Previous Writer to Writer Mentees
Spring 2015 Session
Sara-Kate Astrove is a first-year MFA Creative Writing student at the New School. Originally from Wellesley, Massachusetts, she has lived in Los Angeles, China, and Japan. She enjoys rompers, peach rings, and filmmaking.
Sara-Kate worked with the writer Deb Olin Unferth.
What were your goals for this program, and how did you communicate them to your mentor?
Since I am in the New School's MFA program and had recently made the switch from poetry to nonfiction, I expressed to Deb that I was unsure how the genre change would affect my writing style. We discussed my comfort with language and detail and how I could maintain these qualities while organizing a larger work. Deb helped me break down the different parts of my story through focusing on one piece at a time. In doing so, she allowed me to trust that the big picture would reveal itself to me as I constructed its individual components. This made the process far less daunting.
How would you describe the matching process and how well matched you were with your mentor?
I don't think I was quite what Deb expected going into the process, but I'm so glad she chose me! During our first conversation, she discussed her reasons for selecting me, and it was very encouraging to hear how much my voice and tone caught her eye. It turned out to be an amazing match. Her first book, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, is a memoir in which she revisited her fascinating adventure as a young adult. After its publication, she has written both fiction and nonfiction. I, too, am working on a memoir about my adventures/antics and hope to dabble in a variety of genres in the future. It was incredibly beneficial to be paired with someone whose career trajectory is one I aspire to follow.
Was there a specific time you felt that you and your mentor "clicked"?
From our initial, magical conversation, I knew that I'd found a kindred spirit. When Deb first gave me feedback on the pieces I'd sent her, she told me that she would address me as though I were her colleague as opposed to her student. I feared harsh criticism, but her comments put me at ease. Deb’s sincere and perceptive feedback helped me identify patterns in my work that I hadn't quite pieced together. She helped direct my attention to the areas in my thought process that require more digging and development on my part.
What advice do you have for people entering the program next?
Go to the AWP conference if you can! After working together remotely for several months, it was surreal to finally meet at the conference. Having attended around fifteen conferences, Deb was the most popular girl in town and took me under her wing. As she introduced me to her friends, I felt fabulous by association. People even said we look like sisters, which I greatly enjoyed.
What is something you learned from your mentor or this process?
I can be anxious at times and repeatedly asked Deb whether she remembered being in my fledgling position. I wanted to know how she got from A to B, and how she stayed motivated in the interim. Since I'm just starting out, it can be hard to trust that I will ever accomplish my goals. But everyone started out in that grey area, and Deb assured me that my work would lead to great things.
In what ways did this experience differ from, say, taking a creative writing class or workshop?
Another set of eyes is always beneficial, and Deb is an expert. The one-on-one dynamic felt intimate and honest.
Where will you and your mentor go from here, following the formal conclusion of the program?
Deb has set me on the path to my memoir! The more I plug away, writing and rewriting, I am starting to see my story take shape. I will keep her up-to-date every step of the way, and when I reach the next stage of my process—publishing!—I know Deb will be there to help me navigate. I'm on the right track and must avoid the temptation to speed through it.