Whidbey MFA Spotlight: Heather Durham

IMG_0437“I am one of those oddballs who has always loved school,” says Whidbey MFA student Heather Durham.

Before finding her way to NILA and the Whidbey MFA, she traveled more “practical” avenues of study: A BS in Psychology, a MS in Environmental Biology, even a massage school certification. Then she took a sideways step into a survivalist wilderness program and eventually to Whidbey. “I’m finding that impractical is working out much better for me,” she says with a smile.

Heather’s writing is deeply personal, focusing on essays and memoir examining her relationship with the natural world. When she entered the MFA program, she was new to the world of creative nonfiction and professional writing in general. “I can’t imagine better teachers than Ana Maria Spagna and Larry Cheek,” she says. “Their complementary teaching philosophies and areas of expertise, and disciplined, supportive mentorship help me feel I am becoming the best writer I can be.”

Heather is known in the community for leading bird walks and sharing her knowledge of nature with her fellow students–especially those willing to wake in darkness and listen to owls. Heather D with kittyAbout herself, Heather says, “I am a cat person, a bird person, a spider person and a snake person. A tree hugger, rain dancer, salmon gawker, forest wanderer. But every once in a while I come out of my introvert naturalist bubble long enough to remember that people can be just as good, if not better company. That is especially true for my NILA community.”

Heather’s essays have appeared in Pilgrimage Magazine, Spry Literary Journal, Bacopa Literary Review, and VoiceCatcher Journal. Her thesis, Outside This Skin, is an essay collection that travels across the far-flung wild places of North America and into an exploration of the primal bond with nature that offers, she says, “both meaning and solace.”

October 2015 Penn Cove Awarded Early!

When you find yourself sockless in a windy Northwest October, you tend to notice. Our socks were knocked off early by Ella Staats. Congrats to Ella and thanks for sharing your story with us!

Small World

I didn’t say a lot as Mama bundled me out of the car in front of the big building. Mama did, though. Mama said, “Don’t worry” and “Everything is going to be all right” and “Be strong for me, okay?” Then she kissed my forehead and she took my mittened hand and we walked up the steps of the big building. The boots the neighbors gave me crunched in the old snow. I swallowed and I said I didn’t want to go inside, but I was too quiet and Mama didn’t hear me, so we went in anyway.

Continue reading “October 2015 Penn Cove Awarded Early!”

Whidbey MFA Spotlight: Leslie Hill

Leslie HillLeslie Hill came to Whidbey from Canada, hoping to hit the reset button after publishing her memoir, Dressed for Dancing (2012).

“I came to NILA for a residency only,” Leslie Hill says. “By Day 3 I was hooked.” She entered the MFA program in the Creative Nonfiction track, and studied with our two Nonfiction Faculty.

“Ana Maria Spagna’s Directed Reading Course on first essay collections gave me a guideline for writing a collection that I’d like to read,” Leslie says. “And an early challenge in Larry Cheek’s workshop class – choose an essay topic that feels edgy to you – led me to research the histories of gun use and ownership in Canada and the United States, which helped me understand and accept the differences and similarities between our countries more clearly than I’d ever done before.”

Writing is transformative, Leslie says. Through writing her first book, “I learned the power of memoir to take me past the surface that I hoped others would see, past the parts of myself I knew but wanted to keep hidden, into depths I’d never known and the discovery of a stranger. I’ve been working to integrate ever since.” This revelatory aspect of writing is something Leslie brought with her and shared as it deepened in her time at Whidbey.

“I’m hugely grateful for the humor, tolerance, understanding and Dressed for Dancing BookCoverencouragement I’ve found at NILA,” Leslie says. “My thesis is a collection of linked, memoir-ish essays around finding my own voice. The essays cover almost six decades – I had to do a lot of searching! I think that’s what I love about writing nonfiction; eventually it shows you who you are.”

Leslie’s published essay ‘Outreach’ appeared in Pilgrimage Magazine Volume 37 Issue 2 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. Another essay will appear in a teaching anthology to be published by Creative Nonfiction, due out in August 2016.

Late September News: Penn Cove Award goes to Bethany F. Brengan

Congrats to Bethany F. Brengan of Port Hadlock, WA, our September sock-knocker-offer, the winner of September 2015’s Penn Cove Award. She has a haphazard blog and charmed us with her clever footnotes.

Marginalia, or Scholar’s Folly

 I used to always read with a pen in my hand, as if the author and I were in a conversation.
(Tara Bray Smith)

The more you think, the sicker you get.
(anonymous student in my used copy of Hamlet, Act III, scene 1, v. 90–91)

First, you roll in the printer’s gutters,
streaking your sleeves black,
your thumb, blue. Each man sullies
the thing he loves, overanalyzing and under-
lining, tattooing
“Killjoy was here” on the text’s
blank thighs. We walk off the edges
of the words: here be beasts Continue reading “Late September News: Penn Cove Award goes to Bethany F. Brengan”

Whidbey MFA Faculty News

We students are thrilled to learn of two new faculty members joining our program. Both have taught at our residencies in the past, so we know how lucky we are.

Gary Copeland Lilley is our newest poetry faculty member.

From Assistant Director Ana Maria Spagna: He is an amazing poet, author of several collections including the award-winning Alpha Zulu from Ausable Press an imprint of Copper Canyon. His work has been anthologized extensively including in Best American Poetry 2014. He’s a graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA program and has taught at universities, writing conferences, and community outreach programs across the country. He is a musician and a navy veteran. He is, I think, a perfect fit for our community here at NILA. Hear him read it’s about the ponies.

Melissa Hart is our newest nonfiction faculty member.

From Assistant Director Ana Maria Spagna: She is a wonderful teacher and a dear friend of NILA — she’s visited three times as guest faculty and she’s taught two fabulous Post-MFA courses online, one on memoir and one on feature writing. We’ve read her first book Gringa in Directed Reading, and many of you have also had a chance to read Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family. She’s a columnist and contributing editor at The Writer and has published articles and essays in publications such as The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The LA Times Sunday magazine. The list goes on and on. She’s been teaching in the School of Journalism at the University of Oregon, and now she’ll be teaching us.