Monday, September 26, 2016

Q&A for Swann Summer Funding

Generally speaking, artists aren’t known for their salaries. As grad students pursuing fine arts degrees, we know this well. The proverbial image of a writer typing furiously into the night, bottle of fine whiskey close at hand, should perhaps be replaced by this: me, stunned by a humbling reflection of myself in the darkness of my zero-percent-battery computer screen, eyes baggy and brow furrowed, with a forkful of 99-cent tuna lunch making its way to my mouth.
The good news is, the MFA at FAU has many good funding opportunities for interested parties. Along with teaching assistantships and stipends, the Thomas Burnett Swann Summer Writing Fund is an opportunity for MFA candidates to pitch their summer writing plans for a chance at supporting cash.
As one of last summer’s Swann recipients, I, tuna girl, will now answer the following questions in the hope that you too can benefit from this (truly invaluable) opportunity:
Q: Why did you apply?
TG: $$$. I was yearning for certain writing opportunities but didn’t have the finances to pursue them.
Q: What was the application process like?
TG: Pretty straightforward. The first step was attending an informational meeting, where Dr. McKay outlined the application process. (This was announced by email in the spring, and took place on a Friday afternoon.) Next, we had several weeks to fill out an application form, and submit said form to Dr. McKay, along with a rough budget outline and a summary of our intended summer plans and how they would inform our writing.
Q: What would you have liked to know before applying?
TG: One helpful tip I did know before applying, thanks to a savvy older student, was that you can submit a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’ if your first plan may tentatively fail. In my case, my Plan A was to intern with a high-profile, NYC-based publishing house or literary journal (my applications were in but were pending); Plan B was a self-designed ‘Micro-Retreat’ in which I would spend 2-3 days at an Airbnb location in order to ‘get away’ and focus solely on my writing, and gain new story fodder from the new people and environment.
Q: Where did you go?
TG: Asheville, North Carolina, and the Florida Keys. (It’s not New York City, but I wouldn’t change a thing.) The internship in NYC fell through, so Plan B was the plan for me. I was able to stay in Asheville for two nights, and stretch a bit of my cash to Key West (I’d never been, and its resume of writer-residents was too good to pass up).
            Q: How did the trip affect your writing?
            TG: I definitely got what I asked for. One of my Airbnb hosts was so strange (I won’t say which), he’ll probably be muse-worthy for the rest of my life. Both places were eclectic and arts-supportive; in Asheville, I spent an entire morning writing on a back porch with mountain views, which later became a setting for a story. On that same porch, I spent one long, candlelit evening in a rocking chair and watched the bugs flirt with the flames. One tragic moth was engulfed entirely, and the moment brought Annie Dillard's “The Death of a Moth”, which I had recently read, into truer beauty than the first time I read it indoors. In Key West, I rode a scooter around the island to Hemingway’s house, enjoyed the beach once favored by Tennessee Williams, and revised another short story that is probably my best one this year.
            Q: Why should other people apply for funding?
            TG: So you can set intentions for your summer, your growth, and your writing, so you can get money, so you can use the latter to actually fulfill the former, and (thanks to Thomas Burnett) to invest in creating great art.

Natalie Rowland is a second-year MFA student who has upgraded from tuna to quinoa.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Swann Travel Grant: North Dakota, June 2016

If you didn’t guess by my last name already—Jensen is one of the most common Danish family names around—I am part-Scandinavian as the paternal side of my family hails from Denmark. For my first ever Christmas, my dad’s parents sent me a big red book with gold gilt pages. I hadn’t yet left the hospital where I’d been born and they knew I’d be too young to read it for many, many years, but they sent it to me all the same. I still have their postcard note that had been tucked inside. Like the book, it is written in Danish:
Kære lille Rebecca, Du ønskes en rigtig god jul...
We hope that you will soon be big and strong so you can come home to mommy and daddy to read the wonderful stories of Hans Christian Andersen. We hope that one day you will be able to read it for yourself.
I’ve had the book sitting on my shelf at home for years, rarely opening it, rarely taking it down for fear of ruining the spine when I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to read it anyway. The Danish I know is scattered and basic; I can speak a little, but for the longest time I’d been scared to try to read it. And then, I took Dr. Becka McKay’s Translation workshop in the spring of 2016 and I decided, after almost 25 years, that it was time I made a better effort to read the thing myself. With my dad as my co-translator, I worked with the Old Danish to bring the lost stories of my childhood, Andersen’s lesser known tales, into modern English.
As the spring semester came to a close, my interest in translation had only begun to blossom, and I hopped on to a plane from sunny Florida to the great windy plains of North Dakota. Although not a popular vacation destination—especially not for us living in perpetual summer here—I was beyond excited to get out and to see what the Midwest had to offer. I’d been to the Dakotas before, but I’d never considered them as places where I could learn; the times I’d been before were to visit family and only that.
My plane landed in Fargo (yes, like that movie) and I spent the week getting lost in all things Scandinavian. From the early 19th century, many Scandinavian people began to cross over the seas and settle in locations across the Upper Midwest in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and North and South Dakota. Because of this movement, North Dakota today is still rich in Scandinavian heritage and the state is dotted with centers and sites where tourists and descendants (mainly Norwegian, but Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Icelandic, too) alike can gather to learn of the Nordic history and culture in the area.
Fargo sits on the eastern state line between North Dakota and Minnesota. A skip across the Red River took me to Moorhead, MN, where—conveniently—there is a Scandinavian heritage site, complete with Viking ship and Norwegian stave church. Each and every part of the church and surrounding buildings had been dismantled, numbered and inventoried, shipped from Norway to Minnesota, and reassembled exactly and precisely as they had been originally built in Norway. On just the second day of my trip, I had found a home from home.

            Of course, I wanted more. With a bit of research, I had discovered that my beloved Hans Christian Andersen lives on in North Dakota. A memorial and tribute to him sits with pride of place at the center of a Scandinavian Heritage Center in Minot, ND, only a five-hour drive from Fargo. 
I made the trip with no idea whether the place would live up to my expectations. It seems silly to say it, but my worries vanished when I stepped out of the car and laid eyes on the statue in the middle of the park. Set to the backdrop of an even bigger and more majestic stave church than the one I’d seen previously at the Hjemkomst Center (hjemkomst: homecoming) in Moorhead, beside a replica Danish windmill, a cluster of authentic Norwegian homes, and a Finnish sauna, and flanked by the flags of each of the five Scandinavian countries, Hans Christian Andersen perched with one hand on his hip, the other extended out to hold a little bronze bird. I sidled up to him and had my picture taken sitting on his knee. Later, inside the church, as I looked up at the intricate carvings around the beams in the ceiling, an elderly woman struck a conversation with me in Danish. It was the first Danish I’d spoken in years but it came freely without too much second-guessing myself. It felt natural and, after, I felt giddy and proud of myself for making this happen.

            But none of this would have happened without the help of the Swann Travel Grant. Every summer, MFA students at FAU are offered the opportunity to apply for this scholarship of $500 to travel—anywhere!—to pursue a project that will help/encourage/enlighten/enhance/develop our writing. And every summer only a small number of students apply. The application is simple:
1.      A proposed project/travel plan.  Where do you want to go? Why do you want to go there? How will a trip to this place help you with your writing?
2.      Cost of travel. How will you get there? How much will this cost?
3.      Accommodation plans. Where will you stay? Again, how much will this cost.
Altogether, it was a short summary (mine was maybe 350-400 words) of the intentions of the trip and that’s it. I put mine together over a few days, hit ‘send’ on the email to the department, and waited for their decision.
            The best piece of advice I’ve received since starting the program here at FAU is this: get involved and do anything that seems even slightly interesting to you. If you don’t apply, you won’t know. If I hadn’t taken a small chance on sending in that application for the Swann, I don’t know if I’d still feel the desire and urge to keep translating the big red book whose spine is now creased and whose pages are loved.

Rebecca Jensen is a third-year MFA candidate in nonfiction. She has served as fiction editor for Driftwood Press and as Managing Editor for FAU’s Coastlines. She was recently a nominee for the 2016 AWP Intro Journals Project in nonfiction, and her poetry appears in Eunoia Review, Firefly Magazine, and FishFood Magazine.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Swamp Ape Review: What It Means, How We Got Here, and the Narrative that We Hunt

I’m a nonnative Floridian. Like many of us here in the MFA (and many Florida-dwellers overall), I transplanted in favor of a great writing program, sunny skies, and sandy beaches. Part of that process involves what I think of as Florida initiation moments—key experiences where I learn a true quirk of Florida culture (e.g., the uncanny campus presence of iguanas in place of squirrels, hand-sized banana spiders next to walkways, hurricane season, the known-only-to-locals meaning of just “season,” unpredictable appearances of the word “y’all,” etc.) One such experience was my first encounter with the mythological Swamp Ape. Over a cold glass of beer, an MFA colleague enlightened me with the long-loved mystery of the Swamp Ape—a Florida-dwelling being that sustains an enigmatic and elusive existence in the Florida Everglades.

The myth of the Swamp Ape is what inspired the name of Florida Atlantic University’s first national online literary journal, founded and produced by students in the MFA at FAU. As the Managing Editor, I have the privilege of bringing the Swamp Ape legacy into a new format, and directing its embodiment in our inaugural issue, appearing January 2017.

Needless to say, this year has been a busy one for us. Our challenge was to take a vision for hybrid works (see more on this at our website,, and work it into existence with sweat, potlucks, and a pile of agendas and task calendars. Since January, we’ve been tackling all the practical business of running a journal: creating a temp logo and website, printing marketing materials for our submissions launch at AWP, outreach to artist markets and MFA programs soliciting their very best work, outlining staff responsibilities, reading more than 800 submissions (!), planning a launch party with big-name Skype-in readers… I may be biased (I likely am), but it’s been more fun than I ever imagined.

I’d like to credit the FAU MFA culture for that, as well as the drive we all have to create something new—something strange, exceptional, and alluring. Because we’re committed to our mission statement and niche, our hope is to build a community of artists—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art, and “swamp” artists whose work defies a traditional genre—who are the best in their class and strive to capture that which we can’t explain. We are hunting a narrative as Floridians hunt the Swamp Ape; we want art that unsettles our assumptions of what is possible.

This month, we’re finalizing our decisions about what will be included in our inaugural issue. In upcoming months, we’ll be editing book reviews, hosting and interviewing top talent like Justin Torres, Ira Sukrungruang, Rebecca Makkai, Jennifer Egan, Victoria Fedden (an FAU MFA alumna), Elizabeth Powell, and Jensen Beach (who we also plan to take to the sandier-but-equally-mesmerizing Jensen Beach of the Florida coast).

For those of you who now (appropriately) want to get involved, we have options for you:
·         If you’re an FAU MFA student, attend our weekly meetings.
·         If you’re a writer/artist, watch for our submissions reopening in spring 2017.
·         If you’re attending AWP in February, stop by our table.
·         If you’re in another MFA program, watch your halls for our launch and submissions flyer, coming to a wall near you.
·         If you’re the social sort, follow us on Facebook (/SwampApeReview), Instagram or Twitter (@SwampApeReview).
·         If you’re just curious, check out our website and watch for our first issue at

It’s a good year to be a lit journal at FAU.

Natalie Rowland is an MFA candidate at Florida Atlantic University and the current Managing Editor of Swamp Ape Review (

Friday, September 2, 2016


Hello, all, and welcome back to the ever-stellar FAU MFA Creative Writing Blog! For this post, I'll be your host (and I promise not to continue rhyming).

Who is this, you ask? Well! I'm the English Graduate Advisor, and I'm here to help you navigate the salty waters of your degree progress. Please don't be shy - email, call, or drop by and ask me any questions you have. I might not know the answer, but I will find out what it is! My detective skills have grown immensely during my tenure as your devoted advisor.

So! What are you in for this coming year? Well, our Sanders Writer-in-Residence this year is, drum roll, please: Justin Torres. He'll be here 3/27-3/31 for the MFA workshop, and will be giving a reading Thursday, 3/30. You'll need to apply for a spot in the workshop - information on this will be sent out later this semester. You can check out an interview with him both here and here, find an editorial he wrote on the Orlando Pulse shootings here, and reviews of his beautiful book, We the Animals, here and here. We are so excited to have him!

We are also hosting several wonderful readings: Ira Sukruangrang on October 13, Victoria Fedden on October 20 (more on this in the next action-packed paragraph), and Jensen Beach and Elizabeth Powell on November 16. All these readings will be held in Live Oak D at 7:00pm. 

Victoria Fedden, an alumna of our Creative Writing MFA Program (!), will be here for the National Day on Writing. You can check out some reviews of her latest book, This is Not My Beautiful Life, here, and here, and you can find an excerpt from the book here. Her author page is here, and it includes a lot of good stuff: hilarious blog posts, writing advice, information on her books, and a reading guide for This is Not My Beautiful Life. We're thrilled to have her!

Our Literary Magazine, Swamp Ape, will be launching January 2017. Get involved with the magazine reading submissions, working on marketing, or however you’d like to participate. Be a literary midwife and help birth this baby!

I want to encourage you to apply to stuff, go to events, and basically do all the things. You might feel busy, but trust me, this is the time in your life to really focus on the reading and writing community that you are a part of! It won’t be forever (I can vouch for that, ha). So while you might feel like you need to do everything else (and binge watch old episodes of Supernatural or whatever), do the writing stuff instead. Apply for Swann funding. Travel. Go to the readings (it bears repeating: go to the readings! These are amazing opportunities for you to learn from and meet writers outside our program). You will get so much out of these experiences. The time goes by so quickly. No lie, apple pie.

Ahem. Okay! Weird endearments notwithstanding, are you nervous about your degree progress, the Plan of Study, the thesis, the thesis defense, graduating, choosing classes, teaching, or anything else? Good! That means you're human. Now come and meet with me.

MR Sheffield, aka Mary Sheffield-Gentry, is an alumna of FAU's MFA Creative Writing Program and your graduate advisor. Her work has been published in Hayden's Ferry Review, Fiction Southeast, The Florida Review, and other publications.