MFA Class of 2020
As this extraordinary academic year comes to a close, the MFA community is eager to celebrate the Class of 2020.
Under normal circumstances, this would be the time we’d be getting ready for GradFEST, our annual celebration up at the Renaissance Center, when we get to shine a spotlight on our graduates, and to come together as a community to hear them read their work. But this year is different.
Not only have they completed their coursework, met the 3rd year milestones, and defended their theses, but they have done so under the most difficult of circumstances. And they have risen to meet all of the challenges of teaching, living, and learning through a pandemic with creativity, inventiveness, and a fierce determination. We are so proud of them and all they have achieved.
Congratulations to this year's MFA graduates!
Stevie Belchak is a poet and namer who currently calls California home. During her time at UMass, she explored the confines of the human body and interrogated chronic illness through the line. While in the program, her work was nominated as a finalist for both the 2018 Center for Book Arts Poetry Chapbook Contest and the 2019 Boaat Chapbook Prize. Stevie's writing can be found across the web and at www.steviebelchak.com
"Stevie Belchak's wholly original thesis is a book of vertical poetry that, in her words, 'privileges wild associations and slippage.' Passion and chronic illness are not strangers to one another; Plath and Sexton protect these poems from backing away from life as it lives through what it's given. how I pretend/to groom/seven mountains/with my shadow/drip cornsilk/all over/the places/I could have been/with you/dressing/for wind tunnels/and/and x-raying/my aura/its gorge/of blue/everything." —Dara Wier
Jack Chelgren is a poet and essayist from Seattle. His writing has recently appeared in Tripwire, ’Pider, and The Seventh Wave. Jack’s MFA thesis, The Spite House, is a novel in verse about an angry millennial named Rick who works odd jobs, joins a commune, and studies the art of being a class traitor. From 2019 to 2020, Jack served as the assistant editor of jubilat. In fall 2020, he’ll enter the PhD program in English at the University of Chicago.
"Jack Chelgren's thesis is a novel-in-verse that goes by the name of The Spite House; the manuscript takes an age old mythic epic, the tragedy of fathers and sons, and runs it through wringers of brilliantly codified cascades of language sets and subsets. Money, politics, sex, society, citizenship, friendship and romance cannot be unentwined and can't help but involve themselves in one another's consequences. Part-American, part-tomb/Rick feels regret echo through his days." —Dara Wier
Ell Davis is a writer and artist from Columbus, Ohio.
"I love the levity and play of Ell's prose, the world seen aslant. It's a gig-economy-hand-to-mouth reality we recognize, but this is only backdrop. Between people and people, and people and animals, exchanges reverberate with something almost occult. The world shimmers and sheds substance; perception is fluid, magnetically uncertain, charged with sorrow and delight." —Noy Holland
Amy Diehl is a writer and human in Western Massachusetts and the mother of two young children. Diehl likes pen names, odd numbers, asymmetry, tension, her husband, and fog.
"Amy Diehl’s Necessary Mutations rewires your brain. The absurdist stories, most only a few pages long, play with forms (fairy tales and fables, jokes, lists, instructions, epistles) but always explode those very forms, leaving in detritus more meaning and nuance than seems possible. In one of the most haunting, Invasive Species, a nosy neighbor’s intrusions on the family next door culminate with her replacing the mother, who is left outside alone to repair the fence the family let fall into disrepair. In We Are Those People a tête-à-tête concerning cannibalism ends with the line, 'You taste lovely!'" —Jeff Parker
"Joe Eichner has been such a positive presence in our ranks, we will be sad see him go. He is a writer of depth and conscience, with the ability to create deeply personal fiction that manages to address the broadest of issues. And he’s funny--his writing never fails to showcase a razor sharp, perceptive wit. Joe is also a great reader, fun to engage over books, or beer, or both. In the best possible way, there is no such thing as a minor conversation with Joe. Joe’s searching, curious mind will continue to create work worth reading." —Sabina Murray
Allison Alisa Ice is a poet of the Sonoran desert. She currently lives and writes in Amherst, Massachusetts
"Allison Ice's poems are architectures of thinking. Both monumental and honorific ruin at once, these lyrics are spare yet loom large in their concussive impact. Ice privileges inquery itself, an often under-examined site of poetic genesis, as a way to cast new theologies and anti-theologies around the line. The lyric as a way in and out of the world, the sentence a new means of asking ontological questions that charge her poems with the highest stakes: Who are we? And, perhaps even more urgent, Why are we?" —Ocean Vuong
"Zak King's fiction bursts with intelligence: emotive, intellectual, metaphysical. His narrators never take the easy way out, or if they do, with wit and rue they limn the life unlived in a way that expands his readers' sense of the moral world. His novel, Flyover Country, places him in conversation with writers who use the recursive meditation as a springboard into greater questions regarding the self among others. If his aesthetic conversation might seem to be with writers such as Lerner, O'Neill, Ishiguro, and Sebald, his greater investigation has to do with what it means to be human, aware, and of the American continent at this lonely point in its history: he raises the questions and lets how they sift within the consciousness of his readers become the answer." —Edie Meidav
Mark Mangelsdorf is from Colorado.
"Mark's prose is fearless and obsessive, and driven by a love of place--the sacred and the desecrated. His novel asks wrenching questions about the destructiveness of the masculine code, the precarity of competition, the complexities of family. The work is regal and restless, beguilingly excessive; it's the kind of work that endures." —Noy Holland
Aly Nichols has spent seven years at UMass after going straight into her MFA from undergrad, viewing it as the time she needed to be ready to enter the real world. Through the program, she discovered her poetical voice while also learning how to make her own voice heard inside of her writing and out. Having grown up in Massachusetts, she now seeks to move out to California to pair her love of writing with her other love -- video games. Taking her two kittens, Ashe and Rae, with her, she feels she's finally ready for an adventure beyond academia.
"Letters to the girl I left behind is a book-length epistolary poem between an unnamed sender and Gretel. Aly Nichols is a spirited poet and has written a magical book that has mystery and menace and is also a loving relationship between two figures questioning safety in a dark wood." —Peter Gizzi
Jay Pabarue is a poet and teacher from Philly. He has run the jubilat/Jones reading series, facilitated workshops in the Pioneer Valley, received a fellowship from the Millay Colony, and gotten little grants from reactionary, oppressive, neoliberal universities ugghhhh. If you're trying to find another way, he wants to join you. Jay's poems have appeared in Diagram, The Vassar Review, and Gargoyle.
"Jay Pabarue's thesis marks, by the end of his three years here, a robust accumulation of rigorous experimentation with form and thematic inquiries that have gained traction, power, and exponential political complexity. The poems propel from the fulcrum of restlessness, never leaning too heavily on one technique over another. It's inspiring to witness this mode--one I would call a poetics of discovery-- manifest at this stage in a writer's career because it promises a necessary malleability to new forms and skills to be acquired far beyond the program." —Ocean Vuong
Kritika Pandey is a Pushcart-nominated writer from Jharkhand, India. She is a recipient of a 2020 grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her works have thrice been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and have appeared in The Common, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Raleigh Review, UCity Review, The Bombay Review, and eFiction India. She is the winner of the 2020 James W. Foley Memorial Prize, 2018 Harvey Swados Fiction Prize, the 2018 Cara Parravani Memorial Award in Fiction, and a 2014 Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship for Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. She is a 2014 Young India Fellow and an Electronics Engineer.
"Kritika Pandey’s novel Cyka is a work of great power. Set against the political backdrop of the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency, one of the world’s longest ongoing armed guerilla revolutions, it follows young Veda, whose mother left the family for Delhi. Cyka’s family fled a village drowned by a damming project—the motif of water throughout is startlingly affecting—and lands a job as house help for Veda and her father. So begins the central relationship of the book, the friendship between two very different young women, both struggling to make sense of an unjust world." —Jeff Parker
"Roxanne Ringer's prose sings with the assurance of a writer five times her age, with a voice speedy and hungry, that of a disappointed idealist who twists genre as a means toward hope. Ringer writes as if, having seen the depths of humanity, she comes back to report in sentences at once zingy, alive, and informed by a trove of understanding: psychology, science, the visual arts. Like McEwan, Ringer's angle on human misbehavior is both paradoxically oblique and direct. Ringer's work lingers in memory like a Roman sparkler that refuses to go out. The wit and despair at the heart of her aesthetic creates a chiaroscuro: rare moments of human tenderness and connection shine beyond the page." —Edie Meidav
Jay Ritchie is the author of Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie (Coach House Books, 2017). His work has appeared in Powder Keg, The Puritan, Spork, glitterMOB, and has been performed on CBC Radio, at the Newmarket National 10-minute Play Festival, and at the Phi Centre in Montreal.
"Jay Ritchie's thesis arrives at a near-completed book of poems that veer and dares new forms to think and feel in. Using the rich traditions of hybridity that Jay studied at the program, we see the influences of Rimbaud, and Basho weld with fresh synergy with the New York School's vexed interiority, all of this articulated on a backdrop of wit, wonder, hope and bewilderment before the social world and its disarmingly absurd repercussion on the self."
Roman Sanchez is a writer and anthropologist from San Antonio, Texas. He moved to Massachusetts five years ago to study cooperative economics and race in the climate change era. He works in fiction, poetry, and new media art, inspired primarily by science fiction and Latin American/Latinx literature. He currently lives in Connecticut with his wife and two daughters, but will soon move back home to Texas!
"Set thousands of years in the future and focusing on clones living at a monastery on a planet with artificial suns and extreme, adjoining climate zones, Roman Sanchez’s novel is sci-fi at its very best. Chef oversees food production for the monastery, and it begins with his discovery of a mysterious, once-in-a-century crop failure. Along the way, Roman invents a whole new catalog of flora and fauna (ostrich-bears!) and writes lights out: 'I adore the blood-red bark of the Toylo, how smooth it is…It wants to speak to me, to share with me its ripe Toy-Fruit, lime green and blue, juicy dangles shaped like dead fingers.'" —Jeff Parker
Ian Shaikh is from the San Francisco Bay Area, and went to university in Los Angeles. He's currently working on a neckbeard and a novel.
"Ian Shaikh studies the absurdity of humanity and does what he can to redeem it. Intrigued by questions of solitude, class, and the interdependency of perception, Shaikh's fiction speaks of the eternal yearning for connection. Shaikh's tail-biting aesthetic shows flair and depth, its vernacular fluency matched by a romantic melancholy capable of great rejoicing - at nature, innocence, firstness. What Shaikh offers us is the depth of an interior questioner who can take nothing for granted, who wishes to offer his characters and us the greatest transformation." —Edie Meidav
Abigail Stallings is a poet and photographer based in Mexico City. Her work is interested in exploring isolation through architecture, objects, and the physical body. Find her online in Blush Lit, Hobart, and on Instagram @abigailstallings.
"Abigail Stallings has written a book of pained interiority meeting the outer world of commercialized governing in which the two collapse into one another. In short tight phrases she renders pathos and beauty through the lenses of architecture, design, and fashion. It is a heady work made full from intelligence, emotion, and acute observation." —Peter Gizzi
Jamie Thomson is a graduating poet. He feels very lucky to have worked these past three years with and alongside such a talented and dedicated group of poets and writers. He wishes everyone the best of luck in whatever the next stage of their journey brings.
"Jamie Thomson is a one of a kind kind-hearted visionary who takes some of his best advice from animals, sky, ground, grass, running water, light, stars at night and light-hearted extravagances of our characters, essence and fate. He stands quietly without peer because that is who everyone in everything he writes turns out to be. In his thesis called once these lines can be found: Sometimes people stop me and say is this some kind of joke?/But I am not a joke I am an ok person trying/I like this tired morning" —Dara Wier
"Lena Tsykynovska's genius straightens up logic's crooked ways just enough to turn them into tests of our ability to believe we know something we could not know because we'd known it all along. Her poems give us the grace of agility across the range of our emotions. They trust us to follow quick-silver flashes of thought as it changes along the way. The Last Days of My Boyhood is her thesis, in it there are these lines: I was carried up to heaven's angel/sitting at a desk/he said, ok/can't remember to what." —Dara Wier
Rebecca Valley is a poet and animal enthusiast from Saint Albans, Vermont. She is the winner of the 2019 Academy of American Poets Award from UMass Amherst, and the inaugural recipient of the Young Writers Project Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has been published in Rattle, Black Warrior Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and on Poets.org, among other locations. You can find her online at www.rebeccavalley.com.
"Rebecca Valley is a skilled and gifted poet. Her wonderful book Lake Echo deals with rural life and family but not in any neat way. Instead the book is a haunted theater where landscape and kin play out time, trauma, and daily life. Also, there are a lot of animals in this book that only heightens the creaturelyness of our being here. These achieved poems are filled with exceptional music and impeccable craft." —Peter Gizzi
Juliana Ward is a poet living in Northampton MA. Her chapbook Venus in November is out now from b l u s h.
"Juliana Ward chronicles what's past with an immediate knowledge and experience and what's present with the intensity of mortality's free wisdom; she has taken subtlety back into its never before known caverns and secret passageways from whence it came. Without her potent carnality's sober investigations we would be minus a chance to be re-acquainted with our own bodies. Her thesis, Venus in November, concerns itself with sexual and sexualized female experience, romantic love, monogamy, origin, memory and pain.
My hair will never be good again/My breasts tangle in the night branches/I was seduced by the sand and the way water disappeared into it." —Dara Wier