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 Rebecca Thornburgh. She lives in a pleasantly spooky Victorian house in Philadelphia. Check out her website and twitter.
What do you do when you’re not working on packets?
I’m a singer! I sing classical music with a buncha different choral groups, big and small, and with a small folk, “Americana” band. Oh, and I’m also an illustrator of children’s books, with 135 (or so) published titles.
How did you hear about the Hamline MFAC Program?
Initially from the fantastic Peter Pearson at the Kindling Words conference, but then of course daughter Blair, MFAC ’17. She had been at her first residency for about two days before she called me and said, “MOM. You HAVE to come here!” So I did, and I’ve been in heaven ever since.
What was your writing experience prior to entering the program?
I worked in advertising for a few years, so I wrote a lot of print ads and technical manuals. I also wrote lengthy introductions for three of my books on design. And then of course, flailed away at writing and illustrating picture book dummies.
What do especially remember about your first residency?
It was very cool to overlap with Blair in her final residency as a grad, though it was a little weird to have people keep coming up to me to say, with disbelief, “You’re Blair’s MOM? And you’re a STUDENT?” I totally fell in love with the workshop process, led by the sublime Anne Ursu and Phyllis Root, and I learned SO MUCH from the profound and inspiring faculty lectures. I also (at Blair’s insistence) read at the student reading and, while I was horrendously nervous, it was so great to have a positive reaction and support from my fellow MFACers.
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 started out writing lots of picture books, of course, and I did take a stab at a middle grade fantasy thriller. But I did my creative thesis on a graphic novel which I wrote AND illustrated. I had never even contemplated trying this form and, well, I feel as if I totally found my writing voice here. Loved every minute of working on it, and I’m thrilled to say that I finished an entire 253-page first draft!
Tell us about your Creative Thesis.
I got to work on a graphic novel with the amazing Gene Luen Yang for two semesters–it was simply transformative! “Drawn” is a memoir (ish) for middle grade readers, beginning with the suicide of the nine year old protagonist’s father, and then following her through the angst of being bullied and ostracized in middle school. She copes by drawing constantly and ultimately finds redemption and acceptance through her art. And it’s actually a finished draft now, which I plan to start querying. Woohoo!
What changes have you seen in your writing during your studies?
Before the program, I used to spend a lot of time procrastinating because I thought I had no ideas, or at least no GOOD ones. Having packet deadlines AND the very wise and supportive guidance of terrific advisors taught me that it truly is about just doing the work. If you sit down to work, eventually the ideas and the writing will come. And one can always, always revise — even a weak idea or bad writing can be improved, if you just keep working.
Any thoughts for entering students or for people considering the program?
DO IT. This experience of doing your own writing while learning the craft through lectures, reading, research, and critical writing is nothing short of miraculous. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It will change your writing life forever! (Also, I have to say that one of the best aspects of the program is the other students. I’ve learned so much from them and through their writing and research. The friendships and contacts you make in the MFAC program give you a rich and supportive community for the rest of your life. And I LOVE my cohort, The Headless Gods!)