MFA and English Department Gaelebration Reading

Date & Time: 
Sat, 10/06/2012 - 13:00 to 14:00

Join us for an hour of literary tapas with short readings by english department students and MFA Alumni!

Gabi Reyes-Acosta is a junior English Major, Creative Writing Minor from Los Angeles, CA. She hopes to read more, write more, and learn more as she finishes her time at Saint Mary's.

Holden Altaffer is a Senior English Major, from Tulare, Ca. He is a student of the great American writers and a Gael through and through

Making the Most of Your MFA


Attend all of the Creative Writing readings (with an open mind). To listen to the novelist Elizabeth Stark read from a work-in-progress about Kafka’s sister, who, in this telling is the one responsible for writing all of Kafka’s work, or to hear the essayist Steven Church read one of his research-based, linguistically playful pieces—this is to plant a seed in your mind to be more bold.  Sometimes what you learn from attending the reading is some stray comment that comes out in the question-and-answer session afterward.  When I heard the poet Joyelle McSweeney read at Saint Mary’s, for example, she said something in passing about “recycling imagery” in her poems. And even though I had thought a lot about repetition and taught a lot about repetition and read a lot about repetition, it wasn’t until I hear that verb “recycle” that something clicked. It’s a phrase that has stayed with me every day since McSweeney’s reading, informing my own work.



Attend all craft talks (with a notebook and pen). I still remember the thrill of hearing Glen David Gold talk about endings in his lecture, “Blowing It On the Dismount,” which was not only about endings in novels but about failure as a constant companion in the writing life.  And I remember after hearing Kathryn Ma talk about dialogue—a talk in which she showed us a sample of dialogue from one short story or another (I’ve forgotten now what it was) and pointed out how often the writer interrupted dialogue for description, exposition, and the rest—seeing how much longer my own MFA students’ scenes were, how punctuated they became my dialogue and how much they could see the opportunity to digress after Ma’s spectacular talk.



Attend your peers’ readings (because you’ll want them to come to yours and manners and good citizenship do matter). It’s not only pleasurable to hear what your classmates are up to in their writing, it’s informative.  Because again, they will be trying things in their work that you may recognize and want to try in your own.  And is there anything better than hearing good work before someone snatches it up to publish it?



Meet all deadlines. (It’s how a thesis happens and how books are eventually made.) The best example I always think of in this arena is Jo Ann Beard’s exquisite collection of autobiographical essays, Boys of My Youth.  Beard wrote many of those while she was an MFA student at the University of Iowa.  And she met every single deadline in her classes.



Use the summer between your first and second year to take stock and make thesis plans. There are a lot of pressures on you, I know, to work and to spend time with your friends and family members and summer seems like the best time—the only time—to play catch-up.  But consider the summer between your first and second year as part of your MFA education, a time to take a hard look at what you did during your first year and where you want to direct your energies in your thesis. Some people take the poems, the essays, the stories, or the drafts that they write their first year and begin the long revision process. Other people set aside that early work and focus on something new. We had a student at Saint Mary’s a few years ago, Rebecca Brams, who was writing beautiful short stories as a fiction student her first year. But rather than gather those up, she set her mind to the novel idea she’d had coming in and spent that summer churning out a rough draft, which she continued working on and which became her thesis. And that work is how she secured a Fulbright to Peru not too long after she completed her MFA.



Consider what habits of work you are developing while here and write every day—four hours a day, if possible. Four hours was the suggestion of Frank Conroy, who for so many years directed the Writers’ Workshop in fiction at the University of Iowa.  His idea, as I understood it, was to treat writing like your job: something you sit down and do every day at the same time every day. I loved putting in my four hours a day as an MFA student but I confess I never did them at the same time every day and that seemed to work better for me. Figure out what works for you—not only how to navigate time to write but also atmosphere. Do you write better when you’re home alone in a dark room? Or in a coffee shop with caffeine and some background noise to keep you going? Everyone is different, but you want to learn more about yourself as a writer while you’re here so you can develop habits that will last a lifetime.



Be generous. Cheer your classmates’ successes and commiserate with them when they fail.  Keep in mind that your notions of “success” and “failure” are likely to change drastically while you’re here. (We hope the idea of “success” will broaden considerably and that “failure” will come be part of living the literary life, not something to fear.) Throughout all ups and downs, generosity is simply a better way to live.

When asked by One Story magazine if she had any advice for new writers starting their literary careers, Ann Patchett, a novelist and memoirist said this:

 “Show kindness whenever possible.  Show it to the people in front of you, the people coming up behind you, and the people with whom you are running neck and neck.  It will vastly improve the quality of your own life, the lives of others, and the state of the world.  And while you’re at it, buy your books at independent bookstores and tell your friends to do the same because if we don’t take the lead, no one else will.”

Alumni Books

Almuni Books

Amulet (poetry) by Jason Bayani

MFA class of 2010

published in April 2013 by Writebloody Publishing


Where We Think It Should Go (poetry) by Claire Becker

MFA class of 2006

published in 2010 by Octopus Books


Relativity (young adult novel) by Cristin Bishara

MFA class of 1998 (poetry)

forthcoming in September 2013 by Walker Books for Young Readers


SPI: The Case of the Dark Shadow (fiction) by Teresa Bonham

MFA class of 2003

published in 2012 by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.


The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (novel) by Josh Braff

MFA class of 1997

published in 2004 by Algonquin


Peep Show (novel) by Josh Braff

MFA class of 1997

published in 2010 by Algonquin


Rust or Go Missing (poetry) by Lily Brown

MFA class of 2007

published in 2010 by Cleveland State University Poetry Center


The Color of Dusk (poetry) by Robin Caton

MFA class of 1997

published in 2001 by Omnidawn


Gutenberg's Apprentice (fiction) by Alix Christie

MFA class of 1999

forthcoming in Fall 2014 by Harper in the U.S. and Headline in the U.K


A Real Time of It (poetry) by Sally Delehant

MFA Class of 2009

published by the Cultural Society in 2012


Ghost Songs (young adult novel) by Andrew Demcak
MFA class of 1997
Forthcoming in April 2014 by Harmony Ink Press


If There's a Heaven Above (fiction) by Andrew Demcak
MFA class of 1997
published in January 2013 by JMS Books


Night Chant (poetry) by Andrew Demcak
published in 2011 by Lethe Press


A Single Hurt Color (poetry) by Andrew Demcak
published in 2010 by GOSS 183:: Casa Menendez Press


672 Hours (poetry) by Andrew Demcak
published in 2009 by Gold Wake Press


Pink Narcissus (poetry) by Andrew Demcak
published in 2009 by GOSS 183:: Casa Menendez Press


Zero Summer (poetry) by Andrew Demcak
published in 2009 by BlazeVOX Books


Catching Tigers in Red Weather (poetry) by Andrew Demcak
published in 2007 by Three Candles Press, winner of The Three Candles Press Open Book Award, selected by Joan Larkin


Correct Animal (poetry) by Rebecca Farivar

MFA class of 2008

published in 2012 by Octopus Books


Goodnight Saint Paul (travel memoir) by Kevin Finley

MFA class of 2009 (creative nonfiction)

forthcoming in winter 2013 by Think Piece Publishing


Axel Vervoordt: Living with Light (nonfiction) by Michael Gardner

MFA class of 2005 (creative nonfiction)

published in October 2013 by Flammarion


The Seed Bank (poetry) by Gabe Gomez

MFA class of 2000

published in 2012 by Mouthfeel Press 


The Outer Bands (poetry) by Gabe Gomez

MFA class of 2000

published by University of Norte Dame Press, winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize


The Stone Roses (nonfiction) by Alex Green

MFA class of 1997

published in 2006 by Continuum


The Middle (poetry) by Angela Hume

MFA class of 2008

published in 2013 by Omnidawn


The Archivist (poetry) by Jennifer Jean

MFA class of 2001

published by Big Table Publishing


In the War (poetry) by Jennifer Jean

MFA class of 2001

published by Big Table Publishing


The Fool (poetry) by Jennifer Jean

MFA class of 2001

forthcoming in Winter 2013 by Big Table Publishing


Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments (children's book) by Emily Jiang

MFA class of 2009

published in 2014 by Shen's Books


Bearded Lady (memoir) by Allison Landa

MFA class of 2006

forthcoming in Spring 2014 by Pen-L Publishing


A Hotel in Belgium by Brett Fletcher Lauer

MFA class of 2007

forthcoming on March 4, 2014 by Four Way Books


Upstream by Melissa Lion

MFA class of 2000

published in 2006 by Wendy Lamb Books


Swollen (young adult novel) by Melissa Lion

MFA class of 2000

published in 2004 by Wendy Lamb Books


Starting Up Silicon Valley by Katherine Maxfield

MFA class of 1998 (fiction)

forthcoming in 2014 by Greenleaf Book Group


I Shall Be Near To You (fiction) by Erin Lindsay McCabe

MFA class of 2010

forthcoming in January 2014 by Crown Publishing


Mortar (poetry) by Sara Mumolo

MFA class of 2009

forthcoming in October 2013 by Omnidawn Publishing


Beyond the Chainlink (poetry) by Rusty Morrison

MFA class of 1999

published in January 2014 by Ahsahta Press


After Urgency (poetry) by Rusty Morrison

MFA class of 1999

published in 2010 by Tupelo Press and winner of the Tupelo Press' Dorset Prize


The True Keeps Calm Biding (poetry) by Rusty Morrison

published in 2008 by Ahsahta Press


Whethering (poetry) by Rusty Morrison

published in 2004 by Colorado State University’s Center for Lit. Publishing


Telegraph (poetry) by Kaya Oakes

MFA class of 1997

published in 2007 by Pavement Saw Press


Slanted and Enchanted (nonfiction) by Kaya Oakes

MFA class of 1997

published in 2009  by Henry Holt


Futuring (poetry) by Mike Sikkema

MFA Class of 2006

published in 2008 by Blazevox Books


January Found (poetry) by Mike Sikkema

MFA Class of 2006

published in 2014 by Blazevox Books


The Women's Guide to Successful Investing: Achieving Financial Security and Realizing Your Goals (nonfiction) by Nancy Tengler

MFA Class of 2009

Forthcoming in August by Palgrave Macmillan


Crown of Dust (novel) by Mary Volmer

MFA class of 2005

published in 2010 by Soho Press


Dear, Companion (poetry) by A.W. Watkins

MFA class of 2007

published in 2012 by Dream Horse Press

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