“MFAs are terminal degrees in the field of creative writing, so they’re meant to be the equivalent of a Ph.D., and our program is very competitive,” he said. “We’re receiving about 250 applications each year for three to five open spots.”
Both the 50-some graduates of the MFA program, and those who teach in it, are contributing to its growing national reputation. Graduates have published about a dozen books, including Alan Heathcock’s “Volt” that was listed in the top 10 books of the year from Publishers Weekly. Graduate Cynthia Hand is a superstar in the young adult novel world who often lands on the New York Times booklist, and graduate Tyler McMahon is collecting accolades for his two novels.
“I quit counting at about 100 stories published by them over the years and they’re probably close to 200 short stories in literary magazines and poems by now,” Wieland said.
The program also is drawing the brightest talent as faculty. Boise writer Anthony Doerr, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” was a visiting fiction faculty member, as was Denis Johnson in spring 2016.
“Tony’s gone on to become a superstar in the literary world, and many people consider Denis to be among the top 10 living writers in the U.S., so to have him come here for a full semester and teach our MFA workshop was a priceless experience for the students,” Wieland said.
This fall the program will host Heather Marion, screenwriter for the television crime drama “Better Call Saul,” who will talk about writing for television. Fiction writer Joy Williams — whose novels have been nominated both for a National Book Award for Fiction and made the finalist list for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction — will be the visiting faculty member in spring 2017. Poetry faculty members Martin Corless-Smith, Janet Holmes and Brady Udall also have been published extensively.
“Through our MFA Reading Series we bring in just about every well-known writer you can think of and they read for free on campus,” Wieland said. “There’s nothing better than reading a story by someone and then actually meeting them a week later. It’s a great benefit to the undergrads.”
The program also supports two award-winning literary maga- zines and a 29-year-old poetry press — top-performers in their own rite.
“When you travel around, if you say you’re from Boise State people know Ahsahta Press,” Wieland said. “We have done 15 issues of the Idaho Review so far and 12 stories have been reprinted in the top literary publications, like Best American Short Stories or the Pushcart or New Stories from the South. There are about 7,000 stories published every year and they only reprint the top 20. It’s like winning the Fiesta Bowl every year for 12 straight years.”
A Small Poetry Press with National Acclaim
by Cienna Madrid
Ahsahta Press was founded at Boise State in 1974 to preserve the best works by early poets of the American West, including many overlooked female poets. Its name means “Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep” in the language of the Mandan tribe, who are native to North Dakota, and was first recorded by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Ahsahta’s founding editors chose the name in honor of the press’s original mission to publish and honor Western poetry.
Since Ahsahta’s inception, the nonprofit press also has gained a reputation as a champion of experimental poetry that more commercially-minded small presses avoid, and is regularly featured on the national best-seller list maintained by Small Press Distribution.
Through the MFA Program in Creative Writing, Ahsahta gives graduate students enrolled in publishing courses the opportunity for hands-on experience in the daily business of a small press, including initial manuscript readings, pre-press production and marketing tasks. In addition, an undergraduate internship is available each semester for qualified students.
STEPHEN R. KUSTRA FELLOWSHIP
Dr. Bob and Kathy Kustra established the Stephen R. Kustra Fellowship for the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing to honor the life of their son. It provides a meaningful and ongoing tribute to Steve and makes a real difference in the lives of creative writing graduate students.
“Steve loved to write and he loved reading good writing. As an English major in college, he developed a love for the short story and later the novel. He talked about entering an MFA program, but his short life robbed him of that opportunity. That’s when it occurred to his family that we could pass the torch on to others like Steve who just need some financial assistance to make their dream of becoming a successful writer a reality,” said President Bob Kustra.
The fellowship has grown to more than $205,000 since its establishment. It is awarded annually and currently is providing assistance to five students in the creative writing program.
Visit giving.boisestate.edu to learn more.