The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



MFA students showcase theses

Wons, Meghan | Wednesday, April 25, 2007

After two years studying and honing their craft, 10 Notre Dame MFA students in fiction and poetry writing presented their theses Tuesday night to a captive audience in the Gold Room of North Dining Hall.

Mini-biographies of the graduates were included in the thesis reading’s program, titled “Masters of the Universe and Fine Arts.”

The program’s cover featured the faces of the MFA students on the bodies of superhero figures – a clue to those unfamiliar with Notre Dame’s program that the thesis reading would not be like those of other departments.

Fiction writers included Jackson Bliss, Tim Chilcote, Beth Couture, Pablo Ros and Sheheryar Badar Sheikh.

The poets included Lynne Chien, Colby Davis, Kevin Hattrup, Kathryn Hunter and Kathryn Pilles-Genaw.

Faculty member and poet Cornelius Eady introduced the student readers.

“It’s a bittersweet moment for all of us who teach these students,” he said. “Tonight we get to celebrate with them, but we also have to let go of them.”

Students demonstrated creative and masterful use of language as they read from their poetry, painting scenes of everything from cats making biscuits to the body as a map.

Chien captured the bizarre world of dreams while reading part of a sequence of dream poems.

Davis evoked nostalgia in describing a childhood scene in her poem, “Christmas Eve Mass at St. Francis.”

Hunter shared a couple of poems on when she and her mother drove to Notre Dame from her home state of Alaska – “a long trip,” she said, “well worth a poem.”

Hattrup’s tight, vivid lines painted unique scenes; one poem was dedicated to “the time in college when half of my face was paralyzed,” he said before reading a poem about his experience with Bell’s Palsy.

Colorful prose such as Bliss’s chapter, “Paris is Burning,” and Couture’s selection from her book, “An Encyclopedia of Living Ghosts,” showcased tremendous style and unique narrative voices.

Ros, who said he is “one of the few Mexicans in the world to claim ‘double Domership,'” drew from his knowledge of Mexico in his selection about a Mexican woman who sells chewing gum on the street.

Hunter will also be able to claim “double Domership” this May, as she received her BA in English and Spanish from Notre Dame in 2004.

This year’s MFA graduating class comes from a wide variety of backgrounds and have plans just as diverse for next year.

Bliss, who was recently awarded the Sparks Prize in Fiction, has taught English in West Africa for the Peace Corps, survival English to Cuban refugees, and adult literacy to Mexican-American immigrants before arriving at Notre Dame to pursue his MFA.

According to the MFA program’s Web site, the Sparks Prize is awarded to one Notre Dame MFA graduate every year to afford that graduate a year’s time to write.

Couture plans to begin work on her PhD at the University of South Mississippi’s Center for Writers next year, where she will also teach on an Excellence Fellowship.

Chien, who received the Mitchell Award at the end of the thesis reading, said she is moving home to Sacramento, looking for an adjunct teaching position, and “of course, writing poetry.”

The Mitchell Prize is “given to the student who gives that extra measure during the year,” Eady said.

After reading her poems, Chien said, “It feels really good. It’s great to get to see the culmination of everyone’s work; we don’t really get to see what people have been working on cross-genre.”

“The reading is a formal way to recognize the students and see all the hard work they have put in,” said professor Frances Sherwood, who served as thesis advisor for two of the graduating students.

Eady thanked and congratulated the students, but expressed mixed emotions.

“We’re very, very happy that they’ve made it through, but we’re also sad they’re leaving,” he said, later telling the students, “This really is a wonderful moment in your careers.”

Notre Dame’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is “a two-year degree program centered around workshops in poetry and fiction and offering literature courses, translation, a literary publishing course, and twelve credits of thesis preparation with an individual faculty advisor,” according to the program’s Web site.