Currently live where? New York
Anything else, like website/blog/Twitter you are ok sharing? http://karunariazi.com, Twitter: karunariazi, Instagram: karunariazi
What do you do when you’re not working on packets? I started the program as a middle and high school English teacher, and then mid-program and pandemic! – I switched to Customer Experience for a really cool company in the health and wellness bracket. Besides that, I write other things, play a lot of video games, bake, do yoga and try to teach myself how to chill and RELAX. (It’s mostly unsuccessful.)
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program? The incredible Anne Ursu has been singing the siren song of Hamline to me since before I graduated with my Bachelors. Even with her (very kind and persuasive) voice in my ear, I still applied to a bunch of other MFAs and complicated things by having other acceptances, but I knew from the start that Hamline was the program I would be looking back over my shoulder toward if I didn’t choose it.
(Shoutout to Coe Booth for putting her foot down as the final faculty member I spoke to and LITERALLY saying, “…Okay, Hebah, we’ve spent an hour talking about how conflicted you are. Now, you’re going to hang up with me and call and accept your seat at Hamline because that’s all I’ve been hearing about instead of the New School.” Sorry and so many thank yous, Coe!)
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program? I have a BA in English Comp, and for the first two years of undergrad, I was also mentored (independently of my program) by author Franny Billingsley. At the time, she was working at VCFA and had a similar system of packets and editing, so she encouraged me to think about honing my craft further through a formal program. I also published two middle grade fantasy novels with Simon and Schuster/Salaam Reads as a writer for diverse book packager Cake Literary and was previously their intern, so I had an understanding of the industry side of the writing business coming in.
What do you especially remember about your first residency? I wanted so desperately to be part of the community from the beginning. I was determined for my cohort to be not just my cohort but my friends (and they have!) and say hi to every single faculty member and get to bask in their glow in spite of my nerves (I did, to the point that my cohort were laughing as I rocketed off during lunch when someone said, “Hey Hebah, there’s Gene. Have you spoken to him yet…?”)
What else? Big, tight hugs from students and alumni I just met! Running back across the street to Anderson with my cohort, shrieking and flailing, after a sudden downpour caused a blackout in Mirror of Korea and we realized we had no umbrellas! Being surprised by a welcoming gift from the lovely graduating cohort (always a fan of the Headless Gods) at the end of graduation festivities! Everything was so new and magical and warm in a way that I didn’t experience during undergrad and I was so, so grateful to be there and part of it.
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? My goal coming in was literally to “have fun and try something new every semester,” and I’ve been fortunate enough to see that through!
My first semester, I launched into picture books under the care of the fabulous Lisa Jahn-Clough, and also dabbled briefly in graphic novels. My second semester, I explored poetry and verse with lovely Laurel Snyder, and my third semester I explored horror twice over (in my critical and my creative work and both young adult and middle grade) with fabulous Sherri Smith. And now, in my last semester, I am working on a middle grade fantasy with the incredible Anne Ursu – which is technically my wheelhouse, but definitely not something I’ve done before – so it has been a learning process every step of the way! I wish I’d been able to explore nonfiction and do some more young adult writing than I have, but there’s always a post-grad semester for that!
Tell us about your Creative Thesis. Apart from my agent and my best friend (and advisor of the semester, of course), I’m notorious for being very hard to get details out of on a WiP because it kills the magic for me so fast. What I can say: it’s a middle grade fantasy, it’s more under the skin and personal and dealing with hard topics both for me personally and as a woman of color coming from a background of historical colonization and subjugation on both sides of my bloodline, and it would not be anywhere near where it’s shaping up to be without Anne Ursu’s guiding light. (I should have just called this Meet the Grad interview An Ode to Anne Ursu, shouldn’t I?)
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies? So. Many. Changes. I feel like my entire mindset toward not just my writing, but myself, has been adjusted and been tweaked and has healed. It may sound very exaggerated, but being in this program has healed me in ways that I didn’t even expect.
I am so grateful for this community, and every single luminary we have here whether they were my advisor or not, for living up to the promise Laurel made me on my pre-acceptance phone call with her: “When you come to Hamline, you get to play with your writing and find that joy in the process again. So if you want to play and find joy, come here and join us!” It is absolutely, 100% true. It doesn’t mean it became easier for me. But I’m embracing that joy and rediscovering my process in amazing ways, and also letting go of a lot of internalized industry baggage I didn’t need to approach my craft with.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program? Only you know what you’re looking for in a program, or what your goals are for your writing.
But – if you’re like me – and are peeking at these grad interviews hoping to find an answer to these questions: “Is this program going to kindly, wonderfully open my mind and my heart to new potentials in my writing? Am I going to come away feeling like a part of a community? Will I learn something new with every lecture, even those I wasn’t expecting to?”
You will find the answers here. All of them. And then some. And you will not regret.
That was one of my biggest fears coming in, and I can tell you I have not regretted – not one minute of this wild and wonderful adventure.
(Also, if you are reading to scope out the program or just accepted and want some “did I do the right thing?” virtual hugs: please feel free to reach out and get some reassurance from a fellow worrywart!)