The literary world has bestowed yet another round of distinguished honors on writers in The Florida State University Department of English and its top-ranked Creative Writing Program. A poem by writer-in-residence Barbara Hamby and a short story by doctoral student Holly Wilson have each garnered a hard-to-get slot in a renowned anthology.
Hamby’s poem, “Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and from Paris,” will appear in “Best American Poetry 2009” (Houghton Mifflin); Wilson’s short story “Night Glow” is among those chosen for “New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2009” (Algonquin Books). The anthologies will be in bookstores by fall.
For both established authors such as Hamby and emerging ones such as Wilson, inclusions in “Best American Poetry” and “New Voices from the South” and other all-star collections rank among the nation’s most significant and prestigious literary achievements.
“Barbara Hamby is a brilliant manipulator of language, with a juggler’s dexterity at keeping the sounds and shapes of words moving through the air,” said Professor Ralph Berry, the Department of English chairman. “Holly Wilson is a remarkably talented and intellectually sophisticated writer who exemplifies our department’s commitment to developing the next generation of American literary artists.”
With such teachers and students, Berry calls it no surprise that The Atlantic Monthly has ranked Florida State University among the nation’s top-10 for graduate-level creative writing programs and among the top five for Ph.D. seekers — the only program ranked on both lists. It is home to winners of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award; more honorees (Hamby now included) in “Best American Poetry” than any other program in its discipline; and the authors (one now retired) who literally wrote the book on creative writing — a bestselling how-to that became the most adopted textbook of its kind in the world.
Faculty members are known not only as successful professional writers but also as nurturing teachers of writing, and it shows: No other program has had more inclusions in Harcourt’s “Best New American Voices,” the premier annual compilation of work by emerging writers.
Hamby, a former winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, has taught creative writing at Florida State since 1998. She wrote “Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and From Paris” in 2006 while she and her husband, poet David Kirby, FSU’s Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English, were living in Paris.
“Our apartment was near the Luxembourg Gardens, and we often walked there,” Hamby said. “It is a lovely place, but at the entrance we used, there is a plaque commemorating a Resistance fighter who was shot on that very spot by the Nazis. Here we were in this most civilized of cities, and yet there were constant reminders of the chaos that is always lurking.
“I wanted to write about this but didn’t know how until David and I took a train back from Beauvais after visiting the cathedral there,” she continued. “I tried to nap, but there was a group of American girls who were yapping really loudly about boyfriends and haircuts. Though I couldn’t sleep, I’ll be forever grateful to those girls for giving me the doorway into my poem, which begins as a comic piece but becomes gradually darker and darker. If you make people laugh first, you can sometimes trick them into reading your dark metaphysical thoughts, too.”
Wilson, 29, wrote “Night Glow” last spring in a graduate fiction workshop taught by celebrated author Mark Winegardner, Florida State’s Distinguished Research Professor of English.
“It’s a story about a motherless girl living in a near-empty Quaker co-op who attaches herself to a new resident, a young woman just out of prison,” Wilson said. “I’d never written anything from a child’s point-of-view before. I set out to create a sort of neglected girl-narrator whose longings were both weird and familiar, and I’m so pleased that her voice seems to resonate with readers. I am thrilled to be included in ‘New Stories from the South’ alongside such wonderful, established writers. It is humbling, of course, but also a serious confidence booster.”
Other confidence boosters for Wilson: recent nominations from “The Best American Nonrequired Reading,” “New Sudden Fiction” and “Best New American Voices.” “Our faculty is incredibly invested in us,” Wilson said. “They help us hone our craft but also support and guide us professionally, which doesn’t always happen in other programs.”
The 2008-2009 academic year at Florida State began with good anthology news. In addition to the recent nods for Hamby and Wilson, bestselling author Julianna Baggott, an associate professor in the Creative Writing Program, learned in August that her essay, “Literary Murder,” would be in “Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 3” (Norton, 2009), also due out next fall.
The Department of English offers undergraduate degree programs in literature and in rhetoric and composition as well as creative writing. Learn more at www.english.fsu.edu.