On Sunday, July 21, 2019, 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 Devorah Berman. She currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland. Check out her website.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
Run, drive carloads of boys to and from sports fields (I’m considering having my sense of smell removed), bake challah, and volunteer.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I took a class from a writer in DC. After class, she recommended the Vermont MFAC program, where she taught. When she learned my parents live in Minnesota and we visit each summer, she recommended Hamline. I came on a lecture pass three years ago and loved it, but it still took me another 9 months and a bout of strep throat to get the guts to apply.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
After the class in D.C., a group of us started meeting monthly to critique picture books. We’ve been meeting continuously for almost five years!
What do especially remember about your first residency?
I remember feeling completely shell shocked and very overwhelmed. I stayed with my parents instead of campus. I would race home after readings to relieve my dad from babysitting and make the kids lunches for the next day. Then I’d stay up until 1 am trying to prepare for workshop with all these new words and concepts that I had never heard before. Not to mention, everyone else seemed able to write elegant and flawless sentences in these tiny prompt windows. And it seemed they had read EVERY young person book ever written. When I entered the program, I hadn’t even read Harry Potter (I’M SORRY! Fantasy wasn’t my thing). It was like walking into church without having ever opened a bible. The first thing I did after residency was read the Burroway book. And I made my family spend our entire road trip listening to the Harry Potter audiobook. I had a steep learning curve to overcome.
Have you focused on any one form (PB, novel, nonfiction, graphic novel) or age group in your writing?
Tried a form you never thought you’d try? I came here to write picture books, and I still love that form the best. But, I branched out and wrote a young graphic novel, the start of middle grade and YA novels, and a nonfiction picture books.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
These picture books are a mix of everything I learned at Hamline, especially what I learned about myself. I’m not sure where they all came from. For one, a man came to install blinds in our new house and he kept telling me about this cat, that wasn’t really his cat. For another, Marsha had me read The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You’re Not. (FYI, I’m not. My kids loved making fun of me while I read this book). This book was written well before the turn of the century and was ripe with 80’s and 90’s movie references. The book had a whole section on The Bad News Bears and how that storyline is repeated over and over but is never actually the same. Which got me thinking about my generation’s Bad News Bears: The Cutting Edge. Obviously, the picture book that followed was about a team of synchronized swimming waterfowl intent on beating the famed flamingos. I even wrote a picture book from my son’s conference note. But the books I’m most proud of are about my heritage, through my own unique lens: A fictionalized story of my mom’s emigration from Romania, a new look at the Adam and Eve story, an attempt to capture a feeling I saw in my son at my grandma’s funeral, the voice of my Oma and spending Shabbat in her home. These are the stories of my heart.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
I came into the program writing from my head. Think, think, think. Work, work, work. I still struggle with the concept of “playing” while writing. But, I take so many more risks now.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Invest in your cohort. Make a reservation for a group dinner during residency. Set up a WhatsApp group to keep in touch. (This is so much better than Facebook, because it functions as a running conversation that you can opt into). The Headless Gods are much of the reason I made it through this program. We answered each other’s questions, brainstormed ideas, vented about frustrations, cheered each other on, celebrated successes, and laughed. Nobody else in your world will speak the language of school. I cherished having a group around me who “got it.”