Writer to Writer’s Spring 2021 Mentors
AWP celebrates the writers serving as mentors in the Spring 2021 season of the Writer to Writer Mentorship Program. We selected twenty-four mentors for this session based on their experience, their willingness to serve, and the needs prevalent in the mentee applications. Mentors were each given several strong applications to choose from and selected their own mentees.
If you would like to volunteer as a mentor, applications are now being accepted for our fifteenth and sixteenth seasons, which will begin in September 2021 and February 2022, respectively.
“I believe a good mentor not only shares from their own accumulated writing experience, received training, and invested reading, but can also model how an up-and-coming writer can pursue their own unique writing path—one that does not need to resemble their mentors' but can benefit from some of the lessons others have learned over time.”
Neil Aitken is the author of two books of poetry, Babbage’s Dream (Sundress Publications, 2017) and The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga Press, 2008) and a poetry chapbook, Leviathan (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2016). Of Chinese, Scottish, and English descent, he grew up in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and various parts of western Canada. He is a past Kundiman fellow and holds both an MFA and PhD in creative writing. In addition to writing and teaching, he also serves as the editor of Boxcar Poetry Review, the codirector of De-Canon: A Literary Project, and the curator of Have Book Will Travel.
Neil is working with Nicole W. Lee of Brooklyn, NY.
“Mentors don't just help people edit their manuscripts . . . they open doors to the publishing industry. I got my agent because my mentor believed in my novel and introduced us. Going into that first meeting, knowing that my mentor had already sung the praises of both me and my work, was game changing. Whenever I can, I try to offer those same kinds of life-changing introductions/connections.”
Rachel Beanland writes essays and fiction and is the author of the debut novel, Florence Adler Swims Forever, which was released in July 2020 by Simon & Schuster. The book was selected as the Barnes & Noble Book Club pick for July and was named a Featured Debut by Amazon and an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association. It was also named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the best books of 2020 by USA Today and was recently recognized with the 2020 National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction. Rachel’s essays have appeared in Lit Hub, Business Insider, Creative Nonfiction, and Broad Street, among other places. She is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and earned her MFA in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. Rachel lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is at work on another novel and teaches fiction at VCU and the College of William & Mary.
Rachel is working with Camille Wanliss of New York City, New York.
“I think it would be wonderful to share what I've learned from the many writers and teachers I admire, not just with those students in an MFA program but with other talented writers who have found their way to this program.”
Yvette Benavides is a professor of English and creative writing at Our Lady of the Lake University. She hosts the Texas Public Radio Book Public podcast and is anthology series editor of EQ: Creative Nonfiction on Social Equity (Trinity University Press). She coauthored the book San Antonio 365: On This Day in History with David Martin Davies (Trinity University Press). Her Texas Public Radio commentaries have been recognized with national media journalism awards. Her stories and essays have been published in Creative Nonfiction, Boulevard, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Bellevue Literary Review, Huizache, Latina, and Asterix, among many other publications.
Yvette is working with Sawsen Jamaleddin of Modesto, California.
“A good mentor can share knowledge about the craft of writing, the ins and outs of publishing, and the importance of community. But writing is a subjective business, and mentors can also help writers trust in their own vision and thus learn how to filter and use feedback, including that from agents and editors, in a constructive way.”
Maryka Biaggio is a psychology professor turned novelist who specializes in historical fiction based on real people. She enjoys the challenge of starting with actual historical figures and dramatizing their lives—figuring out what motivated them to behave as they did and recreating some sense of their emotional world through dialogue and action. Doubleday published her debut novel, Parlor Games, in January 2013. Her second novel, Eden Waits, was published by Milford House Press in August 2019. The Point of Vanishing will be published by Milford House Press in June 2021
Maryka is working with Christine Landry of Austin, Texas.
“I am always interested in building my writing community—and I think there's value in having a community made up of writers at different levels and different stages of their careers. In a mentoring experience, I would hope to provide some insight to my mentee, and I'm sure that there's also plenty that they will teach me.”
Despy Boutris's writing has been published or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, American Poetry Review, the Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches at the University of Houston and serves as poetry editor for Gulf Coast, guest editor for Palette Poetry and Frontier, and editor-in-chief of the West Review.
Maryka is working with Mandy Wallace of Bakersfield, California.
“No writer has ever benefited from better mentors than I had, and that relationship continues to this day. It's impossible to pay them back, but maybe I can try to help advance another writer's craft in the same way my mentors did for me.”
Rus Bradburd’s most recent book is All the Dreams We've Dreamed: A Story of Hoops and Handguns on Chicago's West Side (Chicago Review Press, 2018). His previous books are the memoir Paddy on the Hardwood, the controversial biography Forty Minutes of Hell, and the novel-in-stories Make It, Take It. His books focus on the intersections of race, social justice, culture, and sport. He founded—and for three decades has directed—Basketball in the Barrio, a summer program in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio that won NMSU’s Social Justice Award in 2008.
Rus is working with Nancy Williard of Hendersonville, North Carolina.
“A creative mentor's job is to challenge and encourage their mentee and to grow and learn alongside them.”
Jen Breach is a queer, nonbinary writer of stories for children. Their books include the middle grade adventure graphic novel series Clem Hetherington from Scholastic Graphix and the funny, punny picture book Something's Amiss at the Zoo from Lothian/Hachette. Jen is an MFA candidate in VCFA's Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Originally from a tiny town in rural Australia, Jen now lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Jen is working with Kari Gonzalez of Carmichael, California.
“I believe that mentorship is all but essential for a writer. Workshop groups can be very valuable in showing a writer how their work is being read, but a mentorship, because it is one-on-one, can offer the writer a stronger sense of the stakes of their work. A mentorship can also offer the writer a model, or at least a detailed example, of how one makes a life as a writer. Essentially, a good mentor gives the writer a sense of how and why their work is important.”
Cara Diaconoff is the author of a story collection, Unmarriageable Daughters (Lewis-Clark Press, 2008) and a novel, I'll Be A Stranger to You (Outpost19, 2011). She has also completed a second novel, Marian Hall, which is currently seeking a publisher. Her stories have appeared in Indiana Review, Other Voices, South Dakota Review, the Adirondack Review, and descant, and her work has won fellowships from the Indiana and Utah state arts councils and residencies at the MacDowell Colony. She has taught creative writing in visiting appointments at Southern Methodist University and Whitman College and as a Peace Corps volunteer at Russian universities. Currently, she lives in Seattle, where she teaches writing and literature at Bellevue College. She is currently working on a set of stories based on Russian folk tales as well as on a third novel.
Cara is working with Robin Yang of San Francisco, California.
“My best advice to up-and-coming writers is to immerse themselves in the world of contemporary literature, to come at this love from every direction—writing, reading, editing, workshopping, organizing, etc. Participating in an AWP mentorship is an excellent way to immerse yourself in that world. It's also a wonderful chance to have someone truly listen to your work. Since this is not an evaluation but a conversation about craft, there is so much room for wonder and growth.”
Alexa Doran is currently working on her PhD in poetry at Florida State University. Her full-length collection DM Me, Mother Darling won the 2020 May Sarton Poetry Prize and will be published by Bauhan Publishing in the spring of 2021. She is also the author of the chapbook Nightsink, Faucet Me a Lullaby (Bottlecap Press 2019). You can look for work from Doran in recent or upcoming issues of Passages North, Literary Mama, Pithead Chapel, THE BOILER, and Harvard Review, among others. For a full list of her publications, awards, and interviews, please visit her website at alexadoran.com
Alexa is working with Katherine Gaffney of Champaign, Illinois.
“In graduate school, I was disappointed by the lack of a mentorship approach. My professors didn't seem to remember what it was like to be starting out on the writing journey and didn't really fellowship or commune with us. I really longed for that, and I think that's when I particularly started pouring into my students and writing community. I wanted to give others what I wish I had received in graduate school.”
Meg Eden is a 2020 Pitch Wars mentee, and her work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel Post-High School Reality Quest (2017), and the poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (2020). She runs the Magfest MAGES Library blog, which posts accessible academic articles about video games (https://super.magfest.org/mages-blog). Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.
Meg is working with Becky Ferrigno of Rochester, New York.
Suzanne Farrell Smith
“To be a writer is to be part of an enormous community and also totally alone. Writers benefit from a supportive, engaged mentor who has been part of that community, perhaps just a little while longer. Mentors share advice from the writing life, while focusing on why we’re all living it in the first place: the writing. What is working well? What strengths can be counted on and celebrated? What needs clarity or development, intensity or restraint, a little magic? Shared enthusiasm about the world of writing and mutual respect and empathy that come from working together on a piece of art are invaluable to both mentor and mentee.”
Suzanne Farrell Smith is the author of The Memory Sessions, a memoir about her search for lost childhood memory, and The Writing Shop, a guidebook for writing teachers. Her work is widely published, has been listed as Notable in Best American Essays, and won a Pushcart. Suzanne teaches creative nonfiction at Westport Writers’ Workshop, reads for Longridge Review, and is founding editor of Waterwheel Review. She lives by a creek in the Connecticut woods with her husband and three sons.
Suzanne is working with Angela Dribben of Dan, Virginia.
“I think all of us—regardless of where we are in our writing careers—need conversation partners for our work, people with whom we can brainstorm, with whom we feel safe enough to share our doubts, our hopes, our struggles with our writing.”
Donna Freitas has written more than twenty books, both fiction and nonfiction, for adults, children, and young adults. Among them are Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention (Little, Brown), Consent on Campus: A Manifesto (Oxford), and The Healer (HarperCollins). Her debut novel for adults, The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, April 2021), will be published in twenty countries and languages over the course of the next year and has received starred reviews in Kirkus, PW, and Booklist. Her YA and MG novels have been named to many state and BBYA (best book for young adults) lists, and she’s spoken at over 200 colleges and universities about her research related to sex/Title IX issues on campus. She lives in Brooklyn.
Donna is working with Julia Winn of San Francisco, California.
“A chronic illness rages in our blood—/ convinced, of course, that what we write is good.” —translated from Juvenal’s seventh satire
J. Kates is a minor poet, a literary translator, and the codirector of Zephyr Press. He has been awarded three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and the Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation. He has published three chapbooks of his own poems and one full book, The Briar Patch (Hobblebush Books). He has translated a dozen books by Russian and French poets and has edited two anthologies of translations. He has also collaborated on four books of Latin American poetry in translation.
J. Kates is working with Ariel Yisrael of Somerset, New Jersey.
“Writers often swing from ‘this is the best thing I've ever written!’ to ‘I should never write again.’ ” Sometimes the difference between a published book and an unpublished one is more about willingness to stick through the lows than the quality of the work.”
Lara Lillibridge (she/her) is the author of two memoirs, Mama, Mama, Only Mama: An Irreverent Guide for the Newly Single Parent and Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home. Lara also coedited an anthology, Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility with Andréa Fekete. Lara is the interviews editor for Hippocampus Magazine, judged AWP's Intro Journals Award for 2019, and was also the recipient of Hippocampus Magazine’s Literary Citizen of the Year for 2019. Lillibridge is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in creative nonfiction. In 2016 Lara won Slippery Elm's Prose Contest and the American Literary Review's Contest in Nonfiction.
Lara Lillibridge is working with Ryley O'Byrne of Roberts Creek, BC, Canada.
“We write in solitude, but there also comes a point when we need to risk sharing our work.”
Diana López is the author of the adult novella Sofia's Saints and numerous middle-grade novels, including Confetti Girl, Nothing Up My Sleeve, and Lucky Luna. She also wrote the novel adaptation for the Disney/Pixar film Coco. Diana retired after a twenty-eight-year career in education at both the middle grade and college levels. Her "second act" day job is helping her husband in his physical therapy clinic, FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center, located in her hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, but she still enjoys meeting with students when she visits schools to chat about books and writing. For updates and to learn more about Diana López, please follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @dianalopezbooks.
Diana is working with Claudia Armann of Ventura, California.
“Everyone around me had professional jobs, and I somehow had the notion that I should have a book published before the age of thirty. Somewhere down the line, I realized that quality trumped quantity, that being a poet was a lifelong pursuit for me, and that I could be a poet while being a mother. Being a poet didn't just mean writing, it meant reading, observing, and understanding the poetic legacy left by others as well. I ended up reading/studying poetry more when my children were younger (often while nursing them) and wrote my poems as they came. My first book was published at forty-one and all the waiting, studying, and honing paid off.”
Shikha Malaviya is a South Asian American poet, writer, and publisher. She is cofounder of the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship model press publishing powerful voices from India and the Indian diaspora. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in PLUME, Chicago Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, and other fine publications. Shikha was a featured TEDx speaker in GolfLinks, Bangalore, in 2013, where she gave a talk on poetry. She was selected as poet laureate of San Ramon, California, in 2016. This is Shikha’s sixth season as an AWP poetry mentor. She was also the 2020 poetry judge for AWP’s Kurt Brown Prize. Currently, Shikha is a Mosaic Silicon Valley Fellow, committed to cultural diversity and artistic excellence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her book of poems is Geography of Tongues.
Shikha is working with Neha Sharma of New Delhi, India.
“Learn to edit your own work. Read it again and again till you’re sick of it and can see beyond your love for it and into the mechanics of sentences and paragraphs. Then get rid of everything extraneous.”
Faiqa Mansab's debut novel This House of Clay and Water was published by Penguin India in 2017, and it was longlisted for the Ghetz Pharma Fiction Prize and the German Consulate Peace Prize in 2018. She has an MFA with distinction from Kingston University London and won the Best MFA Thesis Award in 2014. Her book has been optioned for screen and is also published in Turkish. Faiqa is currently working on her second novel.
Faiqa is working with Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh of Chappaqua, New York.
“I’ve benefitted enormously from the generosity and wisdom of other writers over the years. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with an emerging writer and pass it on.”
Ellen Meeropol is the author of the novels Her Sister’s Tattoo, Kinship of Clover, On Hurricane Island, and House Arrest. Recent essay and short story publications include Ms. Magazine, Lilith, Guernica, Lit Hub, Solstice, Mom Egg Review, and The Writer's Chronicle. Her work has been honored by the Sarton Book Award, the Women’s National Book Association, the Massachusetts Center for the Book, PBS NewsHour, and the American Book Fest. Ellen has an MFA in fiction from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. A founding member of Straw Dog Writers Guild, Ellen coordinates their Social Justice Writing project.
Ellen is working with Ava Homa of Austin, Texas.
“I have been fortunate enough to serve twice as a mentor and have really enjoyed the opportunity to give back to the literary community. . . . [G]iven what a solitary profession this is, it's good to know you're not the only one waving a lantern in the dark.”
Michael Meyerhofer ’s fifth poetry book, Ragged Eden, was published by Glass Lyre Press. He has been the startled recipient of fourteen national writing awards, including the James Wright Poetry Award, the Liam Rector First Book Award, the Brick Road Poetry Book Prize, and several chapbook prizes. His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry, Rattle, Brevity, Ploughshares, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and other journals. He is also the author of a fantasy series and serves as the poetry editor of Atticus Review. For more information and an embarrassing childhood photo, visit troublewithhammers.com.
Michael is working with Ebony Chinn of Huntsville, Alabama.
Emily K. Michael
“Any time spent with poetry is a gift, and it’s a special joy to encourage other poets. Poetry only works when it is a communal possession, and we all expand it with our meanings and experience. I am honored that another writer trusts me with their work and excited to be a part of this process.”
Emily K. Michael is a blind poet, musician, and writing teacher from Jacksonville, FL. She is the poetry editor for Wordgathering at Syracuse University, and she curates the Blind Academy blog. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Wordgathering, The Hopper, Artemis Journal, The South Carolina Review, Nine Mile Magazine, Rogue Agent, BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog, Barriers and Belonging, AWP Writer’s Notebook, and Welcome to the Resistance. Emily’s work centers on ecology, disability, and music. Her first book Neoteny: Poems is available from Finishing Line Press.
Emily is working with Tamara Nicholl-Smith of Houston, Texas.
“Growing up, I'd never even met someone who'd ever published a novel. I didn't even think it was possible to make it into a career! I always promised myself that if I made it, I would try to pass on whatever wisdom I could to someone similarly struggling to get into a career that seemed completely unattainable. I think that, now, I'm finally in a place where I have something to pass on.”
Danielle Rollins is a full-time writer living in New Jersey with her family. She's the author of The Merciless series, Survive the Night, The Haunted, and The Unleashed (as Danielle Vega) as well as the Dark Stars Trilogy, Burning, and Breaking (as Danielle Rollins). Her books have been optioned for film by Lionsgate and Warner Brothers entertainment and have been translated into French, Spanish, and German, among others.
Danielle is working with Jamir Bowers of Detroit, Michigan.
“I believe that writer's block is an important part of the process—worrying problems with developing stories until a moment of insight strikes. The insight comes with me often only when I've had to worry it. I use the metaphor of Sisyphus. I shoulder the boulder, knowing it will roll down the hill again, but also knowing that at some point it will become lighter and lift me. Only hard work entices one's muse.”
Lex Williford, a University of Arkansas MFA, has taught in the writing programs at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and the University of Alabama and has been a distinguished visiting writer at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. His book, Macauley’s Thumb, won the 1993 Iowa Short Fiction Award; his chapbook, Superman on the Roof, won the 2016 10th Annual Rose Metal Press Flash Fiction Award. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous prestigious national journals. Coeditor of the Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction and the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Nonfiction, he is the founding director of the online MFA at the University of Texas at El Paso and a recent chair of the on-campus bilingual creative writing program, where he currently teaches.
Lex is working with Puloma Mukherjee of New York City, New York.
“I also think that having a mentor gives the writer a space to hold her/their/his writing sacred. If a writer has not worked in a writing program, she has had to cram writing in among the obligations of daily life. If the writer has been fortunate enough to attend an MFA program, transitioning into a world in which creativity is not given financial or emotional support can be very difficult. Claiming or reclaiming the creative space can be challenging, and having a mentor who knows what that is like and can support you to take the time and space your work needs can be helpful.”
Kristen Witucki is the author of two books: The Transcriber, a Gemma Open Door Book for Emerging Adolescent Readers, and Outside Myself, her first novel. Her shorter fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Brain, Child; Literary Mama; Exceptions: The Art and Literary Journal for Students with Disabilities; Wordgathering; and LightHouse Interpoint, the literary blog of the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco. She works as the curriculum and content editor for Learning Ally's College Success Program for students who are blind or visually impaired, a teacher for Vistas Education Partners, a mentor for New Jersey's EDGE Program, and, during the pandemic, a homeschooling mother. She lives with her husband and three children in Highland Park, New Jersey.
Kristen is working with Jennifer Straus of Brooklyn, New York.