K.L. Cook

Professor and Dean's Faculty Fellow in the Arts


Office:219 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA


I grew up in a working-class family in Houston, Dallas, and Amarillo, Texas and lived in Southern Illinois, Coastal Carolina, Upstate New York, and the mountains of Central Arizona before moving to Ames. In college, I studied literature, theatre, and creative writing, as well as history and psychology. Over my career, I have taught a broad range of creative writing and literature courses, including Travel Writing, Short Story Cycle, Forms of Fiction, the Ecstasy of Influence, Shakespeare, Literature of the American Dream, the American West in Film & Literature, and Family Systems in Film and Literature. I am the author of six books—a novel, three collections of linked stories, a poetry collection, and a book of essays on the art and craft of fiction. At ISU, I co-direct the MFA Program in Creative Writing & Environment, serve on the Faculty Senate, and teach introductory, advanced, and graduate courses in the MFA program, including courses on the theory and practice of teaching creative writing. In 2021, I was the recipient of a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring and was named the Dean’s Faculty Fellow in the Arts. Feel free to visit my author website for more about my writing.

Courses I Teach

English 207: Introduction to Creative Writing
English 304: Creative Writing – Fiction Workshop
English 404: Creative Writing – Advanced Fiction Workshop

Graduate—MFA Program in Creative Writing & Environment
English 550: Craft and Professional Practice
English 551: Master Workshop
English 554: Graduate Fiction Workshop
English 557: Studies in Creative Writing
English 558: Teaching Creative Writing
English 559: Creative Writing Teaching Internship


M.F.A., Creative Writing, Warren Wilson College
M.A., English (Literature), Southern Illinois University - Carbondale
B.A., English & Theatre, West Texas State University

Research Areas

Creative writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and scriptwriting), forms of fiction, short story cycles, literature of the American Dream, Western American literature, place-based and environmental literature, Shakespeare, literary influence, family systems theory, creative writing pedagogy

Selected Awards & Honors

Iowa State University
  • Dean’s Faculty Fellow in the Arts, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Humanities Scholarship Enrichment Initiative Grant, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Research Grants, Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities (CEAH)
  • Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction
  • Willa Award for Contemporary Fiction
  • Spokane Prize for Short Fiction
  • Southwest Book of the Year
  • Editor’s Choice Selection, Historical Novel Society
  • James Jones First Novel Fellowship Finalist
  • Best Short Story About the American West, Western Writers of American
  • Arizona Commission on the Arts Fellowship & Project Grant
  • Artist residency fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, Vermont Studio Center, and Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts


I am the author of six books of fiction, poetry, and essays. My first book, Last Call, a collection of linked stories chronicling three decades in the life of a Texas Panhandle family, won the inaugural Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. The Girl from Charnelle, a novel focusing on the same fictional family, won the Willa Award for Best Contemporary Fiction and was an Editor’s Choice selection of the Historical Novel Society, a Southwest Book of the Year, and a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Award, among other honors. Love Songs for the Quarantined, a thematically linked story cycle, won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and was a Longlist Finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Story Prize. My most recent books are Marrying Kind, a collection of short stories; a collection of poetry, Lost Soliloquies; and The Art of Disobedience: Essays on Form, Fiction, and Influence.

My stories, essays, articles, and poems have appeared in such journals and magazines as Glimmer Train, One Story, Harvard Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Poets & Writers, Threepenny Review, Brevity, Louisville Review, Hotel Amerika, Shenandoah, Bloom, and American Short Fiction. My work has also been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories, Best of the West, The Prairie Schooner Book Prize: Tenth Anniversary Reader, Teachable Moments: Essays on Experiential Education, The Short Story Project, a Poets & Writers anthology on the literary marketplace, and Now Write: Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers.

Current Research  

I am currently working on essays about personal, public, and literary tragedy, a novel set in a Shakespeare festival in the American West, and a critical study of short story cycles, linked stories, and novels-in-stories.

On Teaching Creative Writing & Literature

I was the first member of my extended family to earn a college degree, so I particularly identify with students for whom college, at either the undergraduate or graduate level, is an unfamiliar experience, not only for them but for their families. I studied both literature and theatre as an undergraduate and graduate student. After beginning my Ph.D. in literature, I decided that I wanted to learn how to read like a writer and to write my own stories, so I changed directions and pursued my M.F.A. in creative writing and was fortunate to work with wonderful contemporary fiction writers such as Richard Russo, Joan Silber, Robert Boswell, and Jean Thompson. In graduate school, I also fell in love with teaching and knew that, along with writing, I wanted to spend my life in the classroom discussing literature as well as the original creative efforts of my students. Before coming to Iowa State, I taught for many years at Prescott College, which has an innovative experiential curriculum and an environmental and social justice mission. While there, I also served as the Arts & Letters Department Chair and the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and was on the board of a K-8 charter school. I have taught as a distinguished scholar/writer-in-residence at several colleges and universities and, since 2004, have been a member of the graduate faculty of Spalding University’s acclaimed low-residency MFA in Writing Program.

Teaching Philosophy

The best classes are, I believe, gift communities. I want students to think of their writing as a gift—for themselves and for others. Everything I teach is predicated on this concept. My primary goal is to give writers permission to take risks—to surprise themselves, to write not only what they know but also what they don’t know about what they know. I urge them to listen carefully to their own stories, poems, essays, and scripts and to use their writing, as Kafka said, “as the ax that breaks the frozen sea inside us.” I want to help students become more accomplished, more aware artists. Aware of what? Aware of the possibilities of character and form, aware of the energy of their material, aware of the techniques and strategies that will help them shape their work into something startling and moving, into something that matters, into what John Gardner called “a shining performance.” Most of all, I try to encourage students to be generous—as writers, as readers, as critics. I believe the most generous thing I can do is to read students’ original manuscripts carefully, prompt them to think more fully and rigorously about what they’ve written, and offer suggestions about how they might do that in a way that excites them about returning to their work.

Outside of the University

I love theatre, film, and travel. And when I can combine the three, I’m in heaven.