We’re featuring our soon-to-be alumni as they look back on their time at Hamline University. Today’s new graduate is Lara Willard. She lives in South St Paul, MN. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Pre-MFAC, I was a freelance editor, but I went on hiatus for grad school. Pre-COVID-19, I worked full time as a website consultant during the day and worked on school nights and weekends. During COVID-19, mostly sleeping, consuming dairy products, and crying. Enduring all of this by my side have been my husband (an essential worker), two sons navigating elementary school, and my dog Neville, who dropped out of dog school but is incredibly supportive of my education. 

How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?

AWP 2015, where I also watched a panel with Swati and Meg. When I saw that Hamline’s banner had an MFA in Writing—FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS—I did a literal double take, stumbling into an innocent bystander.

What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?

I wrote fiction and poetry in undergrad, and in the decade since, most of my writing has been short form and for adults, whether poetry, flash fiction, copywriting. I had written and queried a YA novel and a MG graphic novel before coming to Hamline, but those are currently guarded by Cerberus, in the underworld. In early 2018, one of my comics was published in the anthology Group Chat.

What do especially remember about your first residency?

Besides meeting my wonderful cohort (*cue Themiscyra pose*), I’d have to say my main takeaway was workshop.The MFAC workshop experience is unlike any other. It is so supportive and encouraging, and the discussions are enlightening. But it’s not that everyone is “Minnesota Nice”—you really do get constructive feedback you can build on.

Tell us about your Creative Thesis.

CLEOPATRA SELENE is a YA graphic novel told from the point of view of Cleopatra’s only daughter, Selene, who was ten when her parents died and she was sent to Rome to be a ward of the soon-to-be Emperor Caesar Augustus.

In Ancient Rome, a girl’s legacy was determined by her relationships with men—her father, lovers, husbands, and sons. Romans rewrote Cleopatra’s story and nearly erased her daughter’s. I’m not the first writer to try to write a narrative for Selene, and I certainly won’t be the last, but my graphic novel is an attempt to rewrite Selene’s story, not as a romance with a temporary happily ever after, but as a bittersweet story of love, grief, and, I hope, empowerment.

…and ghost cats.

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

The writing process for each manuscript has its own story arc. I’m learning more about how to see those obstacles earlier and, honestly, give myself more sympathy like I would empathize with one of my characters. Even when it’s the same obstacles over and over again. The critical essays and fast-drafting a couple dozen picture books during second semester really helped me to see the patterns in my writing—where I struggle most during the process and which themes and motifs keep popping up in my work.

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

Go say hi to each of the advisors! I was too intimidated to say hello to any faculty during my prospective student visit, and you never know who might take a break from teaching while you’re enrolled (Emily Jenkins, I hardly knew ye!) Each advisor is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. Seriously, just go say hi. And ask students in your workshop who they’ve worked with to get an idea of advising styles.

Last but not least, gather resources and support for your time in grad school. Part of that is getting familiar with the mental health and disability support service at Hamline.


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