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Jung Yun '07

Earlier this year, my editor at Picador asked me to submit the acknowledgments section for my first novel, Shelter, which will be published in the spring of 2016. [Editor’s Note: Shelter will be released in the US and the UK on March 1, 2016 by Picador USA and Picador Books, respectively.] After several years of carefully picking, choosing, and laboring over every word of my manuscript, I was surprised by how easy it was to write the acknowledgments, which began with my gratitude to the MFA Program for Poets and Writers.  

I applied to the MFA program because I wanted to write, but like many people, I wasn’t getting anywhere on my own. At the time, I was living in New York and working at a large performing arts organization that regularly demanded 90- to 100-hour weeks. Although I loved what I did and had trained for a career in not-for-profit service, my life was completely out of balance. I worked, slept, ate, and went back to work, which left me no time to write and embarrassingly little time to read – the very two things that every writer needs to do daily. Going back to graduate school for the second time in a completely different discipline was a major decision, but one that felt necessary in order to bring my desire to write into balance with my desire to help others.  

In many ways, my time in the program was a combination of fulfilled expectations and happy, unexpected surprises. My creative writing workshops were exactly what I hoped they would be – challenging, supportive, and critical to my development as a writer. I met terrific readers in these classes, many of whom I still turn to for feedback, and made meaningful friendships that continue to this day. But other things happened over the years that I didn’t quite expect, things that have had a huge impact on my life post-graduation. Who would have guessed that having a conversation about The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man with Joe Skerrett would become the inspiration for the book I’m currently writing? Or that participating in the Oxford Summer Seminar would help me develop some important connections to the literary community in the U.K., where my novel will be published next year? Or that my graduate TA-ship at the Center for Teaching would stimulate my interest in pedagogy and student learning, which led to the career I have now?  

Today, I serve as the Director of New Faculty Initiatives at the UMass Amherst Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development. Every morning, I get up at 4:30 to write fiction and then spend my day on campus developing programs that support the faculty in their dual roles as teachers and scholars. This isn’t where I expected to land when I first came to UMass, but it’s the perfect combination – dare I say balance – of deeply focused time on my own work, and collaborative time on work that supports others, which has turned out to be the happiest surprise of all.