Sarah Fox, MFA 2012, Poetry
Sarah Fox, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, grew up in Milwaukee. Coffee House Press published Because Why in 2006, and The First Flag in 2013. She’s currently working on a docupoetry project called Mother Substance, a multivalent examination of the synthetic estrogen Diethylstilbestrol (DES)—heavily prescribed to pregnant women from 1941 through the mid-1970s—and its devastating effects on the bodies of women. She lives in NE Minneapolis where, with her husband John Colburn (MFA, Poetry, 1999), they co-imagine the Center for Visionary Poetics. She works as a program consultant for the Friends of the Hennepin County Library, and also serves as a doula. While in the MFA program, Sarah received the Academy of American Poets’ James Wright Poetry Award, a Gessell Fellowship artist’s residency at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN, and a Graduate Research Parternship Program Fellowship.
When I came to the U's MFA Program, I had been living in the Twin Cities for 15 years and was active in the literary community here. My daughter had just moved to New York to attend college, and I had only recently completed my bachelor's degree in English (I kept putting off the math requirement!). I was feeling stuck in my own writing after the publication of my first book, and the options available to me for teaching—which I loved and wanted to pursue—were limited. It was an incredible fortune to have been accepted into the program, and in every way the timing could not have been more perfect. Although I was, let’s say, a rather unconventional student (e.g. considerably older than most of my cohort and already occupying an empty nest), I landed a spot in arguably the most marvelous MFA class of all time. The stars really aligned to bring us together, as a group, we could not have been more supportive, or fond, of each other. It felt, and still feels, like my classmates are family. With two poets in my cohort—A.T. Grant and Lucas de Lima—we formed a “salon” where we constantly generated new work through a variety of collaborative projects, and refined/redefined our aesthetic and social poetic missions by sharing in the discovery of poets, writers, performers, artists, theorists, and skools we were mutually and intensely drawn to. Thissalon, along with the many resources available to me at the University, in the faculty (especially Julie Schumacher, Maria Damon, Ray Gonzalez, and Michael Dennis Browne—who we had the good luck of apprenticing with just before his retirement), classes and visiting lecturers in other departments, travel opportunities, and general camaraderie, truly reawakened my creative daemons. My students, too, were so inspiring, and taught me so much. It was a dream gig and it absolutely changed my life.
Matt Burgess, MFA 2009, Fiction
Matt Burgess, a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens. His first novel—Dogfight, A Love Story, published by Doubleday in 2010—was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, a New York TimesBook Review Editors’ Choice, an Indie Next List Great Reads selection, and one of Publishers’ Weekly’s top ten most promising debuts of the season. He lives with his wife Georgia Banks in Minneapolis, MN. While in the MFA program, Matt received a Gesell Award for his fiction.
At the University of Minnesota's MFA program I had wonderfully generous teachers like Charlie Baxter and Julie Schumacher, and my peers there were all encouraging and talented and very serious about books. We didn't have to compete for funding, which freed us up to root for one another and to support one another's projects. I think it also helped that we were all doing such different things: short stories about Conan the Barbarian and babies falling into wells and differential equations; young adult novels, meta-romance novels, coming-of-age novels in India and Turkey and Egypt and Los Angeles and Pennsylvania and upstate New York. And that doesn't even take into account the exciting work people were doing in nonfiction and poetry.
Laura Flynn, MFA 2006, Nonfiction
Laura Flynn is the author of Swallow the Ocean–a memoir of growing up in the face of her mother’s catastrophic mental illness. (Counterpoint Press, 2008) Swallow the Ocean was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and a BookSense Notable Pick for March 2008. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota. She was a participant in the 2006/2007 Loft Mentorship Series, a recipient of a 2008 Jerome/SASE Award for emerging artists, and a 2009/2010 Bush Foundation Artist Fellow. She lived in Haiti from 1994–2000 and remains deeply involved in the struggle for democracy and human dignity in that country. She is the editor of Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Common Courage Press, 2000. Her essay "Carrefour" was included in Best Women's Travel Writing 2011, (Travelers' Tales, 2011). While in the Program, Laura was the recipient of a Gesell Award in Literary Nonfiction.
When I came to Minnesota from the San Francisco Bay Area in 2003 to attend the MFA at the University of Minnesota, I was terrified of the winters, not sure I really needed to go to school to “learn” to write and worried three years would be too long. The determining factor for me was the promise of guaranteed financial support throughout the program—that kind of rock solid commitment to students didn’t exist in other writing programs, and especially not in creative nonfiction. As it turned out, I needed every day of those three years to complete the manuscript of Swallow the Ocean, the memoir, which was both my graduate thesis and my first published book, and Minneapolis was the perfect place to write. Each of the writers I worked with, Patricia Hampl, my thesis advisor, who challenged me to pay greater attention to language, Charlie Baxter who helped me understand plot, and Julie Schumacher who pointed out the holes in my manuscript, shaped me as a writer. Beyond this, the program offered a slew of opportunities: three years of teaching experience, the camaraderie of a vibrant community of writers, the chance to do my first public readings. Today the literary allure of the Twin Cities is an established fact—even the snow can’t keep writers away. In drawing so much talent here—faculty and students—the MFA program at the University of Minnesota, helped Minnesota reach literary critical mass.