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MFA students mentor community with craft writing talks

ASU grad students hold the program's first creative writing conference

Natasha Murdock teaches a class on World Building in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.
Natasha Murdock teaches a class on World Building in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.

Graduate students in ASU’s Master of Fine Arts creative writing program held a conference over the weekend for students and community members alike, giving grad students professional experience and inviting the community to join the world of creative writing.

The first annual Writer’s Craft: An ASU Conference on Community and Craft took over the Durham Language and Literature building from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m on Jan. 28. Attendees chose between eight different sessions, ranging in topics from revision, lyric narrative, long form poetry and honest fiction.

The conference was the brain child of MFA poetry student, Natasha Murdock, the conference’s founding director. The idea came to Murdock in fall semester.

“I was just thinking about how when I was an undergraduate, I was given a scholarship to go to a writers’ conference and it was incredibly helpful and motivating,” Murdock said. “The cost of most writers’ conferences is very expensive. I was trying to think of a way that we could provide that service.”

The conference also served a second purpose: giving Murdock and her peers in ASU’s MFA program a platform to speak and develop their own craft talk.

“Part of leaving grad school is applying for teaching jobs and usually you have to give a lecture,” Murdock said. “So it kind of served both communities at the same time, where MFA students get the chance to develop a short lecture that they can give whenever they need.”

Murdock said she thinks craft talks can be beneficial for writers of any experience, especially when given by someone they haven’t worked or studied with.

Alejandra Alvarez, a creative writing junior, felt like she had already learned a lot after her first session.

“I really liked the first (session) about revision because that’s something I struggle with,” said Alvarez. “It was really helpful, the information that we received. I really like to have really structural points and it was like that.”

The session was led by Kathyrn Hill, a MFA candidate in fiction at ASU.

“Admitting your first draft is a first draft — it’s hard, I know I struggle with that,” she said.

Hill discussed various ideas and methods of outlining one’s work, as well as questions to consider when having trouble writing a narrative.

Another session was led by C. Connor Syrewicz, a fiction editor at Hayden's Ferry Review, an instructor and second-year MFA candidate in fiction at ASU.

Syrewicz’s craft talk discussed the composition of honest fiction and a character’s interiority and exteriority — whether or not they share their thoughts with the reader.

“I absolutely love this. It saved my life in a lot of ways,” said Syrewicz about fiction writing during his talk.

As more desks were brought in to accommodate the group of more than 40 attendees in his classroom, Syrewicz said that it was amazing to see a room packed to see him speak.

For those looking to expand their writing skills or discuss their work in a professional setting, the graduate program is planning to continue their community outreach.

“We’re going to open up a session for about three different community workshops that will be facilitated by a grad student or two that meets like once a month,” Murdock said.

Murdock said the workshops will allow students and other community members to bring their work in once a month and have a writing community to belong to.

She also said the workshops might extend to include a short lecture series like the conference for those who couldn’t dedicate a full Saturday.

Murdock said she thinks the community writing group will be helpful for current students as well as the large transfer student population who often come into the creative writing program after writing cohorts have been formed.

“That was another way that kind of extends beyonds the University to say, ‘Hey, we’re not stuck up or scary. We’re awesome,’” Murdock said. “We want to make you feel comfortable here.”

Reach the reporter at or follow @carsonmlnarik on Twitter.

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