Profiles of the writers in the MFA in Writing & Publishing program

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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A Student Reading, Before The Final Farewell

The final reading of the semester—the entire year, really—was held in the Chapel, the night before graduation. It was the perfect opportunity for us to re-familiarize ourselves with our classmates’ work. After a year in each other’s company, we can identify everyone in our humble cohort by subjects and genres: tennis, addiction, magic realism, speculative fiction, dinosaurs.

But the graduating students led hermit-like existences while finishing their theses. And our cohort was divided into separate workshops. Hence, we might have not seen each other’s work. For some, the reading affirmed their thesis projects, while for others, it was a chance to try something new.

It had been too long. The reading was so well-attended that we had no choice but to move from Cafe Anna, where all of our readings went down, to the Chapel, already set up for graduation. Under the warm lights, we were all stars.

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A Night at the Theater

Just before graduating from the MFA in Writing & Publishing program, Dan Cretaro staged a reading of his thesis, a two-act play entitled “Yet, Not There.” In the play, two couples spend a secluded weekend in the woods. They navigate the intricacies of childhood friendships, starting families, careers and the lack thereof, inside jokes, and Nineties wrestling references. It was a play worthy of reflecting the involvement and nuances that a long thesis project takes.

Your humble chronicler got the chance to photograph the play as well as backstage. Suffice to say, nobody broke an actual leg.

Students Cammie Finch, Brianna Stallings, Jeremy Wolf, and Michael Demyan all had starring roles, with Tierney Ray reading stage directions. Plus, Captain Nemo guest-starred as a slice of pizza.

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The Unbearable Lightness of AWP

Earlier this month, the Association of Writers and Publishers hosted its annual conference in Tampa, Florida.

For over 15,000 attendees, the AWP Conference & Bookfair is the literary event in America: four straight days of books, book deals, interacting with editors from Big 5 publishing houses and tiny literary magazines alike, networking, lectures, readings, and parties. For the Vermont College of Fine Arts, it was the ideal place to launch Everyday Chimeras, the latest issue of Hunger Mountain. For the students of VCFA who could attend, it was a too-brief respite from the endless winter. And for student Cammie Finch, it was an eye-opening festival of wonder—a place where everyone could geek out over writing and reading.

In a post on her personal blog, Cammie extols the joys of being surrounded by literary geeks, reflects on how AWP impacted her own goals, and shows off some cool swag. She writes:

I loved AWP. Really. Really really loved it. It’s hard to fully imagine the conference without experiencing it. But let me try my best. It’s 15,000 writers and teachers and students and editors and publishers and logophiles and bibliophiles, all geeking out over writing and reading. It’s getting the nerve to go up to the Paris Review or Guernica or [insert prestigious journal here], shake hands with the editor, and have confidence in your own work. It’s about breathing in the same room with the poets and writers you read online or follow on Twitter or whose likeness you’ve taped to the walls of your bedroom. It’s about finding a community of people who understand why you do what you do. It’s about supporting yourself and others and literature itself.

Melissa Febos and Donika Kelly (our Hunger Mountain guest editors) IN REAL LIFE!

Yes, the conference was chaotic and a total sensory overload and exhausting and the food wasn’t great and was very overpriced,  but it was worth it to work at the book fair all day long…

…so I could attend panels and craft lectures on the things that are important to me: “The Next Step: Teaching & Writing at a Literary Center“, “Work Work Balance: When a Day Job Pays More Than the Bills,” “Writing Bad Ass and Nasty Women,”  and “The Real Mother of All Bombs: Reconsidering John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

…so I could see dear writing mentors of mine again (Robert James RussellAllegra HydeAlex McElroyAmelia MartensBritton Shurley, to name a few)

…so I could leave my footprints on the dry Tampa sidewalks.

I’ve decided that I will attend AWP every year from this day forward until I can no longer travel or walk.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Genre-Mashing Buddy-Cop Films

It’s a new semester, and we’re kicking things off with a bang, or at the very least, a screenwriting class.

In Julianna Baggott’s Stage & Screen course, we analyzed Hot Fuzz, the 2007 British action-comedy film with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and a lot of guns and explosions. Any movie, no matter how brilliantly genre-defying it is (91% on Rotten Tomatoes!) can be divided into acts, tropes, and story elements. (Alexandra Sokoloff talks about this, clearly and concisely.)

Analyzing Hot Fuzz and its two hours of edge-of-your-seat action wasn’t easy. We illustrated its story elements in groups and on the blackboard, pointing out just where the Inciting Incident occurs, when All Is Lost, and just how the Bad Guys Close In. (Hence, the time-lapse above).

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Welcome Back, College

Aaaaand we’re back!

After our first semester of intense writing, workshops, readings, and getting to know each other, we deserved a good break. And we got one: most of us went home (to points everywhere), while some of us stayed in town, soaking up the experience of a frigid and beautiful Vermont winter. To get a sense of how we experienced this lovely break, your humble chronicler asked fellow students of VCFA’s Writing and Publishing program exactly what they did, what they read, and what they wanted to write for our Stage and Screen course.

Here are some illuminating answers.

Sarah Leamy went to nearby Waterbury, Vermont to hang out with her very good dogs.

What did you do over break?

Mariah Hopkins: I’ve been learning Spanish for my Fulbright application.

Desmond Peeples: Cared for my sick dog. She just had her second knee surgery yesterday. She’s very resilient, and she looks really good with her legs shaved.

Paul Acciavatti: We went to Montreal. Mostly it was my wife’s 35th birthday and her friends from college gathered to celebrate and eating and drinking happened. There is a stretch in Petite-Italie which increasingly features a bunch of halal butchers and Syrian restaurants like Alep (French for “Aleppo”). We ate in Le Petit Alep, we had the three-course tasting menu for $31 CAD each ($25) and it went on and on and on. We also ducked into the Maison d’Italie on a whim (my cousin was also there and she is wicked into the heritage). So it was definitely a feeling of MTL as an island of multiculturalism in the great white north.

Jad Yassine: I had two wisdom teeth extractions.

Kayleigh Marinelli: I got really sick and thought it would be a really good idea to go to New York City and got stuck on the NJ train for an hour and a half. I still got to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, though.

Sarah Leamy: I wrote a novel.

Gina Tron went to Iceland. She recommends it.

What books did you read?

Samuel Kolawole: I was reading short stories from journals—translated short stories from Words Without Borders. I’m starting to enjoy translated stories. Sometimes when the language is translated from the original into English, it still retains its energy.

Lennie DeCerce: The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s the best book I’ve read in years.

Gina Tron: Misfit’s Manifesto by Lidia Yuknavitch on my flight to Iceland, which kept me grounded.

Mariah Hopkins: The Underdogs, written in the 1930s by Mariano Azuela. It’s about his experiences during the Mexican Revolution.

Bianca Vinas: Murder on the Orient Express. I’d never read anything by Agatha Christie. I don’t know if I liked it.

Lindsey Gacad went to nearby Portland, Maine. At Bayside Cafe, she recommends some good bennies.

If you could make any movie of your dreams, what would it be about?

Jennifer Gibbons: A remake of “All About Eve” with Susan Sarandon in Bette Davis’s role, Jennifer Lawrence as Eve Harrington, Tim Robbins in Gary Merrill’s role, and Cherry Jones in Celeste Holm’s role.

Lindsey Brownson: Some kind of modern-day reimagining of Stephen King’s “Carrie,” but with the Internet.

Lindsay Gacad: When I imagine what I’m writing, it’s a mix between “The Godfather” and “The Joy Luck Club.”

Cammie Finch: An experimental short film called “Fly:” a stationary camera focuses on a sporadic fly covered in red paint in a room, sparsely inhabited by humans, but no humans are currently present. The fly is hitting walls, hitting windows, trapping itself in blinds and lamp shades. The fly leaves a mark on each surface it hits. Post-production edits turn the shot psychedelic colors, then negative, then black and white, then sepia, etc. Music changes every minute or two, as well—from hip-hop to classical to electronic to world music to percussion to country, sometimes layering over each other—in order to change emotions of viewers. At the end, the fly is zapped by the overhead light and falls to the ground. Fade to black light. The “marked surfaces” glow. Fade to all black. Zoom in on dying fly, curling into itself. Zoom closer and closer, David-Lynch-style. All music combines together into a maddening wall of sound. Then sudden silence while the fly slowly disintegrates and crinkles to dust.

Sarah Leamy: A thriller/dark comedy based around croquet.

Bianca Vinas would like you to know that she highly recommends the film “Call Me By Your Name.”

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Our Last Reading Puts Us—Yes, Us!—Front And Center

It was a strangely warm night in Vermont for our last reading—a surprise, really, after a day-long blizzard that dumped a foot and a half of snow across campus. Mercifully, there was no wind chill. At Cafe Anna, we were all in high spirits.

Now, it was our turn to shine. The students of the MFA in Writing and Publishing program put on a reading of our own, where we shared the things we wrote during the semester. The funny thing is, separated by different classes and workshops, we didn’t even know some of each other’s work.

Here, then, is nearly every student in our program, up on the podium. We have all stuck together, made new friends, soaked up advice; fawned over professors whose work we loved, defended our writing, braved the snow and the chill and our own critiques.

Now it’s winter break. Maybe we’ll fly back home to warmer places. Maybe we’ll double down and work harder on our theses. Maybe we’ll go skiing. Regardless, we’re definitely in this together.

See you next year.

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Sherman Bitsui coming to VCFA

Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song, the poet’s second book, is a hike through the desert at sunset when you don’t know where you’re going. It is equal parts disorienting, beautiful, and full of misdirection: surreal and bordering on the nonsensical, but with enough glimmers of the familiar to bring you back. You follow Bitsui to “a cornfield at the bottom of a sandstone canyon,” into the past, “a blurry splotch of red crosshatched with neon light,” while “black ants drift through the throats of wounded stags.”

Bitsui was born in Fort Defiance, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation, a member of the Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl’izilani (Many Goats Clan). He came into poetry at the tail end of his teenage years, when he started college at the Institute of American Indian Arts—surrounded by fellow tribal members, an experience which he called “cathartic.” In 2003, his first book Shapeshift was published, followed by Flood Song six years later. Along the way he’s racked up awards, grants, and fellowships.

This Friday, Bitsui will be reading at VCFA’s Writing and Publishing program, reading alongside faculty member Trinie Dalton. He’ll also be making time to discuss his work with students, before and after the reading. We’re looking forward to welcoming him here, a poet who evokes so much surreal imagery, blending into one another, a kinetic force from line to line. If we can

In an interview with Guernica Magazine, Bitsui said: “I feel like I’m a border poet in some ways. I definitely experience several worlds as one… Poetry, structurally, felt similar to the way I thought and the way I perceived the world as a Navajo person. It spoke to me on a very human level where walls cleared away to shared breath and sky.”

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The Dinner Club

Spend your first few weeks wandering around a dorm, and eventually a dinner party will break out.

Says W&P student Lauren Lang (posting to the program’s Facebook page): “having a meal at a table is much better with friends when being away from family.” Five W&P students, gathering in the kitchen to concoct various meals (rice, squash, steamed vegetables and shrimp, pasta, a single egg), before sitting down to take stock of what brought them together: it’s a thing of beauty. We writers gotta stick together, lest we go insane.

First, a supper club: then, here come the séances, the exquisite corpses, the murder mystery dinner theaters. Someone will inevitably bring a Ouija board. This campus is haunted, don’t you know? We do, and we’re looking forward to extending the invitation.

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