Two Creative Writing M.F.A. Alumnae Garner Prestigious Prize

October 20, 2010 | Brooklyn College

Brooklyn, N.Y.—This November, when the 35th volume of the annual short-story, poem and essay anthology series hits the stands, Pushcart Prize XXXV—Best of the Small Presses (Norton, 2010) will contain the work of Elliott Holt, who earned an M.F.A. in creative writing (fiction) in 2007. Holt received the coveted prize last spring for her story “Fem Care,” which originally appeared in the Kenyon Review Online (June 2009).

“When I found out that I’d won a Pushcart Prize, I felt like a real writer,” says Holt, despite previous confirmations—as winner of the Himan Brown Award for Creative Writing and the second prize in the 2006 Zoetrope: All-Story short fiction contest, as finalist for the 2006 Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, and in her role as contributing editor for One Story. Noted in a New York Magazine article on emerging writers, her work has also appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review and the Napkin Fiction Blog of Esquire magazine.

“I still can’t believe that my story is going to be in the next volume!” Holt says. “I workshopped the first draft in Michael Cunningham’s class,” she explains. “I think it went through about 30 drafts.”

In Spring 2009, another creative writing alumna, Marie-Helene Bertino, M.F.A., ’08, won the Pushcart Prize for her story “North Of.” “I try not to think about the fact that I received one… too much,” she says of the prize. In addition to Pushcart Prize XXXIV, Bertino’s work has appeared in The North American Review, receiving the 2007 Kurt Vonnegut Award; Mississippi Review, receiving the 2007 Story Prize; Inkwell; The Indiana Review and American Short Fiction. She also received the Himan Brown Creative Writing Award. Currently she works as a biographer and is the associate editor of One Story.

Was the M.F.A. program instrumental in helping Bertino and Holt meet their goals as writers? Bertino says she found “a community of people who loved writing as much as I do, who wanted to think about things like punctuating dialogue.”

Holt agrees. “The best thing about an M.F.A. program is that it gives you readers,” she says. “The community is invaluable.”

But, says Bertino, “The jury is still out on whether the M.F.A. can help me achieve my other goal: being the first writer ever to appear in a swimsuit on the cover of Poets and Writers.