Community Enrichment Class for April

I’ve begun the last couple of months with an interview of the MFA candidate set to teach that month’s Community Enrichment Class. This month, however, I’m teaching the class, and let’s face it, even though April is the fool’s month, it would be pretty silly to interview myself.

Nah! Too silly even for me!

So, rather than interview myself, I’ll just give you an idea of my background, my literary loves, and what inspired me to create my community enrichment class, entitled Leaving Europe Behind: Writing (Indigenous) Urban Fantasy for the Americas. Info Here

Who Am I? Part I

I’m an old broad with a young heart. No really. What keeps me that way is that I’ve wanted to be old since I was, well, young. I grew up in Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s, the daughter of an Anglo dad and an American Indian mother. (I’m enrolled in the Delaware Indian Tribe of Oklahoma, though I also have Wyandotte and Creek forebears.) My father’s family didn’t arrive here from England and Scotland until the last years of the 1880’s. I know, I’m diving in deep here, but my heritage matters when it comes to the class.

Knowing who I was growing up was a whole lot easier on the Anglo side. A lot of Anglo-Saxons, Celts, etc. made their way to these shores. White people from the British Isles were everywhere. The Indian heritage was a bit harder to come to know: my mom always told my brother and I “You are an Indian, and don’t you forget it!” I was proud of being Native, but I never really knew what that meant. Movie Westerns were the closest thing I had as a kid to learning what Indians were like—I didn’t meet another Native that wasn’t part of my extended family until I was in my mid-twenties—but let’s face it, we all know how those movies were at fair representation.

Who Am I? Part II

By the time I was twenty I had begun making a life at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. I graduated from Fashion School and opened a costuming business, making and selling period garb faire to faire. I also built my booths, utilizing the carpentry skill that I learned from my dad, a professional cabinetmaker. Needless to say, I was totally besotted by all things English/Scottish/Irish, from Celtic music, to English Punk, to Faerie Stories, myths, and tales.

That lasted a good thirty years, but eventually I needed a change. The life was hard work, and the economy was getting worse and worse for the self-employed. By chance I began writing again, something I hadn’t done since I started my business. I found my passion once more and decided to go back to school.

I had been reading Native American authors for a couple of decades, since I saw the movie Smoke Signals, written by Sherman Alexie. Being back in college gave me access to American Indian Studies classes. I was finally trying to figure out what “being an Indian” actually meant. I dreamed of teaching San Francisco State’s American Indian Literature class, co-run by the AIS and Creative Writing Programs. (Originally, I’d wanted to take the class but—while it was still in the catalog for both departments—it wasn’t being taught.) I also dreamed (and still do) of teaching Creative Writing and Native Lit. at tribal colleges. I ended up  utilizing Independent Studies classes here at VCFA to earn myself an unofficial minor in American Indian Literature.

Who Am I? Part III

I had a zinger of a realization a year or so ago: I realized that in the first part of my adult & career life I was following my dad’s path. We were both makers, building things, out of wood, and cloth, and various asundry things. It was about the visual, and it was about precision, and we were both very good at what we did. I was also concentrating on my English/Scottish/Irish heritage, through the Faire and all the literature I really, really, really loved. Arthurian Tales to Neil Gaiman, with scads of others in between.

When I began to devote myself to writing, however, I was following my mom’s path: she had been an English teacher, before she moved with her widowed mother and brothers and sister from Oklahoma to California. She had also been a writer, or at least she had wanted to be, but taking care of her mother, being the breadwinner, and then marrying and having kids wiped that dream away. We’re talking the mid-1940s through the 1960s, give or take, so that was pretty typical in those days. It’s too bad, though. From what I’ve read of her work, she was pretty good.

I had also left the Anglo-centric world of the Renaissance Faire and turned my attention to Indian studies, my mom’s heritage.

Pretty woo-woo cool, huh?

The Class

The idea for this class arose from that zinger. The melding of my two heritages together, to make a NEW cohesive whole. Not only in myself, but also in the words I love to read. When I discovered there were faeries in native literature, I was so excited. I began to study these “little people” as many tribes call them. Then I thought about how I could utilize these beings in urban fantasy, which is one of my favorite sub-genres. “What if American Gods actually had some American gods in it?” I thought. “What if Anansi had been Iktomi?”

I’ve been tinkering with how to make this idea work. It’s a good one, I think, honoring the mythical beings that come from this continent’s soil. Giving them back their place in this land—well, no, not really in the land, they are of it. But perhaps we can give them a place in our hearts. I’m enjoying this so much, and I’ll happily share the fun in class: First, we’ll read work of three of the masters of urban fantasy (de Lint, Gaiman, Jemison) to give students a feel for the genre. Then we’ll look at the legends and folktales of Jo-gah-oh, Puk-Wudjies, Wematagunis, and many more. After that, let the games begin. Literally. We will play prompt & write games and create stories of these beings interacting with our contemporary world. I can’t wait to see how my students interpret what I teach them. It will be a great afternoon!

For more information click here.

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Community Enrichment Classes

Later this month MFA graduate Valentyn Smith will teach the second Spring 2021 enrichment class, Spell of the Evocative: Setting in Fiction .

Valentyn Smith

Valentyn  is a transplant to Vermont from Brooklyn. She came here originally for our residential program in Writing & Publishing, but found that the low-residency model was a better fit. She earned her MFA in Writing, but came back to W & P for the Certificate in Publishing. Valentyn also works in the library here on campus.

My fellow classmate told me that writing was  with her from an early age. As a quiet child, writing was how Valentyn communicated. I’m sure many of us can relate to that sentiment (I know I can!) She remembers having “story movies” in her head, and that continues to this day.

Her family came to the U.S. from Russia seeking political asylum, and she was greatly influenced in art as in life by her mother and grandfather. Valentyn’s mother, a Ukrainian/Russian Jew, was a fine artist and student of Art History, who learned to speak English by reading children’s books to her young daughter. Her grandfather, on the other hand, believed in speaking up, which could have gotten him killed back in the Soviet Union. He imparted that kind of bravery through words to his granddaughter.

Valentyn had her own version of “the Dark Ages” as far as her art goes, and writing stopped being  important in her life.  However, in college she had her own personal “Renaissance”  and communicating again with the written word made her feel like she was coming home! (this is another sentiment that I am certain that other writers can relate to. It seems like so many of us—myself included—have come back to writing.)

One of the most compelling things about her writing is its connection to Russian folklore.  She didn’t grow up hearing these stories.  Her move to Vermont brought her to the type of tales that have become a motif of her work: Missing her family caused her to study writings from and about their homeland. Russian tales, anthropological texts, oral storytelling traditions and the myths of landscape, full of nature spirits  and fantastical elements. She started using the strong, evocative sense of place in these stories to examine her upbringing in New York City. (This has worked well for her. I’ve had just two classes with her, so I’ve only been privy to a tiny bit of her work. But let me tell you, my response has been “MAN! That girl can WRITE!)

The Class

Spell of the Evocative: Setting in Fiction

Valentyn hopes that students of this class will fall in love with setting, and learn to see it not just as place, but also as an extension of character. She wants them to consider our—and our character’s—relationship to the environment and realize that setting is living, breathing, and can even be considered an entity, both in our lives, but also in our writing. Especially in our writing.

In this class a combination of close reading and generative exercises will help students understand the evocative importance of setting. Students will learn—in both reading and writing—to ask “Why this setting?” and  “Why this journey?” She wants to teach them, she says, to “carve out the why.”

Transporting the reader is the goal here. When she reads she tries to figure out what does the trick in this regard. She wants to teach her students how to pick out and impart tone, mood and style. They will leave the class with a sense of the difference between these elements. Participants will learn to “follow the smoke to the fire,” to discern what casts the spell that “opens the portal to a raw place.” Finally, they’ll learn how to cast that spell in their own writing.

That just gives me goosebumps! It sounds like a great class from a gifted writer and teacher. Go forth and learn, you Padawan scribes!

You can get more information or buy tickets to the class here.

Also, see the poster below:

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Congratulations to Alumnx Lizzy Fox

Congratulations to our own Lizzy Fox on the release of her book of poetry Red List Blue,  just published by Finishing Line Press. I “attended” the online reading and book launch party last Friday, sponsored by Bear Pond Books and the Hubbard Library. I’d previously heard Lizzy read a poem or two at VCFA readings, but on this night she read several that I hadn’t heard. I very much enjoyed them.

Lizzy is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program here at VCFA, and was the Assistant Director of the Writing & Publishing program until July of 2020. We love and miss her. She’s a bright and shining light who was ready to show each of us the way. If we ever had a question, the answer was always “Ask Lizzy.” But we are so proud of her for following her goals and moving on when she needed to. She left to attend the Teacher Apprenticeship Program at Champlain College where she will earn her Vermont teaching license and go on to teach high school English. The best of success in this endeavor, Lizzy!

And now she has a book out!

This is not a typical book of poetry. Lizzy came out of the slam poetry scene and sound is so important to her work. Her poetry resonates strongly with me and this is probably why. (I was a street poet in San Francisco in the 80s, and that scene melded into the slam scene.) I LOVE poetry that’s meant to be read OUT LOUD! Lizzy told us that before she began her MFA program she wasn’t very interested in how poetry looked on the page. But—despite still being concerned about the sound—she has come to appreciate carefully planning a poem’s look.

She began the reading with “Empty/Full” a poem about love and cold, which closes with these lines:

“Have you seen how the light bends off the ice these days?

The way snow becomes the sun? How empty the trees,

always reaching, never in want?”

Lovely lines, aren’t they?

Lizzy read several poems that night, and even when she thought she’d read the last one, Valentine’s Day, people asked for more: “Read Beryl,” they asked. “Read A minute to seven.” So, of course, she did.

Lizzy’s poetry–or at least what she read that night–seem to be invariably about love, but all kinds of love: not necessarily romantic love, but…that too. Even the poems that are serious have a light air to them, like pixies dancing in a field. I had thought I’d lost my taste for poetry, but Lizzy may just have revived it. I will leave you with my favorite lines of the night, from the poem Blue:

” …she was a painter too–my grandmother.

She dyed her hair red and used yellow washes to make

the canvas brighter. She talked about the black hole

in her brain that ate memories. Later I learned

it was martinis. I’m beginning to notice a pattern.

The sky on a sunny day but not on a cloudy one. Sapphires

except not all of them. Did you know that sapphires

come in every color except red? Red sapphires are called rubies.”


Get the book/Find Out About Future Readings

You can order Red List Blue here.

Lizzy will be reading Friday night at the Writing & Publishing Reading Series (here) along with current Assistant Director Shin Yu Pai, visiting faculty Tim Horvath, and visiting writer Prageeta Sharma.

You can find out about Lizzy’s other readings here.





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Community Enrichment Classes

For several years now the Writing & Publishing program here at VCFA has offered Community Enrichment Classes. These classes allow the college to interact with the community, and give our MFA students important chances to teach. In the past we’ve had  craft class about our character’s inner lives, as well as poetry and memoir craft classes. This winter and spring we will hold four Saturday classes taught by current students: The Personal Essay: Introspection in the Time of Covid, taught by Hassan AJ; Spell of the Evocative: Setting in Fiction, taught by Valentyn Smith; Leaving Europe Behind: Writing (Indigenous) Urban Fantasy for the Americas, taught by yours truly; and Magic & Tech: Elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy, taught by Dexter Loken and M.K. Martin.

Hassan AJ

A self described nomad, Hassan AJ is an international student in his second year at VCFA. Five or six years ago he was a pre-med student secretly taking online writing classes. He was lured away from medicine when he fell in love with language itself, from the sentence level on. (In other words, from the micro–to the macro) He’s fascinated by the ability to “assemble language on the page to make the world less abstract and more tangible.”

Hassan has concentrated on historical fiction in his time at VCFA, writing a novel based on his family’s ancestral story. However, 2020 has made him look closer to home: introspection has become the name of the game. As he puts it “personal essay and solitude go hand in hand, and what is quarantine but forced solitude?” He also feels that personal essay has a therapeutic component to it that he–and society–needs after a year of Covid.

In other words, this is a timely class for us all after the year we’ve had!

The Class

“In solitude, a mask comes off that allows the personal essayist to look back at the past and extract a truth about the human condition. For centuries, the personal essay’s goal has been to make the bitter awareness of the reality of our existence ‘appetizing and even amusing’” (that last bit is a quote from Lopate, but the rest is pure Hassan).

Three essays will be discussed in the class:

The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this essay, Fitzgerald, like us, is in solitude. His life is on pause.  He uses that pause to find his own disillusionment in life. Fitzgerald “teaches us that facing the past, with all the demons of the present, can help us unmask the self, and understand our follies.”

Goodbye to All That, by Joan Didion

Didion uses this essay, written in Los Angeles, to “make sense of the disenchantment in her life” by viewing her past in New York City through the lens of space and time, seeking to understand what went wrong.

Street Haunting, by Virginia Wolfe

In this essay Wolfe takes an opposite tack from Fitzgerald and Didion, by concentrating not on isolation and introspection, but on her escape from such–and from herself–as she wanders the streets of London where “she has her grip tight on the enchanted life.”

“Hassan will use these three pieces to show how personal essay can help us interrogate our lives and our own inherent disenchantment, or the compulsion to cling to life’s enchantment.”

What enchantment or disenchantment might you need to concentrate on after a year of solitude and confinement? Hassan’s class may just point you in the right direction. The class is on February 27th between 1-4pm est. all classes are online. You can register here.

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Halloween Community Enrichment Class


Here, at VCFA, we believe in being good members of our community. Now, by community, we mean, of course, students and faculty here in the W&P program. More than that, however, we mean the writing community outside of our school. We also mean the surrounding community of Montpelier and beyond. Because of this responsibility to being good citizens, we hold community enrichment classes in different types, styles and genres of writing. In doing so, we not only give our students valuable teaching experience, we also help other writers hone their craft.

Our first Community Enrichment Class of the semester is one that I am personally excited about: Halloween Horror, a speculative fiction class specifically for teens, taught by Virginia Booth.  Virginia will be utilizing folklore from the German, Celtic and Nordic traditions to explore the origins of Halloween. Students will use this folklore and in-class prompts to create their own horror or speculative fiction piece.

The class will be taught this Saturday, October 31st (Halloween!) from 9:30am-12:00 Noon, EDT. It is an online class, and the cost is based on a sliding scale. Please attend, teen writers, have fun and give us some spooky tales!

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The Last Readings of the Year

What an amazing couple of nights for readings we have had here at VCFA. First, on Thursday 12/5 we had our last reading of the year at the North Branch Café, featuring students Dayton Shafer and Ukamaka Olisakwe. Then, on the following night we had the Final Friday Night Reading of the year at Cafe Anna. Cafe Anna is always a great venue, and on this night featured faculty Justin Bigos & Ariel Francisco as well as visiting writers Kristina Marie Darling, & Chris Campanioni.

North Branch Café

Ukamaka Olisakwe

We were all abuzz with excitement to hear Ukamaka read.  Her poem “Slut” has just been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Go Uka! Congratulations! She started off with an intriguing CNF piece about her life in Nigeria, but ended with reading “Slut”. You can view and/or hear it here:

Be prepared to be amazed.

Oh, and more congrats for Uka. Indigo Press will publish her novel Ogadinma next spring. It’s been a very good week for her, and she richly deserves it.

Dayton Shafer

Dayton began with “A Tasting with Troglodytes”, a review of a body modification pop-up.  Part searing, comical send-up, part tender field guide to the underground, his essay brought to mind the weird, wild, wonderful punk-rock art shows of the 80’s mixed with a little Burning Man for good measure. All in our own tiny state capitol, Montpelier.

We were then treated to a series of monologues about growing up as a thinking soul in the Midwest. Richly detailed accounts of Dayton’s life, The American Dream Is fluidly carries the audience from one touching vignette to the next. We travel with him from the house his grandfather built; watch him in his first bit of activism (at the age of ten) as he cleans trash and debris from an Ohio river; and end with an endearing account of community back here in Montpelier. I can’t wait to see the whole thing performed.

Cafe Anna Friday night Reading Series

It’s hard to believe that we are at the end of the semester and the year, but here we are!

Justin Bigos

The night ended the series well, beginning with Justin Bigos reading the story of an eight-year-old child going through divorce and homelessness. The piece had an almost vintage, antique feel to it, full of the oddities of a strange museum that the child explores: for example, a piece of wedding cake displayed under glass, a cake that is over one-hundred years old. We then find that it’s more of a contemporary setting when we learn about the father’s love of sci-fi and the child’s blase feelings about Star Wars. There was a really nice tone to the piece, and I look forward to reading it.

Ariel Francisco

Ariel started off with a very funny poem about working in the garden section at Home Depot in Florida during the holidays. He commented on the worthlessness of his English Degree, recalling his diploma hung proudly on the wall. Alas, that degree left him to help customers find the biggest, bulkiest, heaviest trees in this store–trees he wished were full of spiders; trees he thought had followed the call of migratory birds who told them that Florida was the place to spend their winters. Hysterical! He followed with a couple more poems  that conjured for us his humorous loathing for his home state, and finally, told us a tender and funny story about translating his father’s love poems.

Kristina Marie Darling and Chris Campanioni

Rounding out the evening were collaborative poets Kristina Marie Darling and Chris Campanioni. They read separately at first, with Kristina regaling us with persona poems about a character named Jane Dark. Jane Dark’s hobby is stealing husbands.  The poems are sometimes comical stories about Jane’s resentment of “the other wife.” I hope to never meet someone like Jane, but hearing about her in prose poems was fun.

Chris’s poetry, on the other hand, was more intriguing than funny, though just as sharp when it came to characterization. He read from his book The Internet Is Real, beginning his segment with “Opening the first pages of a book is like seeing your lover for the first time…I like to forget my lover from time to time.”  Wow. The two ended with an anonymous collaboration from their class the evening before.  It was a great way to end the night.
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The Vermont Book Award Gala

We’ve been busy here at VCFA for the past few weeks: classes, readings, modules, mixers, and most notably, the 5th Annual Vermont Book Award Gala, held Saturday, November 9th in Alumnx Hall. The Gala has become a go-t0 event for literati in the Montpelier area since it’s inception:

The inaugural Vermont Book Award was given in 2015. Vermont College of Fine Arts created the award to continue its mission of promoting emerging and established artists, especially those with deep connections to the state of Vermont–and to draw attention to a state uniquely suited for creative enterprise.

The annual Book Award Gala is a celebratory evening honoring these talented artists and the rich literary community that surrounds them.

–from the 2019 program


The Gala

Amara & Nina

To say that a good time was had by all is an understatement. To have such a special event that is centered around literature and the arts was good for the souls of all in attendance. Writing & Publishing students got the chance to rub elbows not just with faculty and staff, but also with the community at large. It was a “fancy” event, meaning we could dress to the nines if we so desired, and, pretty much everyone did.

Virginia & Rebecca

Bianca & Ukamaka

Especially the students. The attire was cocktail or formal, and as you can see, we did our best to “blend.”


Okay, maybe not blend as much as SHINE!

Nina, Hassan & Amara


The Award

But, as much fun as dressing to the nines and posing for pictures was, that’s not really what the Gala is all about. The Gala is about the Vermont Book Award, and we were treated to some amazing writers, nine in all, sharing their work. When asked if the author I wanted to win was conferred the honor, I had to say that I didn’t really have a winner in mind. They were all fantastic.

First we heard Poetry from Sue Burton’s 2018 collection Box. Sue is an alum of VCFA’s own MFA in Writing program and lives in Burlington.

Michael Collier was next. The author of seven poetry collections has won several important prizes. He teaches creative writing at the University of Maryland.

Poet and fiction writer Anna Maria Hong followed. She has work in fifty+ anthologies and journals and teaches at Bennington College. Ms. Hong couldn’t attend, but past VBA recipient Kerrin McCadden read from Hong’s book Age Of Glass.

Next came another VCFA Alum, this time from the Writing for Children & Young Adults program. Daphne Kalmar read to us from her debut novel  A Stitch in Time. (I have to admit that, when asked which author I wanted the award to go to, Ms. Kalmar was a strong contender, and most of my classmates agreed. Her book cover rocked as well.)


Another Alum, Kekla Magoon (Writing for Children and Young Adults) followed, as did Rebekka Makkai,



Rounding out the readings were Leath Tonino and Tony Whedon.







Finally, However

The winner of this years Vermont Book Award, Jason Lutes blew us all away with his graphic novel Berlin. Lutes has been working on this graphic novel for over twenty years. A work of historical fiction that describes the fall of the Weimar Republic and rise of facism/Nazism in late 1920’s, early 1930’s Germany, this series of 22 magazines has been complied first into 3 books, and most recently into one complete book. The work has won high praise over the years, being called “one of the great epics of the comics medium,” and landing on Rolling Stones “50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”.

When Mr. Lutes took to the podium he commented that he didn’t have a speech prepared, since he didn’t think it was possible that a graphic novel could possibly win the award. He shouldn’t have been so surprised. The book is amazing, and he well deserves the honor.

and then…

The snow has been blanketing the ground here in Montpelier, stuck in its current cycle of snow/melt–snow/melt. There’s the Thanksgiving break followed by the last three weeks of the semester and the long winter break. Time has flown here at VCFA. It’s a great place to be.

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