Creative Sparks Fanned by Mentor, Serenity of Palouse
“I came out here, all the way to Idaho, for a change of pace and to study creative writing,” said Aleks Schoen. Now wrapping up the second of a three-year MFA program, the native New Yorker appreciates the rural quietude surrounding the University of Idaho.
“What I really like about Idaho and the program is that it’s more or less in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It gives me a sort of creative energy because there’s nothing else I have to worry about. The pace of life is more relaxed here, which I really appreciate. And the writing program is small, which I like. I’ve had the opportunity to be entirely devoted to my writing -- which is what I wanted to do. I don’t think I could have done that in any other environment.”
Professor Kim Barnes, an internationally known author, teaches a rigorous novel class that Schoen attends and says it is one of the few of its kind in the country.
“It’s absolutely incredible to work with her and all of the professors here,” said Schoen. “Kim is extremely knowledgeable in terms of the craft of writing, as well as literature in general.
“She is not shy about sharing the trials and tribulations of her own writing process with us, which is wonderful. The whole experience is completely hands-on and she’s willing to share her difficulties, issues and mistakes she’s made with us – which is incredible.
Barnes’ network of writing colleagues -- including Sherman Alexie, Jess Walter and Benjamin Percy --sometimes visit the novel class, sharing their skills in the writing process, said Schoen. “It’s a gratifying experience to be able to talk with these authors firsthand,” she said.
In addition to these writing mentors, Schoen says the student-centered learning environment at Idaho is very engaging.
“One of the things that makes the university special is everyone’s commitments to the students. All of my professors have been extremely focused on the students. They’re doing their own work at the same time, but they’ll drop everything to help you or hold a meeting outside of office hours. I love the feeling of community I get at the University of Idaho.”
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