UMSL Magazine: fall 2011

Page 17

MFA in Creative Writing program In August, John Dalton opened the latest chapter of the Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. He was named director of a program started in 1998 by David Carkeet. The two novelists’ roles bookend Mary Troy’s run of nearly 13 years as director. Dalton credits Troy, a novelist and short story writer, with nurturing the MFA in Creative Writing to where it is today: a reputable program that attracts talented writers from across the country, produces the semiannual literary journal Natural Bridge and graduates award-winning poets and fiction writers. And it’s not finished there. “Our program is growing, especially on the fiction side,” Dalton says. “We’re getting more and more appliPhoto by August Jennewein

cants. And we’re getting better and better students every year.”

He sought a job teaching high school

ence his acclaimed debut novel,

But the reception has been good.

He points to talents like student

English. But that objective was short-

“Heaven Lake,” which was also

It probably helps that Dalton

Angela Mitchell, one of four Riverfront

lived after being saddled with five

published by Scribner.

navigates the darkness with great

Times MasterMinds recipients this

warmth in writing his characters.

year. She was recognized for her

The Wall Street Journal praised

award-winning short stories and a

his prose calling it “polished and

promising beginning to her first novel.

crisp.” Entertainment Weekly

Dalton says the goal moving forward

perhaps best nailed down the

is to bolster the poetry side of the

dynamic of the novel: “While

program. To help do this, the program

some of what’s described is

recently received approval for adding

anything but pleasant, reading

a tenure-track poet to the Department

it certainly is.”

of English faculty.

With two successful novels now

“Our current MFA poetry students are

on the shelf, Dalton is settling

terrific, and we have faculty members

into his new role as director of

with excellent books of poetry and great

an MFA in Creative Writing pro-

teaching skills,” Dalton said. “But we

gram that is gaining prominence

need to find an eager and accomplished

with each passing year. That’s

new poet to push the program forward.”

consecutive seventh grade classes at his first teaching gig.

Upon returning stateside, he enrolled in a prestigious MFA in creative writ-

“I worked harder than I ever worked

ing program, graduated and returned

in my life just trying to control these

to his roots in St. Louis and UMSL.

kids and keep up with all of the pa-

He then wrote two books.

perwork,” he says. “It wasn’t that I was a terrible teacher, it was those seventh graders. I couldn’t control some of those classes.”

His latest, “The Inverted Forest.” focuses its first half on a fortnight at fictional Kinderman Forest Camp in the Ozarks of Missouri. The inexpe-

His teaching contract was not

rienced counselors struggle to man-

renewed. Dalton says he remembers

age a group of mentally disabled

feeling like a huge failure.

campers. The second half deals with

“As so often happens in cases

the fallout from a disastrous camp

of failure, it sort of makes you do


something drastic,” he says.

“I was a little worried about how

a long way from a futureless

In his case, that meant moving away.

‘Heaven Lake’ readers would receive

career as a pot scrubber or failed

To Taiwan. There he taught English,

a book that was darker, stranger

high school teacher. Is it luck?

paid off his student debt and gained

and went to a few uncomfortable

Maybe. If so, Dalton has made

an experience that would later influ-

places,” Dalton says.

his own luck.

Visit to learn more about the MFA in Creative Writing program.


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