Award goes to Mary Rockcastle

Creative writing instructor received 2015 Kay Sexton award for literary contribution.

Jackie Bussjaeger, Editor in Chief

Following a career in creative writing that has helped to shape decades of success among Hamline graduates, associate professor Mary Francois Rockcastle has been named the next recipient of the prestigious Kay Sexton award for 2015. This achievement is only the latest in a career peppered with honors and prizes for her long involvement in the world of writing and excellence.

The Kay Sexton Award is named after the former Vice President of the B. Dalton Booksellers, who received the very first award in 1988, and who passed away last fall at the age of 91. According to their website, the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library gives the award to individuals who have shown “long-standing dedication and outstanding work in fostering books, reading and literary activity in Minnesota.”

Since first coming to Hamline over 25 years ago as an adjunct faculty member of the Master of Arts and Liberal Studies (MALS) program, Rockcastle collaborated with colleagues and writers on a multitude of projects. Some of them eventually resulted in the formation of the first MFA program in Minnesota and the foundation of the literary magazine The Water~Stone Review, to name a couple.

One of Rockcastle’s areas of focus is in the world of children’s literature. In 2007, she helped establish the low-residency MFA in writing for children and young adults, after she was approached by a group of local writers.

“It really matched my vision in terms of the importance of children’s and YA literature, and my disappointment that kids’ lit is so ghetto-ized in the culture,” Rockcastle said. “It’s not given the kind of attention or acclaim it deserves. It has not been considered part of the canon of English and American literature taught in English programs.”

Since its formation eight years ago, the MFA has seen a great deal of success.

“That program has really skyrocketed in reputation,” Rockcastle said. “Our students and alums are publishing and winning awards at an astonishing rate. Partly that’s because they’re talented and we’ve given them a good education, but it’s also because the field is very welcoming to educated writers for kids.”

Following the popularity of the MFAs for creative writing in adult and in children’s literature, Hamline decided to expand and offer the first BFA major in creative writing in 2011.

“We are the only university in the country that has three fine arts programs in creative writing,” Rockcastle said. “It has created a real nucleus of creative writing here in the Twin Cities, which is a no-brainer given the incredible number of presses and the Loft Literary Center here. You want this to be a hotbed for writers, which it has become.”

For Rockcastle, achievement is all about the students. She said that she learns constantly from being around and working with students and staff, which informs her own creative writing, and in turn helps her to improve as a teacher.

“One of the things we do is inspire the creative impulse in students, and being around that is really exciting–when students learn that they can create something out of nothing but their imaginations. And then you give them the tools to do it better. There’s nothing like it,” she said.

She gave credit to the many people who have helped her progress, acknowledging that all of her success has been due to the teamwork and collaboration of a devoted community of writers and academicians.

“All along the way, I worked with a phenomenal staff and a phenomenal talented faculty,” Rockcastle said. “At every step of the way, I worked with great faculty who helped me build, and I could never have done this on my own. And it’s because we have such a stellar faculty that anything I was able to do got traction and grew.”

Rockcastle will be presented with the Kay Sexton award on April 18, 2015 at the Minnesota Book Awards Gala, hosted at the Union Depot in St. Paul.