The UH Creative Writing Program continues to brim with literary talent after 35 years
November 17, 2015, by Giuseppe Taurino
This year the University of Houston Creative Writing Program (UH CWP) surpasses its 35th year, which is quite an accomplishment. This highly competitive and nationally renowned program admits and graduates the world’s top emerging writers. The pool of literary talent from the UH CWP is impressive and has helped sustain Houston as a thriving literary city. Inprint’s support—more than $3 million in prizes and fellowships awarded to UH CWP students, including $150,000 in recruiting fellowships this fall—plays a key role in attracting and retaining these young writers.
Giuseppe Taurino, assistant director of the UH CWP, says, “We’re excited to meet and work with new students who share the desire and ability to do great things, and are proud of the graduating students who leave better equipped to go out and pursue them. Hello, Goodbye. In the end, it’s all relative, really. Our UH CWP community grows, and the people who comprise it will always be part of the fold.”
Take a moment to learn more about the writers that have just graduated from the UH CWP and see what they are doing now, and get to know the writers that have just entered the program.
Conor Bracken (MFA, Poetry) is, for the immediate future, sticking around Houston while his fiancée finishes her Ph.D. (in American Lit) at Rice. Conor taught a poetry workshop with Inprint this summer, was pouring wine at a wine bar, and is transforming his thesis into a contest/submission-ready manuscript.
Maybe this isn’t very revelatory, but the thing I loved and will miss and fondly remember from the UH CWP was the community – so many writers with so much enthusiasm in such different spots of their careers all so ready to hang out and talk about everything over a Topo Chico or a Lonestar. Everyone I met and talked with was supportive, curious, and genuinely interested in my life and work.
Justin Chrestman (Ph.D., Fiction) is, for the time being, staying in Houston.
The thing I’ll miss most about the UH CWP is being surrounded by so many talented artists. Being in the midst of such a vibrant, friendly community was an enormous pleasure.
Katie Condon (MFA, Poetry) moved to Knoxville, Tennessee to begin a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing.
When I was applying for MFA programs, I’d heard more horror stories than I had stories celebrating programs. The narrative told most often was that MFA programs are terribly competitive, to the point people in one genre don’t mingle with folks in another, or that people rarely had friends within their cohort at all; the reason being the level of competitiveness blinded everything else. I’d only heard that MFA programs encouraged a kind of Top Dog mentality.
After hearing these stories over and over again, of course I was apprehensive about beginning in Houston; however, what I found in the program was nothing short of a supportive (and an incredibly talented) community. Sure, there was an unavoidable level of competition, but it was always healthy and always constructive. Houston not only gave me a knowledge of poetics I wouldn’t have received anywhere else, but also friends I’ll have for the rest of my life.
Aja Gabel (Ph.D., Fiction) is living in Portland, Oregon, with past Ph.D. grads Becca Wadlinger and Adam Peters (She’s not living WITH them, but they also live there and are her friends.) Aja lives with her dog, and is currently working on finishing her first novel, while also working part time as a social media strategist.
The thing I always say when people ask me about the UH CWP is how incredible the faculty is—very generous with their time and wisdom. For such a large program, I didn’t expect that, but have come away feeling like a couple of my professors really know my work.
Laura Jok (MFA, Fiction) moved to Novi, Michigan and accepted a job as the manager of book acquisitions at a small independent bookstore, The Next Chapter.
During my time in the UH CWP, I appreciated the opportunity to produce and learn how to best shape a collection of short fiction. This education is something that I will revisit as I polish and send out my manuscript. I most enjoyed teaching creative writing: being inspired by the bravery of beginners and showing students how they can, in Francine Prose’s words, “read for courage” as they experience the often strange and daring work of the greats.
Kristin Kostick (Ph.D., Nonfiction) is living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she is working on developing her master’s manuscript into a book of nonfiction essays related to self-construction and deception. One of her essays, “Hostage Situation,” recently won first place in the Arts & Letters Prize Competition and will be published in the journal this fall. Another nonfiction essay related to her research on life-sustaining technologies (she works remotely at Baylor College of Medicine in the Houston Medical Center) was just published in the “Narrative Matters” section of Health Affairs.
What I’ll take away most from the UH CWP is the opportunity to surround myself with other people who have prioritized writing as a centerpiece in their daily life. The community at UH remains unrivaled among other creative writing programs of this caliber, and is what I miss the most, along with regular feedback from a cast of talented and compassionate professors. Luckily, I managed to keep all of their emails to bug them in the future!
Karyna McGlynn (Ph.D., Poetry) was offered the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. She plans to spend the fellowship year polishing (and hopefully publishing) her second book, Hothouse, as well as her translation of the French poet Anne Kawala’s Le cow-boy et le poete. You will also find her shaking the academic job market like a fruit tree and demanding it bear fruit.
I never expected to become the Managing Editor of Gulf Coast—and I don’t know if I’ve ever worked that hard at something in my life—but that position gave me an entirely new (and marketable!) skill set. Sounds weird, but I’ll really miss all those late nights in the Gulf Coast office—sequencing, mocking-up covers, spending hours fussing with the kerning and leading in order to have a story end on an even-numbered page, and carrying boxes & boxes & boxes!
Bryan Owens (MFA, Poetry) plans to move to Washington state in the next year. He will continue to teach public school and hopes to be apprenticed by a winemaker to learn the wine business from growing to tasting. Currently, he is writing poems, short fiction, and a graphic novel.
What I took from the UH CWP is that it takes great individual courage and discipline to create art. In creating art, it is easy to stroke the ego, but I’ve found art that is most worthwhile to create can often be humbling through the process of composition. What I found surprising is how the UH CWP manages to cultivate a rich environment of professionals who revere the complex, transformative, illuminating nature of art, more so than the cutthroat business of inflating the ego and promoting the work of the self. In the program, we cared about each other as much as our own success, and that is what I will miss most.
Austin Tremblay (Ph.D., Fiction) is joining the faculty of Western New Mexico University, in Silver City, NM, as an Assistant Professor of Screenwriting and Fiction.
I loved my time spent with writers and supporters of the UH CWP. I was pleasantly surprised to find Houston such an arts-friendly town, and beyond floored by the generosity of Inprint. The UH CWP reinvigorates the word “community,” removing it from cheesy buzzword status and reiterating its requisite nature in the life of a writer. I can’t think of a better place to have been a writer for the last five years, and I will miss the place, the program, and the people dearly.
Corey Campbell (Ph.D., Fiction) is moving from Phoenix, AZ where she has been working for Arizona State University’s Creative Writing program and leading a fiction workshop with incarcerated writers. She grew up near Littleton, CO but has lived all over (LA, New Orleans, China, Japan, New York, now Phoenix), mostly working in education.
I look forward to navigating Houston’s literary/arts community. (I hear it may be more vibrant and engaged than Phoenix’s.) I want to sit some more in the Rothko Chapel and, once and for all, finish this story collection I’ve been trying to write.
Thomas Cardamone (MFA, Fiction) graduated from Colgate University in 2013 with a degree in English and Creative Writing. Since then, he has been working as a Program Coordinator and Library Staff member at Colgate, and his fiction has appeared online at Necessary Fiction and decomP.
I’m looking forward to dedicating the next three years to honing my craft and exploring the Houston area.
Amanda (Mandi) Casolo (Ph.D., Fiction) is a New England native who migrated to the front range of the Rocky Mountains to obtain her MFA in fiction at Colorado State University in 2012. If she isn’t in a cafe overdosing on caffeine, she is spending as much time in the backcountry as possible with her Fuji X-Pro 1 slung across her back. In the last three years, she’s become an avid rock climber and mountaineer, and has started a personal blog to chronicle some of the adventure. At CSU she taught college composition and beginning creative writing, and loved how much teaching challenged her own writing.
I’m looking forward to a community of candid writers and insightful readers, and gain a greater understanding of my material. My motivation for applying to Houston was the talented faculty and the opportunities to participate in literary publishing and community arts activism. Houston will be a challenging lifestyle and environmental change, and I’m excited for the chance to live differently.
Catherine Cleary (MFA, Poetry) grew up in Houston and is coming back to study poetry after five years in Austin where she attended UT and completed a year of national service with Americorps.
I’m excited to learn in a creative and collaborative environment at UH, and can’t wait to meet my fellow students. I’m also looking forward to experiencing the city where I grew up from a new perspective, and am hoping to remain committed to my over ambitious dream of exploring it by bike and public transit.
Lauren Espinoza (Ph.D., Poetry) is coming to the UH CWP from Arizona State University’s MFA program and before that from the University of Texas-Pan American’s MAIS in Mexican American Studies Program.
I’m from the Rio Grande Valley—McAllen, more specifically—so I’m happy to get out of the “dry heat” of Phoenix to be returning to the Texas humidity to join the UH CWP. I’ve spent the summer teaching Veterans as part of the Upward Bound program at ASU.
I’m looking forward to joining the larger literary community in Houston. I’ve heard that there are a lot of talented writers that call Houston home, and I’m excited to support the community and celebrate its accomplishments.
Joshua Foster (Ph.D., Fiction) is coming to Houston from southeastern Idaho, where his family has a grain and potato farming operation. He earned fiction and nonfiction MFAs from University of Arizona and was also a Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University. He serves as Nonfiction Editor for Terrain.org and Assistant Fiction Editor at TheDiagram.com. He’s currently at work on a novel, among other shorter projects.
I’m most looking forward to joining the University of Houston’s Ph.D. cohort for camaraderie, a writing community, guidance in literary studies, and time to write.
Chris Liek (MFA, Nonfiction) is originally from York, PA, and in the ten years between high school and going to college, he worked in warehouses and factories, and in a bar in downtown York; he hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail and spent time at a primitive living community in North Carolina called Turtle Island Preserve. After that, he went to college in small town Selinsgrove PA, graduating from Susquehanna University.
I’m looking forward to experiencing Houston and its people, and even more the advantage distance will bring. To writing about the people I’ve encountered in York, in Selinsgrove, on the trail. I’m finding that if you never move away, you can never go back home. You can’t return to something you never left in the first place.
The UH CWP will help me gain the distance I need to write about these people – the crackheads and the mountain men, the townies and families. And with that, gain the distance to find myself somewhere in the middle of it all.
I’m going to miss winter and snow, but I’m looking forward to everything that Houston has to offer.
Josephine Mitchell (MFA, Fiction) grew up on the beach in San Diego, California, and moved all the way up the coast to attend The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. There, she received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in creative writing and focused mainly on writing for the stage.
For the last three years I have been teaching English to preschoolers in Dalian, China, where my crafting skills and patience have improved beyond belief. While in China, I switched my focus to short stories and I hope to continue in this genre while at Houston.
I have deep roots in Texas as my mother’s side of the family goes back a few generations in The Lone Star State. I’m anxious to see what family stories are true and hope to mine a few more for my writing. The UH CWP will provide me a great opportunity to further my writing, strengthen my teaching experience and indulge my starved love for Mexican food.
Alex Naumann (MFA, Fiction) is originally from Houston, Texas and received her BA from the University of Houston.
I’m excited to meet writers with different eyes and ears and ways of knowing. Hoping to listen to everything, see everything, and write absolutely freely. I’m looking forward to learning from this faculty of writers and being around people who build things out of words.
Aza Pace (MFA, Poetry) grew up in East Texas, so her work often draws on the natural, political, and religious strangeness of that area. This May, she graduated with a B.A. in English Honors from the University of Texas at Austin.
Although I am a little nervous about navigating a city as large as Houston, I am excited to join a community of serious writers and engage with Houston’s literary and art scenes. I hope to get involved with Gulf Coast during my time as a student here, and I am eager to explore the city’s museums and theaters.
Stalina Villarreal (Ph.D., Poetry) is from Houston, born in Mexico but raised in Houston starting at the age of seven.
I am a product of Affirmative Action; I left the barrio to go to boarding school for high school. I studied away during my B.F.A. and M.F.A. experiences, so I am excited that I will finally have the opportunity to work towards a degree from my hometown by being in the UH CWP.
I am currently employed by HCC and will continue to work there during my studies at the UH CWP. At HCC I am involved in interdisciplinary efforts for minority initiatives and hope to coordinate synergies with UH.
I’m most looking forward to having mentors and peer mentors. In particularly, I have been wanting to work for Roberto Tejada for quite some time since he translates, writes experimental poetry, and critiques art history. I am a visual poet and poetry translator, so our aesthetics have an overlap. In general, I see a specific definition for the word experimental: I look for what has a new spirit. With all my future mentors and peer mentors, I look forward to searching for common ground, celebrating our differences, and experiencing the unknown.