MFA Program Graduates Publish at Impressive Rates

Submitted by Henry J Laufenberg on

Recent Book Publications: MFA Graduates

 The University of Washington’s Creative Writing program faculty is loaded with prolific luminaries in their categories, with constant new books, awards, films, fellowships, collaborations, and other achievements.  Beyond this faculty publishing prowess, though, lives another reason to be impressed: the Creative Writing program’s MFA admits and graduates outstanding writers with terrific career prospects.  As English Matters noted in 2020, ranked our MFA program #1 in the country based on median early-career salary.  The University of Washington’s MFA program claimed this honor with emphasis, out earning the second ranked program by more than 30%, and graduating writers with reasonable average educational debt – less than nearly all other MFA programs ranked in the top 25.

Given the notable metrics above, it should come as no surprise that, like their faculty mentors, our MFA students and graduates publish quality fiction, poetry and prose at unusually high rates.  Though it can often take between five and ten years for our MFA graduates to settle into new jobs and continue to develop writerly skills and find their voices, the books inevitably come, many of which are both commercially successful and critically acclaimed.  As Professor Maya Sonenberg notes, “Our MFA students work long and hard after graduation, continuing to write, and publishing in literary journals and chapbooks, before finding homes for their full-length books. That so many have published these in the last few years is a testament to their perseverance in bringing art into the world.”

In recognition of our MFA graduates’ successes, English Matters enumerates an impressively long list of recently published full-length books.  Think of it as a reading list if you’d like, as thousands upon thousands of pages well-worthy of your readerly attention.  Or just as a celebration of the excellence of our Creative Writing graduate students and their faculty mentors.  Either way, English Matters offers congratulations to all involved.

First full-length books

Betsy Aoki, Breakpoint (Tebot Beach, 2022).  An award-winning collection of poetry that exquisitely blends technology and the Asian-American experience in what poet Colleen J. McElroy calls "an evocative mixture of sensual experiences, and mathematically infused linguistic patterns."  Entrepreneur and Author Elisa Camahort Page calls Breakpoint "a unique techno-literary work" and continues, "Like the very best code, Breakpoint is also both clean and beautiful, with no word or command wasted."

Gabrielle Bates, Judas Goat: Poems (Tin House Books, 2023).  Judas Goat is a debut poetry collection that plumbs the frightening, intoxicating, and sacred subterrain of intimate relationships.  

Jessica Rae Bergamino, Unmanned (Noemi Press, 2017).  “The full-throated syllables of Jessica Rae Bergamino’s UNMANNED, shot through with the myths and legends of the achingly near future, trace an arc between body and machine that collapses the distance between their errant desires….  In wanton hyperdrive, this poetic critique of imperialist reach feels like it could tear a big hole in the galactic mesh that holds our whole history together.” - Julia Bloch

Jennifer Berney, The Other Mothers (Sourcebooks, 2021).  "In The Other Mothers, Berney gives us the fascinating history and social context for things like queer family-making and sperm donation, but she also shows us what it feels like to go through it. Candid and human but always generous, this is a story of stubborn hope and defiant love. I inhaled it." - Meaghan O'Connell

Jennifer S. Brown, Modern Girls (New American Library, 2016).  “Brown deftly sketches the historical context of two Lower East Side women’s domestic tribulations, alternating between their stories, reflecting upon the social consequences faced by women in different generations… A clear-eyed view of the sharp, difficult choices facing women on the cusp of equality.” - Kirkus Reviews

Piper J. Daniels, Ladies Lazarus (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2018).  “Equal parts séance, polemic, and love letter, Piper J. Daniels’ Ladies Lazarus examines evangelical upbringing, sexual trauma, queer identity, and mental illness with a raw intensity that moves between venom and grace. Fueled by wanderlust, Daniels travels the country, unearthing the voices of forgotten women. Girls and ghosts speak freely, murdered women serve as mentors, and those who’ve languished in unmarked graves convert their names to psalms. At every turn, Daniels invites the reader to engage, not in the soothing narrative of healing, but in the literal and metaphorical dynamism of death and resurrection.”

Andrew C. Gottlieb, Tales of a Distance: Poetry (Trail to Table Press, May 2022).  “Andrew C. Gottlieb’s Tales of Distance is an ongoing confrontation of the past with a sublime attention to the natural world. This stunning, poignant collection reveals the complicated relationship of father and son, the permeability of grief, and a desire for solitude. Gottlieb’s intimate, lyric poems are vivid and richly cadenced. In the liminal times of dusk, before sunrise, or at midnight, and with the speaker’s gaze on the horizon reflecting on what slips away, here is ‘the distance between trees and loss.’” - Suzanne Frischkorn

Chelsea Jennings, Transmission Loss (poems) (University of Massachusetts Press 2018).  In the study of sound waves and optics, the term transmission loss refers to how a signal grows weaker as it travels across distance and between objects. In this book, Chelsea Jennings reimagines the term in poems that register attenuated signals, mark presence and loss, and treat the body as an instrument sensitive to the weather of immediate experience. Threading together landscapes, abstract paintings, family heirlooms, maps, manuscripts, and photographs, these poems follow the seasons and traverse the spectrum of visible light. Vivid and precise, Transmission Loss brings us to the boundary between inside and outside: "As if what the hand knows / could be held in the hand."

Nancy Jooyoun Kim, The Last Story of Mina Lee: A Novel (Park Row Books, 2020).  “Nancy Jooyoun Kim’s debut carefully illuminates the two sides of the silence between a Korean immigrant mother and her Korean American daughter, a silence only too familiar to many of us—and emerges with a stunningly powerful and original novel about social class, immigration and family. Kim is a brilliant new voice in American fiction.” - Alexander Chee

Mia Ayumi Malhotra, Isako Isako (Alice James Press, 2018). “Isako Isako is a powerful testament to poetry’s capacity for alchemizing history, memoir, and the lyric: the poems here intimately address the landscapes of war and the reverberations of violence through bodies and bloodlines. Malhotra’s visionary debut collection spans generations, countries, and loves, weaving the story of a mother survivor with reflections on the limits and reaches of memory. Sandalwood cities, desert gardens, dragon skin, and peach pits emerge from a shadowed past, details that ‘elude / even as they’re remembered.’”  - Brynn Saito

Colleen O’Brien, All Roads: Stories (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, March 2022).  The fourteen stories in All Roads explore childhood trauma, addiction, and the reckless materialism of mainstream American culture. Set mostly in Chicago, the stories range from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl intensely observing her new stepmother to a woman trying to make sense of her body after cancer surgery. The collection offers a complex and candid view of class privilege, gender oppression, and the idiosyncratic forms of refuge we take in a culture that demands our self-objectification.

Whitney Scharer, The Age of Light: A Novel (Little, Brown, 2019). A captivating debut novel by Whitney Scharer, The Age of Light tells the story of Vogue model turned renowned photographer Lee Miller, and her search to forge a new identity as an artist after a life spent as a muse. "I'd rather take a photograph than be one," she declares after she arrives in Paris in 1929, where she soon catches the eye of the famous Surrealist Man Ray. Though he wants to use her only as a model, Lee convinces him to take her on as his assistant and teach her everything he knows. But Man Ray turns out to be an egotistical, charismatic force, and as they work together in the darkroom, their personal and professional lives become intimately entwined, changing the course of Lee's life forever.

Laura Sims, Looker (first novel, three previous books of poetry) (Scribner 2019).   In this taut, arresting debut, a woman becomes fixated on her neighbor—the actress.  Though the two women live just a few doors apart, a chasm lies between them. The actress, a celebrity with a charmed career, shares a gleaming brownstone with her handsome husband and three adorable children, while the recently separated narrator, unhappily childless and stuck in a dead-end job, lives in a run-down, three-story walk-up with her ex-husband’s cat…. Before long, she’s collecting cast-off items from the actress’s stoop and fantasizing about sleeping with the actress’s husband. After a disastrous interaction with the actress at the annual block party, what began as an innocent preoccupation turns into a stunning—and irrevocable—unraveling. Immersive and darkly entertaining, Looker is a searing psychological portrait of obsession.

Emily Strelow, The Wild Birds (novel) (Rare Bird Books, 2018).  Cast adrift in 1870s San Francisco after the death of her mother, a girl named Olive disguises herself as a boy and works as a lighthouse keeper’s assistant on the Farallon Islands to escape the dangers of a world unkind to young women. In 1941, nomad Victor scours the Sierras searching for refuge from a home to which he never belonged. And in the present day, precocious fifteen year-old Lily struggles, despite her willfulness, to find a place for herself amongst the small town attitudes of Burning Hills, Oregon. Living alone with her hardscrabble mother Alice compounds the problem―though their unique relationship to the natural world ties them together, Alice keeps an awful secret from her daughter, one that threatens to ignite the tension growing between them.

Elizabeth Weinberg, Unsettling: Surviving Extinction Together (Broadleaf Books, October 2022).  Unsettling explores human impacts on the environment through science, popular culture, personal narrative, and landscape. Using the stories of animals, landscapes, and people who have exhibited resilience in the face of persistent colonization across the North American continent, science writer Elizabeth Weinberg explores how climate change is a direct result of white supremacy, colonialism, sexism, and heteronormativity. Travel through the deep sea; along Louisiana's vanishing bayous; down the Colorado, Mississippi, and Potomac rivers; and over the Cascade Mountains, and examine how we as humans, particularly white humans, have drawn a stark line between human and animal, culture and nature, in order to exploit anything and anyone we find useful. With gorgeous and pointed prose, Weinberg weaves together science, personal essay, history, and pop culture to propose a new way of thinking about climate change—one that is rooted in queerness and antiracism.

Kristen Millares Young, Subduction (novel) (Red Hen Press, 2020).  “With dreamlike, salt-water-laced prose that feels born of the Salish Sea, Kristen Millares Young’s Subduction lyrically examines relationships strained and forged by place and belonging. Intelligently addressing womanhood, community, lust, and loss, this is a novel as deep as it is intoxicating, as intricate as it is powerful. Like Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Subduction is a novel to be celebrated for both its poetry and wisdom.”- Sharma Shields


Second full-length books

Sonya Chung, The Loved Ones (Relegation Books, 2016). ‟Sonya Chung’s new novel, The Loved Ones, spans generations and cultures to capture what it means to be a lost child in a lonely world. In compelling prose, Chung lays bare the devastating effects of tragedy on family—then boldly suggests the power to heal lies beyond our loved ones. Shattering assumptions about loss and longing, this shimmering tale of dangerous love will break your heart, and mend it too.” -  Bridgett M. Davis

            First book, Long for This World (Scribner, 2010)

Kate Lebo, The Book of Difficult Fruit (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021). In this work of unique invention, … difficult fruits serve as the central ingredients of twenty-six lyrical essays (and recipes!) that range from deeply personal to botanical, from culinary to medical, from humorous to philosophical. The entries are associative, often poetic, taking unexpected turns and giving sideways insights into life, relationships, self-care, modern medicine, and more. What if the primary way you show love is to bake, but your partner suffers from celiac disease? Why leave in the pits for Willa Cather’s Plum Jam? How can we rely on bodies as fragile as the fruits that nourish them?

            First book, Pie School, Lessons in Fruit, Flour & Butter (Sasquatch Books, 2014)

Jennifer Murphy, Scarlet in Blue (Penguin Random House, 2022).  “From word one the chase is on. And it’s Jennifer Murphy’s rapid-fire delivery that sets the pace, the mysterious ‘Shadow Man’ one step behind. But it is the fluid portrait of the world Scarlet and Blue inhabit that is the real art here, and Murphy’s language is the perfect canvas. Within this mind-labyrinth, Murphy has created a work that rightly takes its place among the best novels to explore the psychology of the mother-daughter relationship while offering a mystery with the riches of a meticulously crafted painting.” - Douglas Cole

            First book, I Love You More (Penguin Random House, 2015)

Johanna Stoberock, Pigs: A Novel (Red Hen Press, 2019). "Stoberock explores the toll on the planet of everything we casually throw away and an economic system that suppresses the hopes, dreams, and desires of so many. This is an allegorical text that brings to mind Kafka’s darker stories or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), not only for some shocking violence and some beautiful prose, but, also like Kafka and McCarthy’s fiction, because the intended allegory is opaque, so the novel can be read in several ways, as about the climate crisis, generational debt, immigration, and much more. But perhaps most remarkable is that as well as building a rich, fable-like world, Stoberock simultaneously weaves an engrossing and breathless narrative about the human capacity for both destruction and survival." - Alexander Moran

            First book, City of Ghosts: A Novel (W.W. Norton 2003)

Elissa Washuta, White Magic (Tin House Press, 2022).  In this collection of intertwined essays, [Elissa Washuta] writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.

            First book, My Body is a Book of Rules (Red Hen Press, 2014)


Poetry Chapbooks

Jessica Rae Bergamino, The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them (Sundress Publications, 2016).  The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them is a wonderful combination of space and scientific exploration, crafted beautifully into these light, almost buoyant poems that float across the page. -  Adam J. Gellings

Cameron Quan Louie, Apology Engine (Gold Line Press/Ricochet Editions, 2022).  Moving between ever-proliferating expressions of public and private remorse, Cameron Quan Louie's Apology Engine explores moral responsibility, memory, and identity through the fragile, spiraling machinery of the prose poem. Apologies to pets, family members, nations, dissected squids, and famous songs form the circuitry of a collection that asks us to reconsider gendered symbols and aesthetic approaches, as it examines how personal and cultural apologies are interconnected, how they can become tools of control, how they can lose their power to heal, and why we might need to continue making them anyway.

Mia Ayumi Malhotra, Notes from the Birth Year (Bateau Press, 2022).  “Near the end of Notes from the Birth Year, Mia Ayumi Malhotra asks a question I cannot get out of my head: What is the difference between a ghost and an ancestor? In its exquisite record and retelling of the ways we behold the world and of the ways we share that beholding with others, Malhotra’s intimate and spellbinding poetry illuminates love as attention shared and attention transferred, while creating, in that illumination, space for the ghost and the ancestor to exist, in their differences, together—in the living, in the dying, and in the beholding.”  - Brandon Shimoda

Haines Whitacre, Haptic Verse: An Imaging Vessels (Burnside Review Press, 2022)

Haines Whitacre, Accounts of Wreckage (Winter Texts Press, 2021). A work of poetic scholarship that examines the legacy of John Henry.