On Sunday, January 20, 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 Jonathan Hillman. He lives in Minnesota.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I work for the State of Minnesota doing Very Professional Things like writing emails and daydreaming about all the books I could be writing instead. When I’m not at work, I’m usually reading, running, playing video games, seeing live music, or exploring the Twin Cities’ restaurants and breweries—in other words, avoiding writing at all costs.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
I was initially interested in Hamline’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, looking for something “more practical” than an MFA. Of course, that led me straight to an info session for Hamline’s MFA in Creative Writing program. I can’t remember when I discovered the MFAC track, but I recognized the names of the faculty, and I couldn’t believe this program was happening right here on my doorstep.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
In undergrad, I studied English and Screenwriting. I wrote so many terrible short stories, short-film scripts, and feature-length screenplays before graduating into the recession. Unemployed, I had a lot of time to think about my next step. I decided to shift gears to novels, wrote several drafts of two different books, and finally realized that I was treading water on my own. Hamline came into my life at exactly the right moment.
What do you especially remember about your first residency?
I remember going home after the first day feeling so overwhelmed by the number of social interactions. By the third day, it hit me that these people had somehow, suddenly, become lifelong friends. There’s something so magical about talking craft with writers at the hotel bar. Never mind that the magic in this case is probably the beer.
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’ve focused primarily on YA fiction. In my third semester, Emily Jenkins encouraged me to try picture books. Now I’ve written four or five of those (with countless rewrites), and they’ve become one of my favorite forms. I also got a nice start on a middle grade fantasy project.
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
THE WEIGHT OF EVERYTHING is a YA contemporary realistic novel that explores the intersection of queer identity, body image, and mental health. The novel attempts to deconstruct the conventional weight loss narrative. Eighteen-year-old Garrison sets a goal to lose 30 pounds by the end of summer. He’ll document his progress in his vlog, What I’ve Lost. But Garrison’s goal gets complicated when he moves in with body positive Instagram model, Magda. Magda encourages Garrison to use his vlog instead to face the family trauma that has fueled his depression for the past six months. But doing so means grappling with Garrison’s recent past, recalibrating the scale in his head, and opening himself to new loves and new experiences before leaving his hometown for good.
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
Hamline has taught me to lean in to the parts of myself that “normal” people might consider too weird. By exploring these dark corners of my experience, I’ve begun writing with more humor and honesty than I’ve ever attempted before.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
Writing is a long and lonely endeavor. Enrolling at Hamline will give you access to a vibrant community at the heart of the children’s publishing industry. The connections are so genuine and warm and lasting. By joining the MFAC community, you’ll not only generate your best work, but you’ll give that work its best shot at publication.