INSIDE Chico State
0 May 16, 2002
Volume 32 Number 16
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico




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M.F.A. Consortium Produces First Graduate

Kiara Koenig, M.F.A. Consortium graduate, is the co-winner of the university’s Outstanding Thesis Award for 2001­2002.

photo by Kathleen McPartland

The Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Consortium, a four-campus collaborative program, will graduate its first M.F.A. recipient this spring, Kiara F. Koenig. Koenig, who already holds both a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English literature from CSU, Chico, read from her M.F.A. manuscript April 19 in the Humanities Center.

Koenig’s thesis, “Wrestling the Angel: The Revisionist Mythopoetics of Eavan Boland,” was chosen as one of two outstanding university theses. “This is an amazing honor,” said Jeanne Clark, Koenig’s thesis adviser. “The nomination form is extensive, and a department committee, a college committee, and then a university committee each vote on the top theses.” She will receive a cash award of $500 and a plaque at graduation.

Koenig took classes at CSU, Northridge and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in addition to her classes here on campus. “I enjoyed working with the students and faculty from other campuses. I think this mix is one of the program’s strong points,” she said. For her M.F.A. internship, she conducted a six-week poetry workshop with two 6th-grade classes at Little Chico Creek Elementary. She has also taught beginning creative writing classes in the English department.

Now in its fourth year, with Chico the degree-granting institution and members CSU, Hayward; Northridge; and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, the M.F.A. in creative writing is a terminal professional degree—until recently, the only one of its kind offered at Chico.

The M.F.A. program began as a partnership among Humanities and Fine Arts, the English department, and Regional and Continuing Education (RCE), with summer study the only required enrollment period for the degree. Carole Oles, the coordinator of the program, worked closely with Debra Barger, RCE, and other creative writing teachers at participating CSUs. With the arrival of year-round-operation, the program enters a new phase of organization and administration.

At present, 31 students are enrolled in the program, with an additional nine admitted this spring. Though most students are California residents, the total includes one student from Oregon and one from Illinois. The summer-only, or low-residency, requirement of the degree permits Californians throughout the state, non-Californians, and working professionals to obtain the M.F.A. in creative writing without moving or suspending their employment. It places the M.F.A. in the vanguard of programs negotiating the mandated shift to year-round-operation.

In its relatively short history, the program has been distinguished by the achievements of its students, who are actively engaged in the writing life beyond M.F.A. study. These activities give national visibility to the department, college, and university. Students’ publications include the following magazines: Black Warrior Review, Byline, Clackamas Literary Review, Ekphrasis, enigma, Fourth Genre, Greensboro Review, Lullwater, Manzanita: Poetry and Prose of the Mother Lode, Midwest Poetry Review, Muse of Fire, New England Review, Perihelion, Tar River, and Troubadour 2000. M.F.A. students have also published in the anthologies Shoreline: Poetry and Prose, Explorations of Mental Illness, and Bread and the Fields in It: The Soul of Hunger. Random House has accepted one student’s novel for publication; another student has published several California travel handbooks and an article on the development of travel writing in The Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. Yet another will guest edit an issue of Manoa on contemporary Cambodian writing and has received Honorable Mentions in the 2001 O. Henry Awards and the 2001 Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses.

M.F.A. students have also given readings of their work, chaired graduate student conference panels such as “Creative Writing 1” and “Voices on the Edge: Creators and Critics,” and presented conference papers at the Southwest Association for Language Learning Technology and the fall 2001 CELT Conference at CSU, Chico. They participated with Chico and Northridge faculty in an Associated Writing Programs annual meeting roundtable discussion of the M.F.A. program in spring 2001.

Finally, M.F.A. students’ achievements have included winning grants for writing residencies at Norcroft Women Writers’ Retreat and awards such as the 2000 Willard R. Espy Award in Fiction from the University of Washington, which included a $1,000 prize.

What has all of this meant for the program’s first graduate? She lists teaching experiences that have taught her “as much about myself as about writing and people as any other experience in my life,” strong friendships she expects to last a lifetime, and moving from “writing poetry to being a poet.”

“I have a much stronger sense of the tradition I’ve inherited, both in craft and in subject, and of where my work can build on and enrich that tradition,” said Koenig.

Kathleen McPartland

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