The Growth Chart is a new series that intends to mark and celebrate the presence, progress, and evolution of our current Fresno State Master of Fine Arts students. During their graduate studies with our program, they will be gaining new professional skills and experiences. This occasional series is an effort to capture and acknowledge their development and give space for them to reflect on their MFA years in progress. In sharing their journeys, we hope that it will make visible what it means to grow as a writer.
Compiled by Nou Her
for The Growth Chart series
A native of Fresno and a first-year graduate student, Alex Habib studies fiction. He enjoys the smell of pomegranates. He’d like for us to think about what our wings would look like if we had them.
What do you hope to accomplish in your graduate studies at Fresno State?
Aside from furthering my knowledge of the field and refining my skill as a writer, I hope to make significant progress on my first novel and other works I hope to publish.
What’s your current writing process like?
Go to a place where I won’t be easily distracted, put on some music to get in the mood, then either messily spew everything I want to include in the story with the intention to revise later, or meticulously ensure each line or moment makes sense flowing into the next, depending where in the process I am.
What writing styles or genres are you curious to experiment with?
Poetry, various sub-genres of fantasy and sci-fi, as well as more cerebral or philosophically contemplative works, usually veiled behind the fantastical.
How do you hope to grow as a writer?
I need to improve my dialogue, and I want to find a balance between making a fun-to-read story, and one that leaves the reader mulling over existential questions — usually regarding the self and the relationships between one’s inner and outer worlds.
Working on a collection of essays, Bethany Hazen studies creative nonfiction. A second-year graduate student, she enjoys the smells of espresso and cream, jasmine, her grandmother’s roses, petrichor, and the Pacific Coast.
What so far are you trying to accomplish with your thesis manuscript?
A collection of essays, and navigating the tenuous space between science and the general public who think science is something they don’t want to read about.
What concerns you the most about the process of writing your thesis manuscript?
So much of my time goes to reading, and the rest of my steam goes to writing critical responses to those readings. I find myself most days without a scrap of time to jot down a single idea, let alone having enough time to write full essays. I work full time, and I accept that my reality does not likely include a three-year completion of my MFA. I will need time, at least an extra semester, maybe two, dedicated to writing.
How have the things you’ve read so far shaped you as a writer?
I needed an introduction to my genre, and assigned readings have billowed my passion for literature. Readings are very well curated, broad in scope and approach, and the skills I’ve been taught for craft analysis have given me a long list of tools and tricks that I want to employ in my own writing. These skills have immeasurably increased my appreciation for literature as art, as craft, as endeavor and toil and fruitful labor.
A life-long enthusiastic reader, I hadn’t really seen beyond the page before my MFA coursework began. The nature of creative nonfiction seems to be more in what it is not than what it is, and I think there has been a good balance in the readings of traditional essays complicated by examples of boundary-pushing nonfiction formats. I appreciate the catalog of courses offered from the MFA program and faculty, and the opportunity it presents to me as a student to build my own thesis support. The knowledge I reap from my commitment to coursework, and the readings outside of class that I have sought to help inform my thesis, all have value well beyond the time they take in action and consideration.
What reading experience do you hope your writing will give to readers?
I want my readers to learn about wine and scientific phenomena through an informal, enjoyable format that allows me to weave together narrative and macro-micro-molecular fact. I want my thesis to be a publishable product that presents my perspective on a few constants from my life experience about which I am passionate: science, wine, and words. I want to wield language like a weapon, to bring my readers to their knees, because that is the beautiful book I want to read. I want the subject to be the reason readers take my book home. I want my writing to be the reason they place my book on the shelves in their hearts, the reason they recommend reading me to others.
Enjoying his years in the MFA program and unsure when he will want to leave, Jack Chavoor began his creative nonfiction studies in 2015. He firmly believes that Batman will always win over Superman.
Looking back, what moments stand out to you most about your MFA experience?
How cool the professors are. And the students were nice and accepted an “older” person. It has been nice to be around energized, enthusiastic people with a passion to write and change things for the better. Also, reading dozens of books that I never would have found, let alone picked to read. And being invited to read.
What do you think your next step will be as a writer after the MFA?
Have a party. Then have alternate writing days and reading days for the next 25 years or the rest of my life, whichever comes first.
What’s something you wished you may have done differently?
Some days I wish I had done homework in high school and gone to UCLA for undergrad. Other days I like everything the way it turned out.
How have you grown as a writer?
Immeasurably. Thanks to the MFA program, the professors, their devotion, educational philosophy, the reading material they selected, and their encouragement and honesty about the writing I turned in. Also, the commitment and talent level of the students I met.
I would like to say that having read submissions from all over the country for The Normal School magazine, and having read essays from MFA peers in four workshop classes, I have concluded that Fresno State must be, and undoubtedly is, one of the best MFA programs in the United States. It is a privilege and an honor to be here.