Creative writing program prepares writers post-graduation

By Gus Bode

Allison Joseph, director of the Creative Writing Program, attributes the SIUC Creative Writing program’s growth and reputation to alumnis’ success and the resources which have been available to students.

In the beginning of September, Poets and Writers Magazine ranked the program 25th in the top masters of fine arts programs in the U.S. for the 2011-2012 school year.

The MFA in creative writing is a three-year program established in 1996 for fiction and poetry students, and it accepts eight to 12 students per year, according to the English Department website. The program offers graduate students the opportunity to work closely with faculty, gain real-world experience through internships with the Crab Orchard Review — its national literary journal —  and gain teaching experience with undergraduate students at SIUC.


Travis Mossotti, a 2010 program alumnus, won the 2011 May Swenson Poetry Award from Utah State University Press for his book of poems “About the Dead.” The book was selected to be published by Garrison Keillor, an American author, writer and radio personality.

Joseph said the internship with Crab Orchard Review is an opportunity for the students to work on an actual literary journal that goes out and receives submissions from writers all over the world.

She said graduate students teach English 101, 102 and 119 for undergraduates. They also contribute to the community as part of its Saluki Writers Project, where they teach high school students and hold a graduate workshop with the Carbondale Public Library.

“We like to make sure the graduate students here can take advantage of what we have to offer, and teaching is a big part of that,” she said. “It also connects them to the university that they get to see and work with undergraduate students.”

Andrew McSorley, a graduate student in creative writing from Appleton, Wis., said people apply because of faculty members and the appreciation of their work.

“Definitely for me, applying here for poetry with Allison Joseph, Rodney Jones and Judy Jordan were all people that I read when I was an undergrad whose work I appreciated,” he said.

McSorley said professors encourage publishing but do not make it the all-time focus. He said professors provide suggestions and avenues to get started, and there is not a sense of competition between students like it would be at a higher ranked school than SIUC.


“The focus always is ‘are you producing the best writing possible?’” he said. “There’s definitely an emphasis that if you’re writing good work and you want to be a writer, why wouldn’t you want to get published?”

Nick Ostdick, a graduate student in creative writing from Elgin, said the diverse group of faculty attracts a diverse group of students that has allowed him to hear different viewpoints, styles and ideas about what makes a good story.

“There’s a lot of learning that goes on just from who’s in your class,” he said.

Other alumni who have gone on to success are Benjamin Percy and Adrian Matejka.

Matejka, now an SIUE professor, was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his book of poems “Mixology.” Percy has won multiple awards, including the 2011 Society of Midlands Authors award for his novel “The Wilding.” He has had the film rights to his novel “Red Moon” bought by The Gotham Group film company. Percy is also a contributor to Esquire magazine.

“We have alums who are doing amazing things, being published in some of the best literary journals in the country, winning awards,” Joseph said. “And they start here.”