MFA in Creative Writing - Student Testimonials

mfa_testimony_cbarnaCatherine Barna

Writing Genre: Poetry
Hometown: Easton, CT
Education: B.A. English
Profession: Homemaker
Favorite Poetess: Emily Dickinson

Q: Describe your first experience on Enders Island.

A: I was a nervous ninny before my first residency at Enders Island.

I had not been near a dorm, (except to drop my son at college) in years. Many years. What was I thinking going back to school after such a lengthy hiatus? Reading and writing in my closet (which offers a light and solitude from my four children) was hardly academic. Each step gave me mounting anxiety. When I received samples from the other writers in my workshops, I hyperventilated thinking that this meant they were reading my works. Then, there were all the details - what food would be served? What to wear, even pajamas? I drove to the island half expecting to leave early. As I unloaded my car surrounded by the shimmering sea and the lush gardens of Enders, it seemed like everyone was hugging and laughing. “That’s strange,” I thought, “They don’t seem worried and some of them are my age.” Actually, some were older. In my first workshop, I barely said a word. People spoke a different language but some of the words were familiar. Alliteration. Metaphor. Allusion. I was unsure if my memory of the terms was correct. I couldn’t wait to get back to my room and Google them. I discovered that Wifi does not work well at Enders, but my memory did. No one scoffed when my work was read. Others offered suggestions.

Meals were delicious and everyone filled the tables; sitting alone was not an option. The conversations were scintillating if not downright fun. Why are you vegetarian? What is your third semester project? Who have you had as a mentor? What are you reading? What happened to your beard? Your cat? Your piece on your mother? Have you read any Charles Simic? James Tate?

With every workshop, seminar and reading, I told myself, “I need to write/read that,” or “I am going to try that!” Even though my bag was stuffed with books and papers and my head full of ideas, I soared home after 10 days eagerly looking forward to the next residency.

mfa_testimony_aclelandAbbey Cleland

Writing Genre: Fiction
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Education: B.A. English and Film, The Ohio State University
Profession: Writer
Favorite Author: Michael Chabon

Q: How has being in the program influenced your writing?

A: In a word: tremendously.

As writers, we all have innate inclinations, unavoidable strengths and weaknesses, perpetual blind spots, and those darling idiosyncrasies that can make our work both sing and stutter. In order to improve - to really hone our craft - a writer needs help. It’s that simple. But finding the help that counts, well, that isn’t so simple.

At Fairfield’s MFA program, the help comes in a thoughtful package that matters. Here, nestled in the breathtaking beauty of Enders Island, faculty and peers provide feedback, guidance, and encouragement because they’re personally invested in helping you tell your story in the most compelling, effective, and artful way possible. Inevitably, an experience of this kind, one centered on constructive criticism and collaboration, makes us better writers. After each residency, chat with my mentor, or e-mail with a Fairfield MFA colleague, I’m reminded that while I toil away in the comfort and isolation of my home office, I am also a member of a tremendously innovative, creative, and generous tribe. I know from other writer friends that this sense of family in an MFA program is quite rare.

Surprisingly quickly, should you join us, you’ll find that you have more confidence in your own writing process. The seemingly insurmountable challenges of your project will be navigated and conquered with the guidance of your mentor. You’ll have more tools in your “writer toolbox” - the kind that will make all the difference as you prepare your work for publication. And, best of all, you’ll have a marvelous time along the way.

mfa_testimony_mhamiltionMatt Hamiltion

Writing Genre: Poetry
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia
Education: Belmont Abbey College: BA, History, 1999.
Profession: Librarian
Favorite Author: Ai

Q: Describe your first experience on Enders Island.

A: After four and a half years living overseas with the Peace Corps, (Armenia 2006-2008; Philippines 2008-2010) I was a little nervous returning to the US. Peace Corps doctors warned me of reverse culture shock. Having gone native in my two host countries, I thought this a strong possibility. I didn’t know what to expect when I crossed the bridge to Enders Island in the winter of 2010, but after meeting faculty, students, and Enders staff at the opening reception, I felt I had truly come home.

The Fairfield MFA program has helped me grow as a writer. I brought dozens of poems to my first residency, but had no idea how to piece them together as a collection. Because of the dedication and hard work of peers and faculty, I was able, after one year, to publish a book of poems, The Land of the Four Rivers: My Experience as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia (2006-2008). Now finishing up my final year, I am proud to announce that I have completed my second manuscript, Walking Across Glass, which I hope to have published soon after graduation.

I am grateful to the Fairfield MFA Program. Without it, these poems would not have been possible.

mfa_testimony_jcivicoJoachim Civico

Writing Genre: Fiction
Hometown: Sheffield, England
Education: BA(hons) History, University of Leeds, England
Profession: Collegiate athletics coach
Favorite Author: I flit. Hemingway. Or Graham Greene. Or Alistair Cooke

Q: Describe your first experience on Enders Island.

A: Leading up to my first residency I heard tales about how remarkable 'Enders' was (you get to drop the 'Island' bit once you start the MFA, we’re elitist that way). But in the same way that Willy Wonka's chocolate factory was too good to be true, I had my suspicions about coastal Connecticut's Shangri-La. I was wrong. The moment I crossed the bridge to this impossibly picturesque island in the Long Island Sound, it had me. Walking to those first introductory drinks, past the chapel and immaculate gardens that framed the lighthouses out to sea, I thought, "yep, this will do." But when I was welcomed by fellow students and faculty - not to mention the island's wonderful staff - the way I was, as though we were family, I knew that Enders was something special. It has been ever since.


Jennifer Emerson

Writing Genre: Fiction
Hometown: Groton, CT
Education: B.A. in Theatre Arts, Keene State College
Profession: Museum Interpreter
Favorite Author: Charles Dickens

Q. What inspired you on Enders Island?

A. Ten days on a beautiful island by the sea. Sounds like real work, huh? Well, let me tell you that it was the experience of a lifetime! From the moment that I stepped onto Enders Island, I felt right at home. The view was incredible and the food was phenomenal. But the best part was the support and encouragement that I received from both faculty and students to reach for the stars. All of these aspects melded to create the perfect atmosphere for inspiration and unlimited creativity!

Did we actually do any real work, you may ask? Well, yes, we did. Make no mistake this is a real graduate level course. But we were all there for the same reason: to collectively help each other become better writers. I left with a whole new set of friends, a fresh perspective on my own goals as a writer, and an itch to get home to my computer and start writing!

So, what are you waiting for? 

mfa_testimony_chesbroJamie Chesbro

Writing Genre: Creative Non-fiction 
Hometown: Bridgeport, CT
Education: B.A. English, Fairfield University
MA Education, Fairfield University
Profession: Teacher
Published Work: Jamie has written for Parents magazine, Fairfield University Magazine, Teaching Tolerance, Next Step magazine, and The Connecticut English Journal

Q. What's it like working with a community of writers?

A. I'm always thinking about writing. I'm always looking for the next idea - sensitive to the triggers of memory and meaning. But the gears of my imagination often shut down in the chaos of work and family.

When surrounded by the Long Island Sound, professional authors who mentor, guest speakers, and other writers who long to find success with words, it unlocks possibility. I remember being a bit bewildered by the presence of authors whose work I read before the residency. But after a short time on the island, I thought nothing of asking them to pass the bread at dinner.

Writing in isolation wore me down, and at times I wondered if I should just give it up and obsess over golf instead. But now that I'm back from my first residency, armed with notes, feedback, and a professional writer for a mentor, I'm empowered to give my truest self the time to be who I am.

mfa_testimony_demarcoTina DeMarco

Writing Genre: Fiction
Hometown: Shelton, CT
Education: BA in Philosophy and English Writing with a minor in English Literature, Fairfield University
Profession: Marketing Manager
Favorite Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Q. Why did you choose Fairfield's MFA?

A. I wanted my MFA and I immediately signed on when Fairfield offered this program. I graduated from Fairfield University and felt the quality and dedication of professors and staff would be exemplary, second to none. I also felt, as the first class, we had a chance to create a program of writers who would come together to share and grow with each other, bonding as the family we have come to be. It is exhilarating to enjoy and grow with my fellow writers as we step up to the challenges that face us in this new program.


mfa_testimony_oconnorPat O'Connor

Writing Genre: Non-fiction 
Hometown: Morristown, NJ
Education: B.S. Accounting, Fairfield University
MBA Finance, New York University
Profession: Director, Financial Systems
Favorite Author: Henri Nouwen

Q. Why did you choose Fairfield's MFA?

A. My boss and co-workers all said, "You're doing what?" when I told them I was pursuing an MFA. After close to three decades in Corporate America in the accounting and systems arenas, I was not the stereotypical MFA candidate. However, I have loved the writing process throughout my life. I took several adult education courses, but found that they ended too soon. I wanted to write a memoir and was looking for a structured program that would require a high level of commitment to my writing.

After reading about Fairfield's MFA program, I applied immediately. There were two factors that influenced my choice of Fairfield's MFA program. First, as an alumna of Fairfield, I am well acquainted with the University's academic excellence and Jesuit tradition. Second, the program is low-residency.

Unlike online courses, the Fairfield MFA semester begins with a residency - ten intense days with fellow students and faculty. This format has re-established me as a student and given me the opportunity to connect with fellow writers. After the residency portion of the semester, the monthly assignments and one-on-one work with a mentor is enabling me to continue my full-time job, for which I travel extensively.

I now spend my nights in hotel rooms working on my memoir, a far more enjoyable and productive pastime than watching TV!


Valerie Lee

Writing Genre: Fiction
Hometown: Stamford, CT
Education: B.S. Marketing, Hampton University
MBA Global Marketing, University of Bridgeport
Profession: Marketing Manager
Favorite Book: Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley

Q. Why did you choose to pursue your MFA at Fairfield?

A. I chose to pursue my MFA so I can take my writing to the next level. I believe the stories that break out of a writer are marvelously singular and particular. If I don't write my stories they will never be told. A similar story may be shared but not told the way I would tell it. I do not believe the world will be diminished if my one-of-kind stories are not told; just me. I need my stories to escape and soar and if the world appreciates them then that is a bonus.

After getting an undergraduate degree in Marketing, an MBA in global marketing, and contemplating further studies to obtain an additional masters degree in Global Peace & Development, I have finally decided it is time to study and pursue what moves me - what makes my heart smile and my spirit soar. I believe Fairfield University's MFA program is the instrument that will facilitate the fine-tuning of my writing and allow my voice to flourish and soar.

I chose Fairfield because the program allows me to maintain the continuity of my life as well as the opportunity to work one-on-one with a mentor. Additionally, the Fairfield MFA will allow me to teach high school or college.

mfa_testimony_fitzpatrickDavid Fitzpatrick

Writing Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Hometown: New Haven, Ct.
Education: B.A. English, Skidmore College
Published Work: Fiction Weekly
Favorite Book: Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Q. Describe your experience at the first residency - what inspired you, what did you learn, what did you take home with you?

A. Okay, picture this. You're placed on a stunningly beautiful island with talented, supportive, articulate, creative, and funny people who love what you love. You learn from experienced professionals who give a damn about that one thing that makes you come fully alive. They guide you and offer criticism and suggestions about how you can improve this passion. You connect with them over a generous amount of wine/single malt scotch and/or cheesecake. After a week or so you wander off or gather together in clumps and say to each other, "Did you ever think you'd find a spot outside of yourself where writing mattered like it does here?"

But everyone already knows the answer to that one so you just smile and feel thankful you've met these people, exchange addresses, and say, "I'll see you in six months."


Chris Belden

Writing Genre: Fiction
Hometown: Ridgefield, CT
Education: B.A. Film Studies, University of Michigan
Profession: Freelance Writer
Published Work:

  • Stories published in various literary magazines
  • Co-writer of feature film, Amnesia (1997)
  • Co-writer of the play The Ballad of Larry the Flyer(2001 NY Int'l Fringe Festival)

Favorite Author: William Faulkner

Q. Describe your experience at the first residency - what inspired you, what did you learn, what did you take home with you?

A. The Fairfield University MFA experience begins as you cross the causeway from Mason Island in Mystic to tiny Enders Island. The old stone buildings on the island bring to mind history, solitude, and devotion to one's work - qualities integral to the study and practice of writing. But the residency experience is also about community. The outrageously delicious meals, the public readings by faculty and students, the receptions and after-hours gatherings by the roaring fire at Enders House - these help create a wildly creative environment and a feeling of total immersion for the budding writer.

At the core of the residency experience are the workshops held every morning and attended by a small number of students led by a faculty member. Here you discuss one another's work in a supportive way, work on exercises, and dissect the work of published authors. It's like charging a battery. By the time you leave the island - a bittersweet time, given how close you've become to the place and the people there - you are ready and excited about getting to work.

mfa_testimony_brownTess Brown

Writing Genre: Fiction
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Education: B.A. English and Theatre, Fairfield University
Profession: Actress
Favorite Book: You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers

Q. Why did you choose to pursue your MFA? Why did you ultimately choose Fairfield?

A. I chose to pursue my MFA in creative writing because it's a career step as well as a liaison of interests for me. I have studied writing, art, and theatre and this MFA is a vehicle of connection for those interests while also connecting me to a diverse group of writers and artists.

Fairfield's unique low-residency program was a perfect fit for me because as I work to persue a life in the arts and live in New York City, I am able to work towards an MFA in Creative Writing - Fiction through the residency periods and the flexible schedule that I am able to personalize. The great advantage is the sense of an enriching writing community despite the immediate proximity of the students. Fairfield's program is incredibly well thought-out and has an all-star faculty.

mfa_testimony_hiltsElizabeth Hilts

Writing Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Hometown: Norwalk, CT
Education: B.A. Liberal Studies, Fairfield University
Profession: Writer
Published Work:

  • Getting In Touch with Your Inner Bitch, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Editions (Sourcebooks/Hysteria)
  • The Bitch in the Bedroom, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Editions (Sourcebooks/Hysteria)
  • The Bitch at Work (Sourcebooks/Hysteria)
  • Every Freaking! Day with Rachell Ray: An Unauthorized Parody (Grand Central Publishing)

Favorite Author or Book: How can one pick one? If pressed, I'd have to say Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is my favorite novel.

Q. What is it like working with a community of writers?

A. It is like finding my tribe - there is so much comfort and inspiration in being connected to a group of talented people (both my fellow students and faculty members) who are fully committed to an exploration of the craft of writing. The seriousness of purpose and generosity with one another is an incredible gift. 

mfa_testimony_footeJody Foote

Writing Genre: Memoir
Hometown: Fairfield, Connecticut
Education: B.A., Fairfield Universty
Favorite Author: It is hard to pick a favorite author, but Edith Wharton is one of my all time favorites
Favorite Book: Age of Innocence

Q. What is it like working with a community of writers?

A. On December 28, 2008, I packed up my car with warm clothes and headed to Enders Island, not quite knowing what I was getting myself into. I had been accepted into this MFA program for creative writing which I realized was brand new. This intimidated me, however I kept reminding myself that I had been accepted as well as 25 other students, so at least there might be one person who shared my insecurity.

Upon arriving in the middle of a very cold Sunday afternoon, and unpacking my belongings, I noticed that there were a lot of similar looking faces filled with angst and excitement too. At the first reception, Michael White and Elizabeth Hastings were amazing and indeed helpful, encouraging us to feel comfortable. After the first day of workshops and great food, I have to say my nerves settled and the idea of being involved with a community of writers became a dream come true. Talking about my genre, listening to others read their work, and taking the advice and teachings from our talented staff couldn't have been more illuminating.

Writing can be solitary, so it is a gift to share your craft with others who have the same worry. Is my story worth telling? The camaraderie, the laughter, and the amazing feedback was truly enlightening. The energy within Enders Island still resonates when I sit down and work on my pages. I have never had this type of experience before, and I am psyched. The fact that we are all guinea pigs inspires me to do the best I can.

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