Currently in her third and final year as a creative writing MFA candidate at the Arkansas Writers Workshop in Conway, Arkansas, Heather Breed Steadham’s nonfiction has been published by The Toast, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and Pembroke Magazine, and her fiction has been featured by Lockjaw Magazine. The writer of Arkansas Life Magazine’s Hometown column, which earned her the 2016 Great Plains Journalism Award in Magazine Column Writing, Heather dabbles some in poetry in addition to her fiction and nonfiction pursuits, and she is working on the final drafts of both a middle grade and an adult novel. You can see more of her work at hsteadham.moonfruit.com and follow her on twitter @hbsteadham.
Rachel Hoge: Hi Heather, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on our MFA program. When you were researching programs as an MFA applicant, what drew you to the Arkansas Writers Program? Was there something unique about our program that you hadn’t seen elsewhere?
Heather Breed Steadham: I was very attracted to the emphasis on pedagogy, for one. I was a high school English teacher, and I imagined I would always be teaching in one capacity or another. But what really attracted me to the program was the chance to be an Editorial Intern at the Oxford American Magazine, a National Magazine Award-winning literary journal of the South. I was hoping to make a lot of connections, get behind-the-scenes information about running a magazine, and learn how to better my own writing. I most certainly did all three.
RH: The graduate-level study of creative nonfiction is often absent in more traditional MFA programs. As a published writer of literary journalism and creative nonfiction, how has our program impacted and sustained your love for the genre?
HS: What a great question! The faculty here have certainly challenged my definitions of creative nonfiction, keeping my fire for the genre well-tended. And if it weren’t for my attendance here, I can’t imagine how I would have been able to publish so much so fast. Through both connections at the Oxford American as well as seeking out local outlets for my work, I have been able to publish consistently in the genre, even winning a 2016 Great Plains Journalism Award for a monthly column I do for Arkansas Life Magazine. That’s one of the great things about our MFA program—we are encouraged to publish, and the area in which we are located makes that publishing a real possibility.
RH: In what ways has our MFA program transformed you as a writer, artist, or professional?
HS: Our MFA program has really shown me what the writer’s life looks like on a day-to-day basis. How writers have to hustle, have to be both confident in their work and willing to listen to criticism, have to put their work out there if they really want to see it published. While no one is going to beg for an emerging writer’s pieces for publication, publishers are always looking for talent, and they can’t find it if it isn’t out there! I’ve learned that success in writing does’t happen overnight, and it takes hard work, thick skin, and unbelievable amounts of persistence. And by preparing me in this way, the faculty has shown me that I can be a success. I just have to want it, have to do the work, have to get my stuff out there. But it’s possible.
RH: You’re the head of the Graduate Writers’ Association Diversity Committee, a student-led effort to encourage diversity within our MFA program. Can you share a few goals of the Diversity Committee, and how they’re being addressed?
HS: The overall goal of the Diversity Committee is to ensure that our MFA program is filled with the widest possible range of perspectives possible. To that end, we have three areas of concentration: Publishing, Pedagogy, and People. In Publishing, we are looking to ensure that writers of all color, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, etc., are represented in our new journal Arkana, both behind the scenes and on the page. In Pedagogy, we work to make sure that issues of diversity are given attention both in the readings that are presented in class as well as in craft issues that are taught. And in regard to People, we are working to make sure that our Faculty, Students, and Writers-in-Residence reflect the diversity the literary community recognizes to be so very important. We have many programs designed to support each of these efforts: a faculty liaison to weigh in on incoming Writers-in-Residence. Application fee waivers for writers of color who are interested in our MFA. And we’re working on a course feedback program that concentrates squarely on each professor’s use of diverse authors in their classes as well as how comfortable students felt with issues of diversity within the class dynamics. We also hope to acquire the funding needed to add two graduate assistant positions specifically for writers of color: one in Publishing,working in an editorial aspect on our journal, and one in Pedagogy, actively teaching in the writing department.
RH: Why would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?
HS: I would recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant for quite a few reasons. One, the faculty is an amazingly caring body of folks who want to do everything they can to help each and every student succeed in the field of their choice. Nobody is pigeon-holing anybody here: If you want to pay the bills with some creative nonfiction in local magazines, then submit a middle grade novel for publication, do it! That’s what I’m doing, and I know the faculty’s got my back. Also, the opportunity to work for a magazine like the Oxford American is something you may never get to experience again—and it’s only 30 minutes from campus! Additionally, the program is at a point where you can really make an impact. Want a flash fiction course? Just talk to the director, and it can totally happen. Want to create a diversity program? You’ve already got both student and admin buy-in. Want to write poems on old fashioned typewriters during a street festival? Let’s do it. We’re enthusiastic, serious about what we’re doing, and ready to have folks who are just as glad to be here as we are.
Stop by next Friday to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program.