A lot of people take creative writing classes, but transforming that instruction into a thriving career as a creative writer is a bit trickier. Yet the Northern Arizona University creative writing program is seeing more and more emerging student, faculty, and alumni wordsmiths—wordsmiths who are publishing everything from novels to articles in national magazines such as The New Yorker.
Student author publishes crime novel before graduation
For Corwin Scott Gibson, pursuing a Master
of Arts in English (creative writing emphasis) means more than just going
to class and taking notes. For someone who will graduate in May, he’s ahead of
the game: he’s already a published author.
Corwin’s fellow Northern Arizona University creative writing
graduate student started Eat Your Serial—a
website that publishes serial installments of non-fiction and fiction works—and
Gibson got on board with his novel Murdertrain.
He credits a class with Ann Cummins (see below) with giving
him both the inspiration and opportunity to get his novel off the ground.
Gibson also recognizes his professors and the program with giving the students
the tools necessary to find work in the creative writing field.
“My professors have been very helpful in providing the
information that I’m going to need for how to break in (to the writing field),”
he says. “It’s not as easy as, say, business, where you have so many ins
through your professors, or people you meet through business functions. (NAU)
brings people all the time that are published writers, and you get to talk to
them and pick their brains.”
Alum finds success as a writer and artist
Matthew Henry Hall, a 1993 Master of Arts in English (creative writing emphasis)
graduate, is talented two-fold: he’s both a published author and an
accomplished cartoonist. He’s the author of several books, including Phoebe
and Chub, a children’s tale about a treefrog and a fish who
become friends. He’s also had illustrations published in the book, What
They Didn't Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your
Academic Career, as well as publications such as Reader’s
Digest and The
Hall, who came from Delaware to Flagstaff for graduate
school, says the southwest gave him more than just scenic views. The
collaborative community at the university fit his personality and helped him
“I learned how to be a better writer in every way, and also
I had the chance—in a very safe environment—to try out things to see if they
worked or didn’t,” Hall says. “Because the nice thing about NAU that I found, which
was different from the east coast creative writing workshops, is that it was so
much more friendly and people were just a lot kinder.”
Hall encourages students in the creative writing program to
take advantage of a nurturing environment and step outside their comfort zones
and try something new.
“Graduate school is a time to try as many things as you want
to try, and all of the things you were afraid to try,” he says. “If you’re not
a poet, try a poetry class. If you always wanted to read or go to a reading, do
it. All those things are open to you, so take some risks. You might not get
Professor marries writing and teaching
As the author of two books, Yellowcake and Red Ant House, and several published stories in The New Yorker, Ann Cummins, a professor in the Department of English, brings her experience as a writer to her classroom.
“I try to help all of my students find the stories that they really need to tell and I try to be open to lots of different styles,” Cummins explains. “If I see that they have a specific style or voice I try to nurture their unique styles and voices.”
Cummins, who came to the university in 1989, says the program’s graduates find employment in the creative writing field regularly.
“In the years I have been teaching here, many of our students have gone on to publish and to nab jobs teaching at universities, and we are really pleased with the success rate of our students,” she says. “I do book reviews for KNAU radio and I am just doing a book review for a new collection for one of our alums, Miles Waggener. He runs a creative writing program in Nebraska so he is quite successful. We’ve [also] got fiction writer Tammy Greenwood, who has four or five novels out.”
The university has aided Cummins’ own writing by both stimulating her literary interests through her students and allowing her to dwell on the Colorado Plateau and draw inspiration from it.
“A lot of my students are reading really contemporary work, stuff that I frequently miss,” she says. “It is a constant exchange of creative inspiration and learning.”