With profound sadness, the English Department writes to acknowledge the tragic passing of an important and recent alum of our MFA program and educator in our Writing Program, Rana Zoe Mungin, known in the program as Zoe.
Zoe graduated with a BA from Wellesley College in 2011, and received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts in 2015. She was a beloved social studies teacher at Ascend Academy in Brooklyn at the time of her passing. Although only 30 years old, her work struck a deep chord with a broad swath of readers and scholars. Her candid reflections and critical perspective contributed to national conversations about institutional racism in MFA programs, an ongoing issue that our department and others like it continue to grapple with.
Zoe's battle with coronavirus unfortunately sheds light on the systems of racial, gendered, and class bias— entrenched power dynamics—that she sought to expose and change in her work. We have learned through gut-wrenching reports that she was turned away for a coronavirus test twice, and did not receive ambulance service to the hospital, after being assessed as suffering from only a panic attack. An online appeal for appropriate medical treatment for Zoe received a massive outpouring of support from community members, family, and friends; but the dismissal of her symptoms is a register of the long history of economic and racial barriers to healthcare faced by Black women in this country.
Zoe was a writer, activist, and educator—a devoted and inspiring teacher. Her MFA thesis, titled Sed Ministrare, was a collection of linked short stories that followed an intergenerational Black family living in Brooklyn. She was working to complete this book at the time of her death. Her powerful stories appeared in several prominent publications, and she was a 2013 winner of the prestigious AWP Intro Journals prize in fiction. She pushed the needle here at UMass on conversations about institutional racism; our programs, faculty, and students owe her a debt of gratitude for having spent time here and shared her knowledge, experience, and perspective. She will be missed by this community and beyond.
Read Zoe's short story "Love, from Mexico" in Quarterly West.
Hear Zoe read her story "Never Get Married" at The Catapult podcast.
Her passing is already garnering national attention regarding racial bias and Covid-19 care and treatment.
Here are some links to her column, "Dear UMass MFA," in Route Nine; an interview with her in Wellesley Underground; and a dialogue prominently featuring her in Beale Street Talks, all of which discuss institutional racism in MFA programs here and elsewhere. Here too is recent coverage of her in Essence magazine, The Grio, and The Appeal.
Zoe’s family and friends have established a GoFundMe page here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/supporting-rana-zoe-mungins-family
Remembrances of Zoe, from friends and family, can be found here: https://www.hennesseyheightsfuneralhome.com/obituaries/Rana-Mungin/Obituary