Concentrations

Concentrations within the MFA

Students may concentrate in one genre such as poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or screenwriting, or they may have a dual concentration in two of these genres. Since it is felt that working in more than one genre can benefit the writer’s development, students are encouraged to work outside their main genre for a workshop or even an entire semester. Dual-genre concentrations will produce a final book-length thesis that includes work in both chosen genres.

In fiction, students may pursue writing that is literary or they may write in any of the other sub-genres of fiction such as YA, historical, or “popular,” as long as the writing is well crafted, with complex characters, original prose, and avoids plot clichés. Writing in any genre is intended to be polished and nuanced. Students wishing to gain real-world, vocational training in publishing/editing will need to have a dual concentration in Publishing/Editing as well as a creative genre (see below). A student wishing to pursue a concentration in Spiritual Writing (see below) may do so in any of the three genres of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction, or in combination.

Concentration in Editing and Publishing

In addition to situating their study of writing within the writer’s chosen genre of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or scriptwriting/playing, Fairfield MFA students are also invited to concentrate their studies within the area of Publishing and Editing. Fairfield University is home to two national literary magazines Dogwood (print) and Mason’s Road (online), and the English internship coordinator has extensive connections within New York trade publishing. In addition to opportunities to take leadership roles at these journals, several faculty of the program direct literary presses, so students may avail themselves of practical editorial training at a wide variety of publishing venues while attending the program. Such professional training benefits the writer’s work while at the same time developing skills that lend themselves to employment in the field after graduation. Fairfield students will thus be able to take full advantage of the many skills and experience our faculty has to offer in regards to the publishing field; they will graduate the MFA program not only skilled in their genre of creative writing but will be able to apply their publishing/editing experience to enhance their ability to attain employment in publishing.

 

New Opportunity: Graduate students may serve on the staff of Brevity: A Journal of Concise Nonfiction and work with new faculty member Dinty W. Moore.

Concentration in Literary Health and Healing

Students in all genres can pursue the topics of illness, recovery, providing or receiving healthcare, or another topic having to do with mental and physical health. Our faculty in this concentration include authors who have published literary work in all genres that explores the body and mind at various stages of health in both narrative and lyric modes. Our concentration is informed by literature's long-standing focus on the intersecting challenges of the body and the mind as well as by a growing interest in healthcare toward narrative medicine and the use of stories, poetry, essays, and other forms to share perspectives about healthcare and specific conditions. We see writing about health and illness as a complex literary act intended for a wide range of potential audiences, from fellow patients or caregivers to health providers to society at large. Our concentration is also strengthened by an Integrative Nursing & Health Sciences Initiative at Fairfield University and strong relationships between the MFA program and the School of Nursing at Fairfield University.

Concentration in Social Justice

Social justice and community engagement are hallmarks of a Jesuit education, as well as Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. As part of this concentration, students have the opportunity to work with faculty who have deep experience and commitment to the intersection of literary work and social change. A student may choose to work with a series of mentors who are listed under our social justice designation in order to gain guidance on theoretical, ethical, artistic, and practical elements of merging the goals of art and justice.

In the past, students have written in all genres on a wide range of themes from family violence and environmental concern to sexual and gender orientation, racial justice, and beyond. They have also used their in-depth, third-semester projects to achieve such goals as an award-winning project working with international victims of sex trafficking, and a long-term project teaching creative writing to incarcerated men, among many others.

Our program reflects the concern for social justice in its programming, in its guest speakers, and in its structure and attention to the voices and experiences of underserved populations. Students interested in the social justice concentration may also recommend workshops, topics, and speakers for future residency programs.

Browse the profiles below to learn more about our MFA faculty’s deep experience and commitment to the intersection of literary work and social change.

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Susan Muaddi Darraj

MFA Faculty

 

 

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Susan Muaddi Darraj

I have been writing about social justice issues for many years, mostly on issues of intersectional feminism and Israeli/Palestinian conflict. My essays, "Understanding the Other Sister: The Case of Arab Feminism" (Monthly Review, 2002) and "It's Not an Oxymoron: The Search for an Arab Feminism" (Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism, Seal Press, 2002), have been taught at hundreds of universities in women's studies, colonial studies, and other humanities classes. I also edited a book, Scheherazade's Legacy: Arab and Arab American Women on Writing (Greenwood Press, 2004), which was an anthology of original creative writing by women who additionally included essays explaining the necessity of "writing back" to the existing stereotypes of Arab women.

I consider myself an intersectional feminist, and I have been deeply influenced by women of color feminists, such as Angela David, bell hooks, Cherrie Moraga, and others. I am also deeply concerned with social class issues, and much of my creative work centers on the lives of characters who are working class people. I have worked with students on projects that included focusing on the writing of people of color to examine the ways in which they depict their cultures and their traditions in their fiction.

 

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Carol Ann Davis

MFA Faculty

 

 

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Carol Ann Davis

In 2004, I founded my first literary outreach initiative in Charleston, SC, serving Burke High School, Charleston’s only non-magnet public high school, with a poets in the schools program that went on for a decade. I have since launched the Poetry in Communities program, which serves communities hit by sudden or systemic violence and is supported by Fairfield University’s College of Arts and Sciences and Center for Faith and Public Life. Poetry projects through this program have taken place in Bridgeport and Newtown, CT, as well as in Normandy, MI - Michael Brown’s home town - Charleston, NC and New Orleans, LA. This outreach work has affected my own teaching and writing, and my forthcoming collection of essays, The Nail in the Tree: On Art, Parenting, and Violence, examines my years living in Sandy Hook, CT, with my sons in the immediate aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook School, and takes up the fraught relationship between artistic production and sometimes flawed aspects meaning-making that can accompany the experience of violence.

Writers can and must take up the difficult subjects; my work attempts to discover my own difficult subjects and to address them, while my teaching assists students in the discernment of theirs. The work of Rainer Maria Rilke tells us that deep observation of the world should lead to action. The experience of writing is the experience of acting on behalf of others. His dictum, “you must change your life” rings in my ears as I teach and write from a place of social practice, justice, and action.

 

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Sonya Huber

MFA Program Director

 

 

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Sonya Huber

My nonfiction work consistently explores the relationship between the personal, the political, and social context. My first book, Opa Nobody (2008), reconstructs a life story of my grandfather and great-grandfather, who were socialists in Germany and took part in labor movement work as well as in an anti-Nazi militia before the Nazis took power. I go to their life stories in order to understand my own struggles in political activism, setting up an imagined multi-generational dialogue while exploring German social movement history. My second book, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir (2010), tells the story of an era in which I and many of my friends as young mothers did not have health insurance, and the ways that crisis shaped our choices and our views of our future. My third book of creative nonfiction, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System (2017), delves into the experience of chronic pain, political views of disability, medical treatment, feminist views of the body in pain, and healthcare access for women.

When I work with students, I aim to encourage the larger and unasked questions that spark connection between the writer’s own life and the world we share. As a journalist, I have written frequently on topics such as healthcare access, city and regional planning, and political organizing.

 

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Phil Klay

MFA Faculty

 

 

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Phil Klay

Ever since I returned from Iraq in 2008, my writing has been concerned with the moral, emotional, and political consequences of war, as well as our collective responsibility toward creating a more just society. My book of short stories, Redeployment, explores the experiences of soldiers both in Iraq and at home. In my nonfiction, I have explored the ways in which narratives of war experience get used interpersonally and politically, as well as the role faith and spirituality has in guiding us through how to respond to suffering and widespread injustice. I am currently finishing edits on a novel about the post-9/11 U.S. involvement in Colombia, which will hopefully allow me to explore questions about the complex moral calculus of our modern methods of warfare, as well as the intersection of individual agency and the mechanisms of state power. I also have a particular interest in the aesthetics, politics, and ethics of memory and trauma. In my teaching, I try to encourage students to explore clashing perspectives and outside voices as a means toward understanding not just individual experience, but also how that individual experience can be meaningfully connected to broader social and political movements.

 

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Karen Osborn

MFA Faculty

 

 

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Karen Osborn

I grew up with an early awareness of social justice. My mother was haunted by the loss of her own mother, who was dark skinned and died at 28 of cancer after struggling to receive medical treatment in the deep south. This life-long history in believing in social justice, beginning as a child through my parents’ engagement in the Civil Rights Movement, continued when I attended a women’s college, which was a key link in the rise of the feminist movement. All my novels express this social awareness. My first novel was praised by a feminist scholar in the New York Times for its honest portrayal of gender inequality. My fourth novel, Centerville, set in in 1968, uses that period’s social awakening as a backdrop for the upheaval of a town changed by violence. The themes, including racial discrimination, were influenced by Martin Luther King’s sermons, which led me to understand that social justice is a moral imperative, dictated by what we hold as the divine in life.

While teaching at Mt. Holyoke, an all-women’s college devoted to social justice, I developed a writing course focused on understanding the self as body and as voice, seen through the lens of gender, race, and culture. In all my classes, I taught a large percentage of international students, writing about political and social repression, including the many restrictions faced by women around the world. While teaching at Fairfield, I mentored a student whose third semester project researched the Rodney King incident, as well as two other students whose theses showed what happens when racial discrimination dominates because social justice doesn’t exist. I am deeply committed to furthering my own awareness of the impact of social justice in our world by learning from those I teach and through my spiritual practices.

 

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William Patrick

MFA Faculty

 

 

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William Patrick

I believe that, no matter how the definition of social justice changes during any particular era, it’s essential for writers to fight human ignorance and discrimination in their books. In Saving Troy: A Year with Paramedics and Firefighters in a Battered City, I chronicled the efforts of professionals to rescue a diverse cross-section of a small-city population, one by one; in The Call of Nursing, I was fortunate enough to hear and present the stories of people who are on the front lines of healing, but who are often hidden in plain sight; in my current project, Metrofix, I’m examining the ways in which a failing company town has tried to revitalize itself, and in the process, has had to struggle with which of its citizens have been left out of that process, and why. And in my poetry and fiction – in These Upraised Hands, in Roxa, and in the other books – I have always been attracted by people who were, in some way, disenfranchised or oppressed or simply isolated, and worked to give those people voices, and stories, that brought them to life.

In my teaching for Fairfield’s MFA in Writing, once again, I have been lucky to mentor students whose own writing offered us an intimate look into their own difficulties and achievements – as well as students who chose to teach in prisons or to start after-school writing classes for inner-city, at-risk children, for example – but more often than not were pursuing projects that simply set out to find compassionate ways to make a difference for other people. For me, these attempts to honor and respect everyone are the pragmatic definitions of social justice today.

 

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Concentration in Spiritual Writing

Fairfield University is uniquely qualified to offer an MFA concentration in “Spiritual Writing.” Our MFA faculty are widely published and well versed in the varieties of spiritual writing, having published books of poetry, memoir and fiction that relate to issues of spirituality in the broadest sense. Additionally, Fairfield has a wealth of full-time faculty on the Fairfield campus whose expertise and background we are able to draw upon to offer our students timely lectures at the residency on various aspects of spirituality and writing; such lectures underpin the requirements for the concentration and strengthen it. Furthermore, our Inspired Writer author series as well as in our broad range of spiritual, philosophical, and theological lectures on campus would prove to be a wonderful supplement for our students’ educational development as writers on spiritual issues.

In addition to situating their study of writing within the writer’s chosen genre of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, Fairfield M.F.A. students are also invited to concentrate their studies within the area of Spiritual Writing. The faculty teaching in this part of the program broadly defines the term spiritual writing to include organized religion alongside faith traditions and spiritual practices that thread themselves throughout many literary traditions and throughout the whole of human experience. Students may study spiritual writing thematically, or examine the writing process as spiritual practice, or discover, through workshops, what aspects of spiritual writing inform their own work. One of several concentration choices designed to enhance students’ experience of writing within their chosen genre, the spiritual writing concentration aims to deepen students’ own participation in framing important, age-old questions in ways that mirror the reflective and meditative practices that underpin their own writing life.

Workshops will be offered each residency that allow students to explore various aspects of this topic whilst continuing to work in their genre. Such workshops include but are not limited to “Writing as Spiritual Practice,” “The Spirit in Nature,” “Revelation and Post-Revelation across Genre,” “Writing about Loss,” “The Spirit and the Body,” and “Nature and Spiritual Writing.” The student’s semester reading will be developed around the theme of spiritual reading. The third semester project and a substantial portion of the thesis should be engaged on some level with spiritual writing, and the introduction to the student’s thesis will address the way in which spirituality informs the work completed. Below is a sample reading list for the student interested in pursuing a concentration in spiritual writing.

Spiritual Writing: Partial Reading List (poetry):

Selections from John Donne, George Herbert, G.M. Hopkins, Thomas Merton, George Oppen, W. S. Merwin, Elizabeth Bishop, Li-Young Li, Emily Dickinson, Jalal ad-Din Rumi
Ranier Maria Rilke. Duino Elegies
John Berryman. 77 Dream Songs
Anne Carson. Plainwater
Dara Wier. Reverse Rapture
John Ashbery. Flow Chart

 

Prose (about process or craft):

Lewis Hyde. The Gift.
James Lord. A Giacometti Portrait.
Ranier Maria Rilke. Letters to a Young Poet.
Wallace Stevens. The Necessary Angel.
Basho. Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life.

 

Short Story Collections:

Atwood, Margaret. Moral Disorder.
Some of Chekhov’s stories, such as “The Bishop” and “The Student.”
Joyce, James. Dubliners, including “The Dead.”

 

Novels:

Hawthorn. The Scarlet Letter.
Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible.
Morrison, Tony. Beloved.
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick.
Patchett, Anne. Bel Canto.
Banks, Russell. The Sweet Hereafter.
Harrison, Ron. Mariette in Ecstasy.
Erdich, Louise. Love Medicine.
Erdich, Louise. The Round House.
Enright, Anne. The Gathering.
Martin, Valerie. Trespass.
Martin, Valerie. Property.
Lightman, Alan. Einstein’s Dreams.
Obreht, Ta. The Tiger’s Wife.
White, Michael. The Garden of Martyrs.
Robinson, Marilynn. Gilead.
Robinson, Marilynn. Home.
Schlink, Bernhard. The Reader.
Strout, Elizabeth. Abide with Me.
Giardina, Denise. Saints and Villains.
Osborn, Karen. Centerville.
Basch, Rachel. The Passion of Reverend Nash.
Pamuk, Orhan. Snow.
Saramago, Jose. The Stone Raft.
Homer. The Odyssey.
Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha.
C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters.
Martel, Yann. Life of Pi.
Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress.
Diamant, Anita. The Red Tent.

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