Paying the Rent/Feeding the Soul: Six Writers Discuss Life After the MFA
Camille Dungy | February 2004
If the growing number and increasing competitiveness of first and second book contests is any indication, America 's MFA programs are producing many talented writers every year. Assuming that each of the hundred MFA programs listed in the Tenth Edition of the AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs1 graduated classes of ten to twenty students, as many as nineteen hundred people earned an MFA in 2002. Though the number of newly-minted MFAs was probably closer to one thousand, that is still more than in 1998, when there were only eighty three MFA-granting institutions, and a considerably larger number than in 1984, when there were only thirty one programs.2 MFA students learn how to write a stronger poem, they develop their skills as readers, and they form personal and professional connections that may help them navigate future careers as writers and teachers of writing. But we cannot live on poems and short stories alone. In a world where first books are hard to publish and tenure-track teaching positions remarkably difficult to attain, do MFA programs sufficiently prepare their graduates for the challenges they will encounter post-MFA?
At the 2002 AWP conference, six poets representing various graduate programs, ages, and professional trajectories discussed what they wish they had known when they earned their graduate degrees in creative writing. Over the course of the conversation, Aviya Kushner, Reetika Vazirani, Matthew O'Donnell, Geoffrey Brock, Laura-Gray Street , and Camille Dungy revealed some of what they have discovered, in the four to five years since graduating, about their expectations, potential, and responsibilities as citizens of the writing community. Here are excerpts from the conference proceedings:
Aviya Kushner: Most people coming out of a creative writing program are better writers than a lot of other people. That's a marketable skill, and there's a lot you can do with it. It's important to think beyond the contemporary context. It seems to me that most writers in America work as university teachers, but historically that has not been true in other countries, or even in this country. I've been reading the biography of Auden. Auden spent most of his life as a freelance writer. Seamus Heaney spent a lot of time as a freelance writer, and Émile Zola spent a lot of time as a freelance writer. So there is a very long tradition of writers working as journalists. I think there's nothing to be ashamed of. It's a wonderful career. It can be stressful. It can be unstable. But it lets you go into places where you would never go otherwise. I wish that someone would have told me that there were options besides working as a creative writing teacher or being an assistant at a literary magazine.
Any subject that you write about will add to your poetry or add to your fiction and help you become a more aware person. Because of what I do, I have been able to talk to painters in their studios. I've been able to interview a mother whose two children had just been killed by a bomb, and sit in her home, and hold her hand, and listen to her; try to understand that and try to translate it and bring it to a world audience.
This year, I've done travel pieces in London and Hamburg and Berlin . You see a thing differently when you're there to write about it. I'm not a person who usually notices mountains. This year, I have written about so many mountains it's just ridiculous. I've learned how to interview people in different languages. Interviewing people in their mother tongue is different than interviewing them in a second language. Something like that I never would have understood if I didn't try it. So, I'm a big fan of freelancing. Even if you don't want to do it as a career, I think that writers have a responsibility to try different kinds of writing. Poets who sit there and say, "All I can do is write a poem," don't have a forward-looking attitude. If you go out there and review books, or you review visual art, or you talk to money managers, talk to a homeless person, you learn.
The most important thing that I wish someone would have suggested when I earned my degree is to go abroad. Just go. Travel. Look. See. The minute you get out of the United States you learn so much. American poetry is very English-based and language-based. People walk around thinking that everything is in English and then they read everything in translation, and that's just a little narrow. If I had to do it over again, the first thing I would think is what country can I go to where I don't speak the language and what can I learn? You learn on your feet. I think it's important to be a foreigner and to understand what that's like, to understand how Americans look to the world. In light of what has happened lately, it's even more important to understand the world community.
Don't be afraid. I think a lot of writing graduates are very fearful about their options. They imagine that there is a life of poverty and a life of sucking up to powerful people. It doesn't have to be that way. There are so many things you can do. You can go into corporate communications and make a lot of money if that's what matters to you. You can be a fund manager. You can do a lot of things that aren't related to writing at all. But if you do want to write there is a big world.
Reetika Vazirani: I graduated from Wellesley in 1984, and I remember an alum-a staff writer for the New Yorker-who had won an achievement award said, "When I graduated from college all I could do was read and type, and it was only the typing that got me a job." I got a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to travel around the world when I graduated. When I came back I took a temporary job as a typist in Washington , DC , and I had very interesting experiences doing that. That added to my understanding of what goes on in other kinds of offices. I learned I didn't want to be a lawyer. I didn't want to be an accountant. I didn't want to do certain things. For example, I typed obituaries for the Teamsters, and I did not want to be doing that either. I had only been working for a few months when Derek Walcott gave a reading at the Library of Congress. There were hardly ten people at the reading. At the reception, he mentioned that his classes met on Mondays, and if I'd like to sit in on one or two I could do that. So I quit my job and moved to Boston . I audited his classes in the MA program for three semesters.
I never got any conferences with him, he never looked at any of my poems. He told me that if I wanted him to read my poems, I should publish them first. That was my first great lesson as a writer. I took the next seven years or so to write White Elephants. There were eleven years between my undergraduate degree and my MFA. I am grateful that there was so much time in between. I thought when I was twenty-five that an MA would do nothing for me. I didn't have any publications. I didn't know what an MA would do except generate debt, so I just decided to keep temping while I sat in on Derek's classes. I had a very good idea that writing was something I wanted to do.
When I got into the University of Virginia 's MFA Program in the spring of 1995, I got a book contract that same month. So I've followed an unexpected trajectory. I wrote my first book outside of academia. I was swapping poems through the mail with a very good friend. That was my workshop experience. I learned then that a workshop is where you are with people who wish you well. That's not necessarily going to be your MFA workshop. It can be, but to find the people who wish you well is the best MFA experience you can have. Sometimes you have to look all around you to see where there are people who truly wish you well. In my case, I found magazine editors, like Charles Rowell, Hilda Raz, Frederick Smock, Marilyn Hacker, Walter Cummins, so many generous readers. I think it's a very good idea to try to publish in magazines when you're starting out. Charles Rowell once described it as creating an audience for your poems before you have a book.
I don't think that there was anything that Greg Orr, Rita Dove, or Charles Wright should have told me while I was in school, though there are things I wish I knew. It's not something that I expected the academy to feed me, but I will tell you what I wish I had known. I wish I had known how to take care of myself. I wish I had known how to feed myself and make healthy dinners. I wish I had known that submitting poems is not the only thing you have to do while you're there. It's a time when you actually have health insurance and you have people looking after you, but I didn't do such a good job taking care of myself. Of course I don't expect MFA people to have a course on self-care, but I didn't really know where to look.
After I finished my coursework, a number of things happened that led me to yoga classes in Charlottesville . That really changed my life a great deal. It brought to my mind how much the role of envy plays in publishing and in academia. It wasn't until I started taking yoga classes that I realized that this was one of the things that was really bothering me: How to handle things like coveting somebody else's success. It was incredible to have a mentor like Rita who's comfortable in her success and generous to her students.
From yoga I learned that there are different attitudes to approaching the whole field of publishing. I went into publishing thinking of all the things I wasn't getting. Though I was getting some things, my personal writing seemed to lead me to all the things I was being rejected from. If you're going to be a writer, your ability to handle rejection is much more important than how you handle success. I know people who are very successful writers who still have a hard time dealing with rejection. You can win all the prizes, but what really hurts is when you don't get something or your poems get rejections. It was through the path of yoga that I started to let go of some of those things. I wish I'd learned to deal with those problems of rejection much earlier on.
Matthew O'Donnell: I wish that I had been alerted to the fact that there are as many ways to make a living as a writer as your imagination will allow. There is a mindset in MFA programs that there are certain routes it is assumed you are going to take. There's not much guidance for alternative routes.
Aviya mentioned that she wished she'd gone abroad. I had no direction after my MFA, and so I did go abroad. When I came back, I assumed I would teach. As luck would have it, I fell into my current position of Assistant Editor of Bowdoin College 's alumni magazine. It gives me as much opportunity as I would like to write.
A couple nights ago, I was talking with a literary magazine editor I had just met. He asked me who I am. I said, "I'm Matt." He said, "More than that. Who are you?" And I said, "I'm a college magazine editor." And he said, "But who do you aspire to be? Surely more than that." I don't think he meant it to be pretentious, but I think it's a good example of the mindset of a lot of people who are in literary circles. That's the path you should take, and if you're not on that path then you aspire to be on that path. Working at a college, I get all the advantages of a college atmosphere without having to deal with the headaches, and perhaps creative drain, of coming up with classes and teaching classes. I have a community of writers I can rely on. I have the whole college community, the library, all the facilities, available to me. As long as you can find a path that makes you happy and allows you some time to write, then there is really no right or wrong path. I think MFA programs could do a lot for young writers to make them realize that. Not only to realize it, but also to help them if they want to explore those paths.
Geoffrey Brock: I come from an academic family, and I had done a PhD before my MFA. It seems like a pretty strange order, but it was good for me to come to the MFA later in life, in my mid-thirties. I got a lot more out of it at that time than I would have if I had gone earlier. So I went into the MFA with my eyes open, but I still wasn't prepared for the experiences of the post-MFA period.
By post-MFA period I mean the period between finishing the MFA and reaching the next level of where you want to be. At that time I wanted a tenure-track position teaching creative writing. Since then I have had second thoughts about that and have been considering and doing various other things. The post-MFA period can be very difficult and long if you are trying to get that kind of job, because the publication of a book can take a lot longer than one thinks when one goes into an MFA program. One of my teachers, who received his MFA from Iowa , was fond of saying that only two poems from his MFA thesis ended up in his first book. That was a way of illustrating that for most people the writing career really begins after the MFA, which has been the case for a lot of people I know.
The hardest thing is figuring out how to do two things at once after the MFA: make a living, and at the same time have time and energy left over to write in a serious and sustained way. To finish that book and to get it published. As the end of my MFA approached, I realized I was going to have to figure that out soon, and I began to look for alternatives to academia. A lot of my friends were getting adjunct positions as a way of supporting themselves. Either that or waiting tables. Waiters make more money, and they get free food, and they don't have to grade papers when they get home. But I'd waited tables for a long time and didn't want to do that anymore, and I didn't want to teach adjunct because it seemed to me the quickest way to get burned out on teaching.
Hallmark Cards came to the University of Florida recruiting. They actually came to the MFA program and made a pitch to the writers there to think about them as an alternative job choice. It would have been much more interesting, I guess, to go to Czechoslovakia and be a free-lance writer. But at the time I wasn't able to do that. So I ended up going to Hallmark for a year. I thought that would allow me to do the two necessary things at once. It paid well, and I thought I could do my writing in the evenings and on the weekends. It seemed like a job you could leave behind after five o'clock , and in a way it was, but on the other hand, after you've been writing greeting cards for eight hours you don't want to go home and turn on another computer and start pushing words around even if they are a different sort of words. I wasn't able to do that much more than a year.
I would have certainly done it longer had I not been lucky enough to get a translation fellowship, which saved me for awhile. My next solution was to go from colony to colony. That approach has its merits-you have time to write and, again, free food. But moving every four to six weeks becomes exhausting. Obviously you can't do that forever-you run out of colonies, they get sick of you-but it can be a good stop gap.
After that I ended up getting my first academic job, a one-year, visiting position at the University of Texas at Dallas . Anytime I move it takes six months to recover my equilibrium in the new place. So if I move somewhere for a one-year position and then move again when it's over, I lose a year of equilibrium. I still haven't found the perfect way to make a living and to also be able to write poetry.
Laura-Gray Street: Talk of the post-MFA experience makes me think of my reaction after having my first child. I took childhood classes. I was as prepared for having the baby as I could have hoped to have been. But then I did have the child, and there was the post-partum period. Suddenly it was a whole new world.
I got an MFA for three reasons. One was to have time to write. The other was to have instruction. The third was to have some sort of mask of legitimacy. I got my MFA about ten years after I had done my MA. After I had kids. I chose Warren Wilson because I had kids, because I couldn't get up and go somewhere else.
At Warren Wilson we didn't talk about publishing until the last residency, and that was put forward very directly. And also Warren Wilson is very straight forward that if you are interested in teaching that program isn't exactly the route to go. So, all in all I got what I went for from my MFA.
I have ended up teaching. Not that I set out to teach in academia. I started out as an adjunct and am now in a three-year, full-time position. I find that I love teaching. It's quite fertile soil for me to grow in as a writer.
There are really two issues that I get obsessed about in my position in the academic world. The first is the adjunct situation, which I think pertains to many MFA graduates. A lot of those adjunct positions are teaching composition, and a lot of people teaching composition are coming out of MFA programs.
The second thing is the Creative Writing PhD. The AWP official position on this is that the MFA is the appropriate terminal degree for teaching. I love that, but there is evidence to the contrary. There is evidence in academia that the MFA is not being seen as a terminal degree. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Daniel Grant writes:
The trend of MFAs going for PhDs works against the idea that the MFA is a terminal degree. Conversations with college personnel offices and the chairs of literature departments have convinced Robert Phillips that a PhD would be selected over an MFA all other qualifications being equal, even if the MFA has considerably more publishing in his or her background. "The PhD says to the university, 'I am committing myself to academia,' and universities like that" says Mr. Phillips, director of University of Houston 's Writing Program.3
I was reading an article in The New Yorker about North Dakota , and it reminds me of this. Residents of North Dakota struggle with their state's identity in comparison to South Dakota . They want to change the name to Dakota so that they don't have the connotations of north and cold whereas South Dakota gets the connotations of south and warm and all the good things. It's both a trivial and deeply felt issue for the people of North Dakota.4 I feel that I am in the same position talking about this issue of the terminal degree. An MFA in academia feels like its perceived as an MA and not a terminal degree. If there is a PhD in creative writing, how can the MFA be a terminal degree?
Emerson, in his 1837 essay, "The American Scholar," talked about creative writing. That essay is traced as one of the first references to creative writing in American letters. Creative writing in this American spirit is like America to the English departments' England . It's the late arrival. Not that we need to be independent from English departments, but there is a struggle for identity.
I don't really have any answers for this, but I feel like it is something that needs to be grappled with. Because I am place bound, I don't have access to a PhD if I really decided to get one. There are no low-residence PhD programs.
My MFA experience was such an adventure. It was for me very much like that first time of crossing out of the blue water into the black water of the continental shelf. It was like diving into the deep end. It was so much growth and so much adventure and excitement. My reasons for even wanting a PhD are very different. In fact, I would want to call it a PFD, a Personal Flotation Device. It's for reasons of safety not adventure. It's not necessarily a good reason, but it's a real reason.
Camille Dungy: A lot of what we are able to understand has to do with the way that lessons gain relevancy through investigation and application. I'm a teacher. I want to present, to students and to my colleagues, some of the questions we ought to be asking of ourselves and in our programs.
There are two things I want to suggest. One of them has been a long-standing question for MFA programs: Are they art schools or trade schools? There are a lot of tricks of the trade that, as teachers, we could help pass on. Consider the amount of time writers spend writing grant proposals, writing cover letters. We could, as faculty members, compile good cover letters and hand them on to students. I can think of few things worse than being assigned the task of teaching a semester-long trade skills class in an MFA program. I don't know who would teach it. But I think there are some things we know that we can share. If writers learned these skills earlier, it would help better writing come out in the creative sense instead of spending so much time on paper work.
The other thing, which links closely to Aviya's question of international identity, is that I think that in academics in general, and in MFA programs, that we ought to be thinking more globally and also in a global sense domestically. Think about reading more writers of color, more gay and lesbian writers, more writers of various socio-economic classes. In our institutions, as students, as scholars, as professors, we ought to really push the idea that there are other modes of writing and that those other modes of writing can teach us a lot. Those things are important. I highly appreciate my training, but there is so much more I could have learned. Think outside of the typical canon. See what else is out there. That's a question writers should be asking: What else is out there and available?
How to pay the rent while remaining dedicated to the art, some approaches:
Kushner: This summer I really wanted to spend a whole month talking to Israeli writers. I knew this was not going to pay me very much, but I was curious. I thought it was important. So the month before I worked double. I found that for me to do the best work I need a lot of time. If I can control my freelancing life to the point where I can take a week, two weeks, a month off to work on one thing that I really want to give my all then I do best. Freelancing sounds great. It sounds like you're going to have all this time. But it requires tremendous discipline to get your poetry done. I choose a day that I don't work. I don't tell my clients what day it is. I just let voice mail take all of my calls that day. I don't check emails. For all they know I could be in an all-day meeting. I think it's a lot easier to avoid 9-to-5 than people realize. Especially with the rise of the Internet. I know people in Israel who work for American clients. You can live in Boston and work for someone in California . They don't need to know when you're working and when you're not working.
Still, I can see what the advantages are to working nine-to-five. The best thing about working for a daily publication is that when the day's over it's over. If someone calls the next day and complains that you didn't call them back you can say, "Well, it's out." There's nothing left to say. I think that's true about a lot of nine-to-five jobs. When you go home you go home.
O'Donnell: I have a lot of flexibility in my job, so it's not quite nine-to-five. The greatest benefit is that I chose it. I'm from Maine originally. I went away for a while, but I chose to come back to Maine and I chose this job. I didn't have to say, "Well, there's an opening in Houston ," in the way I might if I were going to be a professor. I would much rather be in Maine . So, I'm very happy in what I do because I chose it.
Working on a college campus I get to do a lot of the other things that really interest me. Those things help balance my job. A lot of nine-to-five jobs you can leave when you go home at night. You don't have to go home and correct papers, you can go home and write sonnets instead.
Brock: Although, it has to be a nine-to-five job that leaves you with some creative energy at the end of the day. Many jobs, most probably, don't. So it has to be a particularly good nine-to-five job.
Dungy: Teaching doesn't necessarily leave you with that creative energy either.
Brock: That's absolutely true.
Vazirani: Donald Justice once said that his ideal job would be to operate a very infrequently used draw bridge.
Kushner: If you learn to write a press release, which is fairly easy, that can be a good thing to do. It's good in any country. When I first got to Israel , a couple of companies in Tel Aviv were very happy to have me go in there, talk to their engineers in Hebrew, and explain their product in English to American companies. So if you have another language skill plus the ability to string sentences together you can do well in a decent economy. But you have to be a good marketer. There is a demand, but if anyone talks to you about freelance writing, if they're an honest person they must tell you that you have to have some marketing skills or you will starve. You have to know yourself. If you're scared to pick up the phone, then this life is not for you.
Brock: Most MFA programs require or allow their graduate students to teach, so you can usually gauge that experience.
Dungy: At UNC-Greensboro, I had several beneficial opportunities. I taught composition, and I was a TA for both a Creative Writing class and Introduction to Poetry. The English Department began a one-year lectureship for graduates from the PhD and MFA programs. I had that lectureship, and I was able to teach fulltime on the same faculty with my graduate school mentors. When I moved to Boston , that experience made the difference as far as opening doors at some of the colleges where I held adjunct positions.
I think most programs provide some teaching opportunities. But if you didn't get a teaching assistantship in your program there are other routes. I taught poetry in high schools when I lived in Greensboro . For five years I taught in a high school enrichment program during the summers. Randolph-Macon Woman's College, were I teach now, offers a writer-in-residence position for emerging writers. There are teaching programs in prisons. There are a number of things that are possible for getting teaching training both inside the MFA program and outside.
Brock: hat is an important thing to look into when you are considering what MFA program to go to. Evaluate what kind of teaching positions are available to you. What kind of writers you want to work with is obviously important. That should be primary, but a second consideration is what kind of teaching you will be able to do.
Street: Don't overlook the workshop. I learned most about my teaching skills through workshop. That's one of the huge values of workshopping, you learn to articulate ideas about writing. That's what teaching is about.
Dungy: At Greensboro your assistantship could either be teaching or editing The Greensboro Review . Those folks who worked with the Review learned a lot, early on, about the world of publication.
Vazirani: I used to think that you could just send a poem to The New Yorker and that they would actually read it. For at least five years I would mail one poem to The New Yorker . I didn't know. Do you put on a return address sticker? Do you put it on the top or on the bottom? Do you put it on the side? I just have to say that I love looking back and knowing that I did it with complete abandon and joy in the chance. These were very bad poems, and I was only sending one at a time. I had no cover letter. But, you know, there are a lot of great people out there who have never written a cover letter. They don't send a cover letter because their philosophy is, They're not going to publish that. They're going to look at the poem.
I made so many errors, but the way I learn is I teach myself. If I had gone to MFA school when I was younger, and if everybody had said this is the way you do this, and this is the way you do that, well, I think you lose some of the joy of going about it and bumbling around and discovering some of the things for yourself. Ultimately there are always going to be the concerns, am I going to have a job and am I going to be able to pay the bills, but if you're foolish enough to want to write poetry then just be foolish. The universe will be generous somewhere if you learn how to listen to where you're supposed to be.
I'm not saying you should be as foolish as I was, I was tremendously foolish, but there is some joy in not worrying about what the right way is. I don't think there is a right way. Just try to find some way to find joy in it. If you don't really enjoy the hustle and bustle of getting something done then maybe you're supposed to be doing something else. You know, don't send poems out if you hate to be rejected, because everybody's rejected. But there is a lot of joy out there in the mystery of how it gets done.
There is a woman named Barbara Ras. She graduated from an MFA program, and she sent her manuscript out for twenty years. And then when it finally got taken, she won the Walt Whitman (award]. She is an incredible inspiration to me. I thought I should have a book out when I was twenty-seven and then my next book should be out after three years! I really did think these things. I learned so much from Barbara, and I have a lot of respect for her for sticking it out.
Dungy: I house-sat for a friend in graduate school. I learned quite a bit from house sitting for him. Among other things, I would bring in buckets of mail. I mean just buckets and buckets. And out of all these buckets would be one acceptance. I learned how much you have to send out to get any feedback. As Merwin quotes, "Paper your wall with rejection slips." Just do it over and over, and you will get results.
At the core of why we're all going to MFA programs is the drive to be better writers. We have to pay the rent, but you have to be there for the passion of the art. And not just the poetry. If you're into poetry try fiction. If you're into fiction try plays. Get out there. It fits with that question of diversity. Genre diversity is as important as cultural diversity. Spread that passion and interest around.
Kushner: I feel very strongly that writers should form alliances with people in the other arts. I've spent a lot of time with painters. I think it's important to remember that you're trying to live a life of art. You're committed to your art, but there are other people who are equally committed to their art. They deserve our support, and our coverage, and our attendance. It's just as hard to be a painter, or to be a sculptor, or to be an actor as it is to be a poet. It's hard. I think we really have to support that in every way we can.
Brock: That was one of the nicest things about going to different colonies like the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and MacDowell. You get to hang around with people who are struggling with some of the same ideas or issues but in a different medium. That may open up the way you think about your own work.
Dungy: Being at the VCCA with composers completely changed my manuscript because it changed the way that I was thinking. To thrive as a writer you have to be willing to expand your way of thinking.
Camille Dungy has been Assistant Professor of English at Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, since 1999. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA program at University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her work has recently appeared in the Missouri Review , Mid-American Review, and on Poetry Daily . Dungy has earned fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, and Yaddo.
Aviya Kushner has an MA from Boston University's graduate program in creative writing in poetry and a BA from the Johns Hopkins University 's fiction program. She is currently enrolled as an MFA candidate in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Kushner has served as a Contributing Editor in Poetry for BarnesandNoble.com, and as a travel writer for The International Jerusalem Post. She has recently had essays and poetry published in Partisan Review, Prairie Schooner, and Poets & Writers.
Reetika Vazirani (1962-2003) wrote World Hotel (Copper Canyon 2002), and White Elephants (Beacon 1996), which won a Barnard New Women Poets Prize. Vazirani earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley and her MFA from the University of Virginia. She committed suicide this past summer.
Matt O'Donnell is currently Associate Editor for Bowdoin magazine at Bowdoin College in Maine . His MFA is from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and he has his undergraduate degree from Holy Cross. His poems have been chosen for the American Academy of Poets Prize and have been published in The Greensboro Review.
Geoff Brock is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Brock has his BA from Florida State University, a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MFA from the University of Florida . Brock's translations of Cesare Pavese's poems, Disaffections (Copper Canyon), were published in 2002. His poetry has appeared in the Southern Review, Poetry Magazine, and Paris Review. He has received fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Laura-Gray Street is an assistant professor of English at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. The recipient of a 2002-2003 Poetry Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the 2002 Dana Award in Poetry, and the 2003 Emerging Writer Award in Poetry for the Southern Women Writers Conference, she has had poems in The Notre Dame Review, Poetry Daily, Shenandoah, Meridian, The Greensboro Review, New Virginia Review, and elsewhere, as well as a libretto commissioned by the New York Festival of Song. She holds an MA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers.
- Fenza, David, ed. The AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs , 10th ed. Fairfax : AWP & Dustbooks, 2002.
- "Numbers of Degree-Conferring Programs in Creative Writing 1975-2001," memo from David Fenza at the Associated Writing Programs, 21 February 2003 .
- Grant, Daniel. "What Becomes of an M.F.A.?" Chronicle of Higher Education . 26 February 1999 . http://www.chronicle.com.
- Singer, Mark. "True North." The New Yorker . 18-25 February.