Celebrating wins for creative writing faculty

Hamline MFAC faculty celebrate winning national book awards at the annual American Library Association.

Sabrina Merritt, Senior Reporter

Big congratulations are due to three faculty members of Hamline’s creative writing program. National honors have been awarded to MFA for Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) authors Meg Medina, Elana K. Arnold and Emily Jenkins. The writers are all part-time faculty in the two-year low-residency program for graduate students.

Awarded at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference in Seattle, these awards are critical to the life of Hamline’s MFAC. Director of creative writing programs Mary Rockcastle believes an esteemed staff is a huge draw for students looking into an MFAC degree, especially for those interested in writing for children.    

“Having an award-winning faculty is crucial to us,” Rockcastle said. “Students look at faculty and what to know what they’ve written and what they’ve published. It’s absolutely necessary to know at the graduate level.”

This year the program can add Meg Medina’s “Merci Suárez Changes Gears” to its list of winners. The novel won the 2019 John Newbery Medal. The award acknowledges the “most distinguished children’s book” published every year. The John Newbery has been awarded to acclaimed and popular children’s novels such as Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” and Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.” MFAC faculty have been awarded Newbery awards and Newbery honors in the past, including Kelly Barnhill who won the Newbery Award two years ago.

Medina’s 2016 young-adult “Burn Baby Burn” novel was recently selected for the new Read Brave St. Paul program. The intergenerational reading program prompts reading works focused on social issues impacting the Twin Cities. This 2019 theme is housing accessibility.    

Elana K. Arnold’s novel “Damsel” was selected as a Michael L. Printz Honor Book for teens. Arnold’s fantasy young-adult novel subverts traditional gender roles in fairy tales and the damsel in distress trope. Touching on empowering women through sexism and sexual assault, Ana Grilo writing for Kirkus Reviews said Damsel “questions not only the traditional narratives we are so fond of but also the very real world we live in.”

Emily Jenkins was awarded the Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries for her picture book “All-of-Kind Family Hanukkah.” The book was recognized as a work of literature for authentic portrayals of the Jewish experience for young readers. The book is illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Rockcastle believes Hamline’s program is unique because of the emphasis the program has on teaching to write for young readers. Hamline’s MFAC welcomes genres that other programs may not. This includes fantasy writing and spoken word poetry.

“There are so few MFA programs in writing for kids, our faculty is really seen nationally as the most accomplished faculty,” Rockcastle said.

The program also prides itself on being a space to cultivate unheard stories. The desire to tell stories is why Rockcastle believes people gravitate to a degree in creative writing.    

“If you look at the stories that have been told and published, there are many many holes in that mosaic. What we are trying to do in creating a really rich diverse mix of faculty and students is to flesh out the variety of box available to young readers.”