MFA in Creative Writing Mentors
The writers who serve as MFA Mentors are outstanding for both their level of literary achievements and for their teaching records and abilities. These accomplished authors bring careful attention and diverse writing styles and voices to the mix.
Esther G. Belin is a writer, multi-media artist, and citizen of the Navajo Nation. She lives on the Colorado side of the four corners. She has been described as a second-generation off-reservation Native American, a by-product of the U.S. federal Indian policies of termination and relocation. Both of her parents were taken off the Navajo reservation when they were teens to a federally run Indian boarding school in Riverside, CA. There they received the equivalency of an 8th grade education and some basic trade skills. As a result, she was raised in the Los Angeles area where she learned to transplant and strengthen her Diné worldview with the help of her parents and the small Indian community that remains there. She is grateful for those courageous relocatees who survived and adapted; their collective scar tissue has eased her path in life.
Belin’s art and writing reflect the historical trauma from those policies as well as the philosophy of Saah Naagháí Bik’eh Hózho, the worldview of the Navajo people. Her writing is widely anthologized and her poetry examines identity politics, checkerboard land status, and the interplay of words (abstraction) and image (realism). In 2000, she was awarded an American Book Award for her first book of poetry, From the Belly of My Beauty. Her most recent poetry collection is Of Catrography: Poems. She holds degrees from Antioch University, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and the University of California at Berkeley.
Sherwin Bitsui (Diné) is originally from White Cone, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. He is Diné of the Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl’izilani (Many Goats Clan). He is the author of Shapeshift (University of Arizona Press, 2003), Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), and Dissolve (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). His honors include a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship and a Native Arts & Culture Foundation Arts Fellowship. He is also the recipient of a 2010 PEN Open Book Award, an American Book Award, and a Whiting Writers Award. In addition to teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts, he joins the faculty at Northern Arizona University in the fall of 2019.
Kimberly Blaeser is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Copper Yearning and Apprenticed to Justice. Her scholarly work includes the monograph Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition, and she is the editor of Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry and Stories Migrating Home. Blaeser, who served as Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015–2016, is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. An enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe who grew up on White Earth Reservation, she earned her graduate degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She is an editorial board member for the “American Indian Lives” series of the U of Nebraska Press and the “Native American Series” of Michigan State University Press. Blaeser’s short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and scholarship has been widely anthologized, and her photographs, picto-poems, and ekphrastic poetry have been featured in various venues including the exhibits “Ancient Light” and “Visualizing Sovereignty.” A bi-lingual collection of her poetry, Résister en dansee/Dancing Resistance will be published in France in 2020.
Abigail Chabitnoy is the author of How to Dress a Fish, winner of the 2020 Colorado Book Award for Poetry and shortlisted in the international category of the 2020 Griffin Prize for Poetry. She was a 2016 Peripheral Poets fellow and her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, LitHub, and Red Ink, among others. Most recently, she was the recipient of the Witter Bynner Funded Native Poet Residency at Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, CO, and has guest-lectured at Colorado State University and Denver University. She is a Koniag descendant and member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak.
Zayre Ferrer (it rhymes with Friday) was born in Panama and grew up in Brooklyn. They cheer for the Mets and are overly proud of being a New Yorker like their childhood heroes Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx. Zayre attended New York University’s Dramatic Writing MFA where they received the Manus-Saltzman award. Zayre then returned to NYU to complete a second MFA at Tisch’s Musical Theatre Writing Program where they were awarded the Yip Harburg Lyricist Award and the prestigious Elphaba Thropp Fellowship in Musical Theatre Writing under the mentorship of Winnie Holzman.
After participating in the NHMC Television Writers’ Workshop Zayre went on to work as Creative Director at Story House productions, where they consulted on the Netflix Original Series El Chapo. They then went on to Create and EP the Netflix Original Series Tijuana, which premiered April 2019.
Jamie Figueroa is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer, which “brims with spellbinding prose, magical elements, and wounded, full-hearted characters that nearly jump off the page” (Publishers Weekly). Figueroa is Boricua (Afro-Taíno) by way of Ohio and is a longtime resident of northern New Mexico. Her writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, Emergence Magazine, Elle, McSweeney‘s and Kweli Journal among others. She received a Truman Capote Award and was a Bread Loaf/Rona Jaffe Scholar. A VONA alum, she received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Figueroa‘s memoir in essays is forthcoming by Pantheon Books.
Danielle Geller is a writer of personal essays and memoir and the author of Dog Flowers, her first book. She received her MFA in Creative Writing for Nonfiction at the University of Arizona, and a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award in 2016. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Brevity, and Arizona Highways, and has been anthologized in This Is the Place. She lives with her husband and two cats in British Columbia, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Victoria. She is a member of the Navajo Nation, born to the Tsi’naajinii, born for the Bilagáana.
Prior to becoming a professional TV writer and teacher, Geoff Harris worked as Vice-President of Story and Writer Development at NBC, where he oversaw the Story Department and developed prime-time TV shows in all formats, from comedies and dramas to movies and mini-series. In addition, he discovered and placed talented new writers from around the U.S. As a writer, Harris creates and develops TV shows and has pitched and sold his series to various production companies and networks. He also uses his storytelling talent and Industry experience to mentor the next generation of writers. He runs intensive, story-incubation labs that prepare diverse writers for the rigors of working on a TV series. Under his tutelage, more than 45 writers have been staffed on series across all platforms—network, cable, premium cable, and streaming. Geoff holds two Master’s degrees, one from Columbia University and the other from University of Notre Dame, and an undergraduate degree from St. Johns College.
Brandon Hobson is the author of Where the Dead Sit Talking, a winner of the Reading the West Book Award and finalist for the 2018 National Book Award. His other books include Deep Ellum and Desolation of Avenues Untold. He has won a Pushcart Prize, and his stories and essays have appeared in such places as Conjunctions, The Believer, The Paris Review Daily, NOON, Publisher’s Weekly, and elsewhere. In addition to mentoring in the MFA program, Brandon is beginning in the Fall 2019 as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at New Mexico State University. He holds a PhD from Oklahoma State University and is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Pam Houston is the author of the memoir, Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, as well as two novels, Contents May Have Shifted and Sight Hound, two collections of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Short Stories of the Century among other anthologies. She is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA Award for contemporary fiction, the Evil Companions Literary Award and several teaching awards. In addition to teaching in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Houston is Professor of English at UC Davis, and co-founder and creative director of the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers, which puts on between seven and ten writers gatherings per year in places as diverse as Boulder, Colorado, Tomales Bay, California and Chamonix, France. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level on a 120-acre homestead near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. A book of letters between Pam and environmental activist Amy Irvine will be published by Torrey House Press in October of 2020.
Toni Jensen is the author of a short story collection, From the Hilltop, and a memoir-in-essays about gun violence, Carry, forthcoming from Ballantine. She is the recipient of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and the Gary Wilson Short Fiction Award. Her essays and stories have been published in journals such as Orion, Catapult, and Ecotone. She teaches in the Programs in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas and in the low residency MFA Program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is Métis.
Kristiana Kahakauwila is a hapa writer of kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian), German, and Norwegian descent. Her first book, This is Paradise: Stories (Hogarth, 2013), takes as its heart the people and landscapes of contemporary Hawai`i. She earned a BA in Comparative Literature from Princeton University and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Michigan. A former Fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, Kristiana currently lives in Bellingham, WA, where she is an Associate Professor at Western Washington University. Recent work has appeared in RED INK, Kartika Review, Mistake House Magazine, and GEO Magazine. She is currently at work on a historical novel set on the island of Maui.
Joan Naviyuk Kane
Joan Naviyuk Kane is Inupiaq with family from King Island (Ugiuvak) and Mary’s Igloo, Alaska. Her publications include the essay collection A Few Lines in the Manifest, and poetry books and chapbooks The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, The Straits, Milk Black Carbon, Sublingual, and Another Bright Departure. She has been the recipient of the Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, the American Book Award, the Alaska Literary Award, the United States Artists Foundation Creative Vision Award, a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, and fellowships and residencies from the Rasmuson Foundation, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, the School for Advanced Research, the Aninstantia Foundation, the Hermitage Artist Retreat, Lannan Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She has been a finalist for the PEN USA Literary Award, the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Prize, and the Dorset Prize. She raises her sons as a single mother in Cambridge and is creative nonfiction and poetry faculty in the graduate creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico and in the department of Race, Colonialism and Diaspora at Tufts University. Her short stories, essays, and poems have recently appeared in Before The Usual Time, Yale Review, and Ecotone.
Chip Livingston is the mixed-blood Creek author of four books: two collections of poetry, Crow-Blue, Crow-Black (2012) and Museum of False Starts (2010); a collection of short stories and creative nonfiction, Naming Ceremony (2014); and a novel, Owls Don’t Have to Mean Death (2017). His writing has received awards from Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and the AABB Foundation. Chip’s writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, South Dakota Review, Cincinnati Review, and on the Academy of American Poets’ and Poetry Foundation’s websites. He has taught at the University of Colorado, University of the Virgin Islands, Brooklyn College, and Regis University.
Layli Long Soldier
Layli Long Soldier holds a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA from Bard College. Her poems have appeared in POETRY Magazine, The New York Times, The American Poet, The American Reader, The Kenyon Review, BOMB, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an NACF National Artist Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award. She has also received the 2018 PEN/Jean Stein Award, the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award, a 2021 Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, and the 2021 Michael Murphy Memorial Poetry Prize in the UK. She is the author of Chromosomory (Q Avenue Press, 2010) and WHEREAS (Graywolf Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing a Masters in Law at the University of New Mexico. She resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Bojan Louis is Diné of the Naakai dine’é, born for the Áshííhí. He is the author of the short-story collection, Sinking Bell (Graywolf Press, 2022), the poetry collection Currents (BkMk Press, 2017), and the nonfiction chapbook Troubleshooting Silence in Arizona (The Guillotine Series, 2012). His work can also be found in Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, Native Voices Anthology, and The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature. His honors include a MacDowell Fellowship and he is the recipient of a 2018 American Book Award. In addition to teaching at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Louis is an assistant professor in the Creative Writing MFA and American Indian Studies programs at the University of Arizona.
Tommy Orange was born and raised in Oakland, California. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts. His first novel, There There (Alfred A. Knopf 2018) received the 2019 Pen-Hemingway Award for “Distinguished” new novel, the John Leonard Prize-National Book Critics Circle Award, and was also recognized as one of the 10 Best Books of 2018 by The New York Times.
Brooke Swaney Pepion
Brooke Swaney Pepion (Blackfeet Tribal Member & Salish Descendent) is a 2003 Stanford graduate. She went on to obtain her MFA from NYU. A 2013 Native Arts and Cultures Fellow, a 2014 Sundance Native Lab Fellow and a Time Warner Fellow, her work has screened at Sundance, ImagineNative, the Autry and the Museum of Modern Art amongst others. She is versed in both short and long-form content creation.
Morgan Talty is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation where he grew up. His story collection Night of the Living Rez is forthcoming from Tin House Books (July 5, 2022), and his work has appeared in Granta, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Narrative Magazine, LitHub, and elsewhere. A winner of the 2021 Narrative Prize, Talty‘s work has been supported by the Elizabeth George Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts (2022). Talty teaches courses in both English and Native American Studies, and he is on the faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in creative writing as well as the Institute of American Indian Arts. Talty is also a Prose Editor at The Massachusetts Review. He lives in Levant, Maine.
New York Times best-selling author David Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. He is the author of seven books–fiction, nonfiction, and literary essays. His most recent book is The Heartbeat Of Wounded Knee, finalist for the National Book Award, and Minnesota and Midland Authors Book Award Winner. He is a Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellow. He divides his time between his home on the Leech Lake Reservation and Los Angeles, where he is a Professor of English at USC.