Are you constantly dreaming about rhymes, similes, and metaphors?
Saint Leo University has the program for your written endeavors with our Master of Arts in Creative Writing. We caught up with Dr. Steven Kistulentz, associate professor of English and director of the MA in Creative Writing program, to discuss this unique graduate track that can greatly help current and aspiring writers – and those in all walks of life – advance their careers.
Q: How would you describe the MA in Creative Writing program?
A: This is a two-year master’s program. It’s low-residency, which means the program combines online coursework with one week spent on campus each July on University Campus in Saint Leo, Florida. It concludes by having students produce a book-length thesis of the student’s creative work of choice. Students take four semesters of workshop, four semesters of reading courses, and complete three residencies.
Perhaps poetry is your forte. Maybe you excel at expressing your personal experiences through long-form essays. Whether you love the creative flexibility of writing fiction or enjoy sharing true stories through non-fiction, this program can help you take your writing talents to the next level as a professional writer.
It’s important for students to realize that in addition to plenty of writing, our program requires a significant amount of reading. We try to create the same sense of community that all writers throughout literary history have enjoyed.
Q: How did Saint Leo decide to begin offering this particular program?
A: The program began from a series of conversations between members of the Department of Language Studies and the Arts.
It also originated from an effort driven by the late Dr. Kurt Van Wilt, a longtime English professor who was actively involved in the Greater Pasco County writing community and often invited local writers to campus.
The second focus of the program was looking for another way to build on Saint Leo’s longstanding history of educating the men and women of our armed forces. This is how the veterans track was established, which involves studying the literary history of war and conflict – and how these areas are covered in contemporary and classic literature.
Q: What is the weeklong residency held each summer like?
A: The low-residency model gives students a taste of a traditional, on-campus program while allowing them to maintain their normal lifestyles. It’s designed to show students what it’s like to work independently as they would be doing in this field. It’s difficult for a traditional graduate student to develop a rhythm post-grad school because they’re so accustomed to an academic environment and not necessarily working on their craft independently, on their own time, and in their own environment.
During the summer residencies, students meet in small groups to review each other’s work. There are also seminars on relevant topics, such as time management and career advancement.
We bring in several nationally known writers who give a reading and teach classes on subjects related to their respective genres. We’ve had Air Force officer and novelist Jesse Goolsby, director, actor, and former Marine Corps combat officer Benjamin Busch, and Tom Piazza, who has written for HBO’s Treme.
Q: What are some specific topics that are covered in this program?
A: In addition to covering some of the key concepts of creative writing, mechanics, and tone, we also highlight some of the more practical aspects of being a professional writer and what it’s like to work in the arts. These concepts include:
- Identifying markets for written works
- How to get written works published in literary magazines
- The nuts and bolts of proper professional behavior in this field
- What it’s like to work with a literary agent
- How to network and get involved in literary communities
At our last residency, we brought in two novelists who both have a long history of working with literary magazines. Ian Stansel is the former editor of Gulf Coast Magazine, a preeminent literary publication. Tom McAllister is the editor of the independent magazine Barrelhouse. They gave a fantastic behind-the-scenes view of the industry.
Ultimately, we want to expose students to every aspect of the creative arts world so they can succeed through whichever road they choose to travel.
Q: What separates this program from others?
A: I am fortunate to be a graduate of some of the top creative writing programs in the country, so I’ve seen how the best operate.
As director of the Saint Leo program, I try to benchmark ours against the good things other programs do well, as well as make sure that we represent the traditional Saint Leo experience. That means we try to keep the individual writing workshops we offer to a manageable size.
We emphasize the one-on-one mentoring of this program by which students are paired with a faculty member based on their writing interests and goals. Not only that, but students also get the chance to exchange their ideas and manuscripts with their classmates.
What makes this curriculum unique is that it allows students to pursue their creative writing dreams without having to give up their existing commitments to work, family, and community.
Q: What types of careers can students enjoy after graduating with this particular degree?
A: Once they’ve completed the program, this degree really maximizes a graduate’s choices for career opportunities.
Many use it as a professional credential in education, such as elementary and middle school teachers looking to teach at the high school level.
Some may attempt to publish a book – or three – of fiction, poetry, a memoir, or a journalistic work.
Plus, many students are drawn to the program because it does a good job of reflecting the Benedictine values of Saint Leo – excellence, community, and personal development. These traits can be carried on to any career path.
At my first university job, the college president was the former head of a large bank. He was a big advocate for the idea that writing is a tremendously needed skill in the corporate world, and that’s something I have always believed. We can teach executives how to read spreadsheets, but it’s the liberal arts graduates who succeed most because they have learned how to digest huge amounts of information and turn it into effective writing and communication. That’s something we emphasize in this MA program as well.
Q: How can prospective students learn more about the MA in Creative Writing program?
Photo credit: Kira Derryberry