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Stonecoast MFA: Supporting writers and gaining national acclaim

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It’s been a big year for the University of Southern Maine’s (USM) Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing, and the renowned program continues to grow.

In its 17-year history, the Stonecoast MFA has become one of the nation's most diverse, rigorous, and influential low-residency MFA programs, in which students come from across the country and around the world to join a community of established and emerging writers.

Each semester begins with a 10-day residency on the Maine coast. During the semester, the award-winning faculty guide Stonecoast students in intensive one-on-one tutorials in creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and popular fiction, with possibilities for elective work in other areas including scriptwriting, translation, and cross-genre.

“When students are coming in, they begin to build their writing life where they live already,” Stonecoast MFA Director Justin Tussing recently told USM President Glenn Cummings on the university’s monthly television show, “The USM Update. “Unlike a residential program where you sort of disconnect from your life to go do your study program, here you’re living your life and writing at the same place.”

Every student personalizes their education based on their interests and goals — and some go on to win national acclaim. Here are a few examples:

  • In May, Stonecoast faculty Martín Espada won the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, one of nation’s most prestigious and financially rewarding literary prizes.
  • In March, Stonecoast alumna Christine Mangan ‘06 published her debut novel, “Tangerine” and signed a Hollywood deal — the book was reportedly optioned for $1 million by George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures.
  • Last February, Patricia Smith, an alumna and former faculty member in Stonecoast won the prestigious $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.
  • And in January, Susan Conley, author and Stonecoast faculty, released her new novel, “Elsey Come Home,” dealing with “the importance of place and the challenges of modern motherhood."

These are but a few examples of Stonecoast MFA success.

Now You See the Sky book coverAuthor and Stonecoast MFA alumna Catharine Murray joined Tussing on “The USM Update” to discuss her memoir, “Now You See the Sky,” which was released in November.

The book, as Murray describes, details her travel to Thailand in her twenties, her falling in love while she was there, and the loss of one of her sons.

It’s a story she said she wanted to tell for a long time, but found the Stonecoast MFA program gave her the boost she needed to put it down on paper.

“I had wanted to write the book for a long time and just had a hard time getting it done on my own. I came to a USM graduate school fair and met Justin and he said … ‘some people have a book in them.'"

Read more about the Stonecoast MFA program, and watch the segment below. “Now You See the Sky” can also be purchased on Amazon, and at Portland bookstores Print in the city's East End, and Longfellow Books in Monument Square