Anniversary of PLU graduate program celebrates memories, highlights writers

Memories and creative readings highlighted the 10th anniversary of Pacific Lutheran University’s creative writing MFA program, the Rainier Writing Workshop (RWW), Tuesday.

The directors and founders of the RWW, Stan Rubin and Judith Kitchen, designed the low-residency program to fit with the demands of their students’ established careers and lives, Rick Barot, a PLU associate professor of English, said.

The MFA takes three years to complete, but Barot said students only come to PLU four times for 10-day workshops each August.

In honor of its 10­­­­th year, PLU celebrated the RWW with two events — an afternoon Q-and-A session with writers of the program and an evening reception with readings from the selected authors.

During “The Writer’s Story” Q-and-A session in the Garfield Book Company, RWW graduates Kate Carroll de Gutes and Kelli Russell Agodon, as well as Rubin and Kitchen, answered any queries of those in attendance.

The writers began by listing the authors or poets who they said inspired them the most. Kitchen said reading the works of others is essential to being a better writer.

“Somebody [a writer] comes to mind for each of us instantly,” Kitchen said. “If we didn’t read, we wouldn’t know which boundaries to push against.”

Rubin said writing is something writers should not be able to cease doing, and if they can, then they shouldn’t continue writing anyway. “If you can stop, stop,” Rubin said.

While there were few in attendance for the Q-and-A session, the main anniversary event that evening in the Scandinavian Cultural Center attracted a greater crowd with attendees in every row of seats.

After a brief introduction from Barot, English Professor Jim Albrecht, dean of the division of humanities, provided a short history of the RWW.

He said Rubin and Kitchen approached PLU 12 years ago with the unique idea for a low-residency MFA program and said the two were “smart, visionary and meticulous administrators.”

Jay Bates, a graduate of the RWW, introduced each writer and said the primary goal of the MFA in the eyes of Rubin and Kitchen was not to get their students published or build their resumes but to teach them about the craft of writing.

Senior Melanie Hering, who worked for RWW as a student assistant last year, also said PLU’s MFA program stands out from others in the country.

“It’s that community and individualized focus,” Hering said. “The directors and the faculty and the students had a very vested interest in the program. It was a very welcoming and open community. They’re encouraged to explore pretty much anything that they think is important in their writing.”

De Gutes opened the readings with a creative non-fiction piece on gender and sexuality, and Agadon followed with a selection of poems from her latest work, “Hourglass Museum.”

“Of all my collections,” Agadon said, “this feels the most vulnerable to me.”

Rubin then came on stage to read some of his poems from “There.Here.,” and Kitchen concluded the readings with excerpts from her essay “The Circus Train.”

Senior Emily Walsh, an English writing major, said she found the reception tasteful and informative.

“I’m inspired now,” Walsh said. “I feel like I could eventually do this [a writing career].”

Barot, who received his masters in creative writing from the University of Iowa, said the RWW aligned with PLU’s mission statement

“This program takes people who have arrived at a certain place in their self-education as writers, and helps them to amplify or maximize their potential as writers.”

He also said the RWW provides a community of like-minded people for every writer of the program.

“I like to think of these residencies as kind of a nerd convention,” Barot said. “Everybody exactly understands the vocabulary and terminology that everybody else is using. It’s like joining a family even though you don’t know the individuals.”

Barot will become the new director for the RWW June 1, and said he plans on honoring what Rubin and Kitchen have created and continue it in ways they would approve of and appreciate.

At the evening reading, Jessica Spring, the Elliott Press manager, sold a folio of broadsides of poems by de Gutes, Agodon, Rubin and Kitchen. Some of Spring’s students designed and printed the broadsides as part of their final.

Barot said proceeds from the sales will go to the MFA scholarship fund. 🅼

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