Poetry MFA Student Celebrates Upcoming Chapbook

If you’re interested in going to graduate school for poetry, Emerson’s Creative Writing MFA may be the program for you. Today we’re interviewing Creative Writing grad student Katie Mihalek ‘24. She’ll share what led her to graduate school, her experience in Emerson’s Creative Writing MFA program, and details about her upcoming chapbook: Aurora Uteralis. 

What Led You to an MFA Poetry Program?

Katie Mihalek, current poetry MFA student, looks at the camera with a faint smile. Her hair is down and she's resting her head in her hand.
Current Creative Writing MFA grad student Katie Mihalek

In undergrad, Katie was a biology major on the pre-med track with a minor in English. For her, poetry has always been a passion. 

“I have always loved writing, but convinced myself I love science and health and things like that more,” Katie says. “So I [told] myself I wanted to go M.D. and then did a master’s in medical sciences at Boston University.” After completing her MS and working jobs in health care consulting, infectious disease, and global health, Katie considered if she wanted to finally get her M.D. or her Ph.D. 

Then, during the pandemic, she saw an ad for a creative writing program. That’s when she knew she needed to fulfill this part of her. “I definitely made a big career switch, but it felt like an inevitable thing. I finally just was like, ‘No, I’m going to go do it,’” Katie says. 

Why Did You Choose Emerson?

One reason Katie applied to Emerson was the established community she already had in Boston. She’d done undergrad at Tufts University and a master’s at BU. She was, however, specifically interested in the program’s flexibility when it comes to scheduling. 

“I saw that [Emerson was] trying to appeal to a lot of different people in different stages of their lives. It was really nice and refreshing to see,” Katie says. “And I liked how you have a track that you can go into with creative writing. You pick a genre, but they encourage you to take other courses. I knew I wanted to investigate other genres and think about how I could incorporate science into my writing.”

There are three genres students can choose to concentrate on: poetry, nonfiction, or fiction. Students’ genre of choice is what their required workshops and thesis will focus on.

Katie also appreciates that the program is three years long. She feels like the program has given her the time to focus on her studies and field the college’s different opportunities.  

How Are the Workshops? 

At Emerson, MFA students in all concentrations have to take 20 credits of workshops. Students’ workshops will center around their concentration, but they can explore different genres through elective courses. While poetry is Katie’s lifeblood, she took a Futurist and Fabulist workshop with Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing Graduate Program Director, Katie Williams. She also did a cultural translations course with Interim Dean, Maria Koundoura.

Katie also finds the professors to be very supportive and approachable. “They really do care about your personal work,” she says. “They’re not trying to make your work look like theirs or what they think good poetry is. They’re trying to bring out your own voice, which is great.” 

She feels the workshop spaces have built up a sense of community to lean on post-grad. Specifically, to have readers and friends to help continue the lessons of the MFA. 

Are There Opportunities Outside of the Classroom?

“One of my professors described the MFA as kind of having the training wheels on. I’ve really appreciated how much I’ve been able to explore professionally,” Katie says. She praises that Emerson doesn’t coddle you too much. You still need to advocate for yourself, but she finds there to be many professional opportunities to take advantage of. 

During her time at Emerson, Katie had the opportunity to teach the undergraduate WR101 Introduction to College Writing course. Grad students can apply to teach for it after completing the required WR600 Teaching College Composition course. Katie also had the opportunity to join Redivider, a literary journal operated by Emerson graduate students. She started as a reader and is now the Editor-in-Chief. 

What Have You Learned Working for Redivider?

“Working for Redivider feels like it’s preparing and connecting you to the literary world outside of Emerson, which I love,” Katie says. “We’re trying to hit that balance of making it so it feels like a community within Emerson, even though all of our contributors are outside of the Emerson community.” 

MFA students primarily run the journal, but graduate students outside of the WLP (Writing, Literature, Publishing) programs are welcome, too. In the last couple of years, the journal has grown. In fact, Redivider attended AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs), the foremost writing and publishing conference in the US for contemporary creative writing, this year. Katie says MFA Graduate Program Director, Mako Yoshikawa, has been active getting Emerson MFA students to participate in AWP. 

“I think it’s important to help us with alumni networking and developing connections, as well as having a community to return to,” Katie says. It is important to be active in AWP because it’s a way for current Emerson students and alumni to connect since oftentimes writing can be very individual. It’s crucial to make those connections. “I think Emerson has shown us the ways that [writing] can be more community-oriented.”

Can You Tell Us About Your Chapbook Aurora Uteralis

“The title is a take on Aurora Borealis,” Katie says about the titular poem of her chapbook. “The poem is one I actually wrote in Dan Tobin’s workshop, the one that the book is named after. It is about an experience I had in my master’s in medical sciences program.”

Katie’s chapbook Aurora Uteralis will be available to purchase on November 8th, 2024 from Finishing Line Press. The presale begins July 8th. The inspiration for the titular poem came from studying endometrial tissue and her professor explaining the biology behind vaginal fluid. 

“My professor had explained that vaginal fluid is actually blood plasma and it’s filtered through the individual tissue’” Katie says. “So I was thinking of blood plasma and it made me think of plasma in the sky. And then thinking about how we honor our bodies and reproductive organs. I feel like we don’t talk a lot about reproductive health in a way that is de-stigmatizing.”

Katie writes a lot about reproductive health, and, especially in her chapbook, she pulls in different scientific knowledge and language as a way to reconsider our relationships with our bodies and the world around us. She also writes a lot about sexuality and the environment. 

“It’s really a chapbook about self-acceptance,” she says. The chapbook does coalesce around the many different themes that Katie writes, but it’s not a project book. “I try to push away from this anthropomorphic view of the world, which is a more subtle theme, but it’s something that I like to try to do. If we want to be more aware of the world around us and feel very mentally conscious as I try to kind of break down those walls, I would say, in my writing and I hope that I can kind of help shift perspective.”

Katie workshopped a majority of the poems from the chapbook at Emerson. “I would not have been the writer that I am today without Emerson,” she adds. 

The titular poem is also in the literary magazine Beyond Words (print only). You can check out Katie’s other poems “You always liked my curves.” in Mistake House Magazine and “Jonah” in Spectrum.

What’s Next For You? 

Katie is currently in her final semester completing her MFA thesis. A thesis is a near-publishable manuscript. It’s either a collection of poems, short stories, essays, a novel, novel expert, or a nonfiction book or excerpt. 

Her chair is Daniel Tobin, and her reader is Mary Kovaleski Byrnes. Both professors have been integral parts of Katie’s journey at Emerson. Her thesis, currently titled “FingerPrint,” will comprise of cross-sectional “slices.” The slices are different poems that’ll make up a 3D cast of her hands. 

“When you stack all of the poems, it would physically make the 3D shape of the hands,” Katie says. For example, “You get to the palm and she’s one long stanza. So thinking a little bit about how to break out of linear narratives, kind of blurring those lines a little bit. But then you think about it content-wise, each poem is about hands, what do we hold close to us? What do we reach towards?”

Once graduated, Katie has been considering applying to Ph.D. programs in creative writing. “I feel like I’m not really done in academia.” 

Do You Have Advice For Anyone Thinking About an MFA? 

I would just say you really get what you put into it. When you’re looking, think about the faculty, but ask questions about what the community is like,” Katie says. “What’s the workshop style like?” 

She stresses the importance of building up relationships in MFAs. It’s important to find your people to continue the sense of community after your degree. She also stresses the importance of not being afraid to ask questions. 

“Don’t be afraid to go up to your professors and ask for help,’” Katie says. “Talk about demystifying not only the MFA, but all the questions you may have about the literary world.” 

To keep up with Katie, be sure to check out her website, and follow her on LinkedIn and Instagram. For more information about Emerson’s Creative Writing MFA schedule a call with an admissions counselor today

[Quotes edited for length and clarity]
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Kat is a third-year student in Emerson's Creative Writing MFA program. She's originally from Long Island, but loves her life in Boston. When she's not working, she's hanging out with friends or chilling with her cat.

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