Just in the past few months, at least six books by Creative Writing alumni have hit the shelves. With a variety of genres — memoir, young adult fiction, short stories, poetry — widespread acclaim follows these titles, reflecting the continued eminence of the Master of Fine Arts program in the literary world.
Molly Giles’ All The Wrong Places (Lost Horse Press/Willow Springs Editions) won the 2013 Spokane Prize, as “a wild and adventurous read.” The collection’s 19 strange, tightly woven tales merge the mythic and the modern with dark humor and deep humanity. Many of the stories contain contemporary versions of ancient guides: a ghost dog seen by a young drifter in love with a much older guru, a wild goat on a cliff forever standing beside her dead ram glimpsed by a woman whose husband battles cancer, and a volcano goddess with a small dog appearing to a woman whose boyfriend is flirting with her teenage daughter.
Giles (B.A., ’75; M.A., ’81) is the author of three award winning story collections, Rough Translations, Creek Walk and Bothered, and a novel, Iron Shoes. Previous awards include the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Small Press Short Fiction Award, Boston Globe Award, Bay Area Book Reviewers Award, two Pushcart Prizes and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. A professor emerita, she taught at SF State from 1981 to 2001.
Kelly Loy Gilbert
Kelly Loy Gilbert’s debut novel Conviction (Disney-Hyperion) has developed a buzz on the teenage circuit, appearing on numerous summer reading lists and best-sellers charts. “A poignant look at the messiness of love, faith and humanity,” the School Library Journal writes. It explores questions of faith and family through the nuanced story of Braden, a star pitcher whose world is turned upside down when his father is accused of murder.
Loy Gilbert (M.F.A., ’10) is a fiction writer who believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to complex, broken people. Her writing has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Shrapnel and the Kenyon Review. She has served on the NaNoWriMo Associate Board and led creative writing workshops for teens.
Peter Coyote has remained in the spotlight for his many talents throughout the past five decades. A writer, hippie, activist and actor, Coyote recounts his travels in his second memoir, The Rainman’s Cure: An Irregular Education (Counterpoint Press). Kirkus Reviews describes the book as an “artfully rendered chronicle of his intriguing journey from confused, privileged youth to enlightened Zen practitioner.”
Coyote (attended, ’65) has enjoyed roles in E.T., Erin Brockovich and Cross Creek, and narrated more than 120 documentaries for the likes of PBS. He was a prominent figure in San Francisco counterculture, as a founder of the Diggers, which supplied free food, free housing and free medical aid to the hordes of runaways during the 1967 Summer of Love.
Toni Graham’s The Suicide Club (University of Georgia Press) won the 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. The people in her eight interlaced stories are “bound together by the worst sort of grief, the kind that can devour you after someone close takes his or her own life.” Wednesday evenings in Hope Springs, Oklahoma, offer the usual middle American options: television, recreation-league sports, eating out and church. For Slater, Holly and SueAnn, it’s when their suicide survivors group meets. Graham (M.F.A., ’96) teaches creative writing at Oklahoma State University, where she serves as editor in chief and fiction editor of the Cimarron Review. Her other short-story collections are also winners — Waiting for Elvis grabbed the John Gardner Book Award, and The Daiquiri Girls took home the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction.
Quintan Ana Wikswo
Quintan Ana Wikswo’s The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far (Coffee House Press) is a collection of short stories and photographs. She first derived the book by creation stories told by her parents — a preacher and a physicist.
“Their stories were perplexingly parallel yet divergent — atoms versus Adam, states of matter, heaven and hell, charged particles, good and evil,” Wikswo says in her artist statement. “I came to realize that the experience of passing in and out of existence is an uneasy one, with no answers, only theories. Unconvinced by their explanations, I concluded I was likely not a human child, and unbound by their rules, I began to create my own.”
Wikswo (M.F.A., ’03) is a writer and visual artist whose work integrates fiction, poetry, memoir and essay with her original photographs, performance and video. Her works are published, performed and exhibited internationally. Her projects have received multiple solo museum shows in New York City and Germany, including the Berlin Jewish Museum. A former human-rights worker, Wikswo uses salvaged government typewriters and cameras to navigate known, unknown and occluded worlds, especially obscured sites where crimes against humanity have taken place.
Jesse Nissim’s full-length book of poetry, Day cracks between the bones of the foot (Furniture Press Books, 2015), is already a finalist for literary awards, including the top prize from the National Poetry Series Open Competition, first prize from the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Poetry Competition, the Kinereth Ginseler Award from Alice James Books, Poets Out Loud Prize from Fordham University Press and Brittingham Prize in Poetry from University of Wisconsin Press.
Nissim (M.F.A., ’05), Humanities Faculty Fellow at Syracuse University, is the author of several poetry chapbooks, including Nesting Instinct, SELF NAMED BODY and Alphabet for M. Her book manuscript has been a finalist for the National Poetry Series, Alice James Books Kinereth Gensler Award, Cleveland State University Poetry Center Award and others. She has received grants from the Ragdale and Saltonstall foundations, and her poem “Fire” was selected by Juliana Spahr as the winner of Spoon River Poetry Review’s 2013 Editor’s Prize.
- Molly Giles
- Kelly Loy Gilbert
- Peter Coyote
- Toni Graham
- Quintan Ana Wikswo
- Jesse Nissim
- Creative Writing Department
Photo: Quintan Ana Wikswo. Courtesy of Quintan Ana Wikswo.