A Literary Evening
-Reporting By Roger Market–
On May 9, 2014, the University of Baltimore’s MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts (CWPA) program held its annual MFA reading and book release party for graduating students. Eighteen writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry read from their incredible culminating works in front of an excited crowd.
Throughout their studies, CWPA students engage with a core curriculum that focuses on creative writing and experimentation. Additional courses in web and book design, editing, and publishing help students achieve the necessary skills to launch successful books and writing careers. Thesis, an intensive final year packed with workshops and publishing design instruction, is the highlight of the program. Students are encouraged to write, edit and rewrite, cut, glue, scribble, and bleed—whatever it takes to arrive at a worthy final project that always comes in the shape of a book. But these are no ordinary volumes of literature.
UB’s talented writers produce eye-catching works of art comprised of their peer-edited content. Students personally design every aspect of their books and graduate as self-published authors whose first edition copies will stand the test of time. The results are always breathtaking, and this year was no exception.
This year’s UB MFA reading and book release party featured readings by the stupendous D. Watkins, Saralyn Lyons, Gabe Luzier, and Dustin Fisher. The wonderful Beth Hawbaker, Kelsie Gaskill, Drew Robison, Anthony Moll, and Mychael Zulauf. The insanely talented Amanda Gilleland, Michelle Junot, Rachel Wooley, and Kari Waters. The captivating Ian Anderson, Matthew Falk, Cailin Iverson, and Even Schaule. And the euphonious Judith Krummeck—Baltimore’s own classical radio celebrity. Also graduating this year is K. “Koko” Zauditu-Selassie, who, unfortunately, was abroad at the time of the reading, but she sent her love—and her books.
Each writer brought something different to the table. Junot’s excerpt from her title essay, “And the Floor Was Always Lava,” entertained effortlessly and could have gone on another five minutes. Fisher’s Daddy Issues collection gave parents and non-parents alike a much-needed laugh. Writers like Anderson, Waters, and Watkins no doubt surprised some audience members with their complex portrayals of life’s darker streets and alleys. Reading from Naps Are More Serious Than You Think, Iverson tugged at some heartstrings with poetry about loss, sleep, and growing up as a military brat. Always a treat, Krummeck, who read from her memoir, Beyond the Baobab, offered stunning prose, eloquently delivered in her radio-ready voice and South African accent.
Whereas most MFA events end after the reading, UB’s annual celebrations always go late into the night, quickly transitioning to a full-fledged book release party. Book covers are on display throughout the evening. At the party, however, audience members are invited to explore the books personally, feel their varying textures, admire their (required) handmade elements, and, of course, buy a signed copy.
This year, inventive and breathtaking book designs by Gilleland, Wooley, and Moll showed exactly how far this MFA program goes to instill the value and principles of great design. Watercolor paintings, cutout titles, and creative uses of color were the hallmarks of this work. While some writers from this year’s class went with minimalist covers, they did so with great care, creating designs that rivaled even their most ornate companions.
Last, but by no means least, Zulauf was one of the rare students who decided to create his book of poetry entirely by hand—all sixty copies! This is no easy feat, to be sure, but it’s one that’s always met with enthusiasm in the program.
After weeks of exhausting work, CWPA writers could finally relax and speak with friends and family at the release party. Many commented that their nerves hadn’t melted away until the last moment when they read publicly from their work, thereby putting a stamp of completion on their thesis project. Graduating from the UB CWPA program doesn’t guarantee mainstream publishing success, but it does underline the notion that hard work and dedication pay off. Students embarking on writing and publishing careers after completing their MFA at UB have many professional tools at their disposal. What is perhaps more valuable than their degree, however, is the opportunity to continue participating in a unique and vibrant community of artists that is bound together by common pride in their independent creations. If this event is any indication of the caliber and talent of this year’s graduating writers, audiences should look forward to reading every word they’ll publish next.