Tracy K. Smith, United States Poet Laureate, to Give Emily Dickinson Lecture

United States Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize Winner, and National Book Award finalist Tracy K. Smith will offer a reading at Penn State as this year’s Emily Dickinson Lecturer. The reading will be he held at the Nittany Lion Inn on Thursday, October 19, at 7:30 pm. This reading is free and open to the public.

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith (Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

Smith is the author of several collections of poems, including The Body’s Question (2003), Duende (2007), and Life on Mars (2011), which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on sources as disparate as Arthur C. Clarke and David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Her memoir Ordinary Light (2015), in many ways an elegy for her mother, was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Nonfiction and was selected as a Notable Book by the New York Times and Washington Post.

Her poetry collection, Wade in the Water (forthcoming from Graywolf Press in April 2018), includes “found poems” constructed from archival letters that African American veterans sent to President Lincoln asking for pensions they were owed.

Of her collection Life on Mars, Joel Brouwer of the New York Times writes, “Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition. It’s not easy to be so convincing in both the grand gesture and the reverent contemplation. Life on Mars first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

Smith is the director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. While Smith primarily writes poetry and memoir, she has recently served as librettist on two operas, one of which focuses on slavery “and how it shapes our sense of what is possible for moment to moment in our everyday lives,” Smith says.

The Emily Dickinson Lectureship in American Poetry is made possible through the generosity of Penn State Alumni George and Barbara Kelly. Additional support for the event comes from the Penn State Department of English.


Successful Fundraising Campaign Establishes Creative Writing Award to Honor Retiring Penn State Professor

To honor Professor Robin Becker’s twenty-three years of service to Penn State University and her lasting impact on students, the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English last month launched a campaign to raise $23,000 to create a fund in her name. This annual award will support a student who shows not only financial need, but promise in creative writing, especially poetry.

The campaign was launched through Penn State’s “Let’s Grow State” crowdfunding platform and ran for thirty days, from May 17-June 17. During this time, the campaign website drew 91 supporters, 2,851 views of the page, and gifts totaling $23,005–an impressive outpouring of support from colleagues, former students, fellow writers, friends, and others interested in honoring Professor Becker and supporting creative writing at Penn State.

The lead gift of $5,000 came from Steven Fisher, a longtime friend and supporter of the English Department, where he sponsors the annual Fisher Family Writer-in-Residence program, which brings prominent writers to Penn State to work one-on-one with writing students, visit writing classes, and offer a public reading and lecture. Additional major gifts came from other longtime supporters of reading series and writing prizes in the department, including George and Barbara Kelly, Charles and Joan Rolling, Richard Mihelcic, and Rebecca Mihelcic Chapman.

Director of Creative Writing Charlotte Holmes and retiring Professor Robin Becker.

Recently retired as Liberal Arts Research Professor of English, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Becker was a venerated mentor for graduate, undergraduate, and returning students. In class, she encouraged them to consider their work and the work of their classmates as curious objects, rather than flawed drafts. She taught writers to value themselves, their time, and their efforts.

Many former students have gone on to publish books and win awards, including The APR/Honickman First Book Prize and The A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Students from her book reviewing class regularly publish in Harvard Review, Georgia Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Book News, The Women’s Review of Books, and many other outlets; some became editors at PANK!, Literary Mama, and The Los Angeles Review. Still others now teach and direct creative writing programs at colleges and universities across the country.

In the midst of this service, Becker also published seven books, served as Poetry Editor at the Women’s Review of Books and served as Penn State Laureate for 2010-2011.

This award will continue her legacy of literary citizenship. While the 30-day campaign has closed, the campaign website is still available to offer an overview of Professor Becker’s career at Penn State, video and written testimonials from former students, and a description the impact the award will make in the future.

Although the initial phase of the campaign has concluded, additional gifts to the award fund are still welcome and can be made at any time by visiting

Support the Robin Becker Award in Creative Writing–30-day Campaign!

Penn State Welcomes Two New Poets to CW Program in Fall

At the end of the spring 2017 semester, we mark the retirement of two poets in the English Department: Professor Robin Becker and Senior Lecturer James Brasfield.

On the heels of these longtime faculty  members’ departures, we are happy to report the addition of two poets to the creative writing program in the fall 2017 semester.

Shara McCallum

Shara McCallum  will join the Penn State creative writing faculty as a full-time professor after serving as the Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell.  McCallum received her BA from the University of Miami, her MFA from the University of Maryland, and her PhD in Poetry and African American and Caribbean Literature from Binghamton University. She is the author of The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems, This Strange Land, Song of Thieves, The Water Between Us, and the recently published Madwoman. McCallum’s poems have appeared in publications in the US, the UK, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Israel, and have been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, and Romanian. Recognition for her work includes a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, among other awards.


Lee Peterson

Lee Peterson, Director of the Writing Commons and Instructor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State-Altoona, will serve as a visiting faculty member at University Park this fall. She will teach  ENGL 513, Advanced Poetry Writing. Peterson received her BA from Oberlin College in women’s studies and English literature and her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in creative writing. Her poetic, research, and community interests center around issues of human rights, the experiences of women and girls in wartime, and trauma and recovery. Her poetry collection Rooms and Fields: Dramatic Monologues from the War in Bosnia  won the 2003 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize.


Graduating BA/MA Students Read from their Work

  • BA/MA graduating class of 2017

Graduates Andrews and Blake Collaborative Poetry Series

Two Penn State Creative Writing graduates, Kimberly Quiogue Andrews and Sarah Blake, recently appeared in the Missouri Review for their collaborative poem, “The Sea Witch Needs a Mortgage for the Land, If Not For the House of Bones.”

As part of a larger work, the authors describe the subject of this series of poems as the stories of a sea witch who has decided to move to land and live among humans. Working collaboratively has “pulled the poems and their protagonist’s desires in unexpected directions” while also confronting  particular kinds of sociopolitical absurdities, such as sexism and capitalism, among others.

To read a poem from Andrews’s and Blake’s series, check it out here!

Why Choose BA/MA?

With the deadline for the BA/MA program this upcoming Wednesday, March 15, several current BA/MA students were asked why they decided to apply and what they love most about the program. If you needed more than one reason to apply yourself, here it is!


“I was really drawn to the program because of the opportunity to teach ENGL 15 along with my writing. This has proven to be the most fulfilling part of the program for me this year!” -Carter Clabaugh, Class of 2017

“I wanted to expand upon my creative writing skills, and once I found out I could do that in an extra year, receive my master’s degree, get funding, and potentially gain teaching experience, I knew that’s what I wanted. Also, I was definitely not ready to graduate and leave Penn State for the ‘real world,’ quite yet–with this I have an extra year to cherish.” -Erin Servery, Class of 2018

“I had always written poetry, but I never thought it could be a tangible pursuit. One day I just up and decided to really try, and here I am.” -Makensi Ceriani, Class of 2017

“I chose to join the BA/MA program so that I could give myself a chance to write. I have always enjoyed writing as a way to organize my thoughts and emotions, and I saw this program as a way to give myself time, especially as a young person, to try to seriously write a body of work.” -Melanie Brusseler, Class of 2017

“I chose the BA/MA program because writing is what I want to do and I wanted to challenge myself among people who write differently and similarly to myself.” -Kylie McCool, Class of 2018

“To receive my master’s degree and teaching experience in only one extra year seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t refuse! All involved in this program, from faculty to fellow students, are also extremely helpful and incredibly fun to work with!” -Lauren Barron, Class of 2018

“I joined the BA/MA program because it gave me a huge opportunity to grow as a writer, work intensively on creative writing, and a way to move very meaningfully forward with pursuing creative writing.” -Nina Eckel, Class of 2018


For more information, check out the English department website and be sure to get your application in!

Sarah Manguso to Read March 22

Join us Wednesday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the Foster Auditorium as Sarah Manguso is set to read as this year’s Fischer Family Writer-in-Residence.

Manguso is the author of five books of prose, including Ongoingness, a meditation on motherhood and time; The Guardians, an investigation of friendship and suicide; The Two Kinds of Decay, a memoir of her experience with a chronic autoimmune disease; Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape, a collection of very short stories; and 300 Arguments, a book of essays.

She is the author of two poetry collections, poems from which have won a Pushcart Prize and appeared in four editions of the Best American Poetry series. Her work has also appeared in Harper’s, McSweeney’s, the Paris Review, and the New York Times Magazine, among other publications.

Her most recent book, 300 Arguments, published in February 2017, defies labels and blurs genre lines. Tess Taylor from NPR notes, “This collection transcends any category to be something totally its own…. Manguso’s captured the argumentative voice of a mind sifting through a problem, circling it, animated by sorting it out. We enter Manguso’s mind – her puzzle, pleased to be puzzled, too.” Leslie Jamison of The Atlantic says of it: “[Manguso’s] prose feels twice distilled; it’s whiskey rather than beer.” Joshua James Amberson of the Portland Mercury calls it, “perspective-altering.”

Manguso received her MFA from the University of Iowa, and she has taught creative writing at Columbia, NYU, Princeton, the New School, the Pratt Institute, the Otis College of Art and Design, and St. Mary’s College, where she was a Distinguished Visiting Writer. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize, Manguso currently serves as the Mary Routt Chair of Creative Writing at Scripps College in Los Angeles.



From February 8-11, 2017, more than 12,000 attendees will gather in Washington, DC, for the largest literary conference in North America, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

Penn State Creative Writing faculty and alums will be in the mix, serving on panels, giving readings and signings, and staffing bookfair tables. Here’s the start of a compilation of Penn Staters at this year’s AWP Conference. If you’d like your information added, please contact Alison Jaenicke at (or add it into the comment box below). Then check back for the latest additions.

For more information on the AWP Conference, visit

Thursday, February 9th 

9 am—Creative Writing Faculty Member TOBY THOMPSON:
Panel: R120. Dylanology. Five authors discuss the pleasures and pitfalls of writing about Bob Dylan, rock writing in this era, as well as its relationship to the craft of literary nonfiction.
Onsite: Capital & Congress, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four

Panel: R130. Contemporary Mythopoetics.
Onsite: Room 204AB, Washington Convention Center, Level Two 

3 pm—Creative Writing Faculty Member ROBIN BECKER:
R237. The Lyric Narrative: Telling Stories in Poems.
OnsiteMarquis Salon 7 & 8, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two

3:30 pm—Creative Writing Faculty Member JAMES BRASFIELD:
Book Signing at the LSU Press booth, Exhibit Spaces 608-610.

4:30-6:30 pm—MFA Grad RACHEL MENNIES:
Reading: RHINO Reads! AWP 2017, Public Books Event by Rhino Poetry
Offsite: Sixth Engine, 438 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20001

7 pmBarrelhouse (including MFA Grad, Current Lecturer, and Barrelhouse editor MATT PEREZ) will host “a reading type thing” with The Rumpus, Catapult and Lit Hub: “Write Together, Fight Together
Offsite: The U Street Music Hall, 1115 U Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
(Bonus: We’re meeting for a happy hour before it at All Souls Bar from 5 to 7 pm for our Barrelhouse Camp reunion.)

7:30 pm– MFA Grad and former Creative Writing Faculty member SHEILA SQUILLANTE:
Featured Reader, The Inner Loop Reading Series
Off Site: The Pub & The People, 1648 N Capitol St NW

Friday, February 10th

1:30pm—Director of Creative Writing CHARLOTTE HOLMES and MFA Grad LISA RONEY:
Panel: F210. Foremothers: Southern Women Writers Discuss Southern Women Writers.
Onsite: Liberty Salon I, J, K at the Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level 4

1:30pm–Creative Writing Faculty Member ELIZABETH KADETSKY:
Book signing at the Nouvella table
Location: Exhibit Space 445-T

7-10pm–Creative Writing Faculty Member ELIZABETH KADETSKY:
Reading: RSVP DJ and Spontaneous Reading (by C&R Press authors)
Offsite: Eighteenth Street Lounge, 1212 18th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
Guests must RSVP and get (FREE) tickets here

Saturday, February 11th

Panel: S110. Money, Power, and Transparency in the Writing World.
Onsite: Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level 2 

1:30 pm— MFA Grad LISA RONEY:
Panel: S204. Practicum and Beyond: Publishing Courses and Literary Citizenship.
Onsite: Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level 2

 4:30 pm— MFA Grad SARAH BLAKE:
Panel: S280. Attempting the Impossible: Strategies for Writing Creative Biography.
Onsite: Room 101, Washington Convention Center, Level One 


MFA Grad and Current Lecturer MATT PEREZ, editor for Barrelhouse, can be found from time to time at the Barrelhouse table, Exhibit Space 385.

Stop by Book Fair Table 842-T, where MFA Grad LISA RONEY be representing
The Florida Review as its new editor.

Visit MFA Grad and editor-in-chief CATHLEEN MILLER at the Reed Magazine booth, Exhibit Space 559.

Rachel Cantor to Read February 16th

Join us this February 16th at 7:30 p.m. as esteemed author, Rachel Cantor, will read as part of the Mary E. Rolling Reading Series in Paterno Library’s Foster Auditorium.

Cantor is the author of two novels, A Highly Unlikely Scenario and Good on Paper, both published by Melville House. Her stories have appeared in such publications as Paris Review, One Story, Ninth Letter, The Kenyon Review, and New England Review. Some of her stories have also been anthologized, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, short-listed by the O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories, and awarded runner-up Bridport and Graywolf/SLS Prizes. In addition to her awards, she has received scholarships, fellowships from artist colonies in both the United States and foreign countries, and fellowships to the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writing Conferences.

The New York Times praised her most recent novel, Good on Paper, saying, “Cantor is unafraid of asking big questions explicitly, like whether fidelity—to texts or to people—is possible.” The Boston Globe said of the novel: “It is not often that a novel comes along that is laugh-out-loud hilarious and thought-provokingly philosophical. Good on Paper is both.” And finally, writer Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven) called it, “sharp, witty, and immensely entertaining.”

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