How I Spent My Summer Vacation – MFA Style

The summer between our first and second year here at UW is an awesome time for writing. With the finical support of MFA funding and various grants, many of us used this time to travel and gather research for our theses.

This is how Chelsea Biondolillo, 2nd year nonfiction student, spent her summer:
First, I went to NYC where I visited a public high school with a marine stewardship focus. While there, I observed a 10th grade aquaculture class that was managing an oyster nursery and later I dove in the New York harbor with a scuba class of 10-12th graders that included rescue, scientific, and divemaster dive drills. This trip was made possible by Philosophy and Social Justice department funding.

Next, I went to Nebraska to learn more about the tall grass prairie and the issues around its conservation from experts in several fields. I worked with a small group of researchers who are studying an endangered carrion beetle and was able to meet with one of the nation’s most prolific ornithological authors. This trip was made possible by MFA department funding. 

In July I was selected for a year long science writing workshop sponsored by Creative Nonfiction magazine, the Consortium of Science, Policy, and Outcomes and the National Science Foundation. More info here (though they don’t have the new communicators posted yet, I’m one of them for 2012): The process was competitive and I am really excited to be a part of it. 

What a wonderful couple months, Chelsea. Congrats on all you accomplished! Thanks for the glimpse into your summer.



Great things have been happening here at UW. It’s only the first week of school, but we have a number of shout-outs to make.

  • Congratulations to Chelsea Biondolillo, a second-year nonfiction student. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) has accepted Chelsea’s proposed panel ‘The Art and Craft of Short-form Nonfiction’ for inclusion in AWP’s 2013 Conference & Bookfair in Boston. AWP received a record 1,300 event proposals this year and offers its conference attendees a full, diverse, and high-quality selection of events at the 2013 conference.  The 2013 conference and bookfair will be held in Boston, MA at the Hynes Convention Center & Sheraton Boston Hotel on March 6-9.

Wonderful, wonderful news, Chelsea! For more information about Chelsea’s panel, click here.

  • Lam Pham, first-year fiction student, has two new stories,”Water Witching,” and, “Credos,” up now at Storyglossia. Do it! Read them. You won’t be disappointed.

Congratulations, Lam!

  • Joey Rubin, first-year fiction student, has a new nonfiction piece up at The Argentina Independent. You can read Joey’s piece on the writer César Aira here.

Awesome, Joey! Way to be multi-genre talented.


the one and only Lindsay Beamish has won the Iron Horse Literary Review’s Discovered Voices award in Non-fiction.  this multi-talented writer/actress/dancer from los angeles made the following public statement regarding the good news:

“I won something… I’ve never won anything before. My voice is having a small celebratory gathering with itself. My voice is relieved it got discovered.”

job well done, beamish. we’re proud of you!


outstanding thesis award

recent graduate of the mfa program in creative writing, nonfiction author Emilene Ostlind was awarded UW’s Outstanding Thesis award for 2011.  we asked the ever-lovely Emilene to share some of her work with us,  so we could share it with the royal you.  included here for your reading pleasure is the abstract, and an excerpt from her thesis.  and yes, as a matter of fact, it is outstanding.

“I came to think of the migrations as breath, as the land breathing.  In spring a great inhalation of light and animals.  The long-bated breath of summer.  And an exhalation that propelled them all south in the fall.”
—Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams 1986

The pronghorn antelope that summer in Grand Teton National Park undertake one of the longest recorded land animal migrations in the western hemisphere. Each fall, they begin their journey south by gathering into groups of a half dozen to sixty or more animals and following the Gros Ventre River upstream into the mountains. Biologists, using global positioning system collars, mapped their route in 2003, but no one had seen the migration take place or documented it on the ground. Before winter, the antelope travel 170 miles to reach their winter range in the Red Desert.

An archaeological dig in the migration corridor revealed 7,000-year-old pronghorn skeletons with fetal bones inside, indicating that pronghorn have been following this very migration route between winter range and fawning grounds for millennia. Around the world, long-distance migrations are disappearing due to infrastructure blocking the animals’ corridors, habitat destruction, climate change and other factors, but in Wyoming these unlikely creatures persist in their journey. The GPS waypoints show the animals crossing a 9,000-foot mountain pass, four major rivers, a busy highway, innumerable fences and subdivisions and two natural gas drilling fields. When I learned of the western Wyoming pronghorn migration, I was compelled to follow the animals on foot and try to understand how they were able to continue following this historic pathway in the face of so many obstacles.

I joined wildlife photographer Joe Riis and we spent two and a half years exploring the pronghorn migration corridor on the ground. Migration is a nonfiction book based largely on journal entries from four backpacking trips through the migration corridor. It paints the story of the migration by documenting encounters with deep snow, icy spring runoff, barbed wire fences and long dark nights in the mountains. By telling the story of both the pronghorn journey and my own migration back home to Wyoming from Washington, DC, the book also explores how wild animals enrich our lives and teach us about ourselves. The antelope helped me understand the seasonal rhythm of my home landscape and why I’d felt so compelled to return home.

the majestic pronghorn in its natural habitat.

A June day in Antelope Flats, Grand Teton National Park, northwest Wyoming.  I wear a gray and purple knitted hat and a green down jacket, sit cross-legged, my back against the bleached trunk of a fallen cottonwood.  The trunk is polished smooth by the bison who come here to scratch their wooly necks against it.  I am facing north.  A wind carries cold air from the alpine passes of the Teton Mountains.  I hold perfectly still.

Two antelope have seen me, but don’t know what I am.  They emerged from a draw not long after I sat down.  Both are bucks, one larger than the other, and they move slowly, stopping to bite mouthfuls of leaves or to nudge one another with their horns.

Minute by minute they wander closer, watching me sideways.  I try to still my heartbeat.  They come within five meters.  When they bite the sagebrush leaves, I hear their teeth snap together, the grinding as they chew.  I can see each golden hair aligned vertically on their thin legs.  They come still closer, walking deliberately across the patch of bare ground directly in front of me.  The horns of the larger one are a rich black, curling to a sharp point.  I hear the breath in their nostrils, smell their animal warmth.

As they pass they turn to look back.  The smaller one pushes his face against his companion’s neck and, with an air of drama they click their horns against one another.  Then they wander away and out of sight.  My hands are shaking.This is the story of how the three of us arrived here, of our migrations, and the tug of the land on bodies drawing us from one place to another, the pathways we follow.

Emilene Ostlind was raised in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. After a year working as assistant to the natural history photo editor at National Geographic magazine in Washington, DC, Emilene came back out West for her graduate studies at the University of Wyoming. She earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing and Environment and Natural Resources in the Spring of 2010.  She currently writes for High Country News, a news magazine covering environment, culture and natural resources in the American West.


we would like to say a big-hearted congratulations to stephanie dugger.  this poetry/non-fiction mfa’er, and southern belle, won the Ellbogen Outstanding Graduate Assistant Teaching Award. awarded by Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning, part of the Office of Academic Affairs, this is UW’s highest honor for graduate student teachers.  besides being the hardest working person we have ever known, completing two theses (one per genre), stephanie also happens to be a generally awesome person.  though her virtues as a teacher are many, we like to cite the time her entire classroom broke into song, singing Come Together by the Beatles, in unison, as proof that this woman was born to teach — thus, the most heartwarming pedagogical moment since Stand & Deliver.   mr. holland can take his opus and shove it.  nice work, dugga’ — you are an inspiration to us all.

destined for greatness

Stephanie Dugger is a second-year student in uwyo MFA and associate poetry editor at The Dirty Napkin.  she writes poetry and nonfiction and lives nomadically with her husband and two rambunctious dogs.


we would all like to say a tender, loving, caring congratulations to the incomparable brad watson.  he was named one of this year’s nominees for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (announced just earlier today).

to give those of you who have not worked closely with brad an idea of the kind of author/artist/human being he is, we are posting a piece of writing we once saw somewhere else on a statue of a different man entirely:
This [is] a man
This [is] a man of action and achievement
This [is] a man of vision and creativity
A man of serenity and strength
A man of determination and patience
This [is] a man of sensitivity and courage
A man of humor and humility
A noble man with a common touch
A self disciplined man with an understanding for all
This [is] a man who [is] counselor to thousands throughout the world
This [is] a man committed to truth and good and beauty
[Brad Watson is] a man and a leader of men…

congratulations brad. we think your book is rad, and we are so very happy for you.

brad watson is associate professor of fiction, and a core faculty member, at the uwyo mfa.

Story of Successful Rejection

The target:

The Journal of Universal Rejection, featured in a wave of tweets, re-tweets, and re-tweet indiscretions circa January 26.

The mission:

100% guarantee of rejection. Can it be done? Am I seriously still judging what to send them? (Yes, she said, yes.)

The cover letter:

Dear Universal Rejection,

You may not remember me, but I have met you several times and we have many friends in common. Congratulations on starting a new journal, and I hope that your first round of submissions will be rejectable to your liking.

To that end, I just wrote you a short improv poem.

Thank you for your consistency,
Katie B. Booms

The response 
included the phrase “I like so much.” Yes. I am wonderful enough to be rejected.

Preferred press release:

As the greatest triumph yet in her publishing career, our own poet Katie Booms received a rejection from the Journal of Universal Rejection. Unfortunately, it was not particularly universal. (Nor is that possible.)

The best part! :
You can read a series of hilarious cover letters and editor replies at Because no is funnier when you know it’s coming. And when it’s in Latin.