Thursday, January 5, 2017

Meet the Grad: Beth Spencewood

On Sunday, January 15, 2017 Hamline's Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

During the months of December and January we will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today's new graduate is Beth Spencewood.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

I had a baby this year, so spend a lot of time with my son and Googling parenting questions. Back when I had time for hobbies, I did things like knit, travel and rock climb.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I took Young Adult Literature at the Loft Literary Center with the brilliant Swati Avasthi, who mentioned she taught at an MFA program that focused on writing for young adults and children. Even though it sounded amazing, at that point applying to an MFA program seemed too far-fetched. I’d never even taken an undergraduate course in creative writing, after all. But I spent the next few years thinking about it. I took a few more classes at the Loft, met with the Director, Mary Rockcastle, twice, and attended a prospective student day. It got to the point where I needed to apply just so I could stop spending so much time wondering if I should apply. Once I was in, I knew I had to do it.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

When I was young, I would write funny stories about my friends, bad poetry, and essays for my parents with titles like “Why We Need the Internet” (we did, in fact, get a family AOL account). Then I went to college and creative writing seemed like something you were either great at or not, and I didn’t want to risk ruining my GPA for something fun.

As an adult, a friend and I started meeting up to do writing exercises. She challenged me to complete National Novel Writing month with her. I did it, and while I technically wrote enough words to “win”, I had no idea what I was doing so I started taking writing classes at the Loft Literary Center.

What do you remember most about your first residency?

I felt this need to explain to everyone I met that I wasn't a "real writer", but everyone kept telling me I was wrong. I remember several people going out of their way to make sure I felt welcome and supported. I'd never experienced being a part of a community like that. 

Have you focused on any one form (picture book, novel, nonfiction, graphic novel) or age group in your writing? Did you try a form you never thought you’d try?

I mostly write young adult fiction, but I also tried middle grade and picture books, and was surprised by how much I liked writing them. YA still comes more naturally to me, but I’m definitely more open to trying other forms now.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My creative thesis, Real Nice, is a Young Adult novel about Gwen, a girl who has been raised on an island as a reality TV show villain. When the network is sold and her contract cancelled, she is forced to compete against her best friend and has to decide how far she’s willing to go to stay on air. 

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? 

I had a lot to learn as far as craft. Workshops were immensely helpful as well as the detailed feedback I got about my writing from each professor I worked with. I have much more confidence in how to control the reader’s experience and identify what is and isn’t working in a piece. 

Any advice for entering students or for people considering the program?

Read widely, take good notes, and don’t be afraid to start over!

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