Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Meet Stonecoast Teaching Apprentice John Christopher Nelson

Stonecoast Summer 2019 Teaching Apprentice John Christopher Nelson has lived in Southern California, Central Nevada, and now West Seattle, among other locales. With over thirty moves in his nomadic back pocket, you might think this 2015 MFA graduate and published fiction writer has struggled to find the proper conditions to write, but you would be wrong. Through all the changes, writing has remained John’s constant.

“I have no set writing routine,” John says, “because my work schedule varies, but I’ve learned to get myself into that mindset to write whenever and wherever I can. I try to work on something at least once a day, whether it’s generating new work or editing an earlier piece.”

John’s been writing stories since he was a kid, but “it wasn’t until my early twenties,” he says, “that writing felt like something I was really going to pursue. In my last semester at community college, I won the creative writing award in both fiction and poetry. That was a turning point.”

After sojourns as an ambulance driver, UCLA student, and Venice Beach surf shop manager, John found his way to Stonecoast, where he “made many fruitful connections and established friendships with some of the most amazing humans I’ve ever met.”

Soon after his graduation, in 2016-2017 alone, John’s work appeared in seven journals or collections, including The New Guard, The Matador Review, and Able Muse. He also garnered a spotlight interview and publication in The Stonecoast Review.

Following this avalanche of acceptances, John received several rejections, and he’ll be bringing the wisdom he’s gleaned from daily dedication, rapid-fire success, and what he calls “the necessity of failure” to students at the Summer 2019 Residency.

“I hit an extreme dry spell that was way discouraging,” John says. “I think it’s important to remember that if you’re not submitting enough to be rejected, you’re not putting yourself out there enough. I want to lead a discussion about how we, as a writing community, can use failure to foster a renewed sense of camaraderie and urgency, as far as our creative output is concerned.”

John’s apprenticeship adviser, faculty member Aaron Hamburger, looks forward to working with teaching apprentices because, he says, “I always learn something in the process. Teaching apprentices inspire me with their energy and new ideas. And John was such a warm and considerate presence as a student, he’ll make a natural teacher.”

When asked what students gain from the addition of a teaching apprentice to their workshop, Aaron observed, “Current students get to see the transformation from MFA grad to professional writer in mid-process, and they get to envision themselves taking this same journey. Sometimes a teaching apprentice can explain something differently from how I, as someone who’s been teaching and writing professionally for a while now, might express it. Students get that wonderful double-viewpoint.”

Stonecoast Teaching Apprenticeships are awarded to outstanding Stonecoast MFA alumni who demonstrate a commitment to high-quality teaching. Under the guidance of a Stonecoast faculty member, apprentices assist in first-half residency workshops, offering feedback and support to students; teach an afternoon seminar on pedagogy; and present their work at one of the evening readings. Apprentices receive a travel stipend, lodging, and daily lunches.

As Aaron Hamburger notes, “My experience [working with teaching apprentices] has always been wonderful. It’s valuable for students to hear from someone who’s been in their position and has recently gone through the journey to acquire the skills and knowledge to write their dream project.”

John Christopher Nelson is currently working on a novel while looking for homes for three short stories. In the meantime, John says, “I’m beyond stoked to contribute to the experience of Stonecoast’s current students. I hope what I bring will be positive and relevant for the members of the workshop.”