Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth HandElizabeth Hand Elizabeth Hand's genre-spanning work includes psychological suspense, fantasy and science fiction for both adults and younger readers,  as well as historical and mainstream fiction.  Her novels and short stories have garnered numerous awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award, three World Fantasy Awards, two Nebula Awards, and the James M. Tiptree Award, and have been selected as Notable Books by both the New York Times and the Washington Post.  She is also a longtime critic and essayist for the Washington Post, Salon, the VIllage Voice, and DownEast Magazine, among others.  She has been awarded a Maine Arts Commission Fellowship and in 2012 will be Master Artist in Residence at Florida's  Atlantic Center for the Arts.  Her thriller Available Dark, sequel to the award-winning Generation Loss, will be out early next year, as will Radiant Days, a YA novel about the poet Arthur Rimbaud.  She lives on the Maine coast. 

Selected Publications:

Winterlong, Waking the Moon 
Mortal Love (2004)

How I Teach:

As a writer, I’ve always believed my craft is a vocation and visionary journey as much as it is a career.  As a teacher, I’ve tried to impart these values to my students, but with a very firm grounding in technique and craft, which are essential in even the most experimental and speculative fictional ventures.  I long ago took to heart Frederick Exley’s words, from A Fan’s Notes, that a literary critic should be “fair and funny and kind,” an admonition that I’ve tried to bring to a decades-long career as a critic and writing instructor.  I believe in encouraging and nurturing a writer’s individual and idiosyncratic voice: I believe that all great fiction derives from character and not merely from ideas, and that narrative should proceed from a character’s choices, not from the rote notions of plotting that too often dictate genre fiction.  And I believe that genre fiction can be great literature and should aspire to that, without sacrificing the frisson of pleasure we associate with commercial reading. 

Much of my own teaching philosophy derives from that of John Gardner, who believed in the moral power of fiction to change readers’ lives, though unlike Gardner I believe that it’s possible to delve deeply into a darker vision and experience of human nature and personal experience to shape a story.  Great writing consists of consistent and rigorously disciplined attention to tiny details and nuances of grammar, vocabulary, and dialog: a novel or story is built word by word, and I try to hone a student writer’s attention to these, through multiple revisions and a persistent effort to flense a story down to its bones, without sacrificing atmosphere and style. 

Above all, I believe in the power of the word to not only change readers’ lives, but the writer’s as well, and I try to impart some of that belief to my students.