On Sunday, January 19, 2020, Hamline’s Creative Writing Programs will host a Graduate Recognition ceremony to honor all the students who have completed their studies and will be receiving an MFA from Hamline University. 

We will be featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today’s new graduate is Claire Forrest. She lives in Minneapolis, MN. Follow her on Twitter.

What do you do when you’re not working on packets?

When I am not working on packets, I am probably thinking and stressing about all the work I have to do on a packet. I currently work in marketing for a nonprofit organization. I also enjoy spending time with friends and family, traveling, swimming, and befriending every dog that I meet.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I first applied to MFA programs as a college senior. My application was something I said was adult literary fiction, but was actually a YA story in disguise. I didn’t know who I was as a writer at the time, or what I truly wanted out of a program, and did not pursue it further. During the application process, I spoke to a writer who said, “If you really want to write for young adults, Hamline has a program for that.”

It took me a few years to feel ready for an MFA program. In that time, I discovered that I really did want to write for children, and volunteered at the Loft Literary Center’s Children’s Literature Conference. I was surprised how many of the conference attendees were MFAC alumni. When I asked about the program, I recall thinking that I had never heard so many alumni speak so highly of an educational experience before. I attended a prospective student day and realized that this was the program for me.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I’ve written all my life but really started focusing on it after graduating from college. I took a few kidlit courses at the Loft Literary Center and joined an amazing writing critique group (shout out to the Uncommon Writers!) I’d completed a draft of a contemporary YA novel. I knew there were so many problems with my manuscript – plot holes, pacing, length – but I didn’t know how to fix them. I realized I had gotten myself as far as I could go on my own, and that to go forward, I needed mentorship, accountability, and community. The MFAC program provided all that and more.

What do especially remember about your first residency?

I started the residency feeling completely out of my element. I was starstruck by the faculty of writers I admired, and completely overwhelmed by how much the students knew and how polished their readings and student lectures were. I wondered if I had taken on more than I could handle. By the end of the ten days, I knew I had landed in such a magical place. I had never been a part of a writing community that loves and respects children’s literature like I do, and they welcomed me with open arms.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

THE MANY ADMISSIONS OF EFFIE GALANOS is a contemporary coming-of-age YA novel centered around the college admissions process. High school senior Effie Galanos knows three things to be true: college applications are the worst; crushes are all-consuming; and being in a wheelchair doesn’t make either of them any easier. Always a planner and a list-maker, her latest plan is one she’s scared to admit: to attend her dream college, Bowery University in (the very inaccessible) New York City. With the help of her high school bucket list, she starts to put herself out there to build the life and the future she wants. And when her friend and crush Wilder says he’s interested in Bowery too, Effie attempts to cross the hardest item off her bucket list: tell someone you like that you like them.

The novel addresses topics like accessibility and ableism, but also universal themes of what it’s like to leave home, your family, and start to carve out a life for yourself.

What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?

I am much more intentional with my writing. The program has taught me to slow down and think about primary mood, source of tension, and purpose of every scene I write. I’m also writing in new forms! I came in saying I only wrote YA and only fiction, but I spent a semester writing picture books and even wrote a non-fiction one.

On a personal level, my experience as a disabled person had never made its way into my creative writing before MFAC. I wrote about able-bodied girls for years because I was too scared to write my own lived experience. With the support of my advisers and peers, I leaned into my personal experience and also realized how important my voice is. I’m proud to say that every single piece I’ve written for the program relates to disability in one way or another. 

Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?

If you’ve found yourself looking every few months at the MFAC website wondering if you’re ready to take the leap, you are. Just jump!