Monday, June 22, 2015

Meet the Grad: OJ Hanratty

July 19, 2015, on the final day of the upcoming residency, the MFAC program will have a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor the men and women who have just completed their studies and will receive an MFA from Hamline University. Between now and residency we'll be posting interviews with the grads. OJ Hanratty is today's grad; he lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on Twitter @OrrinJhanratty.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I live for stories, so in my down time I do a lot of reading, writing, watching (Good TV), and listening (to podcasts). I am also a pizza aficionado. Otherwise, I am either at work at my machine shop doing things that make me look like thisà
or I am with my fiancée, Hannah, whom I adore.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
At Rhode Island College I attended a summer writing institute for a group called the Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature (ASTAL). At the institute I got to show my writing to real authors for the first time. Two of those authors were Kelly Easton and Liza Ketchum and they told me about the program, and encouraged me to come. I would say they threatened me, but they totally didn’t threaten me. There were no threats, ok?

Just drop it

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I was filling up the backs of notebooks since I first learned that anyone could make up stories. I had a sideways path to becoming a writer, but most of my early memories involve me alone in the middle of the woods behind my house battling with some sort of imaginary monster with my trusty array of stick swords. I just love the ways of words and stories and always have. I’m an addict. I don’t want help.

What do especially remember about your first residency?
I felt like I was way out of my depth, everyone here was so smart and writerly. I was a nervous wreck, and that made me quiet. Quiet for me, that is. Since I was so nervous, I was just trying to take it all in and keep my feet on the ground. It was mostly a blur, but I do remember one specific moment on the first day.

You know how they say first semester students never get workshopped on the first day? That’s either a bald-faced lie, or they changed that rule because of me. So in the first huge meeting where everyone is saying hi to their old friends and walking around and everything is warm and cozy for everyone but the new people, WHO KNOW NOTHING. And if you remember a paragraph ago I was a nervous wreck.

So they start going over who will be going on the first day of workshop, and Gene Yang gets up for our workshop and says, “Jenny Barlow… and ORRIN JOHN HANRATTY III.” I seem to remember him shaking his fist all the way through my name and deepening his voice. I could be imagining this. I don’t know. I blacked out after that.

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

I focused mostly on novels. I wrote a complete draft of one novel my first two semesters and worked on a second in my third and final semesters. As for other forms, I have written a couple picture books in my downtime. They kinda suck, but I enjoy using the sparseness of the form to tell silly stories.  I have a few comic book ideas I toy with, as well.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
My thesis is a YA novel,  A Conspiracy of Clowns. Usually the question “Who is the Class Clown” has an easy answer. Not so much in Cove Town High, where pies explode from lockers, chickens stampede from nothingness, and football teams are locked up with angry skunks. The Class Clown of Cove Town is a menace to some and a hero to others. It is up to Victoria, head of the school paper, and her best friend Kami to take him –or her—down.

It’s a comedic mystery that serves as a backdrop for the friendship between Victoria and Kami. Victoria is a super smart, driven, detail obsessed, African American girl and Kami is a lesbian cheerleader, with no filter and nothing but optimism. They have a fight early in the novel and it almost dissolves their friendship, it is the investigation of the Clown that brings them together, and in the process they learn more about the world around them than they ever thought they would.

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

I’m more outline driven now. I used to be a “Pantser,” but now I’m all for planning and preparing for my stories as they go along. Much of my work on the Conspiracy has been looking at structure. Also I’ve come to a new appreciation of grammar and precision of language. Also I use “also” much more liberally.

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Treasure the time. It goes so fast, and you just can’t hold on to it hard enough. ____________________ (Insert cheesy song lyric.) This has been the best writing experience of my life.

 The public is welcome to attend the graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday, July19, 3:30pm, (Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University). Tim Federle is the speaker.


  1. Nice, OJ. I also felt a little out of my depth my first residency. I think the best thing we can do for first time students is to take them aside and teach them the jargon.

  2. Wooo! OJ!! Great interview. We're gonna miss you

  3. Love it, O.J. Sounds just like you and makes me miss you! Can't wait to see you in MN! I remember when they chose you to go first and all the color drained out of your face. Kind of like the time one of our professors asked about your baby....bwa ha ha!

  4. Congrats, OJ. You have been a delightful member of our community. You will be truly missed.