November 21, 2008

MFA graduates earn creative writing successes

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- They may have graduated and moved on, but graduates of the master of fine arts program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale remain Salukis at heart.

Over the past weeks, several have figuratively phoned home, letting creative writing program director Allison Joseph know about their triumphs in the greater world of literary publication. And triumphs they have, indeed.

Ben Percy, a 2004 MFA graduate, is a recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award for 2008. Percy is the author of two collections of short stories, “The Language of Elk,” and “Refresh, Refresh.” He teaches at Iowa State University. As an award winner, Percy receives a $50,000 grant, and with it, considerable prestige.

Percy is the second SIUC alum to win a Whiting Writer Award. Paul Guest, a 1999 graduate, also received one for his poetry.

“This is a huge coup for the program,” Joseph said.

Guest had current good news of his own, proving that SIUC creative writing graduates’ successes are not merely flash-in-the-pan moments. Guest is a “Poet’s Choice” feature in the Washington Post book review section. Reviewer Mary Karr says his poems show a disarming humor “before he ambushes me with longing.” The book is “My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge.” Guest is visiting professor of creative writing at the University of West Georgia. His other publications include the poetry collections “The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World,” and “Notes for my Body Double.” Both volumes are award-winners.

“Our current students and graduates in creative writing never cease to make me proud,” Joseph said. “I’ve not counted up all their awards, publications, books, etc., because it would be quite a task. But the fact that these writers got or are getting their starts at SIUC thrills me.”

To keep up with the news and accomplishments in the creative writing program, visit Joseph’s blog at