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Alumni In-Depth

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SARAH FOX, MFA 2012, PoetrySarah Fox

Sarah Fox, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, grew up in Milwaukee. Coffee House Press published Because Why in 2006, and The First Flag in 2013. She’s currently working on a docupoetry project called Mother Substance, a multivalent examination of the synthetic estrogen Diethylstilbestrol (DES)—heavily prescribed to pregnant women from 1941 through the mid-1970s—and its devastating effects on the bodies of women. She lives in NE Minneapolis where, with her husband John Colburn (MFA, Poetry, 1999), they co-imagine the Center for Visionary Poetics. She works as a program consultant for the Friends of the Hennepin County Library, and also serves as a doula. While in the MFA program, Sarah received the Academy of American Poets’ James Wright Poetry Award, a Gessell Fellowship artist’s residency at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN, and a Graduate Research Parternship Program Fellowship.

When I came to the U’s MFA Program, I had been living in the Twin Cities for 15 years and was active in the literary community here. My daughter had just moved to New York to attend college, and I had only recently completed my Bachelor’s degree in English (I kept putting off the Math requirement!). I was feeling stuck in my own writing after the publication of my first book, and the options available to me for teaching—which I loved and wanted to pursue—were limited. It was an incredible fortune to have been accepted into the program, and in every way the timing could not have been more perfect. Although I was, let’s say, a rather unconventional student (e.g. considerably older than most of my cohort and already occupying an empty nest), I landed a spot in arguably the most marvelous MFA class of all time. The stars really aligned to bring us together, as a group, we could not have been more supportive, or fond, of each other. It felt, and still feels, like my classmates are family. With two poets in my cohort—A.T. Grant and Lucas de Lima—we formed a “salon” where we constantly generated new work through a variety of collaborative projects, and refined/redefined our aesthetic and social poetic missions by sharing in the discovery of poets, writers, performers, artists, theorists, and skools we were mutually and intensely drawn to. Thissalon, along with the many resources available to me at the University, in the faculty (especially Julie Schumacher, Maria Damon, Ray Gonzalez, and Michael Dennis Browne—who we had the good luck of apprenticing with just before his retirement), classes and visiting lecturers in other departments, travel opportunities, and general camaraderie, truly reawakened my creative daemons. My students, too, were so inspiring, and taught me so much. It was a dream gig and it absolutely changed my life.


MATT BURGESS, MFA 2009, Fiction

Portrait: Matt Burgess

Matt Burgess, a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens. His first novel—Dogfight, A Love Story, published by Doubleday in 2010—was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, an Indie Next List Great Reads selection, and one of Publishers’ Weekly’s top ten most promising debuts of the season. He lives with his fiancée Georgia Banks in Minneapolis, MN. While in the MFA program, Matt received a Gesell Award for his fiction.

At the University of Minnesota's MFA program I had wonderfully generous teachers like Charlie Baxter and Julie Schumacher, and my peers there were all encouraging and talented and very serious about books. We didn't have to compete for funding, which freed us up to root for one another and to support one another's projects. I think it also helped that we were all doing such different things: short stories about Conan the Barbarian and babies falling into wells and differential equations; young adult novels, meta-romance novels, coming-of-age novels in India and Turkey and Egypt and Los Angeles and Pennsylvania and upstate New York. And that doesn't even take into account the exciting work people were doing in nonfiction and poetry.




Haddayr Copley-Woods is a speculative writer with fiction in places such as Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, Best Romantic Fantasy, and Year's Best American Erotica. She once sold a story to a Firefox plug-in. She is also an essayist, blogger, and a radio commentator for Minnesota Public radio. Her blog, essays, and commentaries often focus on disability issues and civil rights: specifically those surrounding autism and physical disabilities. By day, she’ s an advertising copywriter, and by night she collects and frames hate mail from anti-vaccination activists while working on various as-yet unsold speculative novels.

At the U, I was grateful to people like Maria Fitzgerald for dragging me kicking and screaming into the experimental. What I gained most from the U, however, was community. The other writers I met in the program are still my most steadfast supporters, collaborators, and faithful friends. We encourage each other, pass on writing and teaching opportunities, work together in writing groups, and challenge each other to grow as writers. We even babysit each others' kids. The people I met here are excellent writers, but far more important, they are wonderful people.


KEVIN FENTON, MFA 2005, Nonfiction

Kevin Fenton

Kevin Fenton is the author of Merit Badges, which won the AWP Award for the Novel.

If it weren’t for the Minnesota MFA program, I would not have published Merit Badges or, worse yet, I would have published a lesser version of the book. And I say this even though my concentration was in memoir, not fiction. Many strands intertwined to make my experience invaluable: the richness of the thinking about craft, the conscientiousness with which teachers pushed the limits of the workshop format, the commitment to book-length work fostered by the third year, the cultural oxygen of the Twin Cities literary community, and the enduring writerly friendships the program made possible. I was a better writer when I left the MFA program than when I entered it––and I wasn’t just a little better. I was exponentially, dramatically, transformationally better. As an older student – I entered the program at the age of 42 – I’m absolutely convinced of the value of a Minnesota MFA. I was my own control group: I learned more about writing in the three years I spent at the U of M than in the twenty years I spent reading and writing on my own after college.


AMANDA FIELDS, MFA 2005, Nonfiction

FieldsAmanda Fields’ work has been published in Indiana Review, Brevity, Cerise Press, Superstition Review, and Siouxland Magazine, and has been reprinted in Bedford/St. Martin’s The Compact Reader: Short Essays by Method and Theme. Her short story, “Boiler Room,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2006, she received a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant. She earned an MFA in Literary Nonfiction from the University of Minnesota and an MA in English from Iowa State University. She is pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric, Composition and the Teaching of English at the University of Arizona. She taught writing at The American University in Cairo, Egypt from 2006-2010 and is working on a novel set in rural Illinois. Amanda was nominated for an AWP Intro Journals Award in Nonfiction and received a Gesell Summer Residency Fellowship to the Anderson Center while in the MFA program.

Essays were a novelty for me when I began the MFA program, and so were finished pieces. I think I spent much of my time at The University of Minnesota knowing that I had always written but figuring out how I function as a writer who had always been an undedicated ditherer. It was essential for me to become part of a community of stellar writers and friends who remain steadfast colleagues. It was a blessing to work with such a generous advisor as Charles Baxter and to take workshops with Patricia Hampl, Madelon Sprengnether, Valerie Miner, and Julie Schumacher. And it was crucial to have a humane teaching load that allowed me time to work on my writing. The ways in which I was encouraged to blur genres and “read as a writer” helped set up the notion that writing, for me, can be a fluid endeavor, something I can pursue whether I do so as an “artist” or “scholar.” As I navigate a PhD program, I continue to apply what I learned at UMN about the possibilities of writing.


LAURA FLYNN, MFA 2006, Nonfiction


Laura Flynn is the author of Swallow the Ocean––a memoir of growing up in the face of her mother’s catastrophic mental illness. (Counterpoint Press, 2008) Swallow the Ocean was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and a BookSense Notable Pick for March 2008. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota. She was a participant in the 2006/2007 Loft Mentorship Series, a recipient of a 2008 Jerome/SASE Award for emerging artists, and a 2009/2010 Bush Foundation Artist Fellow. She lived in Haiti from 1994-2000 and remains deeply involved in the struggle for democracy and human dignity in that country. She is the editor of Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Common Courage Press, 2000. Her essay "Carrefour" was recently included in Best Women's Travel Writing 2011, (Travelers' Tales, 2011). While in the Program, Laura was the recipient of a Gesell Awad in Literary Nonfiction.

When I came to Minnesota from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2003 to attend the MFA at the University of Minnesota, I was terrified of the winters, not sure I really needed to go to school to “learn” to write and worried three years would be too long. The determining factor for me was the promise of guaranteed financial support throughout the program—that kind of rock solid commitment to students didn’t exist in other writing programs, and especially not in creative nonfiction. As it turned out, I needed every day of those three years to complete the manuscript of Swallow the Ocean, the memoir, which was both my graduate thesis and my first published book, and Minneapolis was the perfect place to write. Each of the writers I worked with, Patricia Hampl, my thesis advisor, who challenged me to pay greater attention to language, Charlie Baxter who helped me understand plot, and Julie Schumacher who pointed out the holes in my manuscript, shaped me as a writer. Beyond this, the program offered a slew of opportunities: three years of teaching experience, the camaraderie of a vibrant community of writers, the chance to do my first public readings. Today the literary allure of the Twin Cities is an established fact—even the snow can’t keep writers away. In drawing so much talent here—faculty and students—the MFA program at the University of Minnesota, helped Minnesota reach literary critical mass.


LAUREN FOX, MFA 1998, NonfictionLauren Fox author photo

Lauren Fox is the author of Still Life with Husband (Knopf 2007) and Friends Like Us (Knopf 2012).  She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesotain 1998. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband Andrew Kincaid and their two daughters.

The MFA program at the University of Minnesota gave me time to write and a supportive community of teachers and peers.  Both of these gifts are so important to writers trying to find their feet (or their fingertips?).  It’s an amazing gift not to have to worry about funding for a few years, to just focus on your work.  From the distance of more than a decade I can see really clearly that these things are hard to come by.  I was lucky to work with Charlie Sugnet, Madelon Sprengnether and Patricia Hampl;  I stumbled into Jim Moore’s Reading Across Genres class and found a mentor.  Many of the other writers I met in the program remain wonderful friends and kind and discerning readers. Oh, and I met my husband at the U. (We were teaching assistants together in the Composition Department.)  That was a pretty great thing, too.


NICOLE JOHNS, MFA 2006, Nonfiction

Nicole Johns

Nicole Johns is the author of Purge: Rehab Diaries (Seal Press, 2009).

The University of Minnesota’s MFA program provided me with the time and funding I needed to concentrate on writing and to hone my craft, as well as experience in teaching English to undergraduates. Without the support of the MFA program, I would not have been able to produce a strong draft of my memoir, Purge: Rehab Diaries (Seal Press, 2009). The MFA program gave me the time and funding I needed to devote myself to the process of writing and publishing my book. It also provided me with a supportive community of fellow writers who helped me write the best book possible. Faculty like Julie Schumacher and Madelon Sprengnether gave me vital feedback on my work and served as mentors to me, even after I had graduated from the program. During my time in the MFA program, I won a fellowship to study creative writing in Prague for one month, and during this trip I wrote the bulk of my book. The faculty in the MFA program had encouraged me to apply for the fellowship, and the program also helped fund my travel. In the MFA program, I also learned about the publication process and this was tremendously helpful when I published Purge: Rehab Diaries. Had I not attended the University of Minnesota MFA program, I doubt I would have had the time and funding necessary to complete book.



Steph Johnson

Stephanie Johnson’s first book, Kinesthesia, was published by New Rivers Press as a winner of the 2008 Many Voices Project. She is a licensed massage therapist and owner of Prime Movement, Therapeutic Bodywork and Transformational Pathways, a body-centered health and wellness practice in New Mexico.

I came to the MFA with many professional passions, and the faculty in the Creative Writing Program at UMN never discouraged me from exploring and pursuing the other disciplines that I loved. I benefited greatly from Julie Schumacher's consistent belief in her students, and Maria Fitzgerald's genuine optimism and openness to interdisciplinary collaborations. Michael Dennis Browne and Ray Gonzales were capable navigators of the world of poetry and I read and wrote more widely and divergently than I would have without their coursework. The faculty and staff in the Creative Writing Program really supported me in my development as a writer; they believed in me, and this has made all the difference.


ARLENE KIM, MFA 2008, Poetry

Arlene KimArlene Kim received a BA in literature from Brown University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Minnesota. You can find her work online in Blackbird, Switched on Gutenberg, Cha, and DIAGRAM. She currently lives and writes in Seattle, WA, and reads for the DMQ Review as a poetry editor. What have you done to our ears to make us hear echoes? (Milkweed Editions, July 2011) is her first collection of poems.

I'd been fumbling toward a first collection of poems for awhile, but it wasn't until I came to the University of Minnesota's MFA program that I figured out where I wanted to go with my writing and how to get there. The academic and creative re-direction I got from the faculty, the exposure to writing happening now, the cheer and friendly challenge of my fellow grad students, even the broad, steady face of the surrounding landscape -- they all righted my compass. Ray Gonzalez's extensive, excellent book lists gave me better, wilder masters to copy. Maria Damon jabbed my brain awake into thinking about poetry in a more challenging political and personal space. Michael Dennis Browne created a generous, welcoming place to offer up my sometimes good but often terrible new work. Julie Schumacher provoked me to open up my stingy thoughts on genre, on voice. Even that damn departmental Tan Form kept me going, kept me writing and reading when all I wanted to do was sleep off the 3 a.m. sting in my eyes.


KATIE HAE LEO, MFA 2009, Poetry

Katie Poetess

Katie Hae Leo is a writer, actor, and educator. Her poetry, essays, and monologues have appeared or are forthcoming in Asian American Poetry and Writing, Water~Stone Review, Flying Fists Journal, The Green Blade, The Talking Stick, 60 Seconds to Shine: One Minute Monologues for Men, Monologues from the Playwrights' Center, Utne Reader, MN Women's Press, Journal of the Asian American Renaissance and HardKore. Her chapbook, Attempts at Location, was a finalist for the Tupelo Press Snowbound Award and is available through Finishing Line Press. Katie's most recent play Four Destinies was commissioned by Mu Performing Arts with a grant from The Jerome Foundation and will premiere at Mixed Blood Theater in Fall 2011. She has received a Pushcart Prize nomination for Nonfiction, The Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize, a Gesell Award for Nonfiction, a Blacklock Fellowship for Poetry, two Many Voices residencies from The Playwrights' Center, and a MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. In 2010-11 she will take part in The Loft Mentor Series for Nonfiction. She currently sits on the Steering Committee for the National Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Spoken Word & Poetry Summit, which will take place in the Twin Cities in Fall 2011.

I entered graduate school well into my 30s, coming out of the theater and spoken word arenas. In the U of M's MFA program, I found a wonderfully supportive community of peers and mentors, including Ray Gonzalez, Michael Dennis Browne, and Maria Damon, all of whom challenged me to expand my ideas about poetry. Thanks to the Creative Writing Program's openness to cross-genre work, I also studied with visiting professor Patricia Weaver Francisco, in whose class I wrote the essay that would eventually lead to a Pushcart nomination. And, thanks to the U's unique funding opportunities, I obtained an O'Rourke Fellowship that helped me return to Korea, key to my writing as a Korean adoptee, as well the Scribes for Human Rights Fellowship, which enabled me to focus my writing on larger social concerns. I remain eternally grateful for the experience and support, as well as all the writer friends I still keep up with.


LAURIE LINDEEN, MFA 2004, Nonfiction


Laurie Lindeen is a BA and MFA graduate of the University of Minnesota. She published her first book, Petal Pusher, A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story, a memoir, in 2007 with Simon & Schuster. Petal Pusher came out in paperback on Washington Square Press in 2008. She currently teaches Memoir and Structure at the Loft Literary Center and as a resident writer in the schools through the COMPAS/WAITS program. She's completing a second book, It's a Wonder We All Survived, an essay collection.

My focus of study was literary nonfiction, and and I worked extensively with Madelon Sprengnether and Patricia Hampl. Both women are inspiring writers and instructors; I am grateful for the time I spent with them. Beginning graduate school as a new mother and a recently retired musician several years after obtaining my undergraduate degree, I found my time in the program to be a gift; I was trained as a teacher --something I continue to do today, and was constantly in the company of marvelous writers and editors in the form of my peers and instructors.

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