AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts master of fine arts student Nicholas Montemarano is one of 20 up-and-coming writers nationwide included in this year''s "Scribner''s Best of the Fiction Workshops." He is the second UMass MFA student to be included in the prestigious annual series in the past two years.
Montemarano''s story "Slumming" was chosen by this year''s guest editor of the series, Sherman Alexie. Alexie is perhaps best known as the writer and director of the film "Smoke Signals," which examines modern Native American life.
In "Slumming," Montemarano depicts the abusive relationships - both physical and psychological - that a Brooklyn woman endures during the course of her life. Like much of his work, "Slumming" reflects Montemarano''s working-class Italian-American roots in Brooklyn and Queens. "I come from there so I know about the area," Montemarano says. "It''s not the area itself so much that intrigues me. It''s just that I like to place my characters in a locale that I can visualize."
Nonetheless, in the novel-length manuscript he recently completed for his MFA thesis, Montemarano writes about an incident that brought Brooklyn to the front pages of the nation''s newspapers - the racially motivated killing in 1989 of Yusuf Hawkins, a black teenager who wandered into an Italian-American neighborhood and was shot to death by a gang of white teenagers. The novel, which is currently being submitted to publishers by Montemarano''s agent, is a personal reflection of his own "need to know" concerning what happened that fatal afternoon. According to Montemarano, one of his cousins was among those who were indicted and later acquitted for the crime. "I guess I had to answer for myself what my cousin was doing there," Montemarano says. "How he could have ended up being part of that even if he didn''t actually commit the crime."
In addition to his recent inclusion in "Scribner''s Best of the Fiction Workshops," Montemarano has published close to 20 stories. Many of these have appeared in small, prestigious literary journals, and one will soon appear in the national publication "Doubletake," a glossy magazine that focuses on both photography and literature.
Montemarano did not begin writing seriously until the early 1990s when he was nearly halfway through college. "I had scored an almost perfect 800 on the math section of the SATs so I guess I kind of thought I should head in that direction," he says. "It wasn''t until I began writing in a workshop in college that I realized I actually was pretty good at this. It really helped to change my direction."
Montemarano says the MFA program at UMass has further encouraged his commitment to his writing. He calls the program "one of the best in the country," and praises his teachers and fellow students for helping to create an environment where various styles of writing are welcome.
Montemarano is the second UMass student to be included in "Scribner''s Best of the Fiction Workshops" series. Last year, UMass MFA student Tim Westmoreland received a similar honor for his story "Near to Gone."
"This just testifies to the worth of our program and the students in it," says English department chair Stephen Clingman. "It also adds further validity to the recent ranking by ''U.S. News & World Report'' magazine which found the UMass MFA program to be among the top 10 programs in the country."