I wanted to get out of teaching high school students. Really, that's how this whole thing started. When I couldn't get a different, better job, I struggled along in a terrible situation (although sustained by several great colleagues and many wonderful students there). In 2011, I took part in a Summer Seminar for Teachers at the Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library, where I started what would become my final manuscript for my MFA. At the Cullman Center, the Dean of the Teachers' Program, Sam Swope (a gifted and renowned writer himself) and the novelist Maile Chapman encouraged me to keep writing. I began to think about applying to grad programs for an MFA in Creative Writing: Fiction. Then I actually did apply. Then Pitt accepted me. Then I turned Pitt down. Then Pitt re-accepted me, this time with a full ride.
Because Pitt ends its school year so early, I'm typing this almost precisely three years after I accepted Pitt's offer and began to think of myself as an MFA student. On Saturday, I'll graduate. It's been a wonderful, awful, strange and compelling journey and I have many, many, many people to thank for helping me on it. I'd like to spend some space here thanking them, because I need to pay witness to all of the people who helped me along the way. This was a dream I didn't even know I had until four years ago. The fulfillment of it should be a pleasure to many more people than just me.
First, I must thank my family. My parents welcomed my move back to Pittsburgh and steadfastly supported me emotionally, financially and, um, in food. Being closer to them has been one of the great joys of this life. I'm also thankful for my brother, Justin, and sister-in-law, Kate. They are always ready to listen to my stories about grad school life and support my writing. They've also covered quite a few meals and baseball tickets for me, and provided me with the great joy of my life recently, my dog niece Freda. I've also grateful to my aunts, Gladys and Nedra, who've been cheering for me -- and giving me wise advice -- for a long time now.
Even though Andrew has only visited Pittsburgh once since I moved here, he looms large in the imagination of my friends in town, as well he should. His stalwart belief in my talent and unshakeable friendship were what lead me to believe I could do something like get an MFA at the age of 40. He reads EVERYTHING I publish, no small task, and listens to me ramble on for three hours at a time. Thank you, Roo. Thank you, too, to my other dear New York friends: Corey, Vic, Jen, Duck, Gordon, Casey and especially the better-read-than-me Mark, all of whom have done me the favor of pretending I've never left.
Melissa has kept me in her heart even when her heart has been overtaxed. I'm so grateful to her and her family (including my beautiful Godchildren) and I hope that now that I'm done, we'll have more time to chat! I'm also thankful, as always, for Christine and Paul, and their two beautiful children (one of whom arrived in the midst of this MFA nonsense), whose constant love and friendship is an example to all. (Also hoping for more time for chatting with you now, too, Teenie!)
Thanks, too, to the across-the-pond support from my sister from another...country, Alice Bell. She's always in my corner. Thank you, dear.
I'm grateful, too, for the support of my teacher friends: the beautiful and kind Erica and Danielle, who supported me even when it meant leaving our fun times together. Also, Natalia, who I met at the Cullman Center residency, and who's made time to be my cheerleader ever since. And Rachel and Kelli, too.
I've thankful for "church friends" who became real friends. I'm blessed by the love and support of Magda, who treats everything I write as if it were pure gold. I'm also supported by my online (some of whom are also IRL) friends, of whom there are many: Nancy, Faith, Chris, Peter, Seth, Meg, John, Dan, Katherine, Evan, Miki, Tirzah, Dawn, Jenny, Maya, Susan and many, many more. Thank you for being excited when I publish something! You have been more helpful to me that you know, truly.
Before I moved to Pittsburgh, I worried that I wouldn't make any friends in the "big city" (which the 'Burgh still seemed to me to be despite 14 years of living in NYC). Thankfully, I did not need to worry. Jennifer was my first friend, and the Amys are my latest friends. I'm so thankful for them and for all the friends in between. And especially for Melissa who has provided wisdom and friendship for lo, these two years. Thank you also to my church home, Zion Lutheran, for loving me and praying for me even when I only show up once every four weeks.
That Brett and I ended up in the same city 20 years after becoming friends at first seemed like a nifty coincidence and now feels like a great gift. Thanks, old pal.
Gretel's not in Pittsburgh, but, she, too, has been a wonderful friend for many years. Since I moved back, she has shared her car, parents and best friend with me. Here's to many more pho dinners and penguin walks, Gretel!
I am especially grateful the line between employer/employee has been so poorly drawn in Pittsburgh as to allow me to make friends with my bosses and co-workers. When I came to Pittsburgh, I joined the Gateway to the Arts TALL team, and while I see some of them every week and others not for months at a time, I am still very grateful for the community I feel with Adil, Maritza, Desiree, Genna, Bridgette, Blaine, Alisha, Ricardo, Soham and Sophia. My particular love to Paul for being my stalwart theatre-going-and-discussing friend. Christina, too, deserves a line of her own: friend, colleague, employer, co-star and a joy in every role. Thank you, Christina.
I love my City Theatre boss, Kristen, and my colleague Siovhan, too. The Young Playwrights Program at City Theatre is amazing and it has truly been an honor to work with students throughout the region for City and Gateway (and the Pittsburgh Public too). Thanks for including me, Kristen! Thanks for all the talks, Siovhan! Here's to more with you both!
Kazumi, Michelle, Caleb, Rachel, Gavin, Gabrielle, Scott and Frank all began at Pitt at the same time as me. They've challenged my thinking, shown me what good writing is and become friends. Thanks, guys. Thanks, too, to Pitt MFA-ers coming along after me: Sara, Cumi, Molly, Morgan and more, for your friendship and intelligence. I'm also grateful to the doctoral candidates who've befriended me: Carrie, Justin, Katherine, Katie, Kirsten and more. It's been good to hear from the other side of the academic divide! And I'm grateful to MFA graduates before me, who shared their knowledge and passion: Jen Bannan, Jen Howard, Stephanie, Jon, Jon and more. Thank you!
My professors at Pitt have put up with a lot from me. I could not have been an easy student to have at times. So, thank you, Irina, my manuscript chair and friend, and Angie, who counseled me through some tough times as a fiction writer. Thank you, too, to Bill and Fiona, who taught me in my first year when I was floundering, and were kind to me. Thank you, Peter, the first great champion of my CNF work at Pitt, and to Michael, the second and most fervent. You guys made me feel like a writer worth reading; I'm grateful. I'm also thankful to Hannah, Don, Phil and Gayle, professors of the literature courses I took at Pitt. I learned much from each of you, and was dazzled by your intelligence.
I must also express my sincere thanks to the people of Pitt who helped me. Maura and Beth employed me at the Athletic Center's Writing Tutoring Program. Stacey, Lisa and Rebecca in the Graduate Studies Office were unfailing helpful to me, often at the last minute (my fault!). Mark, Jesse, Jesse-Burton, Sandy, Alyssa and Denise in the English department offices -- and their colleagues -- were unfailingly helpful. They work so hard to very little acclaim. Thank you. I'm especially grateful to Nancy Glazener, who always had a helpful response to any question I asked her. Jeff Oaks fielded myriad queries from me with good humor, too. Thank you, Jeff and Nancy.
Thank you to my former students at BTAHS and Stella. Many of you have been working on degrees at the same time as me. It is strange, I suppose, to be complaining about a final paper at the same time my former students were, but quite lovely, too. I am proud of you. All of you. Thank you for being proud of me.
Finally, my students at Pitt. Of all the people listed here besides my family, I spent the most time in various classrooms with various groups of young people over the past 3 years. It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with you, and watch you grow. You've kept me young(ish) and happier than you realize. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Now, what's next?