Current MFA Students

M. Molly Backes

Graduate Student [ENGL]

M. Molly Backes is the author of the young adult novel The Princesses of Iowa (Candlewick Press, 2012), which was named Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Fiction for Teens (2013), Forever Young Adult’s Best YA Books of 2012, and was a finalist on’s Best-Ever Teen Novels list in 2012. Her work has appeared in The Prairie Wind, Human Parts, The Rumpus, and the anthology Good Dogs Doing Good. She has performed her personal essays at reading series including Essay FiestaFunny Ha-HaIs This a Thing? and Sunday Salon, and is a frequent guest at writing conferences and festivals across the country.

An accomplished teacher, she has run creative writing workshops for adults and teens across the Midwest. Her teaching career began in rural New Mexico, where she got all 135 of her seventh and eighth grade students to write novels for National Novel Writing Month. Later she moved to Chicago, where she became the assistant director of StoryStudio Chicago, a creative writing studio on the city’s north side, and served as a poet-in-residence with The Poetry Center of Chicago’s Hands On Stanzas program and as an educational ambassador for the Lincoln Park Zoo.

A graduate of Grinnell College, Molly has lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Illinois. She’s not the kind of person to play favorites or anything, but she might just like Iowa the best.

Julia Bilek

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [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.

Iza Bruen-Morningstar

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Born and raised in Northern New Mexico, Iza Bruen-Morningstar spent most of her life in arid, jagged places. Iza earned a degree from Prescott College in Natural History and Ecology, with a minor in writing. While pursuing her degree, she discovered that Natural History is, in many ways, interpretive storytelling, as a Naturalist’s purpose is to observe honestly and accurately the many connections within the natural world and condense those observations into cohesive narratives. This realization is why she attends ISU.

Iza has been fortunate to work as an avian field biologist, naturalist, and obsessive analyzer and creator of narratives in Nevada, California, Utah, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico and Sonora, Mexico. During her time at ISU she hopes to hone her abilities as both a writer and a naturalist, and to further explore the overlap between those vocations.

Danielle Buchanan

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Danielle Lea Buchanan, an Master of Fine Arts student, was fortunate to receive the generous CWE Graduate Fellowship that granted her time to further pursue her writing interests during her first year in the program: classism, socio-economics, Midwestern and Southern rurality, trauma theory, collective and generational trauma, intergenerational relationships in adverse family structures, social systems that perpetuate oppression, enculturation and acculturation, the cyclical navigations of poverty, and family system’s models—most notably Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bioecology of human development. She remains in un-ebbed awe of humanities resilience.

Most presently, she’s a “fiction” candidate at Iowa State University who revels in the opportunity to be deeply re-rooted home: The Midwest. Danielle is at work on “Zonkey!”—a novel-in-progress whose focus lies within marginalized communities of the Ozark region with aims to obliterate systemic structures that cyclically perpetuate social injustice, as well as explore trauma’s navigations through generational lineage. Lastly, she’s difficulty at work on a difficult project to make the difficulty of the Avant Garde less difficult by difficulty rejuvenating difficulty in wildly bombastic, fresh effervescence.

Danielle’s poetry, hybridities, fiction, book reviews, interviews and oddities have appeared in McSweeney’s, Puerto del Sol, New Delta Review, Mid-American Review, Psychopomp, Robot Melon, Dinosaur Bees, Whole Beast Rag, and other elsewheres.

Kartika Budhwar

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Kartika Budhwar writes about the porous borderlands where myth meets history, where fiction meets memory, where the colonizer and colonized come together, where languages spar and fuse, where gender and sexuality collapse upon themselves, where the supernatural and the organic have equal claim.

She has an MFA in Creative Writing from NCSU and is currently a Second Year candidate in the MFA program for Creative Writing and Environment. In her first year, she was a recipient of the CWE Fellowship and the Hogrefe Grant. She was also a Summer Writer in Residence at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.

These incredibly generous gifts of time and resources have allowed her to enjoy teaching young people, finish the first draft of a novel on sea turtles and goddesses, and to begin a collection of short pieces about the inhabitants of aforementioned borderlands; the young, the migrant, the queer, the homeless, the non-human, the linguistic and cultural orphans of our age.

Her work is forthcoming in the Indiana Review.

Aimee Burch

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Aimee Burch is a first year MFA student who embraces her identity as a “native Illinoisan, adopted Iowan.”

Originally from Springfield, Illinois, Aimee has toured all the major Lincoln sites and eaten plenty of horseshoes (look it up if you’re curious). She graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (emphasis in mass media) and a minor in Political Science from the University of Illinois-Springfield, where she published (a few) articles in the campus newspaper. Because she wanted to spend time with her friends, Aimee joined the Model Illinois Government organization and served two years as Editor-in-Chief of the MIG Journal.

In 2011, Aimee came to Iowa State University to pursue a master’s degree in journalism. Her thesis, “Sourcing and Framing the 2012 Battle for the White House: A Student Media Analysis,” studied student newspapers from three swing states during the 2012 presidential election cycle. She received an ISU Research Excellence Award for her thesis and was published in the Newspaper Research Journal. She also served as a reporter and news editor for the Iowa State Daily.

Currently, Aimee teaches introductory English courses for ISUComm and plans to pursue creative nonfiction during her time as an MFA student.

Caroliena Cabada

Graduate Assistant-Research [ENGL]

Caroliena Cabada is a first year MFA candidate at Iowa State University. Her experiences so far have placed her at the overlap of science, communication, and the arts, and she hopes to continue exploring that space through fiction writing.

She holds a BA in Chemistry from New York University, though her first internship and work experiences drew her into the world of communications and social media for nonprofits in New York. Most recently, she was a Social Media Editor at the Natural Resources Defense Council where she managed the Food and Sustainable Agriculture accounts, including the Save The Food public service campaign created by NRDC and the Ad Council.

Her stories primarily focus on intergenerational conflict, climate change, being Filipino-American, and food (a lot of food). She has been published in NYU’s oldest literary magazine, The Minetta Review, as well as here and there around the internet.

Zara Chowdhary

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Zara Chowdhary is a screenwriter with an MA in Writing for Performance from the University of Leeds. She’s now getting acquainted with prose fiction and rekindling her love affair with poetry through the course of the MFA in Creative Writing and the Environment at Iowa State.

From being that 18 year old kid sweeping the shooting floor on a movie set, she’s worked her way up as a producer and assistant director for TV commercials and indie projects, has run a digital filmmaking studio in Mumbai for five years, served as a senior copywriter on nationwide ad campaigns, and managed to raise a child and a cat with some sanity to spare. The last thing she did before she packed their lives up to move bag and baggage to the US was work in a Bollywood film and distribution studio as one of six storytellers in their Writers’ Room. Plotting and character-defining action are her cocaine.

She enjoys being able to tell stories in everything she does: write, dance, sing, sketch or photograph. She hopes to someday direct a screenplay she’s scripted, adapted from a novel she’s written, inspired by a poem that’s come to her based on a dream she’s dreamed.

Renee Christopher

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Renee Christopher is a third year who writes speculative fiction and poetry that explores monstrosity, feminism, power dynamics, and how humans relate to their natural and urban environments. She's currently at work on an urban fantasy YA novel for her thesis project. When she’s not writing, she enjoys dancing, the occasional yoga session, watching television, and cooking spectacular breakfasts. In her off-time she reads submissions for the speculative fiction magazine, Uncanny.

Brendan Curtin

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Brendan Curtin grew up on the north coast of the Midwest and on his aunt's and uncle’s sheep farm in Upstate New York. He graduated from Hiram College in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and held an editorial internship with Big Stone Publishing in Carbondale, Colorado. After college, Brendan walked over 7,600 miles across the United States, and it is this experience—along with its questions of love, isolation, conservation, and absolutism—that he wishes to explore in his nonfiction work at Iowa State. Brendan has been published in Appalachia and Trail Runner magazine.

Richard Frailing

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Richard Frailing is a first year poetry student in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment. He hopes to push his narrative poetry further into the blurry space between poetry and lyrical nonfiction. His undergraduate education in both biology and English is apparent in poems which focus largely on the juxtaposition between intimate spaces and the impersonality of the natural world. The spectres of physical and biological evolution consistently intrude into scenes of human closeness, often culminating in meditations on disintegration and memory.

Along these moody lines, Richard is also a passionate musician in love with thoughtfully warped sounds and the warm hug of analog distortion. Before he filled every cubic inch of his 2007 Prius with belongings and drove from the salt marshes of southeast VA to the IA prairies, he played guitar in the post-rock band Heliotrope. Digital distortion and the tendency toward impersonality in our plugged-in society is another spectre he hopes to examine in more factual pieces.

Richard has lived his whole life in VA, and would not have found his love of verse or the natural world without his undergraduate mentors at Old Dominion University Timothy Seibles and Dr. Lytton Musselman, both of whom he will be forever grateful to. Though he’ll miss hiking with his bandmates along the prehistoric ridges of Appalachia and drinking gose beer by the waterways of Hampton Roads, he is honored and ecstatic to further his literary pursuits at Iowa State where he hopes to immediately start basking in the geological and biological quirks of the prairies.

Jack Friend

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Jack Friend is a student in the MFA Creative Writing and Environment program. He graduated from Reed College in 2005, earned his Masters in Education in 2014, and has taught all grade levels. He writes horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Jack can provide information on eating in Ames, finding things to do around town, and what kinds of communities are in the MFA program. Also, if you are of a nerdly persuasion, he can clue you in on the Magic, DND, and Pathfinder groups that are already alive and well in the English department.

Jon M. Galletley III

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Jon M. Galletley III is a first year MFA fiction writer. His focuses are currently speculative science fiction and apocalyptic horror, but also dabbles in non-fiction and social justice writing. He’s a proud father and supportive husband.

He recently graduated from Iowa State University, receiving his BA in English, with a focus on creative writing. He grew up in California and moved to Iowa with his family in 2007, where he discovered his love for writing.

Nancy Hayes

Graduate Student [ENGL]

Nancy Hayes grew up on the banks of the Mississippi in Davenport, Iowa. She earned a BA in English from Smith College, an MA in English from the University of Connecticut, and after nine years of teaching English in southern Germany, she commuted to Iowa City from Davenport to earn an MFA in Literary Translation and a PhD in Comparative Literature. She translated medieval German love songs for the MFA and wrote her dissertation on the Renaissance witch figure as a negative maternal construct, all the while trying hard to be a positive maternal construct for her three children. Now a Professor Emerita, Nancy taught English for nineteen years at St. Ambrose University in Davenport where she became known as the Shakespeare Lady.

Nancy is shifting from teaching literature to writing it—-shifting from Old to New World subjects. With her poetry, she wants to dig into her eastern Iowa soil to discover past lives, to dignify Native American traditions, to understand the unsettling impact of the European settlers, and to write paeans to the beauty of the Big and Little Bluestem and the Pale Yellow Coneflower. [Nancy and her husband re-established a prairie on his family homestead next to the Toolesboro Indian Mounds above the confluence of the Iowa and the Mississippi Rivers. Here the Hopewell honored their dead 2,000 years ago, the Oneota built a large village 400 years ago, and Black Hawk with his defeated band of warriors dwelled after the Black Hawk War of 1832.]??

Emily Horner

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Emily Horner is an MFA student in the Creative Writing and Environment program, and the 2016-17 recipient of the Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship in Creative Writing. She is the author of A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, a top-ten title on the American Library Association’s Rainbow Project Book List for 2011. She also holds a BA in Linguistics from McGill University and a Master’s of Library and Information Science from the University of North Carolina. In 2001 she studied classical Japanese literature in Nagasaki, Japan as a recipient of a scholarship from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

Before relocating to Ames, she spent eight years as a young adult librarian with Brooklyn Public Library. She writes about girlhood, adolescence, cyborgs, witches, and how humans exist in relationship with urban and suburban environments.

Allison Justus

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Allison Boyd Justus grew up at the southern edge of McMinnville, Tennessee, in the shadow of Ben Lomond Mountain.

At Freed-Hardeman University, she pursued studies in literature, music, and biblical languages, as well as excursions in threatening weather, theatre, and late-night metaphysical deliberations over AOL Instant Messenger, resulting in an Arts & Humanities degree, an English minor, and a Master of Arts in New Testament Studies.

Allison has worked as a waitress, a library assistant, an ESL teacher, and a gifted education facilitator. Her poetry has appeared in Penwood Review, Nibble, Calliope, Madcap Review, Quail Bell, and Contemporary American Voices, within a mural at a science discovery center, and on the podcast Versify. Allison once spent a year watching sunrises, a project which developed into her first book, Solstice to Solstice to Solstice (Alternating Current Press, 2017). A first-year student in Iowa State's MFA program, Allison brings to her writing interests in linguistics, mysticism, biblical translation and exegesis, ecology, feminism, midrash, and the intellectual and artistic implications of intense sensory and emotional experiences.


Amalie Kwassman

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Amalie Kwassman is an MFA student in the Creative Writing and Environment program at Iowa State. She is a poet from Brooklyn, New York and a graduate of Smith College. She has experience teaching in New York with Teach for America. Amalie has received scholarships from the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. She has been a guest speaker and spoken word performer at The Anne Frank Center, Dixon Place and The National Conference for Community and Justice. She reflects on urban life, religion and how many poems she can write while riding the NYC subway train.

Zach Lisabeth

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Zach Lisabeth wrote a thing once. Unless apprehended he will likely write again. He was born on Long Island and took a circuitous route to the MFA at Iowa State by way of Brooklyn, NY, Burlington, VT, Chicago, IL and Los Angeles, CA where his writing career began in earnest. He is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop at UCSD, an experience he credits with exacerbating his Weirdness.

Zach's work has appeared in several publications including Liquid Imagination, Freeze Frame Fiction, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Gaia: Shadow & Breath vol. 2 (Pantheon Press), Burningword Literary Journal and the anthology RealLies (The Zharmae Publishing Press). You can follow his intermittent outbursts on Twitter @zachlisabeth or check in with him any time at


Ana McCracken

Graduate Student [ENGL]

Ana McCracken comes to the creative writing and environment program as a non-fiction candidate far removed from her undergraduate years. Since graduating from Iowa State with a B.S. in Fashion Merchandising, McCracken has held careers as a retail buyer, director of executive education programs, and a hospice marketing director. All positions required writing, and an inciting incident caused McCracken to realize her calling was that of a writer.

McCracken’s personal essays are published in The California Writers Club Literary Review, and the anthologies Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God, The Joy of Adoption, and Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul. She is a former columnist and editor for Maui Vision Magazine. Her writing has appeared in publications around the San Francisco Bay Area.

During her tenure at Iowa State, McCracken plans to pen poems, essays, and a memoir, all of which will touch upon the entanglement of relationships as environment and place as environment. McCracken yearns to discover why certain places resonate with one person but not another? She has also become fascinated by the Welsh word, hiraeth, “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was.”


Riley Morsman

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Riley Morsman is a recent graduate of Kansas State University where she received her BA in English with minors in Nonprofit Leadership and American Ethnic Studies (although she argues that she also deserves a minor in Architecture after spending four semesters in the program). While her primary genre as an MFA candidate is creative nonfiction, Riley is also a poet and enjoys pursuing the intersection of the two in order to capture a more lyrical style to her nonfiction work.

During her graduate studies, Riley plans to research the psychological and philosophical implications of environment in order to develop depth and distinction in her work. She is also interested in the ways in which creative writing can help readers connect the seemingly disparate in our world – such as the way, in architecture, a ceiling beam might lead your eyes to a window across the room. She believes that words have the same power.

Described by a colleague as their “lovely extroverted friend of the prairie,” Riley is proud to hail from the Sunflower State. Although both she and her husband, Ben, grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, they were able to spend several years in the Flint Hills of central Kansas – a place Riley deems is the true home of “spacious skies” and “amber waves of grain.”

Dan Pankratz

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Dan Pankratz currently pursues an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment. As a social worker for five years, he served needy populations at homeless shelters, transitional homes, and mental health institutions in a number of capacities: support staff, brunch cook, security guard, and house manager. He still currently serves as a volunteer in Wisconsin State prisons, where he counsels inmates and motivates their growth as individuals.

An alumni from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he holds a bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. During his time here at Iowa State he looks forward to furthering his skills in fiction, particularly from the lens of an urban landscape.

At his core thrives the message that love and unity among all surviving cultures is the most necessary goal of our time.

Mike Robbins

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Mike Robbins is a fiction writer who, sometimes, writes a poem worth sharing. He studied English Literature at Western Connecticut State University and spent two years after college serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at education related nonprofits in New Haven, CT and Washington, DC. Before arriving in Iowa with the hip and ankle problems that corroborate his former passion for skateboarding, he lived and worked in Washington, DC as a grant writer.

He is writing a collection of short stories and a novel and is grateful to the students and faculty at Iowa State’s Creative Writing program for all of their conversation and support. He explores image culture, environmental disasters (that exist before and continue after initial spectacle of violence), and the fictional possibilities of representing the energy systems that govern our lives but remain hidden and abstracted.

Some of his favorite works of fiction over the last few years have been: 2666 (Roberto Bolaño); Yonder Stands Your Orphan (Barry Hannah); Jazz (Toni Morrison); Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood); Mao II (Don Delillo); Hill (Jean Giono); and Blow Up and Other Stories (Julio Cortazar).

He is happy to answer questions about the MFA program, teaching assistantships, editing for Flyway, public transportation, biking, not becoming a total recluse during grad school, and pretty much any other question you might have.

Keygan Sands

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Keygan Sands has entered the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment hoping to explore the relationships and reciprocity between humans and nature.

She grew up surrounded by forests and farmland in west-central Wisconsin but migrated westwards. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science and Environmental Science from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. While there, she studied carbon cycling in streams, population trends of gray whales through her internship at Cascadia Research Collective, conservation of lynxes, and a species of sea slug that steals chloroplasts. She expected to become a scientist, but upon her return to the Midwest, she got a job as a naturalist at a cave and fully realized her love of connecting people with science and nature.

She is continuing this task at ISU as a creative nonfiction writer.

Brianna Stoever

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Brianna Stoever is a recent graduate of Simpson College in Indianola and has a BA in both English and Theatre. Growing up on the southside of Des Moines, she was always imagining different landscapes and hoping to save the rainforest one tree at a time. As she began to travel, the new places started to unknowingly shape her writings and deepened her appreciation for natural surroundings. Brianna is primarily a fiction and scriptwriter with an interest in how the environment affects her characters and the way humans interact with their surroundings for better or worse.

After spending two weeks exploring Japan, Brianna’s love of environment needed a creative outlet to grow even further – and so she fell in love quickly with an MFA program that thoroughly combined her two passions. As she moves through the program, she hopes to refine her writing skills as well as find ways to connect nature to the works she creates.

She has been published in both The Indianola Review and Sequel. Additionally, Brianna has acted, directed, and designed plays, even presenting her designs at the United States Institute for Theatre Technology conference in 2017.

Crystal Stone

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Crystal spends most of her time writing poetry on her roller skates. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Driftwood, Occulum, Anomaly, BONED, Eunoia Review, isacoustics, Tuck Magazine, Writers Resist, Drunk Monkeys, Coldnoon, Poets Reading the News, Jet Fuel Review, Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, North Central Review, Badlands Review, Green Blotter, and Southword Journal Online. She gave a TEDx talk called "The Transformative Power of Poetry" the first week of April and her first collection of poetry, Knock-Off Monarch, is forthcoming from Dawn Valley Press fall 2018. You can find her in the office listening to classical music, on Twitter @justlikeastone8 or on instagram @stone.flowering where she and her younger sister make blackout poetry together.

Eric Stone

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Eric Fisher Stone is a third year MFA candidate from Fort Worth, Texas where he completed his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University. He has had poems published in various literary journals, print and online. His first full length poetry collection The Providence of Grass has recently been published by Chatter House Press.

He writes about animals, all phyla, classes and genera fascinate him. He naively believes in the goodness of people, despite the fact that they do terrible things, and that people should behave more like his favorite animal, a collared peccary, more commonly known as, a javelina. His obsessed with spaces where the nonhuman, and the human, and can meet. His poetry intends to dethrone and humble the human species from its anthropocentrism, in a galaxy of 400 billion suns, in a universe of over 100 billion galaxies. He thinks animal noises are, in fact, a language.

Shelby Rae Stringfield

Graduate Assistant-Teaching/Research [ENGL]

Shelby Rae Stringfield is currently a student in the Creative Writing and Environment MFA program. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee where she worked with the university’s undergraduate literary arts magazine, the Phoenix, as fiction editor and then editor-in-chief. She writes primarily fiction, occasionally creative nonfiction, and when prompted has been known to turn out a poem or two for which her dog, Gavin, is the primary subject and muse. Her literary loves include Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jeffrey Eugenides, Donna Tartt, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon, Colum McCann, and (when in need of a chuckle) Nick Hornby.

In her free time, she enjoys long walks around her apartment complex with Gavin, binge-watching the best of TV drama and comedy (Orphan Black, VEEP, Jane the Virgin, Orange is the New Black, and more that she will adamantly and repeatedly recommend whether her advice is solicited or not), eating, and marveling at the vastness of the corn fields in her new environment that contrast greatly against the mountain views she grew up with in the Tennessee Valley.

She can answer questions about moving from an urban area to a more rural environment as well as questions about transplanting from the south. She is happy to answer any questions about the program, coursework, the university, Ames, moving with pets, public transportation in Ames. If you would just like to discuss books, some of her favorite authors include Zadie Smith, Jeffrey Eugenides, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Michael Chabon and she would love to chat!

Michael Wettengel

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Michael Wettengel had to fight his boredom somehow as he was sandwiched between Illinoisan rural oblivion and tractless Chicagoan sprawl. So, he turned to fantasy fiction. After studying English writing and history at Illinois Wesleyan, and after spending a year out in the wider world, he has come to learn a couple of things about the arcane art of fiction writing.

Now, as a Creative Writing and Environment MFA student and recent graduate from Iowa State’s MA English Literature program, he is searching for more to learn about his craft. He plans to broaden his horizon from fantasy fiction to historical fiction and avant-garde deconstructions of form and character.

His environmental research focuses on how history and culture evolve the identity of a place. He specializes in crafting living, breathing history in his fictional places. Michael comes from a homogeneous, not-so-storied, pocket of Illinois, so the act of writing is also an act of discovery to him. He approaches his writing with the mindsets of both a creator and an explorer.

Connor White

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Born in a log cabin built with his own tiny hands, Connor White was raised in the deep-fried, sweltering suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. After a childhood’s worth of napping by creek beds and nosing around neighbors’ yards, he attended Georgia Southern University, and although he received his Bachelor’s in Multimedia Communications (namely out of laziness to swap majors halfway through undergrad), it was out in that little town swamped by cotton fields he learned to write, and that he loved to write.

His work explores the wisdom of children and elders, blurred cultural and geographic boundaries, idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, and the conflict versus nature and the self rather than versus one another. He enjoys the history, linguistics, and musical traditions of other cultures and peoples, and draws inspiration from them for his work when he can, respectfully and enthusiastically. Who needs the Kardashians when you have the Habsburgs, rulers of Europe and just as self-destructive?

Hagan Whiteleather

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Hagan Faye Whiteleather is an MFA candidate in ISU’s Creative Writing and Environment program. Hagan graduated Summa Cum Laude from Kent State University with degrees in English and Psychology, a minor in Writing, and a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language. She was also president of the English honorary society, Sigma Tau Delta, and editor of her university’s literature and arts magazine, Luna Negra. Hagan’s writing is generally of the creative nonfiction variety. Her (yet to be completed) short story cycle revolves around her Aunts and their rural upbringing.

Outside of the MFA, Hagan’s passions include reading children’s literature, watching copious amounts of television, walking aimlessly, sitting in cars, and when she is at her Ohio home—tending to her family’s youngs and olds. Additionally, she is more than mildly obsessed with Shirley Jackson, John Steinbeck, Sylvia Plath, Shel Silverstein, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Roald Dahl, and any/all of the Brontës.

Eric Williams

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Eric Williams is a first-year candidate for fiction in Iowa State’s MFA in Creative Writing and Environment. He also holds a BA in Modern Literature from UC Santa Cruz. He writes speculative fiction and essays about a future in which traditional agriculture is being replaced by synthetic alternatives, man-made food-like products. He wants to know what happens to food when you manufacture it instead of grow it, and to explore the ways these new methods of food production clash with long-established ones.

Before relocating to Ames, he spent five years and a lot of late nights working in the restaurant industry in New York City. His favorite pastimes there were riding his bike through the city like a game of Frogger and spending too much money on wine. Before New York, he spent two years in Latin America working on farms and teaching English. Outside of the MFA, Eric’s interests include gardening, running, cooking and fantasizing about the bygone era in which cell phones did not exist.

Kate Wright

Graduate Assistant-Teaching [ENGL]

Kate Wright grew up in Pennsylvania and received a BA and MA from The Pennsylvania State University in English. In her poetry, she explores life, death, and relationships. She takes special interest in familial relationships and relationships with nature, both of which were vital in her small Appalachian town. She looks forward to exploring the new landscapes that both the Midwest and her recent trip to Madagascar will bring to her writing.

In her free time, Kate enjoys trail running in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and has competed in a few trail races, ranging in distance from 7 to 17 miles. She’s excited to explore Iowa’s trails and perhaps complete a marathon. A college wrestling enthusiast (like any true Pennsylvanian), she is elated to study at Cael Sanderson’s Alma Mater, and plans to attend some matches at her new school.