Faculty Biographies | Master of Fine Arts in Writing

The writers who serve as faculty for the Pacific University MFA in Writing program are outstanding for both their level of national or regional literary achievements and for their teaching records and abilities. These accomplished authors share a sense of joy around their work, bringing their diverse writing styles and voices to the mix. During residencies and the guided study that follows, the MFA faculty advisor is hard at work on his or her own writing, and every exchange with a student is touched by mutual goals.


Chris Abani is a novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter and playwright. Born in Nigeria to an Igbo father and English mother, he grew up in Afikpo, Nigeria, received a BA in English from Imo State University, Nigeria, an MA in English, Gender and Culture from Birkbeck College, University of London and a PhD in Literature, and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. He has resided in the United States since 2001.

He is the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the PEN Hemingway Book Prize and a Guggenheim Award.

His fiction includes The Secret History of Las VegasSong For Night, The Virgin of FlamesBecoming AbigailGraceLand, and Masters of the Board. His most recent poetry collection, Smoking The Bible, was published by Copper Canyon in 2022. His other poetry collections are SanctificumThere Are No Names for RedFeed Me The Sun - Collected Long PoemsHands Washing WaterDog WomanDaphne’s Lot, and Kalakuta Republic. His nonfiction book, The Face: A Memoir, was published in 2014.

Through his TED Talks, public speaking and essays Abani is known as an international voice on humanitarianism, art, ethics and our shared political responsibility. His critical and personal essays have been featured in books on art and photography, as well as WitnessParkettThe New York TimesO Magazine, and Bomb.

His many research interests include African Poetics, World Literature, 20th Century Anglophone Literature, African Presences in Medieval, and Renaissance Culture, The Living Architecture of Cities, West African Music, Postcolonial and Transnational Theory, Robotics and Consciousness, Yoruba and Igbo Philosophy and Religion. Visit his website.

Photo of Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and winner of a 2021 Guggenhiem Foundation Fellowship in Poetry. Her books include Indigo, named a New and Notable book by the New York Times and Like a Beggar, The Human Line, and Mules of Love. In 1973 Ellen co-edited the first major anthology of women's poetry, No More Masks! and her non-fiction books include the groundbreaking guidebook, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bi-Sexual Youth.

Among her awards are Fellowships from the NEA and the California Arts Council, three Pushcart Prizes, Nimrod's Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review's Larry Levis Prize, New Letters Poetry Prize, Greensboro Poetry Prize, and The Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. Her work appears regularly in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review and many other journals.

Ellen founded poetry workshops at Salinas Valley State Prison and in the Santa Cruz jails. She lives with her wife in Santa Cruz, CA. Visit her website.

Thoughts on Workshop: The workshop is an opportunity to share your poems and to hear how others respond to them. But equally—if not more important—it’s an opportunity to learn from the feedback given to other students. It can be hard to escape the subjectivity we feel about our own poems, but as you develop your ability to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of poems that are not yours, then you can apply that discernment to your own poems. 


Sanjiv Bhattacharya is presently the U.S. Correspondent for Esquire (UK), and a general freelancer for various titles in both countries, such as The Telegraph, The GuardianThe ObserverDetails, Marie Claire, and a handful of others.

He's been twice nominated for PPA Consumer Magazine Writer of the Year for his work in Esquire – in 2017, 2015 and 2013.

He grew up in London, studied at Cambridge, and spent five years at GQ (UK). He then turned to freelance and moved to Los Angeles to spend the next nine years writing features about all kinds of things, especially celebrities, subcultures, and fringe groups.

In 2005, he made a documentary about Mormon polygamy, which led to a book on the topic, Secrets & Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy, which came out in 2011. 

In 2008 he went to India for a couple of years to edit men’s lifestyle magazines, first GQ India in Bombay and then a few other titles at the India Today Group in Delhi.

Now he is back in LA, working on more books and articles.


Eduardo C. Corral's poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2012, New England Review, Ploughshares, and The New York Times. His work has been honored with a Discovery/The Nation Award, the J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize from Poetry, and writing residencies to the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. He has served as the Olive B. O'Connor Fellow in Creative Writing at Colgate University, and as the Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University. Slow Lightning, his first book of poems, was selected by Carl Phillips as the 2011 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. He's the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. In 2016 he won the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University. 


Claire Davis’s first novel, Winter Range, was listed among the best books of 2000 by The Washington Post, Chicago Sun TimesThe Denver Post, Seattle Post, The Oregonian, and The Christian Science Monitor, and was the first book to receive both the PNBA and MPBA awards for best fiction. Her second novel, Season of the Snake, and her short story collection, Labors of the Heart, were both released to wide critical acclaim. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines such as The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and Best American Short Stories. She recently retired as Professor Emerita from Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho and is currently teaching at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. 


Kwame Dawes is the author of twenty-one books of poetry and numerous other books of fiction, criticism, and essays. His most recent poetry collection, Nebraska, appeared in 2019. In 2016 his book, Speak from Here to There, a co-written collection of verse with Australian poet, John Kinsella, appeared along with When the Rewards Can Be So Great: Essays on Writing and the Writing Life, which he edited. His collection, City of Bones: A Testament, appeared in 2017. Also in 2017, Dawes co-edited with Matthew Shenoda, Bearden’s Odessey: Poets Responding to the Art of Romare Bearden. His awards include the Forward Poetry Prize, The Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, The Musgrave Silver Medal, several Pushcart Prizes, the Barnes and Nobles Writers for Writers Award, and an Emmy. He is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and is Chancellor Professor of English at the University of Nebraska. Dawes serves as the Associate Poetry Editor for Peepal Tree Books and is Director of the African Poetry Book Fund. He is Series Editor of the African Poetry Book Series and Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. In 2018, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Dawes was recently named as a finalist for the 2022 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He was also the editor of American Life in Poetry.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffith


Siddhartha Deb is the author of two novels and The Beautiful and the Damned, a work of narrative nonfiction which was a finalist for the Orwell Prize and a recipient of the Pen Open award. The Light at the End of the World, his latest novel, is forthcoming in Spring 2023. His journalism, fiction, and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Guardian, The Nation, The Baffler, and n+1. A professor of creative writing at the New School, he is the recipient of fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute and the Howard Foundation.

Claire Dederer

Claire Dederer is the author of two critically acclaimed memoirs: Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning and Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, which was a New York Times bestseller. Dederer's latest book, Monsters, which investigates good art made by bad people, will be published by Knopf in Spring 2023. Her essays, criticism and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, The Nation, Vogue, Slate, Salon, New York, Elle, and many other publications. Visit her website

Thoughts on Workshop:  I think our job in workshop is loneliness mitigation. I'm talking here about a specific kind of loneliness, the loneliness that comes when a writer is sitting at her desk, trying to finish or even start the work. I think our job in workshop is to provide the writer with tools and information and techniques and buoyancy to draw on days or weeks or even years later, when she's alone at her desk. 


Jack Driscoll is the author of four books of poems, three collections of short stories, and four novels. In addition, he is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including two NEA Creative Writing Fellowships, the NEH Independent Study Grant, two Pushcart Prizes and Best American Short Story citations, the PEN/Nelson Algren Fiction Award, the Associated Writing Programs Short Fiction Award, and seven PEN Syndicated Project Short Fiction Awards.

His work has appeared in magazines, literary journals, and newspapers such as Chicago Tribune, Kansas City Star, Civilization, Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, and Ploughshares.

His novel, Lucky Man, Lucky Woman, received the 1998 Pushcart Editors’ Book Award, the Barnes and Noble Discovery of Great New Writers Award, and the 1999 Independent Book Publishers Award for Fiction. His newest short story collection, The Goat Fish And The Lover's Knot, was published in 2017. Twenty Stories, a selection of his stories from over the years, was published by Pushcart in late 2022. 


Pete Fromm is a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Literary Award for his novels If Not for This, As Cool As I Am, and How All This Started; a story collection, Dry Rain; and the memoirs, Indian Creek Chronicles and The Names of the Stars, which won the Evans Handcart Award for excellence in biography and a Montana Book Award.  As Cool As I Am is also a feature film starring Claire Danes, James Marsden, and Sarah Bolger, and Dry Rain is a short film starring James LeGros and Nathan Gamble. Pete is the author of four other short story collections and has published over two hundred stories in magazines. His most recent novels, A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How To Do (2019), and Lake Nowhere (Le Lac De Nulle Part, 2022), are both bestsellers in France. He lives in Montana and speaks regularly at writer’s conferences around the country and in Europe. 
Thoughts on Workshop: The workshop is a safe place to talk about how to improve not just this handful of stories, but all of our writing in general, learning the very difficult task of self-editing and revising your own work through the slightly less difficult task of putting another’s work under the microscope and figuring out what makes it tick, what works, and what doesn’t. 
I will treat your stories exactly as I treat my own, looking for everything I can work on more, improve, cut, add, clean up, and, more than that, I’ll pick up on things I see that can expand beyond the story to the group. And I’ll ask for you to do the same. The more seriously you take the stories that aren’t yours, the more seriously and competently you’ll begin to see your own work. So, in advance of workshop, really read these stories, mark them up, see what leads to their joys and what may have caused spots that didn’t quite work for you. In the margins, your comments will mostly be on the sentence level, but then go deeper with end notes on the story as whole. Those end notes are like a letter to the author articulating what you find most essential, interesting, and effective about the manuscript, as well as any questions or suggestions you have about how the author might improve it. If you write these carefully, they’ll teach you as much about fiction writing as they teach the author about their manuscript; they also help build lasting friendships between you and your MFA peers. 
I’ve always told my workshops that anything aggressive or demeaning or counterproductive would not be tolerated, warned that I’d come down with the wrath of avenging angels on any such behavior, yet, in my many years in this program, I’ve never once had to do any such thing. I think you’ll find yourself in a safe, welcoming, sincere group of fellow writers, all of us just trying to improve our writing. We’re in this together, taking the writing seriously, but maybe ourselves a bit less so.  Being willing to relax and laugh at ourselves sometimes is a great help. 


Frank X. Gaspar was born and raised in Provincetown, Massachusetts, of Azorean Descent (Pico, Sao Miguel). His ancestors were traditionally whalers and Grand Banks fisherman, sailing out of the Islands and then Provincetown. He is the author of five collections of poetry and two novels. Among his many awards are multiple inclusions in Best American Poetry, four Pushcart Prizes, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, and a California Arts Council Fellowship in poetry. His debut novel, Leaving Pico, was a Barnes and Noble Discovery Prize winner, a recipient of the California Book Award for First Fiction, and a New York Times Notable Book. His second novel, Stealing Fatima, was a MassBook of the Year in Fiction (Massachusetts Foundation for the Book). His latest book, a fusion of genres, is The Poems of Renata Ferreira.


Molly Gloss is the author of six novels and a short story collection. Her novels include The Jump-Off Creek, which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award; The Dazzle of Day, winner of the PEN West Fiction Prize; and the national bestseller The Hearts of Horses. Her story collection, Unforeseen, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award in 2020.

Other honors include a Whiting Writers Award, an Oregon Book Award, multiple Pacific Northwest Booksellers Awards, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Award for the short story.

She writes both realist fiction and science fiction. Her work, even within the science fiction/fantasy genre, often concerns or reimagines the landscape, literature, mythology, and history of the American West.

Thoughts on Workshop: Writing is ultimately a solitary art, but workshops are where we come together to collaborate, as musicians and dancers do, to offer mutual encouragement, stimulating discussion, practice in criticism, and support in difficulty. To help a story draw closer to what the writer intended, we ask: What is this writer doing, how is she doing it, why is he doing it, what is their story about? One of the most valuable tools for honing our own craft, is this practice of articulating answers to questions about another writer’s work.


Cate Kennedy is an Australian writer who has published two short story collections, a novel, three poetry collections, and a memoir. Her stories have appeared in many publications including The New Yorker, the Harvard Literary Review, World Literature Today, and Prospect magazine, as well as numerous Australian literary journals and periodicals including Best Australian Stories in 2006, 2007 and 2009.  Her debut collection, Dark Roots, was given a starred review upon its U.S. publication in Publishers Weekly and the Kirkus Reviews, and was chosen as a Barnes and Noble Great New Writers selection for 2008 and as Oprah magazine’s "new voice of the month" in July of that year. She is the recipient of the Queensland Literary Award for her most recent collection, Like a House on Fire, and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for her 2011 poetry collection, The Taste of River Water. Her novel, The World Beneath, was awarded the People’s Choice prize in the NSW Literary awards in 2010, and has been translated into French and Mandarin. In 2021 she completed her PhD dissertation and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree at LaTrobe University, Melbourne. Her short story collections are both on the English syllabus in her home state of Victoria in Australia. 

Thoughts on Workshop: All I can think of to say is to echo the master, Anton Chekhov, when he said: "I still lack a political, religious, and philosophical world view. I change it every month, so I'll have to limit myself to the description of how my heroes love, marry, give birth, die, and how they speak."

EJ KOH MFA Faculty

E. J. Koh  is the author of the memoir The Magical Language of Others (Tin House Books, 2020) and poetry collection A Lesser Love (Louisiana State University Press, 2017), winner of the Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry. Her co-translation of Yi Won’s The World’s Lightest Motorcycle is forthcoming from Zephyr Press. Her stories, poems and translations have appeared in Boston Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, and World Literature Today. Koh is the recipient of fellowships from the American Literary Translators Association, Kundiman, and MacDowell. Koh earned her MFA at Columbia University in New York for creative writing and literary translation. She is completing her PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle. The Magical Language of Others was recently named the 2021 winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award. 


Valerie Laken's short story collection, Separate Kingdoms, was longlisted for the Story Prize and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Her novel, Dream House, received the Anne Powers prize for fiction and was listed among Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2009. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Ploughshares, Chicago Tribune, and Alaska Quarterly Review, and has received a Pushcart Prize and a Missouri Review Editors' Prize. She holds an MA in Slavic literature and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, and she teaches in the graduate program for creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Thoughts on Workshop: My goal in workshop is to foster a supportive community where writers feel safe sharing complex, imperfect work, and where readers are dedicated to helping their peers discover the best ways to advance and refine that work. We learn and show respect by taking one another’s work seriously and offering generous, thoughtful reactions rather than formulaic instructions. In my workshops, the author is free to ask questions, express their intentions for their work, and redirect the discussion. Our goal, as a group, is not to impose our values or aesthetic on someone else’s work, but to help each author discover and build on what is most unique and essential in their voice.

Danusha Laméris headshot

Danusha Laméris is an American poet, raised in Northern California, born to a Dutch father and Barbadian mother. Her first book, The Moons of August (Autumn House, 2014), was chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye as the winner of the Autumn House Press Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Award. Her most recent collection, Bonfire Opera, (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), recently won the 2021 Northern California Book Award in Poetry and was a finalist for the 2021 Paterson Poetry Award. Some of her work has been published in The Best American PoetryThe New York TimesThe American Poetry ReviewThe Gettysburg ReviewPrairie SchoonerPloughshares, and Orion. The recipient of the 2020 Lucille Clifton Legacy Award, Danusha has taught poetry independently since 2006. She founded The Hive Poetry Collective, a radio show, podcast and event hub in Santa Cruz, CA, where she was the 2018-2020 Poet Laureate. She is currently at work on a collection of nature essays. 

Thoughts on Workshop: We are gathered here because we love poems and poetry. And that matters. It matters that we truly love what language can do, and love transmitting it to others. 

Poetry is about taking in the world, the whole experience of being human, and distilling that experience down to something that can be taken in and re-experienced by another person.

Craft-wise, we grow from reading great poems—and also from taking risks. Which means we need an environment of support and encouragement. It’s vulnerable to take risks. 

Every poet can learn to write stronger poems. It’s about craft, and dedication. Not just some amorphous and innate thing like talent.


Dorianne Laux's newest poetry collection, Only As The Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton, 2019) was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. She is also the author of The Book of Men (winner of the Paterson Prize)Facts about the Moon (winner of the Oregon Book Award), as well as two collections of poetry from BOA Editions: AwakeWhat We Carry (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Smoke. She is co-author of The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. Her work has been translated into many languages and has appeared in The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and in The Best American Poetry four times. She has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, two fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Laux was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020.

Thoughts on Workshop: Our workshops are a place to present fresh work and receive feedback from a group of peers guided by your teacher. We value specific, concise, considered comments on thematics and craft. The aim is to give the poet useful information with which to continue their work. I encourage a supportive and friendly atmosphere where we feel welcomed, comfortable, and included, all of us working together for the benefit and betterment of each presented poem.  

Mike Magnuson

Mike Magnuson is the author of two novels, The Right Man for the Job and The Fire Gospels; and three books of nonfiction, Lummox: The Evolution of a Man, Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180, and Bike Tribes. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Esquire, Gentleman’s Quarterly, Men’s Health, Backpacker, Bicycling, Salon, Popular Mechanics, The Massachusetts Review, The Big Smoke, Best American Sports Writing, and other publications. Recently, he has completed a biography of legendary orchestral conductor Harry Rabinowitz, and he is working on a novel about an underground newspaper in Ghent, Belgium, at the time of the 1944 Tour of Flanders bicycle race. Mike lives on the north shore of Lake Winnebago, in Menasha, Wisconsin. Visit his website

Shara McCallum

From Jamaica, and born to a Jamaican father and Venezuelan mother, Shara McCallum is the author of six books of poetry published in the US and UK, most recently No Ruined Stone (2021), which won the 2022 Hurston/Wright Legacy award and named a finalist for the 2022 UNT Rilke Prize. La historia es un cuarto, an anthology of her poems translated into Spanish by Adalber Salas Hernández, was published in Mexico in 2021. McCallum’s poems have been translated into several other languages and her poems and essays have appeared throughout the US, Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Her writing has been awarded various prizes, including the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, a Silver Musgrave Medal from the Jamaican government, a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the US Library of Congress, and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. McCallum is an Edwin Erle Sparks Professor at Penn State University and was appointed the 2021-22 Penn State Laureate.

Thoughts on Workshop: Each workshop is a unique community we form, as practitioners with various subjectivities, brought together through our shared investment in the art and craft of poetry. To reflect this, in our discussions of poems I discourage consensus, unless this happens organically. Instead, I encourage the voicing of a multiplicity of—sometimes contradictory—readings and responses. Central to my idea of workshop is the belief that poems aren’t broken. We aren’t there to “fix” a poem or “torture a confession out of it.” When invited by a poet into their process, I think we serve and honor both the poet and the poem by reading closely, with a keen focus on identifying the poem’s effect and resonances as well as its aspirations and possibilities.


Joseph Millar’s collections are Kingdom, Overtime, a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, Fortune, and Blue Rust (all available from Carnegie-Mellon). His most recent collection, Dark Harvest: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2020, was released in October, 2021. Millar grew up in Pennsylvania, attended the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and spent 30 years in the San Francisco Bay area working at a variety of jobs, from telephone repairman to commercial fisherman. His poems record the narrative of a life fully lived among fathers, sons, brothers, daughters, weddings and divorces, men and women. His work has won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pushcart Prize, and has appeared in such magazines as DoubleTake, New Letters, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, The American Poetry Review, and Ploughshares.


Mahtem Shiferraw is a writer and visual artist from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Her work has been published in various literary magazines, including Callaloo, Prairie Schooner, Poets.org, The 2River View, Luna Luna Magazine, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Numero Cinq, and more. Her short story "The River" received an Honorable Mention at Glimmer Train’s Open Fiction Contest. In 2016, she won the Sillerman Prize for African Poets and her full-length collection, Fuchsia, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. Her poetry chapbook, Behind Walls & Glass, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her most recent collection, Your Body is War, is out now from the University of Nebraska Press. She has served as editor for Atlas and Alice, The Bleeding Lion, The Hunger Mountain, and more. She is the founder of Anaphora Arts, a nonprofit organization working to advance the works of writers and artists of color. She has served as a jury member for different literary prizes and residencies, including the Neudstat International Prize for Literature, the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, the Lucy Munro Brooker Prize, and more. She is a Pushcart prize nominee, and her work has been anthologized widely. In 2018, she received the Imani Award for Artistic Excellence from Harvard University. As of 2020, she also serves on the Editorial Board of World Literature Today. She holds an MFA from Vermont College. Her next poetry collection, Nomenclatures of Invisibility, will be published by BOA Editions, Ltd. in Spring, 2023. 

Thoughts on Workshop: The workshop is a space for thoughtful discourse and discernment; we are here to learn about craft, but also to mitigate our differences, to elevate one another in our storytelling, in our common purpose. The workshop also provides an opportunity to understand new perspectives, to deepen our empathy, and to move forward with compassion. 


Mary Helen Stefaniak’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in many publications. Of her new novel, The World of Pondside, a mystery that takes place in a nursing home, Booklist said, “Stefaniak infuses an often forbidding and depressing environment with joy and dignity.” Her second novel, The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, received a 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction. Anisfield-Wolf Awards recognize books that make significant contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the diversity of cultures. Independent booksellers selected The Cailiffs as an Indie-Next “Great Read.” Her first novel, The Turk and My Mother, received the 2005 John Gardner Fiction Award and has been translated into several languages. It was named a Favorite Book of 2004 by the Chicago Tribune. Self Storage and Other Stories, her first book, received the Wisconsin Library Association’s 1998 Banta Award.
The University of Iowa Press published her first book of nonfiction, The Six-Minute Memoir: Fifty-Five Short Essays on Life, in 2022, its essays selected from a column she began writing in 1998.
Mary Helen is Professor Emerita of Creative Writing at Creighton University in Omaha. She has taught fiction writing in Ireland, in China, and in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. She and her husband have lived in Iowa City since 1982. Their three remarkable children grew up there.

Thoughts on Workshop: The job of your colleagues in workshop is to read your pages carefully and respectfully and to let you know what they see, hear, smell, taste, feel, understand and/or fail to understand on those pages. It is a truism (and also, as it happens, a fact) that you will learn more from participating in the discussion of other people’s work than you learn from the discussion of your own.  You’re going to get many wrong ideas from your readers, but they will often lead you to the right ideas. A successful workshop is one that makes you, the writer, eager to dive back into the writing—whether to revise or to start anew. A really great workshop makes everyone else in the room feel the same.

Meera Subramanian

Meera Subramanian is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes narrative nonfiction about home in the personal and planetary sense, especially in a time of climate crisis. Her work has been published in Nature, The New York Times, The NewYorker.com, Inside Climate News, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others, and she is a contributing editor of Orion. She is the author of A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka, which was short-listed for the Orion Book Award. Publishers’ Weekly gave it a starred review, and Kirkus Reviews called it “right thinking and accusatory in all the right places.” Her writing has also been anthologized in Best American Science and Nature Writing, Believer, Beware: First-person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith, Letters to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, and multiple editions of Best Women’s Travel Writing. She has more essays forthcoming in The World As We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate and Solastalgia: An Anthology of Emotion in a Disappearing World (2023). 

Meera  is also a co-director of the Religion & Environment Story Project and in the past she was a Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT, Fulbright-Nehru senior research fellow, board president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Visiting Professor in the Environment and the Humanities at Princeton University.

Based on a glacial moraine on the edge of the Atlantic, Meera is a perpetual wanderer who can't stop digging in the dirt to plant perennials and looking up in search of birds. You can find her at www.meerasub.org.

Thoughts on Workshop: Writing is not, except in rare moments of grace, an easy thing. But you enter into a writing workshop because you have found it a necessary thing. If you were the student asking, “Mr. Frost, should I go on writing?” and he said, “Well, see if you can stop,” your answer was an emphatic no. In the classroom, I aim to foster a space for the collective spirit of human and literary collaboration, a generative place where we can crowd-source the wisdom of writings that inspire and the insights of your fellow workshoppers. Together, we can help each individual unearth the joy and delight of getting on the page the thoughts, memories, and stories that are tumbling in your head. Our collaborative goal is to turn smoke into substance.


Willy Vlautin has published six novels: The Motel Life (2007), which was The New York Times Editors’ Choice and Notable book, and was made into a major motion picture starring Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, and Kris Kristofferson; Northline (2008); Lean on Pete (2010), which won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, was short-listed for the IMPAC award, and is soon to be a film starring Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny; The Free (2014), winner of the Oregon People’s Choice Award; and Don't Skip Out On Me (2018). His latest novel, The Night Always Comes, was released in April, 2021. His work has been translated into eight languages.

Vlautin founded the bands Richmond Fontaine in 1994 and The Delines in 2014, featuring vocalist Amy Boone (The Damnations). He currently resides in Scappoose, Oregon.

Thoughts on Workshop: Workshop is an important part of the program, where students can learn to see their work from the diverse perspectives of their fellow students. Discussion and critique are valuable tools for honing our craft, and workshop should be a place where all students feel safe to share their work. Students should come to it with open minds, ears, and hearts. My goal is for students to be inspired and motivated by the discussions we have in workshop.


Kellie Wells is the winner of the 2022 Kurt Vonnegut Speculative Fiction Prize. She is also the recipient of the Flannery O’Connor Award, the Richard Sullivan Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Fiction, the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award for emerging women writers, and the Baltic Writing Residency. She has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Blue Mountain Center, Château de Lavigny, and Hawthornden Castle.  She is the author of four books: Compression Scars; Skin; Fat Girl, Terrestrial; and God, the Moon, and Other Megafauna. Her research and writing interests include Victorian spiritualism and stage acts, dystopian/apocalypse lit, speculative/fabulist/slipstream lit, disability and chronic illness in the Anthropocene/Symbiocene, fairy tales and folktales, and apocalyptic crones. She has three very wry dogs, teaches in the MFA program at the University of Alabama, and is a congenital Midwestern American.

Thoughts on Workshop: My approach to feedback and workshop discussion is, in large part, descriptive. In the course of the conversation and in my written comments, I illustrate for the writer how one reader has made sense of their work, point out the things I leaned on interpretively, and try to show the writer what led me to the reading I came away with. I describe how I see various craft elements operating and also offer general observations about the form the writer’s working in. Although I occasionally make pointed suggestions for revision, I’m generally not inclined to offer prescriptive feedback. Instead, I document one reader’s experience of the story/chapter, and the writer can think about how that experience does or does not align with their intentions (or what they know of their intentions at this moment), so that when they return to the work, they can make decisions about how to reimagine the parts of it they want to revise or how to move forward. It’s not that I think prescriptive feedback has no value; it’s just that my inclination as a reader is to go with the choices the writer has made and then think about how those choices accumulate into meaning for me as I read. Just as we all write differently, all members of a workshop have different dispositions as readers and critics, so I don’t expect fellow workshop members to respond to the work exactly as I do. However workshop members are inclined to engage with the work critically, so long as it’s respectful, is fine. The more variety there is in the way we read and analyze, the better for the writer. This is, to my way of thinking, one of the real virtues of a workshop—it can give the writer a prismatic view of their own work that will illuminate it in unexpected ways, throwing onto the wall patterns they might not even have realized were there.

Kao Kalia Yang headshot MFA Faculty

Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer. She is the author of the memoirs The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, The Song Poet, and Somewhere in the Unknown World. Yang is also the author of the children’s books A Map Into the World, The Shared Room, The Most Beautiful Thing, and Yang Warriors. She co-edited the ground-breaking collection What God is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss By and For Native Women and Women of Color. Yang’s work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, the PEN USA literary awards, the Dayton’s Literary Peace Prize, as Notable Books by the American Library Association, Kirkus Best Books of the Year, the Heartland Bookseller’s Award, and garnered four Minnesota Book Awards. Kao Kalia Yang lives in Minnesota with her family, and teaches and speaks across the nation.