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 Eija Sumner. She currently lives in the Inland Northwest. Check out her website and Twitter

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

I worked part-time and then full-time at an academic library while working on my MFA degree. I have a family as well, so when I wasn’t at work or working on packets, I spent a lot of time catching up with my kids and husband, and then ignoring as many (household) responsibilities as possible. We ate so much pizza. My whole family is practically pizza now.

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

An Anne Ursu tweet! 

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

Before entering the Hamline MFAC program, I was mostly writing picture book manuscripts along with some poetry and weird essays and short stories. 

What do especially remember about your first residency?

I was so nervous and excited about the first residency. I loved the workshops and getting to know my cohort along with MFAC buddies from different classes. I remember having a Lyft driver tell me that I would love Minnesota, that I’d never want to leave when I was first getting dropped off at Hamline. I laughed it off but I really love St. Paul and Minnesota, and it’s been wonderful getting to know Minnesota and the thriving children’s literature community there through Hamline. 

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 tried a bit of everything while at Hamline from picture books, to speculative YA fiction, to a picture book biography that became a YA biography in verse. I never thought I’d write a biography in verse, but it was a great experience and a project I’m excited to continue after Hamline. I did not try writing a graphic novel, but I love reading them so much, I know it is something I’d be happy to explore later. I wanted to explore everything so I could hone in on what audience to write for and what form to use. I think middle-grade is so hard to get just right, but I’ve loved trying different forms and writing for different audiences. I know that I’d love to continue to explore different genres and forms throughout my writing career. 

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

My Creative Thesis is Abi from the Outside, an upper middle-grade novel-in-verse. It’s a coming of age story about a girl who is being pulled in two different directions between her growing love for basketball and the competitive team she wants to play on, and her tightly controlled family where no one expected her to be an athlete, especially when it gets in the way of their church commitments. As Abi discovers more of her physical strength, how great it feels to take up space and be explosive on the court, it becomes harder for her to fit into the supportive role fostered by her family’s expectation where her needs and wants are never taken seriously. The meek might inherit the earth, but definitely not the basketball court. 

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

I think there are some natural tendencies that I will always be battling when I write. I will probably always write meandering stories and paragraphs and sentences, but I think I have more tools to recognize when I’m doing that and being able to recognize whether or not that suits the story that I am trying to tell. I may struggle forever with figuring out plot and structure, but I know I’ll be okay trouble-shooting those issues, going back to my notes and looking at what has worked (or not!) between packets and my writing practice here at Hamline. I know my writing has improved so much Hamline, that the writing has become tighter and more focused, and I’m excited to continue to explore and develop my craft as a writer.  

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

Join us! I have made great friends, found support from my classmates and faculty, and given myself permission to take writing seriously. I am grateful for this program and so happy I decided to apply and come to Hamline. It feels like home.