Summer Lovin’

IMG_0643(From the top of Greyrock Trail, a wonderful hike a few folks from the MFA and English MA did to kick off the summer. This is a bit of a cheat, since it’s in Colorado, but its a great hike just an hour south of Laramie.)

In a two-year MFA program, the summer in between the first and second years is incredibly important. While the checks for being graduate assistants also take summer  vacation, the program provides a summer stipend and many other departments offer additional grants, depending on the subject matter of your work. Some people write like fiends and finish the first draft of their thesis, others research for their projects all over the world, and some (hopefully all) take the time to catch up on life stuff, like getting married—congratulations, Heather!

Over the course of this summer, I’ll be following folks on their work and their adventures, posting updates from the road, and sharing advice from some of our recent grads on how best to take advantage of the summer in your writing. Today, we’ll hear from some of the first years (including yours truly) on what’s in store for the next few months, and what they hope to achieve.

Bryce is a non-fiction writer and wanderer. True to form, he blew out of town almost as soon as classes were finished, and sent in this update from Greece: “My plans are to spend time in Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine doing primary research into the physical and imaginary borders being created and recreated in the past couple years to the east, as a way into thinking about nationalism and neoliberalism. I got some cash from Dick and Lynne Cheney, and that, with my summer stipend and some money from selling a car is gonna get me there and back.” He’s planning on keeping a diary of his travels, writing as he goes, rather than waiting till the end of the trip and reflecting back from a distance.   

Sarah came into the program as a poet, but has also done a tremendous amount of academic work and organizing in Laramie. She’s constantly balancing her work and advocacy on so many fronts, it’s not surprising that she’s working on a number of projects this summer. First on the list is a chapbook dealing with queer isolation and communities, something that’s been on her mind a great deal having moved from New York City to Laramie. With funding from American Studies, English, and the Social Justice Research Center, she’s also headed to Ireland to study the impact of Irish immigration to the U.S. on the concept of whiteness here. Her research is heavily influenced by the critical race theory work of David Roediger and Noel Ignatiev, as well as others. She noted that, over the last year, she’s been “surprised by how interested in hybrid genres and creative non-fiction [she] became.” I may not be as surprised as Sarah, given the diversity of her interests and passions, but I’m grateful for the chance to read her work in so many forms!  

As for me, in two weeks I’ll be loading up the Subaru (I’m nothing if stereotypical) and heading north to old mining towns in Canada and Alaska. My current thesis plan is to do a collection of short stories about women’s lives in these remote areas. Thanks to a generous Cheney grant for international studies, I’ll be able to spend lots of time interviewing folks in the backcountry, wandering about on glaciers and trying to get a better sense of the past as well as the future out there. I’ve worked up in Alaska the last four summers, so I know some of the area quite well, but this is a great chance to see it from some entirely different perspectives.  

Next week, we’ll hear from some more first years about their plans, and then pretty soon we’ll be getting in dispatches from the road as more and more people embark on their summer adventures.

IMG_0600(Jake, majestic trail dog.)


The Last Thesis Show

Wednesday was not only our final night of thesis readings, but also the English Department’s end of the year celebration. We’re not technically part of the same department anymore, but what other grad students spend as much time as we do geeking out over the latest Maggie Nelson? Just try keeping us apart.


Emily, one of our graduating non-fiction writers, was recognized at the dinner for having won a teaching award for her work with English 1010 students. Well done, Emily!


Over at Night Heron, Kristi kicked off the next event with a reading from her forwundian forestry (in which the bark of my brain remembers, even if i’ve lost you long before). Her poetry elegantly intertwines Shakespeare and the electric impulses that travel the branches of trees and of neurons.


Kristine, fighting off a nasty virus, joined us to read selections from One Hundred Islands, poems of identity and of resistance that never shy away from indicting the complicit.

Alec closed the thesis series with two excerpts from his novel-in-progress, Saw Tooths. These pieces complicate the narrator’s relationships with God and the missing girl, and warn the reader that there’s no good way out of this.


Thesis Readings (Take 2)

The readings continued Monday with three wonderful fiction (fiction-ish) writers sharing excerpts from their recently defended theses. Unlike our dear friends in the English MA cohort, our thesis defenses aren’t open to the public: it’s just you and your readers discussing the work you’ve done, two hours to cover two years of effort. And while some of the rules may be in flux as Creative Writing official joins the Art Department next year, each current graduate has two CW faculty members on their panel and at least one outside reader chosen for the insight they can bring to a writer’s subject matter or style. This year, folks had outside readers from English, Gender and Women’s Studies, Psychology, and American Studies rounding out their thesis committees. 


Ammon read haunting selections from the first half of his Border Sketches: A Between Place Diptych, telling—through poetry and prose—the story of Rosario heading north to the U.S. border and finding his ancestors and Billy the Kid waiting for him in the desert.


Liz read “Parasol,” a new story from her collection Decent People, and the only one to come in at the perfect reading length of 13 pages. “Parasol” follows an unnamed mother to an unnamed infant through her fraught interactions with the world shortly after giving birth.


Lilly read from the title piece of her collection, The Edge of Town, reminding us all of the complex relationship we have with Laramie, and how difficult it will be to see these graduates go.


Post-reading, we celebrated Ammon’s birthday with first years, second years, last year’s grads, MAs and friends new and old. We’re grateful for the graduates who stick around Laramie for a few months or a few years after the program, continually expanding this fantastic community of writers we’ve found ourselves in. (Low housing prices probably factor in, too.) Chunkler, pictured above, was the star of the show. Sorry, Ammon.

School’s Out for Summer

The birds are chirping, Tuesday’s hail has totally melted and yesterday was the last day of classes for Spring 2017. Our students have just turned in their final portfolios, so there’s a bit of grading left to do (along with a few term papers / final projects due next week), but this is a time of celebration. The school put on Union Fest yesterday, which meant free food, live music and sunburns on Prexy’s Pasture all afternoon. At night, they had a hypnotist perform just before a screening of “Get Out,” which I’m going to believe is intentionally ironic.

But while the rest of the student body was getting a taste of the horrors Catherine Keener can perpetuate with a teacup, the MFA program kicked off its first night of thesis readings, celebrating the amazing soon-to-be graduates and the great work they’ve done over the past two years. Bethann Merkle, Emily Pifer and Kat Williams read from their work at Night Heron, a local bookstore / former brothel (they’re all former brothels in Laramie), current home to backlit photos and Waldo.   


Bethann read a passage from “Naming the Bones” that drew a brilliant portrait of the magpie and the varied ways we’ve tried to catch her, to contain her, over the years.


Emily’s introduction to “The Distance Between Bodies” haunted us with its description of forms, corporeal and otherwise, and the fires that transform one into the other.


Kat finished the night with an excerpt from “Treatment” that sharply examines grief and identity with equal parts humor, empathy and regret.


Two turn tables and a microphone (or, if you want to compete with the hats of Brad and Nat, you’d best be as tall as Ammon).

Fall 2016 MFA Reading #2: Bethann Merkle, Lilly Schneider, Kat Williams

On Friday, October 14th, UW Creative Writing Program students, faculty, and fans gathered at the new 8 Bytes Cafe for the second reading of the semester. Three 2nd year students read through some serious pinball machine static. A lot of fried delicacies were consumed.

Bethann Merkle, 2nd year in nonfiction, read from a section of her thesis, which explores hunting, landscapes, and food systems.


Lilly Schneider, 2nd year fiction writer, read a story, “BYOB,” that’s forthcoming in Willow Springs lit mag.


Kat Williams read a bit of short fiction, currently titled “I’ll Give You What You Want If You Ask for It Enough.”


First Fall MFA Student Reading

Each semester, the Creative Writing Program hosts a student reading series. In the fall series, 2nd year MFA students read from some of their latest work, which for many includes bits and pieces of what will become their theses in the spring.

The first reading of the fall semester went down at Night Heron Books on September 21st. Emily Pifer, Ammon Medina, and Alec Osthoff read to a full house on a Friday night that delivered Laramie’s first snow of the season!

Emily, 2nd year in nonfiction, read from her thesis-in-progress, Body of Work.


2nd year Poet Ammon read from an essay that features the re-appropriated poems of Pablo Neruda.


And Alec, 2nd year fiction, read from his novel-in-progress, Sawtooths.  He also read his poem, “Western Interior,” that inspired him to write the novel.


Huge shout-out to Lilly Schneider for her lovely locks in the foreground of most of the pictures taken at the event!


MFA Alumni Reading: Katie Schmid & Brock Jones

On Thursday, September 22nd, two University of Wyoming Creative Writing alumni poets, Katie Schmid and Brock Jones, visited campus for a lunch with current MFA students and a public reading at Night Heron Books and Coffeehouse. Both poets read to a full house, with audience members sitting on the floor next to shelves of used books, and even a few folks listening from the stairwell.


Brock read from his acclaimed chapbook, Cenotaph, a series of poems that are part memory, part inquiry into the aftermath of war.The chapbook won the Miller Williams Poetry Prize, selected by poet Billy Collins.


Katie read from sections of her chapbook, Forget Me/Hit Me/Let Me Drink Great Quantities of Clear, Evil Liquor, which won Split Lip Press‘s Chapbook Prize.


She stunned us with sections that explore the intensity of childhood, missing fathers, and masculinity. A review of her chapbook can be found at The Rumpus.



Current MFA students were impressed and heartened by the successes Katie and Brock have experienced since their tenure in the program.