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 Landra Jennings. She lives in Greenville, SC. Follow her on Instagram.

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

I treasure any time I can get with my two sons. I actively volunteer with two local non-profits whose missions I feel strongly about. I try not to eat too much chocolate. My husband and I have recently started Yoga Nidra, a yoga practice focused on relaxation (very helpful around packet due dates).

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

I had thought about an MFA for years. When I finally got serious and began researching programs, I was struck by how many of the faculty at Hamline were authors whose works I already knew and loved. I immediately started filling out the application and crossed my fingers I’d get in.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I‘d been writing solo for a number of years, working with independent editors, and attending SCBWI Carolinas conferences. I wasn’t making the kind of progress I wanted to make on my own. But I enjoyed the conferences so much, particularly being part of a community of writers, that I knew I wanted much more.

What do you especially remember about your first residency?

Clinging to my cohort like a life ring. It’s a lot of information in a relatively short time. It’s not so much drinking out of a fire hose as trying to not get blown away by said fire hose. I was intimidated by the faculty, but they give so much of their time and knowledge that you don’t want to miss a thing. I remember frantically taking notes that were usually unintelligible later.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

Neve and Rose. A contemporary middle grade fantasy inspired by the Grimm brothers’ Snow-White and Rose-Red, set in the midlands of South Carolina. Neve has to step out of her older sister’s shadow to save her family and herself from a witch. The story explores, though a fantastical situation, some difficult aspects of childhood: favoritism, parental separation, and the painful nature of growing up. Both in writing and reading, I gravitate towards middle grade stories of children facing big obstacles, usually with some supernatural element, and overcoming them.

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

Gah. Wish I could’ve done the program years ago. It’s both concentrated and comprehensive. You learn so much faster than you would have on your own. The faculty puts you to work! I’m plotting better and my writing is more character-focused. I understand now that first drafts (and sometimes even second and third drafts) are more about getting the story out than about crafting perfect sentences. I’m more focused now and not just writing all over the place.

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

It requires a commitment of effort and time. If you really want to stretch yourself, grow in your writing ability, and make the most of the program, make sure you can carve out the time to devote to it. Like any artistic program, it’s not really about the degree. You want to see your skills improve. You’ll get out of it what you put in.