Current MFA Students

Summer Awad

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Summer Awad is a second-year CWE student from Knoxville, Tennessee. Having started her writing journey as a spoken word poet, Summer has branched out into playwriting, nonfiction, and page poetry, and she is grateful to be able to do all of the above at Iowa State. Her writing explores themes of race, ethnicity, gender, diaspora, migration, identity, and place. Her semi-autobiographical play, WALLS: A Play for Palestine, was produced at The New York International Fringe Festival in 2016. Her poetry has appeared in Writers Resist, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, and Exposition Review. Prior to coming to Iowa State, Summer spent four years working in refugee resettlement. This led her to teach an honors seminar on refugee resettlement in Spring 2022 in addition to her courses in Speech Comm 212; she hopes to teach in honors again in the future.

Julia Bilek

Graduate Student [ENGL]
Julia Bilek traveled the circumference of the globe for forty days in 2001. En route, she discovered the crimson-sapphire-gold-leaf icons of Russian cathedrals, meditated with Mongolian Buddhist monks, and watched endless fields of wildflowers scroll by her window on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. She wondered, for the first time, what it meant to be a pilgrim.
In the years since, Julia has earned a bachelor’s degree in world religions and art history, as well as a master’s degree in cultural anthropology. She writes creative nonfiction and ethnographic accounts of American religious spaces, including urban religious architecture, traditional Native American cosmographies, wilderness as sacred space, transnational religious placemaking, and pilgrimage practices.
Her work as appeared in the blog Pilgrim on the Potomac, CRUX literary magazine, as Teachers’ Guides for the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater, and in stage productions by Germantown Stage, Landless Theatre Co., and Figure-Ground Arts Collaborative. She is a poet, playwright, curator, photographer and lover of nature, culinary enthusiast, teacher, and wanderer.

Jessica Brock

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Jessica Brock is a writer, 2nd year grad student in the MFA Creative Writing & Environment program, and GA instructor of English 150/250. She also holds a BA in Film & Media Studies from Arizona State University. Through an ecogothic lens, Jessi aims to explore motherhood, identity, environment, and generational trauma. Her recent fiction is published in the Roadrunner Review and Fugitives&Futurists. Jessi currently lives in Iowa with her husband and two young children.

Professional link:

Hanna Burr

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Hanna Burr is a first year MFA student specializing in Creative Nonfiction. She was born in Nashville, TN, and caught the travel bug when her family moved to Ecuador for a year when she was sixteen. Since then, she has reflected on the effects of travel and immigration on identity, celebrated the deep connections that can be formed with strangers all over the world, and grappled with the isolation that comes with the personal transformations that travel and dislocation trigger.

She fell in love with Madrid when she undertook a research trip there to study women’s empowerment in Spanish Classical Theater. After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University with a double major in English and Spanish, she moved to there to teach English. In her free time, she learned to dance salsa, became an avid podcast listener, and continued to explore poetry as a second genre.

Hanna is fascinated by the blurry lines between foreign/familiar and natural/unnatural, and her pieces often tussle with unresolved ideas and the liminal spaces. She is obsessed with food, both as a sensory experience, a site of cultural fusion and expression, and as a fundamental aspect of addressing climate change. She hopes to explore foodways in her writing over the next three years.

Christal Campa

A first year MFA student, Christal Campa double-majored in English and Sociology at Boise State University before migrating to Iowa. She is enthusiastic to join a creative writing program fused with environmental imagination and research. While studying at Boise State, she took all of the classes available to her related to environmental writing and research. She even created a few independent studies for herself, researching ecological grief and the genre of cli-fi to learn how they relate to motivating (or demotivating) activism. Fascinated by the way writing can separate people from the natural world around them or inspire and connect them to it, she is excited to spend the next three years learning and teaching in the Creative Writing and Environment Program.

Jordan Castinado

Graduate Student [ENGL]

Jordan Castinado is a first-year student in the Creative Writing and Environment program, and a Pearl Hogrefe Fellow for 2019-2020.

Jordan earned his BFA in creative writing at Prescott College in central Arizona, where he fell in love with the high-desert forests, dark skies, and red-hued rocks of the liminal landscapes between the Sonoran Desert and the Colorado Plateau. Prior to attending university, Jordan served in the United States Marine Corps as an infantryman, completing two deployments to Afghanistan's Helmand Province near the end of Operation Enduring Freedom.

A nonfiction writer and memoirist particularly fond of the lyric essay, prose poetry, and other dances betwixt prose and verse, Jordan seeks to integrate —and interrogate— his combat-zone experiences while engaging the existential implications of an American age marked by anomie, uncertainty, rapid change, and alienation from self, environment, and the divine.

In addition to literary pursuits, Jordan enjoys sunny days, forest strolls, long-form discursive rants, white tea, road trips, the company of animals, and winding dérives through interesting spaces.

Seemi Choudry

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Born and raised in Venezuela, Seemi is the youngest child of Pakistani immigrants who moved her family of six to Chicago at the turn of the century. In 2010, she graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish.

Since then, she has worked in community development, program management, conflict mediation, and financial technology. In 2016, Seemi joined the Chicago’s Mayor’s Office under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. There, she worked on public policy and programs affecting immigrant and refugee populations as the Director of the Office of New Americans. After that, Seemi moved to Berlin, Germany to further research the New Comer Community as a Robert Bosch Fellow.

Recently, Seemi finished building a vacation home in Costa Rica. She is a proud aunt of two beautiful nieces and one nephew. Over the past year, she has been working on the manuscript for her first novel which is a creative non-fiction piece inspired by her life.

In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, playing soccer, making her specialty chai, traveling and spending time with friends and family.

Benjamin DuBow

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Benjamin DuBow is a first-year MFA candidate in CWE. An obsessive reader his whole life, Benjamin only realized in his second year as an undergrad at Columbia University (Class of '18) that he could actually major in books (shout out to LitHum!). With nary another thought, he threw his half-baked ideas of studying chemistry or astrophysics to the wayside and dove head-in. His favorite writers and thinkers and literary inspirations include: Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Chuang Tzu, Leslie Marmon Silko, Patrick Rothfuss, David Abram, Frederick Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michael Pollan, and, of course, Shakespeare.

Even more recently, he came to understand that he could even write the books (he is only first learning, however, that this part is not cake). Benjamin is interested in exploring the stories humans tell themselves about their place in the world and the nature of relationships--with the planet, with each other, and with themselves--that result. (He tends to think we could use some new ones.)

Aside from bookish things, Benjamin likes to hike, walk, scuba dive, eat, wander in unfamiliar places (he's spent a sizeable chunk of the two years since graduating traveling the world), forage, and cook (which accounts for most of the other chunks). Embarrassingly recently, he learned that music is cool, too.

Zoë Fay-Stindt

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Zoë Fay-Stindt (she/they) is a queer, bicontinental poet with roots in both the French and American south. Her poetry has appeared in museum galleries, on the radio, on the streets of small towns, in community farm newsletters, and other strange and wonderful places. Their work has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and has been featured or is forthcoming in Frontier, SWWIM, Muzzle, VIDA, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She holds a BA from Emerson College, and has been invited to writing residencies through Sundress Academy for the Arts and Art Farm.

Zoë has also served many joyful non-academic roles: translator, grape picker, river dog, voter registrar. Writing has offered many of these, including Texas Book Festival moderator, teaching artist for The Austin Library Foundation’s Badgerdog program, and community liaison for Clemente-affiliate Free Minds, coordinating community writing workshops and helping adult students find renewal through the humanities. In all realms, her priority is building community and finding levity, strengthening her delight radar à la Ross Gay.

Connor Ferguson

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Connor Ferguson was born and raised in southeastern Iowa and received his high school diploma from WACO High School in Wayland, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Maine Orono with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in 2019, and graduated from the University of Maine Orono with an MA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in 2022.

His work on diversity and inclusivity in academic spaces has been published in The Dangling Modifier and presented at the Northeast Writing Centers Association conference; he held a McGillicuddy Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellowship, completing a project titled "Queering the Fin de Siècle: Recognizing Queer Identities in the Modernist Era of Literature".

Connor's academic focuses include Modernism, genre fiction, young adult literature, space-and-place theory, queer theory, narrative structure, critical communication pedagogy, and multimodal pedagogy. When not writing or studying, Connor works in radio, collects vinyl records, is an advocate for video games as an art form, and considers the increasingly blurred line between urban and natural landscapes. He lives in Des Moines with his partner and their three cats.

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Kelli Fitzpatrick (she/her) is a sci-fi author and editor from Michigan who writes fiction, screenplay, essays, and game content. She is a candidate for the MFA in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University with a minor in Philosophy. She was a 2021-2022 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Kelli’s writing often explores themes of A.I. minds, climate change, the Great Lakes, community, and the metaphysics of time and space. A former high school teacher, she is a strong advocate for public education, the arts, and gender rights and representation.

In 2016, her story “The Sunwalkers” won the Star Trek Strange New Worlds contest from Simon and Schuster. She has short stories in Flash Fiction Online, KYSO Flash, Crazy 8 Press, and others, and her essays on sci-fi media appear at, Women at Warp, and in print from Sequart and ATB Publishing. Her screenplay “Broken Hot Mess” placed fifth in the NYC Midnight Short Screenplay Challenge. She has written tabletop game content for Modiphius Entertainment and Archvillain Games, and proudly serves as an assistant editor for The Dunes Review.


Fred Johnson

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Fred Johnson is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing and Environment and a 2021/2022 Hogrefe Fellow. A slightly startled Brit, Fred completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Liverpool, England, and his MPhil at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Between then and now he worked in trade and academic publishing. Although he applied with a poetry portfolio, he generally writes whatever feels least terrifying at any given moment.

Claire Jussel

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Claire Jussel is a first year MFA student from Boise, Idaho who has unwittingly lingered in the Midwest after studying history and English at St. Olaf College. She most recently worked at a children’s bookstore in Minneapolis, and previous places of work and fascination have included park-rangering in Wyoming, mending library books, and occasional lighthouse keeping. Primarily a poet, she also explores creative nonfiction and visual arts. Her work gravitates towards themes of place, home, memory, and connection with the natural world. Her work has appeared in West Trade Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, CP Quarterly, and she serves as an associate poetry editor for West Trade Review.

Kentaro Kumanomido

Graduate Student [ENGL]

Kentaro Kumanomido is an artist and second-year MFA candidate in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University.  Kentaro comes to the program with a broad background in the humanities, including a BA in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University.  Kentaro's current work in poetry and performance-making addresses ecological issues through the lens of 'critical agrarianism.'

Tara Labovich

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Tara Labovich (they/them) grew up in a small farming town in Germany before moving to Colorado for high school and undergraduate. Tara is interested in the many iterations of the creative process and in studying liminal spaces, reclamative justice, and exploring the boundaries between land and body. Although in the past Tara's studies and professional experience specialized in poetry, their current and future projects include fiction and creative non-fiction as they continue to explore genre and form.

They are a graduate of Colorado College with a degree in Creative Writing with a specialization in poetry and philosophy. Tara currently runs a small business in creativity coaching.

A’Ja Lyons

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

A'Ja Lyons was born and raised in Sunnyside, the oldest African-American community in southern Houston, Texas. She graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Liberal Studies. A'Ja was a book reviewer and column contributor for Pennsylvania Diversity Network's Valley Gay Press, and an article contributor for Gallaudet University's The Buff and Blue. Her short stories and poems have been in publications such as Sinister Wisdom, South Florida Poetry Journal, Valiant Scribe, and many others. She has an essay upcoming in Triquarterly.

A’Ja is the founder of Griot Gang, a summer writing workshop for Black graduate English students. In addition to writing and performing her essays, poems, and short stories, A'Ja is passionate about reproductive rights and presented on state telemed abortion rights at the inaugural Iowa Undergraduate Human Rights Research conference. A’Ja is an avid supporter of local theater productions. Information on A’Ja’s past, present, and upcoming work can be found at A’Ja is immensely grateful to the women in academia who’ve shown relentless support in her achievements, including but not limited to Dr. Beverly McPhail, Liz Bradbury, Dr. Jennifer Nelson, and Dr. Amy Bix.

A'Ja is the proud mother of an athletically gifted and animal-loving child.

Matt Moore

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Matt Moore is a creative writing student whose work is informed and inspired by his life in rural Northwest Missouri. Matt playfully charts new lines of flight between genres, mediums, and hybrid forms of telling with which he attempts to capture those fleeting dialectical sparks between the frictional and intersectional tectonics of memory, identity, and place. In this pursuit, his interests concern the production of rural space, the metabolic rifts between the human and non-human, intergenerational commodity waste, and the labor regimes of late-stage capitalism particular to rural bioregions.

When he’s enjoying himself most during the End Times, Matt may be found playing music, playing games, or playing cheap yard sports whose participation demands the least prerequisite skills. He is also the proud caretaker (some might say fur dad) of his own veritable menagerie of rats, cats, and dogs, all of which are, yes, indeed plural.

Shalini Singh

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Shalini Singh is a multigenre writer and MFA candidate from India in the Creative Writing & Environment program at ISU. She is the Miller scholarship recipient and the Fellow for Creative Writing & Environment, 2022-23. She holds a bachelor’s & Master's degree in Laws. Before she was a corporate and civil litigation lawyer, she has been an ardent reader and reviewing books for National and International publishing houses, journaling her journeys, writing prose poetry, experimenting with hybrid genres.

In her last stint with the Ministry in New Delhi, India, Shalini decided to pursue her goal for giving herself the gift of time and community, yearning for mentors she has read and cherished. Having travelled extensively in India, Shalini has taught underprivileged kids and students from various Classes since a long time now. Her writing is focused on whatever strikes a chord with her in the moment as Shalini believes in writing less but living more to be able to write. Having written on themes that revolve around environmental justice; disappeared and disappearing people; macrocosm & microcosm, latent patterns in society; rituals that are lost, pareidolia, landscapes, disregarded facets of human lives, Shalini wishes to explore the natural bounty, trekking, camping, harvesting food, binge watching shows, working with brands, meeting like minded people.

Shalini has been Longlisted by The Bombay Review as 20 Under 30 South Asian Writers for Fiction 2021-22. Nominated for Pushcart 2022 and won the Verse of Silence Poetry Contest 2021. She is now editing Fiction and Poetry for Taco Bell Quarterly, Reading for Best of the Net, 2023. Some of her works have been published in The Nation, Outlook India, The Good Men Project, Tofu Ink Press, The Spectacle, Dreginald, LitGleam, The Metaworker, and Spectrum.

Taylor Sklenar

Graduate Assistant [A&BE]

Taylor Sklenar is a playwright, poet, and theatre artist pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing and the Environment.  He received his Bachelors’ degrees in chemistry, English, and performing arts from ISU and his MA in Theatre from the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he served as the managing director of the Missouri Playwrights’ Workshop and the Mizzou New Play Series.  He is the resident playwright at a Minneapolis based theatre company, 2140 Productions, and the founder of Ames based theatre collective, Focal Theatre Lab which explores new and experimental work.  His writing, which explores the intersection of science, poetry, and theatre, includes Of Madness and the Electric Dream, Dead Silence, Baby I’ll Turn the Sky Green for You, Inheritance, Fission, and {AV:VR:RL}, and has been work-shopped or produced at Tallgrass Theatre’s Iowa Playwrights’ Workshop, StageWest Des Moines’s Scriptease, Theatre Cedar Rapids, Focal Theatre Lab, Minnesota Fringe, Scene One Theatre, the Missouri Playwrights’ Workshop, The William Inge Festival, and the Kennedy Center Undergraduate Playwrights Workshop.

Zoe Stonetree

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Zoe Stonetree grew up in eastern and central Maine, then headed a few miles west to pursue her BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maine Farmington. She has also lived in Juneau, AK, Boston, MA, and Ames, IA.

Zoe has been an editorial assistant at AGNI, a poetry reader for Harvard Review, and a poetry fellow at Alice James Books. Her essays and poems explore the intersections of local identity, landscape, daily life, artistic practice, and conceptions of home and belonging. She also likes phenomenology, ecology, and relief printmaking. Almost everything she writes is ultimately about Maine.

Kendra Tillberry

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Kendra Tillberry uses creative nonfiction essays to build connections between our lives and the physical world. In her writing, she braves unforged paths and leans into vulnerability to convey a rich, emotion-filled experience. Kendra has been published in How We Are, the online literary magazine dedicated to telling stories from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kendra earned an MA degree in creative writing and publishing from the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and a BA in political science and English literature from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. For six years, she worked as a communications strategist in school public relations where she served two of the top five largest school districts in Minnesota. An avid traveler, Kendra has been to more than 40 states and 15 countries around the world and uses these experiences to enrich her writing.

Usually, she’s writing or reading, but when she’s not, you can catch Kendra hiking or spending time with her beloved gaggle of humans and animals she calls her “geese.”

More information can be found at:

Eleanore Tisch

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Eleanore Tisch (she/her) is a poet, born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She began her love affair with language, theatre, and art at a very young age, ever inspired by the city teeming around and within her. She studied Writing & Literature in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and went on to earn her M.A. in Education Foundations, Policy, and Practice from CU-Boulder.

She brought a piece of the Rocky Mountains with her when she moved back to the midwest (quite literally). She loves school (or rather, any setting where folks can gather, read, respond, and discuss) and is intent on working towards reforms for a more equitable, just, and sane public education system. Her writing incorporates information scrappily, from anywhere she can find: a textbook assigned by a professor, an advertisement on the L, a sheet of paper blown onto her porch by unknown winds. She practices listening to the world with her whole body.

She believes deeply in the power of language to harm and to heal, to bless and to vex, to bring a human being more deeply into themselves and their surroundings. She is obsessed by the miracle of bodies, the multiverse, by organic patterns, lightning bugs, thunderstorms, octopi, and her two cats, Goose and Otter.

A first-year MFA student, Eleanore is honored to be a 2022-2023 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Work is play and play is work - she couldn't be more excited to do both while studying alongside her cohort in Ames.

Geneva Evie Toland

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Geneva Evie Toland (she/her) is a writer, farmer, naturalist, and educator currently residing on the ancestral lands of the Baxoje people. As a first-year MFA student and 2022-2023 Pearl Hogrefe fellow in Creative Writing and the Environment, Geneva is humbled and excited to spend the next three years writing at the intersection of land and body.

Her work is informed by her studies in environmental science, ecology, and ethnobotany at Vassar College and the Wilderness Awareness School, her apprenticeship in equity and justice work at Fierce Allies, her experience with chronic illness, and her devotion to the more-than-human world.

When not at her desk, Geneva can be found looking for birds and wildflowers, playing her guitar and writing songs, or in her robe watching New Girl.

Leah VanSyckel

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Leah VanSyckel is captivated by the speculative, sensory, and sacramental along with their interactions with environmental imagination and outdoor engagement. A second-year candidate for the MFA in Creative Writing and Environment, she focuses on fiction but plays across genres, exploring themes of hospitality, home, and place in poetry, non-fiction, and game narratives. Broadly inquisitive, Leah is happy to learn whenever possible, from conversations with friends, through texts, or by practicing the liturgies of faith. She pursues joy and abundance through hiking, swimming, and time with family.

Elizabeth Wenger

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Elizabeth J. Wenger is a creative nonfiction writer from Tulsa, OK. She is interested in exploring various ideas and definitions of ‘The Natural’ in politics, culture, technology, and the built environment. Wenger graduated from the University of Kansas in 2019. Since graduating, she’s been just bopping around and having a good time.

Allya Yourish

Graduate Assistant [ENGL]

Allya Yourish is a poet from Portland, Oregon with a passion for curation and visual art. She studied representations of grief and memory in Holocaust museums at New College of Florida, moved to France to be an au pair, lived as a Tumbleweed in the Parisian English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company, received a Fulbright grant to teach secondary school in Kuala Krau, Malaysia, and worked as a News Assistant for the New York Times. Her work focuses on crystallizing beautiful moments and making intentional space for tenderness. When not writing, she’s usually talking about her cats, camping at Ledges, or despairing in front of a too-long to-do list.

Kelsey Zimmerman

Graduate Assistant [COMXT]

Kelsey Zimmerman is a writer and visual artist from Ann Arbor, Michigan currently in her second year of Iowa State’s MFA program in Creative Writing & Environment, where she is concurrently pursuing a certificate in Geographic Information Systems. Her work explores themes of family, loneliness, and wilderness – the wilderness in nature and within ourselves – and she’s always looking for new ways to use image + text together. A 2021 Best of the Net nominee, you can find her work at her website,