On January 19, 2014, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony, honoring the 11 men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. For the last few weeks we've been posting interviews with many of the grads. Our interview today is the final one for this class. Today's grad is Jeanne Anderson; she lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I am a retired teacher/librarian, so when I am not working on packets, I spend my time traveling, hanging out at libraries, taking care of grandchildren, reading and buying books.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I was searching for a Master’s Degree program in Children’s Literature, and discovered the Hamline low-residency program. This was a huge improvement over the online degree programs I was considering, where there is little feedback, little peer interaction and no face time at all. Also, I was very impressed with Mary Rockcastle when I met with her to ask if I was too old for this program. She didn’t seem to think so, and I presented my Critical Thesis on my 65th Birthday! I considered that event to be the best birthday present ever. Thank you, Mary.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I have been writing poetry for myself and family members for years. I have also written a number of stories for my children and grandchildren. But, according to my five adult children, I have always talked about writing the books I have in my head. They strongly encouraged me because it would keep me occupied in my retirement. I also think they wanted me to stop talking about doing it – and do it!
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember being scared that I would not be able to keep up the pace of back-to- back lectures, but that was never a problem. I could hardly wait to get into Workshop every morning, and the lectures were always energizing. I never fell asleep! Not even once. Also, I was afraid I would slip on the ice and snow and break a hip! But it was never that bad, and there were lots of folks to help me walk along the campus sidewalks.
Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction; graphic novel) age group in your writing? Tried a form you never thought you’d try?
I wanted to be exposed to a different form of writing every semester.The 1st semester I ventured into picture book writing with Marsha Chall. The 2nd semester I tried verse novels with Marilyn Nelson. The 3rd semester I attempted to write a middle school novel with Eleanor Tate. I know I will never have an opportunity for feedback from so many excellent published authors, and I was determined to make the most of my time at Hamline!
I have many story ideas, but the one that I started out with in my Creative Thesis was about a biracial boy and how he learns to cope in a multicultural world. As the chapters progressed, the story completely morphed into a different kind of journey! What emerged was a lonely child’s search for family and belonging. When it was all done, I felt quite satisfied with the direction it took. It touched on a universal theme that I felt was far more important to present to a young audience.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
My advisors have consistently challenged me to stretch and move out of my comfort zones. My vision has expanded to include several genres and different types of writing for children. Without Hamline, I would have been content to write short rhyming poems and little stories. Now I think big, and in terms of all kinds of possibilities!
With packet deadlines removed as an incentive, do you anticipate it will be harder to keep writing? Not if I begin writing for contest deadlines!
Any plans for your post-Hamline writing life?
Yes, I have plans. The first thing I will do is create a spreadsheet for submissions. On that spreadsheet will be the names of publishers AND contest deadlines. The contest deadlines will help me keep up the momentum of producing something every month. Then I will start attending a writers group consistently where I will be held accountable for producing something on a regular basis.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Yes. The Hamline program seems to be dedicated to developing, encouraging and producing each student’s best writing. Writing is the one of the few careers that can be pursued anywhere, anytime and under almost any conditions. It can be done while we work at other jobs. It is also a creative outlet that can only get better, since it is an expression of each person’s cumulative growth and development. It has no age limit, and in fact the older we are the more stuff we have to write about! And best of all, it brings us in contact with wonderful people.
The Hamline experience is a rare opportunity for anyone fortunate enough to be accepted into its low-residency program. Anyone who loves to write cannot help but benefit from the residencies, the packets and the contact with advisors. In spite of the snow and ice in January, it is clearly a win-win investment that I would recommend to anyone with an urge to write, share and learn.