Miner, and Michael Dennis Browne, and with a community of writers who brought out the best in one another’s work. At the U of M,I learned about writing, and I learned about teaching and creating a supportive and productive community where writing is valued. I have since taught at Century College, where I helped students found a creative writing club and a student publication, and I am now teaching at Saint Paul College, where I was able to design and teach the first creative writing class at the college, organize the first student reading of creative writing to ever happen there, publish a small anthology of student work, and help students build a lively, diverse and student creative writing association.

 

JOSH WALLAERT, MFA 2007, Fiction

Josh WallaertJosh Wallaert co-directed the documentary Arid Lands (Bullfrog Films, 2007) and has published stories in TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, Gettysburg Review, and Black Warrior Review. He lives in San Francisco, where he is assistant editor of Places [at]Design Observer.

This is what an MFA program should look like: Three years, three genres, fully funded, at a public university with a downtown campus in the heart of a literary city, covered with snow for what seems like the entire academic year. You teach, you read, you listen to the steam radiator and write. Everything is quiet. Your friends, your peers become your colleagues, and there is something miraculous in that transformation, because it means you have become writers. (Real writers, ma!) Then you read these loud, boisterous books they publish about places that are nothing like Minnesota -- Jackson, Queens;
Hialeah, Florida -- and still you hear the quietness of Charlie Baxter's seminar on subtext in the dead of winter and the bus ride home at night. You learn to be generous here, and serious about your work, and if you're lucky you learn to read. The writing you figure out in your own time. The program supported me taking a year off to make a documentary film, and my stories are better for it.

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