Why choose the Creative Writing Program?
"I have held the position of writer-in-residence at Lincoln Memorial University since July 2010, about a year after I received my MFA from UofM. I had already published a poetry collection and a novel before I came to the MFA program at UofM . . . I found the classroom experience and the work with fellow students stimulating and inspiring." - Darnell Arnoult, MFA
"Six of the ten stories included in my thesis have either been published or are under contract by journals. The collection is under contract with Unsolicited Press and is scheduled for release in November 2017 . . . I have taken a position at Fayetteville Tech in North Carolina as an English Instructor, where I teach Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition. I am a co-advisor for Sigma Kappa Delta, the English honors society, and Managing Editor for Unbound, an award winning literary arts journal." - Doug Haines, MFA
"The program helped me understand the process of being an active writer: setting my own writing schedule, sending out submissions, and being an active part of the literary community. As a result, I've been published in around thirty different journals and served as the inaugural Artist in Residence at the Brooks Museum." - Jonathan May, MFA
"John Bensko taught me to choose my words carefully, to construct images with thoughtful care, to shape stories in unexpected ways. My novel The Diminished will be released in early 2018 from HarlequinTEEN, with its sequel to follow in 2019." - Kaitlyn Sage Patterson, MFA
"I was always amazed at how quickly my professors at Memphis could identify the strengths and weakness in a piece of writing." -Kelly Ferguson, MFA
"I credit the University of Memphis Creative Writing program, and in particular, Professor Cary Holladay, with setting my writing career in motion." - Barbara Taylor, undergrad alumna
"This workshop opened my eyes to the importance and possibility of truly supportive writing communities." -Martha Park, undergrad alumna
I have held the position of writer-in-residence at Lincoln Memorial University since July 2010, about a year after I received my MFA from UofM.
I had already published a poetry collection and a novel before I came to the MFA Program at UofM, so I already had learned to negotiate much of the learning curve regarding getting published. I also already had an MA in English and Creative Writing, so I was familiar with the graduate workshop format. Even so, I found the classroom experience and the work with fellow students at UofM stimulating and inspiring. The classes with Richard Bausch, Tom Russell, Cary Holladay, Kristen Iversen, Rebecca Skloot, and John Bensko helped me think more analytically from a writer's perspective about the work of others as well as my own. This was my first experience with forms courses and I found them of particular value. I had not considered exploring creative nonfiction before my time at UofM, but because of the work I did there with Professors Iversen and Skloot, I have since written some short CNF pieces and have started work on a longer work in that genre. Professor Skloot's lectures on story shape and structure, in regard to both traditional and experimental narrative structure were particularly helpful. Professor Holladay's lectures and close readings and critiques were also a hallmark of my time in that program. Professor Holladay was an excellent mentor in regard to teaching fiction writing. I have incorporated several of her techniques and classroom habits into my own teaching. Her feedback on a novel in progress was most helpful and encouraging.
Publications since I graduated from that program include the following:
- Poetry Collection:
- Galaxie Wagon: Poems. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, February 2016.
- "The Gorilla Story." Southern Cultures, Summer 2015.
- "What Dailey Things." Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Volume 18: Death, March 2015.
- "Change" and "Galaxie Wagon." The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VII: North Carolina, Paul Ruffin, Jesse Graves, and William Wright, eds. Huntersville, TX: Texas Review Press, March 2015.
- "Church." Seminary Ridge Review, Autumn 2013.
- "Learning Strategy at English Field", "Outrageous Love", "Pilgrimage", and "Work." Appalachian Gateway: An Anthology of Contemporary Stories and Poetry, George Brosi and Kate Egerton, eds., University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 2013.
- "Gravity." 2013 Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Volume V, Gretchen Moran Laskas, Sylvia Bailey Shurbut, ed., Shepherdstown, WV: Appalachian Writers Guild and Shepherd University, April 2013.
- "Hiding, Lining Out", and "While You Are Away." The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee, Paul Ruffin, Jesse Graves, and William Wright, eds. Huntersville, TX: Texas Review Press, September 2013.
- "Fed", MotifV3: Work, Louisville: Motes Books, 2011.
- "Psychology Today", The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor, National Public Radio programming from American Public Media, January, 29, 2011.
- "Trail," Now and Then Magazine, Summer 2010.
- "Lining Out," Appalachian Heritage, Spring 2010.
- Creative Nonfiction:
- "When I Started to Cry." Blackbird, Fall 2016.
- Short Fiction:
- "The Attack," an excerpt from The Nine Lives of Loody Tibbitt, a novel in progress. Appalachian Heritage, Summer 2015.
- "The Hanging," revised version, anthology, Appalachian Now: Short Fiction of Contemporary Appalachia, Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, June 2015.
- "Cotton," MotifV4: Water, Louisville: Motes Books, 2014.
The MFA program at the University of Memphis not only developed me as a writer but also as an instructor and editor. Six of the ten stories included in my thesis have either been published or are currently under contract by journals such as Reed and The Chicago Tribune's Printers Row. The collection as a whole is under contract with Unsolicited Press and is scheduled for release on November 2, 2017. Since graduating in 2014, I have taken a position at Fayetteville Tech in North Carolina as an English Instructor, where I teach Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition. I am also a co-advisor for Sigma Kappa Delta, the English honors society for two-year colleges, and I am the Managing Editor for Unbound, an award winning literary arts journal. The instruction and mentorship I have received from the University of Memphis faculty, as well as from many of my peers from the program, continues to be a vital part of my success, and I am truly thankful for all of the help and support I have received through the years.
The program helped me understand the process of being an active writer: setting my own writing schedule, sending out submissions, and being an active part of the literary community. Through working on The Pinch and the RCWS, I met many writers who gave excellent advice on craft and profession. Though I teach full-time, writing is still very much a part of my life thanks to the program. As a result, I've been published in around thirty different journals (poetry, fiction, and CNF) and most recently served as the inaugural Artist in Residence at the Brooks Museum, which was so much fun! That opportunity actually came through the creative writing email chain, which is (in and of itself) a good resource.
The voices of the people from my three years of workshops at the University of Memphis will always be in my head. My time in the MFA program taught me to be unafraid of putting my dark, prickly, scary feelings into words and tending to them until they became something beautiful. I told my mom when I entered the program that I wanted to write poetry, because if I could learn to write good poetry, I could write anything. John Bensko taught me to choose my words carefully, to construct images with thoughtful care, to shape stories in unexpected ways.
When I defended my thesis, my committee asked me what I wanted to do next, and I told them that I wanted to write a children's novel. They were... skeptical, to say the least. But it was the tools they gave me and their voices in my head that pushed me to write The Diminished. It will be released in early 2018 from HarlequinTEEN, with its sequel to follow in 2019.
My experience at the University of Memphis played a major part in launching my current
career. I worked on The Pinch (formerly River City) every semester while I was enrolled in the MFA program, starting as a reader and
eventually serving as managing editor. It was that experience that made my resume
stand out when I applied for an executive assistant position at a niche magazine publishing
company. From there, I worked my way up to editor of a business-to-business archery
industry magazine and currently hold that same title with another magazine publishing
company in the archery industry.
I think what helps me excel at my job is the experience I had sitting in writing workshops with professors like Cary Holladay and John Bensko. I was always amazed at how quickly my professors at Memphis could identify the strengths and weakness in a piece of writing. In workshop, we'd all read the story and talk about what we liked and didn't like about the story. And then Cary or John would give their thoughts, putting their finger on exactly what was right and what was wrong about the story. I saw so much writing at Memphis--some good, some bad--and I learned a great deal from the professors about crafting a solid piece of writing.
My poem "Retaken" appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of the Beloit Poetry Journal.
What I'm doing now isn't exactly the same as the creative writing I did at Memphis. But a magazine article still needs to tell a story. It needs to have a strong beginning. It needs to be clear. It needs to be relevant. It needs to be good writing. And the ability to turn a weak article into a strong one is what has allowed me to succeed in my career.
I credit the University of Memphis Creative Writing program, and in particular, Professor Cary Holladay, with setting my writing career in motion. In 2003, I found myself in Memphis for personal reasons. While there, I took Professor Holladay's Forms of Fiction, a class that was both challenging and transformative. As a direct result of that experience, I had the confidence to enroll in an MFA program closer to my hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and subsequently write and publish two novels, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, and All Waiting Is Long. I am a writer thanks in large part to the encouragement I received at the University of Memphis.
- Publication list, Novels:
- Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night (Kaylie Jones Books/Akashic Books, 2014).
- All Waiting Is Long (Kaylie Jones Books/Akashic Books, 2016).
While trying to decide whether to apply to MFA programs in creative writing, I took
a graduate fiction writing workshop with Cary Holladay. Professor Holladay and her
students were so warm, inviting, and encouraging. I don't think I would have had the
confidence to apply for MFA programs if it weren't for this workshop. Even more than
the effect it had on my writing, this workshop opened my eyes to the importance and
possibility of truly supportive writing communities. I found another such community
in the graduate program at Hollins University, where I worked as a Teaching Fellow,
Assistant Editor of The Hollins Critic, and was awarded the Melanie Hook Rice Award in Creative Nonfiction.
Since graduating from Hollins with an MFA in 2015, I have published essays in Image, Terrain.org: A Journal of the Natural and Built Environments, The Hollins Critic, at the On Being blog, and elsewhere. I have written cover and feature pieces for The Memphis Flyer and the Southern Foodways Alliance's quarterly magazine Gravy, and have published short stories and poems in Paper Darts and Ghost Proposal. In the spring of 2016, I was the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University's Stadler Center for Poetry. I currently work at a small non-profit in downtown Roanoke, and am at work on a long essay project. I am also working as a non-fiction editor for West Branch, and am grateful for my experience reading submissions for The Pinch.
I am considering options for future study in writing, and if the University of Memphis were to offer a PhD in English with a creative dissertation, I would apply in a second.