by Cathleen Miller
Summer is on the horizon, and if you are putting together a reading list with an SJSU flair, you can spend the entire season reading books penned by the alumni of our own creative writing program. Some of these authors studied in the Department of English and Comparative Literature as undergraduates; a handful dropped out because their literary careers took off and capsized their studies. And others were early pioneers in our MFA in creative writing. But considering the latter is barely a teenager at thirteen years on our campus, our student writers have published an extraordinary number of titles.
One of these authors, Daniel Arnold, will be returning to campus on May 4 to read from his new book of short stories, Snowblind: Stories of Alpine Obsession. Snowblind marks Arnold’s third publication from Counterpoint Press and his first foray into fiction after two successful collections of adventure essays themed around mountaineering in California. In fact, the dual genre nature of San José State’s MFA has produced writers with such fluidity in their career paths, as Dan attests: “The SJSU MFA program launched my writing career.”
Lusting for a sizzling summer read? Bestselling author and MFA alumna Marina Chappie, writing under her nom de plume Marina Adair, has published ten romance novels in the last three years. Several specialize in love amongst the Napa Valley vineyards.
Also in popular fiction, alumna Kate Evans explores sex—lots of it—and the blurred worlds of gender and identity in two novels: For the May Queen and Complimentary Colors.
There is not one style that brands these emerging writers with an SJSU imprimatur, although Peter Malae did use San José as the setting for his first novel, What We Are. Publisher Grove/Atlantic also produced Peter’s next work of literary fiction, titled Our Frail Blood. His short story collection, Teach the Free Man, prompted Russell Banks to note: “Malae is like a young Nelson Algren or Richard Wright, one of those writers who can hit with both hands.”
Besides hitting your literary gut with both hands, our SJSU authors can help you with other matters in your life—from guns to roses. They’ve put their research and editorial skills to the test with such how-to titles as Lisa Francesca’s The Wedding Officiant’s Guide, an informative manual on conducting wedding ceremonies, and Erica Goss’s Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, exercises to blast writer’s block. Rob James has edited a series of five titles for Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, such as The Total Gun Manualand The Total Fishing Manual. He’s currently pitching a homesteading manual based on his own adventures with farming in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The plethora of poets coming out of our creative writing program covers the range of human experience…and sometimes non-human experience. Neli Moody sketches the cave paintings of Altamira in words (After Altamira). Anne Jennings Paris chronicles five characters on America’s western frontier (Killing George Washington). Mark Heinlein delves into the chaos of living in this complicated world, yet reveals the luminous acts of intimacy squeezed between the drudgery and intensity of our daily lives. “Without the MFA program at San José State University,” he admits, “Everything We Call Ordinary would never have been published.”
Launching soon is Imaginary Animal, Rachelle Escamilla’s meditation on race, labor, sexuality, and memory centered on San Benito County, CA. She received her bachelor’s degree at SJSU before she went on to graduate school and teaching gigs both in the U.S and China. But she notes that although early in her career, “My connections at San José State have outlasted my connections at any other institution thus far.”
Another alumna of our undergraduate program, former poet laureate of Santa Clara County and current SJSU lecturer Sally Ashton works in a hybrid form that combines poetry and prose. She’s published three collections: These Metallic Days, Her Name Is Juanita, and Some Odd Afternoon.
Carmen Giménez Smith writes lyric essays as well as verse, and is the author of two poetry collections and a memoir. Her most recent publication, Milk and Filth, was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award.
Some of our creative writing pupils aren’t satisfied to merely submit their work to others. Two members of my nonfiction workshop were so enamored with the weekly two-page assignments I gave that they started PushPen Press, a publishing company designed to share flash nonfiction with the world. Their first offering was Two@SJSU, but since then they’ve added several new titles. Not only have founders Jan McCutcheon and Spike Wong published pieces by several of our students—both past and present—the duo also put them to work. Another alum who had previously edited the 100th anniversary anthology of the California Writer’s Club, West Winds Centennial, is listed on PushPen’s masthead as “Senior Editor Kelly ‘Eagle Eye’ Harrison.”
When considered as a whole, one of the unifying themes of this group of SJSU authors is the voice of California, of the West. Their stories represent the cornucopia of cultures that makes up San José State—indicative of a place where 103 tongues may be heard on a walk across campus—but our students share all those stories in English.