mfa students

Creative Nonfiction


Joyce Maynard (Workshop and Tutorial)


Writing Workshop

This course gives students the opportunity to explore material in various areas of nonfiction, such as memoir, personal essay, or travel writing. The course addresses issues of voice, scene, point of view, and theme, as well as any other elements of nonfiction writing that will emerge from individual manuscripts.  By the end of the course, students should develop the terminology and the critical skills for revising nonfiction, and should develop a good understanding about issues and trends in the genre.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:
  • produce a significant amount of original work;
  • learn through the practice of reading, annotating, and discussing the work of their peers;
  • develop the vocabulary and critical skills necessary for revising creative nonfiction.


Students will meet over the course of the semester at mutually agreeed upon times with the instructor of the workshop for individual sessions to review strengths and areas for revision of manuscripts. The instructor will suggest additional reading, ideas for revision, writing exercises, and specific areas where a student might improve his or her craft.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:
  • move toward a sophisticated knowledge of revision and the craft of creative nonfiction applicable to the participation in workshop;
  • gain a greater understanding of their own strengths and areas for improvement;
  • receive advice and instruction on the professional aspects of publishing the work and/or selections from it.

Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

This course is a literary survey of contemporary nonfiction, including the personal essay and narrative nonfiction.  Students will investigate the relationship between art and culture, between the writer and his or her society. The course will place special emphasis on formal analysis of themes and patterns in contemporary writing.  Writers likely to be included are Jo Ann Beard, Joan Didion, Dave Eggers, Lucy Grealy, Pico Iyer, Mary Karr, Philip Lopate, Richard Rodriguez, Terry Tempest Williams, and Tobias Wolff.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:
  • read contemporary creative nonfiction as writers, analyzing the variety of movements,  aesthetic trends, and techniques important to creative nonfiction in recent decades;
  • study the historical and cultural context of the creative nonfiction at hand;
  • connect contemporary trends with earlier texts, particularly the literature of the modern period;
  • relate contemporary creative nonfiction to its professional context, attending to publishing markets and other trends in the field.

Craft Courses

These courses focus on issues that influence the writing of nonfiction. Some seminars may focus on issues of craft of aesthetics—narrative structure, point of view, or dialogue—and others may be thematic in nature or explore a subgenre of nonfiction—personal essay, memoir, nature writing, travel writing, humor, the review essay, the lyric essay, literary reportage, biography, etc. Readings may include a wide range of nonfiction from diverse backgrounds and historical periods as well as the students' own works-in-progress.

Learning Outcomes

Students will: 
  • read creative nonfiction with attention to the particular craft in question;
  • create original creative nonfiction within the described parameters of the seminar, using the seminar’s theme as a means for practice and experimentation;
  • relate the particular theme/craft of the seminar to their own work and to the practice of writing creative nonfiction in our time.
Students may:
  • read secondary texts or texts outside of the genre (e.g., texts in poetry, literary theory, history, or philosophy);
  • workshop and/or share original work in class.
Core Faculty for Creative Nonfiction are Marilyn Abildskov and Wesley Gibson. Students also get the opporunity to study with at least one Visiting Writer per year, as well as meet with editors and agents. 
Study with Marilyn Abildskov and Wesley Gibson
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Learning Outcomes

Students in the MFA Program will graduate with improved competency in their writing, particularly in their chosen genre (fiction, nonfiction, or poetry).  In addition, they will receive a sophisticated introduction to information technology as well as the professional aspects of the writing life.

Students will be able to:

  • engage at a professional level in the writing of their chosen genre (fiction, nonfiction, or poetry).
  • articulate the correspondences between their own writing and the corpus of literature and thought which primarily informs their aesthetics.
  • use information technology with a high level of sophistication, either for the purpose of academic research or for the purpose of primary research that may inform a given piece of writing.
  • work effectively as professional writers: publish work in literary journals and magazines; solicit and procure literary agents; solicit and procure publishers for manuscripts or book projects; give public readings; apply for and receive funding for literary projects; exhibit a preparedness for finding employment in various professional fields, such as education, journalism, public relations, publishing, and technical writing.


Graduate students will master advanced techniques in their craft, and they will exhibit an increased knowledge of the body of literature that primarily informs their own aesthetics.
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Students have the opportunity to pursue internships either for elective credit, a stipend ($2000 in the second year) or as an extracurricular activity. Internships are available in teaching composition, publishing, arts administration, teaching creative writing, or service learning. Though students are welcome to participate in more than one internship, the stipend and course credit are given for only one internship. Off-campus internships at publishing houses, with literary agents, or community engagement internships are also encouraged.

Teaching Internships

The Teaching Internship allows students to observe the conduct of a college course and to share the pedagogical activity of the supervising instructor. The student serves as co-teacher with a mentor teacher from the English Department and assists with an undergraduate course in composition, creative writing or literature. The student attends each course session and shares responsibility for instructing the class and responding to students' written work. Teaching internships are only available to second-year students.

 Learning Outcomes:

  • Interns will observe the conduct of a college course by attending each class session;
  • Interns will learn the rudiments of course planning, the writing of paper topics and examinations, grading, and classroom instruction.

Publishing Internships

Our students have interned in literary organizations all over the Bay Area, including Zyzzyva, McSweeney's, 7x7, Diablo Magazine, and so many more. 

Omnidawn Publishing Omnidawn

Omnidawn Publishing is seeking interns who specialize in poetry and/or fiction. In fiction, we are particularly interested in writers who have some interest in fabulist writing.

Overview of Omnidawn Publishing

Omnidawn Publishing is fiscally sponsored through the 2430 Arts Alliance, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We seek to support and expand our community of writers and readers through the work we choose to publish, which questions, in both form and content, the prevailing limits of convention. Our intent is to explore internal and external boundaries and push, with compassionate insight, the limits of risk.

Just as our name suggests—“omni” (in all ways and places) and “dawn” (the first appearance of light)—we publish creative works that open readers anew to the myriad ways that language may bring new light, insight, awareness, as well as a heightened respect for and appreciation of differences.

Omnidawn books are frequently reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Rain Taxi, Lana Turner, The Journal, Jacket, and Pleiades, and have been reviewed in Chicago Review, American Book Review, The Village Voice, The Midwest Book Review, The Poetry Project Newsletter, HOW2, The New Review of Literature, Small Press Traffic Newsletter, Electronic Poetry Review, Interim, and ARC (Canada’s National Poetry Magazine), as well as many other publications.

When we meet you for the first time, here's what we'd like to discuss:

When we meet with you:

--we can tell you about Omnidawn, 

--and more about working for us as an intern (though most of that is listed below), 

--and what we hope interns will gain from the experience of working with us. 

--and we'd like to come away with a sense of your interests, 

--and what you'd like to gain from this internship, and, 

--if you have a particular timeline in mind for working with us (ie: Do you have an end-date in mind, or are you interested in staying with us without a set date in mind now. Either is fine, we just are interested in your intentions at this point).

Here is some info about interning with for us:

General Expectations for Interns:

1. Specific Duties that are more mundane: 

-- staff and interns all have some areas of work that might be considered 'general press work'. These jobs are done during the week, when you are not with us, and then we all report at the monthly meetings. Some data entry, for instance. There aren't many of these tasks. (Ken and I handle all the incoming email ourselves, since this can become overwhelming if assigned to someone who isn't familiar with the processes we use.)

2. Specific Duties that are more creative/ more interesting: We feel it's very important for interns and staff to have creative projects. Here are some that are available, but there are others, depending upon an intern's skills and interests.

a)     Feature Writing: for those interested in writing, there are many sorts of writing assignments that relate to our Omnidawn online magazine: OmniVerse. It would be an enormous help to us if you'd be interested in doing some of this writing.  

b)    All articles are reviewed by Gillian Hamel and Rusty Morrison, so you don't have to feel that you are working without support.

We think of this kind of writing as a public service, that's the focus of OmniVerse, to provide insight into writing and works outside of Omnidawn. So we'd love to have you take on some small writing and or interview or review project. 

b) New Outreach of Social Media: for those interested in social media, we are always looking to broaden our reach. We are active on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest, but there are other social media outlets that we realize are growing increasingly important. We would be interested in talking about having some one who might take on another outlet or two and share our news there... this is an idea in its nascent form. But it might be exciting for the right person to help us move into other areas of social media...

c) Bookstore Outreach: for Staff or Interns who like the idea of making contacts with bookstores, we are planning to do some bookstore outreach. This lets interns represent us, and make good contacts with the indie stores that are interested in small press books. Knowing these people can come in handy. We give free copies of Omnidawn books to bookstores, and they usually love that, and so these calls can be a lot of fun. But it's still 'cold calling' and some folks don't like to do them. We were doing this last year, but stopped for a few reasons. It is something we will begin again in a few months.

d) Also, depending on an intern's skills, other options are available. We feel very strongly that an internship should give the intern excellent growth opportunities and contacts.

How to Apply:

Send the following to Rusty Morrison at [email protected] (and CC Sara Mumolo and Candace Eros Diaz):

1.. A resume or CV

2.. A one-page cover letter expressing your interest in interning with Omnidawn

3.. Optional: a writing sample of a) your creative work and b) a recent review or critical essay you’ve written. This could come directly from a class at SMC, or at other academic institutions.

You will receive an email confirming that we have received your application within approximately 24 hours. If you don’t, that is likely to mean that the email went astray. Please send again and/or call us at 510-237-5472.

MARY Mary Journal

Students can learn about small press internet publishing through internships with MARY, the Program's in-house web publication. Student interns assist with various elements of administration, editing, layout, publicity, and advertising.

Learning Outcomes:

  • develop a selection process for each genre;
  • attend meetings and act as the representative for his or her genre, selecting from submissions or soliciting work to contribute to the final issue(s).
Wave BooksWave Books

Students will work with Wave Books Senior Editor and St. Mary's MFA Core Faculty Matthew Zapruder on specific editorial projects related to books, as well as other editorial and curatorial activities. Depending on what the editors are working on during the time of the internship, interns may assist in various ways with current, special or future publishing projects. Interns will also work on a public event scheduled at St. Mary's that will feature Wave authors. Finally, interns will have the opportunity to conduct interviews and write reviews with Wave authors, for possible publication. Wave Books publishes 8-10 books per year, mostly poetry but also books of translation or prose by poets, specializing in the work of mid-career authors. Internships begin Spring 2014.

Commitment:  One semester

Learning Outcomes:

  • learn about the editorial process, including manuscript discovery, evaluation, editing, and production
  • gain an understanding of the range of contemporary poetry being published now in electronic and print journals, and further understand the trends, influences and traditions that make up contemporary poetry publishing
  • refine and expand methods of discussing and evaluating poetry manuscripts and individual poems, especially in terms of readership and reception
  • observe first hand the particularities and specific challenges of editing a poetry manuscript for publication
  • become familiar with the work of Wave Books poets (backlist and current publications), including opportunities to meet poets and discuss their poetry and publications
  • assist with Wave Books' activities (book table, readings, other functions) at the annual Associated Writing Program Conference
  • assist with the planning and implementation of public events, including a college-wide discussion and reading at St. Mary's
  • have the opportunity to conduct interviews and write reviews for publication in nationally-recognized magazines


Community Engagement and Service Learning

CILSA serves as the organizational catalyst for students to integrate the head, heart, and hands to promote a culture of community service and social justice education. Check out the host of community partners associated with Saint Mary's College who our students can partner with now. 

Here are few of our past partnerships:

We Care
We Care Services for Children

We Care was founded in 1960 by parents of children with severe developmental disabilities.  The founders (nine mothers) sought to establish an organization that would enable their children to receive a range of needed services within their own community.  At the time, no such agency existed.

Project Description One:

We would like to have a historical document about the creation and evolution of We Care; from our humble beginning in a local church to the Chaves family donation of nine acres where we currently have our community-based school.  We continually hear stories about how the community helped build We Care and from others who believe we changed their child’s life.  We believe it would be wonderful to capture the rich history of this agency.

The project would include reading some of the historical letters and files we have plus interviewing past families, board members, and the founding director.

Project Description Two:

We have many success stories about the children and families we serve.  The stories are used on our website, in our marketing materials, and soon to be social media efforts.  We would really like for the stories to “come alive” and I know this would be possible with the students in the creative writing course.

The project would include reviewing our collection of stories and re-writing them for impact.  Also, it may include interviewing current and alumni parents to get additional stories.

Sometime Project:

We, as all nonprofits, write to foundations and other funders about our program services and why funding is needed.  It would be wonderful to have our past proposals read and revamped to be more compelling.

Lafayette Senior Services

Interns will facilitate a creative writing workshop at Lafayette Senior Services. The class focuses on documenting a life story through writing prompts and exercises and discussion of manuscripts.  Seniors are invited to attend Saint Mary’s Afternoon Craft Conversations, normally open only to MFA Candidates. An interest in working with the senior population and memoir is strongly suggested.  The internship will culminate with a anthology of work and a reading from the seniors at Lafayette Senior Center.

Check out the Memoir Workshop Blog!

Lafayette Seniors Citizens
Lafayette Seniors Citizens
Lafayette Seniors Citizens
River of Words

River of Words is a linked network of people throughout the United States and the world who are committed to teaching the art and poetry of place to young people.  Founded by activist Pamela Michael and then-US Poet Laureate, River of Words promotes environmental literacy through the arts and cultural exchange. ROW reaches thousands of educators and young people around the world through its annual art and poetry contest.  Interns work to coordinate the annual youth art and poetry contests, as well as the ceremonies that invite young people to understand their watershed. Interns will also work to publish the River of Words annual anthology.   

Learning Outcomes:

  • sort, enter data, discuss, evaluate, and acknowledge entries to the annual contest;
  • generate and mail awards and recognition certificates to contest participants;
  • design and prepare the contest anthology for publication;
  • plan for and assist with ROW award ceremonies in Washington D.C. and on SMC campus.
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of AmericaCrohn's & Colitis Foundation of America

Interns are given the opportunity to recruit and interview patients, family members, and volunteers in order to give voice to their personal journeys with chronic illness. They then are able to shape interviews and craft stories for web/print publication in order to build awareness, education and strengthen the community of patients, physicians, families, volunteers and donors. Interns encourage the sharing of these personal narratives to bring dignity to the lives of those affected by IBD.

Internships are offered to MFA Students, usually in their second year of study, in the fields of teaching, publishing, and community engagement.
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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.”

Making the Most of Your MFA: Seven Suggestions for Your Two Years by Creative Nonfiction faculty member, Marilyn Abildskov 
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2015-2016 Graduate Student Reading Series

Fall Readings
Wednesday, November 4th 2015, 7:30-9:00  

Hagerty Lounge

Elizabeth Lasiter (Creative NonFiction), Raina Leon (Poetry), Andrew Hamilton (Fiction), Kevin Peters (Poetry), and William Spongberg (Fiction)


Wednesday, November 18th 2015, 7:30-9:00

Hagerty Lounge

Abbigail Baldys (Poetry), Robyn Buller (Creative NonFiction), Alice MaCall (Fiction), Jacob Minasian (Poetry), and Elizabeth Montoya (Fiction)


Spring Readings
Wednesday, March 16th 2016, 7:30-9:00

Hagerty Lounge

Joanne Furio (Creative NonFiction), Nestor Gomez (Poetry), James Duran (Fiction), and Arielle Schussler (Fiction)

Wednesday, April 6th 2016, 7:30-9:00

Hagerty Lounge

Marlene Decker (Poetry), Felicia Dewald (Fiction), Kelly Egan (Poetry), Tiffany Jimenez (Fiction), and Jonathan Steinberg (Creative NonFiction)


Special thanks to Andrew Hamilton, our Graduate Student Reading Series host for the 2015-2016 year.

Second-year MFA candidates read before they graduate.
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