Stacy Mattingly publishes essay in Lit Hub

StacyMattingly--photo to LitHub sent 072420Stacy Mattingly (Fiction ’11) has published an essay in Literary Hub about Bosnia and Herzegovina, friendship, and literary collaboration, among other things. Stacy first visited the Balkans as a Global Fellow and later founded a writers’ collective there, for poets and prose writers working in Bosnian/Croatian/ Serbian and English. She continues to work with writers in the region.

Read Stacy’s essay, “A New Generation of Writers in Bosnia and Herzegovina Narrates Life beyond War,” here.

Congratulations, Stacy!

Stacy Mattingly is a writer living in Boston. She launched the Sarajevo Writers’ Workshop in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2012 and later helped lead the first Narrative Witness exchange (Caracas-Sarajevo) for the International Writing Program. She has recently completed a novel manuscript set in the present-day Balkans.

Ben Jackson wins second place in American Short(er) Fiction contest

author10 (1)

Ben Jackson (Fiction 2018)  published a story in American Short Fiction!  “Karst” won second place in ASF’s American Short(er) Fiction contest.  Ben says that the story emerged from his relationship with his grandmother.  Read “Karst” (or hear Ben read it) here.

Congratulations, Ben!

Ben Jackson’s writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, American Short Fiction online, the Los Angeles Review of Books, West Branch, the Awl and the Guardian, among others. He received an MFA in fiction from Boston University, and he’s working on a novel set in California and in Ireland, where he grew up.

Rahad Abir published in Los Angeles Review

Profile 2

Rahad Abir (Fiction ’20) has published a story in The Los Angeles Review!  You can read the story, entitled “Do Not Look at Girls,” here.

Congratulations, Rahad!

Rahad Abir is a writer from Bangladesh. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, The Bombay Literary Magazine, The Wire, Himal Southasian, BRICK LANE TALES anthology, and elsewhere. He is an MFA candidate in fiction at Boston University. He received the 2017-18 Charles Pick Fellowship at the University of East Anglia. Currently he is working on his first novel.

Val Otarod receives St. Botolph grant

IMG-3366We’re happy to announce that Val Otarod (Fiction ’20)  received an Emerging Artists Award this spring!  Given by the St. Botolph Club in Boston, this grant is one of New England’s most prestigious, and supports musicians and visual artists as well as writers.  We’re very proud to have had several St. Botolph award recipients from our program over the years, including Duy Doan (Poetry ’10), Kimberly Elkins (Fiction ’09), Neshat Khan (Fiction ’18), Jillian Jackson (Fiction ’15), and Grace Yun (Fiction ’18)!

Congratulations, Val!  We’re proud of you.

Val Otarod is a writer and editor from Scranton, Pennsylvania. She is currently completing her MFA at Boston University, where she is the 2019-2020 Leslie Epstein Fellow and an intern at AGNI magazine. Previously, she worked in the children’s publishing group at Macmillan.

Omer Friedlander and Victor Yang Finalists for Nelson Algren, with Weike Wang as Judge

We’re so proud of Omer Friedlander (Fiction ’19) and Victor Yang (Fiction ’20), who were recently named finalists for the nationally-renowned Nelson Algren short story award! This prestigious contest, named in honor of Chicago writer Nelson Algren, honors five finalists and one winner out of several hundreds of entries from around the country. We’re so pleased that two of them are BU MFA alumni, and our very own Weike Wang (Fiction ’15) judged the competition.

Read on to learn more about each writer’s process and their thoughts on reading and writing during the pandemic.

Screen Shot 2020-07-08 at 17.45.48 (1)Omer Friedlander:

When I was writing “Alte Sachen,” I was experimenting with my prose. I gave myself more freedom to incorporate different rhythms, which normally I might not use in a story, such as long and detailed lists. The burden of a list of items (the weight of the prose) went well with the subject of the story – two brothers who are junk collectors, whose lives are filled with objects and clutter everyone else thinks is worthless, dealing with the emotional weight of a dead father. I tried to balance some of the heaviness of the lists with shorter, more abrupt and airy sentences, with lightness and humor.

Italo Calvino’s concept of lightness and heaviness is a good way of thinking about this balance. Calvino uses an example from Greek mythology. To cut off the Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, Perseus must be indirect in his gaze. He can only look at the reflection of the Medusa in his shield. Perseus is the hero of reflection, of wind and clouds, while Medusa petrifies, turns everything to stone with her gaze. Anyway, with my writing, I tried to have a bit of Medusa and a bit of Perseus, both clouds and stone.

VictorVictor Yang:

I started and edited “My Son” during Sigrid’s revision workshop last fall. I am so grateful to her and my cohort mates for believing in this story. Also, A Feather on the Breath of God! I remember finishing the book in Xuefei’s migrant lit class, and thinking, wow, a novel can be like this. It inspired in me new possibilities for writing about family, diaspora, and love.

During pandemic times, I have felt so lucky to have the MFA workshop as a constant over the past few months. In many ways, workshop remained the same, even over Zoom: cheering each other on, pointing to pretty sentences, and giggling about inane things. As one of my classmates mentioned, it is such a gift and privilege to be able to continue reading and writing during this time.

Weike Wang:

It was an honor to be a judge.  Judging was blind but I admit there must have been some subconscious connection between me and the writers. I read these pieces during the month of May, which was a dreary month to say the least. But the stories buoyed me and I can still distinctly remember Omer’s and Victor’s prose. I hope they both continue to write, especially now, when fiction can function as both escape and hope.


Head over to The Chicago Tribune to read more about our two finalists.  Thank you so much, Omer, Victor, and Weike!  Congratulations, all!

International Poetry Circle launched by Tara Skurtu


On March 15, Tara Skurtu (Poetry ’13) started an initiative called International Poetry Circle, and she says she “had no idea how much it’d grow.”  Today, IPC has over 2,000 videos, across all social media platforms, in more than fifteen languages!  During this isolating season, IPC has been helping people around the world connect through poetry.

“At International Poetry Circle,” Tara explains, “poets and poetry lovers record themselves reading a poem of their own or a favorite poem to help us all feel more connected and hopeful.”

IPC was recently featured in the Boston Globe, and the Emily Dickinson Museum made an official video for IPC in Dickinson’s bedroom and other Dickinson spots.  The hashtag #InternationalPoetryCircle is how the videos are being spread on all social media platforms.  (The Twitter account @intpoetrycircle, which exists to RT all the videos, is temporarily down, but it should be up and running again soon!).

Here’s how to contribute to International Poetry Circle:

1. Record a video of yourself reading a poem.

2. Post it on social media with the hashtag #InternationalPoetryCircle.

3. For increased accessibility: Add captions or a photo/link to the poem for people to read.

Thank you so much, Tara!

Anitha Ahmed graduates from med school and BU MFA program


We’re super excited to celebrate with Anitha Ahmed, who earned her MFA from Boston University and MD from Thomas Jefferson University this month!  Anitha generously took the time to tell us more about her path to becoming a doctor and a writer, her time at BU, and what she’s reading and writing these days.

When and how did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?

My grandmother was really ill and lived in my family’s house for most of my childhood, and I was always encouraged to be part of her care. I would take her vitals and weight every morning and test her blood sugar, and I’d translate for her home nurse whenever my parents weren’t around. When I got a bit older, I started going with her to her doctor’s appointments and keeping track of her different medications. She was so unconditionally loving and would insist on cooking for me even when she found it difficult to stand; I remember her spending hours sitting at the dining table to make the dough for potato parathas, which were my favorite things to eat as a child. On Eid day, she’d be in the kitchen from as early as 3 am making us our favorite sweets for the holiday; I’m thinking about this especially now because it’s almost Eid. Anyway, taking care of her and seeing her in all her stages of health and illness piqued my interest in medicine and care-taking from an early age.

What about becoming a writer – how did you decide to get an MFA?

I really can’t remember a time I didn’t consider myself a writer. When I was a kid I used to write these awful poems and short stories (there was one series I was quite proud of about a single mother leopard raising her four cubs in the Serengeti) and it was one of my favorite pastimes. Even in high school when I wasn’t writing or even reading much, I considered being a writer central to my identity. I went through so many existential crises in college about whether or not I wanted to forego medicine and put all my cards into writing, and ultimately received enough encouragement from the right people to make me feel like I could do both. So I took all the creative writing classes I could in undergrad and applied for an MFA my third year of medical school–getting into BU’s one year program really felt serendipitous. The rest is history!

Anything you’d like to say about your year at BU? Favorite moments or most helpful parts?

I feel so nostalgic towards the year at BU! My favorite parts of it were making lifelong friends who care about writing and literature as much as I do. We would always get together outside of class – at one of our apartments, the BU pub, and other haunts – and it made all the difference in the year. I still keep in touch with and share my work with so many of them, and I feel like it’s just a great community to be part of while I take the plunge into my medical career over the next few years.

How does your practice of medicine influence your writing, and vice versa?

I do feel like a lot of my writing includes themes of aging, anxiety, and illness, which is probably influenced by my experiences in medicine. On the medical side, I feel like my background as a writer helps me cultivate a deeper empathy and understanding for my patients, and (I hope) gives me a creative rather than purely analytic approach when I’m coming up with medical plans.

What kind of medicine do you want to practice?

I’m going to be training as a pediatrician, starting in June!

Any writing rituals?

My favorite writing ritual used to be spending the day in a coffee shop, reading for awhile and then settling into a project, but I’ve had to adapt with quarantine – these days I’ve been trying to write just before bed, or when I just wake up, and I’ve (somewhat) recreated the cafe vibe by sitting at our island counter with a cup of coffee or tea.

What are some of your favorite books?

There are too many to list! From the past 365 days, my favorite books have been The Great Believers and Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai, and The Sympathizer and The Refugees by Viet Than Nguyen. I also finally finished Crime and Punishment this past month, which definitely lived up to all the hype.

What are you reading these days?

Right now I’m reading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which is beautiful so far!

What are you working on now (if you want to share)?

I am working on a novel about a Pakistani doctor named Nadia, as well as a short story collection!

Thank you so much, Anitha, and hearty congratulations! We wish you all the luck in the world for your writing and your medical career, and we’re so grateful to you and other healthcare workers during this time in our world.

Anitha Ahmed earned her MFA from Boston University and her MD from Thomas Jefferson University in May, 2020. At Boston University, she was awarded the Florence E. Randall Graduate Fiction Prize and the Robert Fitzgerald Translation Prize; at Thomas Jefferson University, she was supported by the Mouzarkel Art in Medicine Scholarship. In June, she will be starting her medical residency in pediatrics at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. Her creative work has appeared in Calyx Journal, Bat City Review, Bodega Magazine, Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Huffington Post. She is currently working on her first novel, titled Nadia.

Susan Barba publishes second collection of poetry

Susan Barba web-9101-media square (1)

Susan Barba (Poetry ’12) has just published her second book, geode, with Black Sparrow Press!  A rave review in the Globe says geode “pulses with the blood of earth and stone. Through a lens of geography and geology, Barba looks at time, and our human efforts — sometimes futile, sometimes hopeful, sometimes cruel — to make sense of forces much larger and much older than our selves.”

Susan says, What I wanted for this book was to create a work of art in conversation with the earth. My hope now is that this book will be a portal, bringing far-flung places to you, but also beckoning you to go out (if you can, safely), to see the sky, set your feet on the ground.

The book arose from anguish and love: anguish at the climate crisis and love for this changeable, rejuvenating earth. geode is both a response to the crisis and a response to the beauty of the world. 

Thank you so much, Susan.  Congratulations!

Susan Barba is the author of geode (Black Sparrow Press, 2020) and Fair Sun (David R. Godine, 2017). She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and she works as a senior editor for New York Review of Books.

Sheila Sundar publishes short story in Crazyhorse

Sheila Sundar Pic.BU Blog (1)

We’re excited to share that Sheila Sundar (current fiction MFA) has published a story in the spring 2020 issue of Crazyhorse!  The story, “Deccan Basalt,” was workshopped in Leslie Epstein’s class this past year.

Sheila says, I’ve always been interested in stories of humanity–of finding solace and connection in unexpected places. Because I was raised in an immigrant community, my characters are also shaped by the experience of being uprooted, of holding onto elements of their old lives while finding new meaning and forming new bonds. “Deccan Basalt” was the second story I wrote for Leslie’s workshop. Though the character, Vikram, had been developing in my mind for some time, he came together more fully through Leslie’s early advice: focus on relationships, and let the complexity of human connection drive our writing.

Thank you, Sheila, and congratulations!

Sheila Sundar is an MFA candidate in fiction at Boston University. Her writing is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, and has appeared in Guernica, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Rumpus. She lives in New Orleans with her family.


Aaron-Caycedo Kimura published in Beloit Poetry Journal


We’re happy to share that our current poetry MFA student, Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, recently published a poem in the spring issue of Beloit Poetry Journal!  Read the poem here.

Aaron says, My poem “The Fern” is about the loss of something I never had but always wanted. It was inspired by the wild ferns growing in my backyard that I dug up last spring and transplanted.

Thanks, Aaron, for brightening our weeks with a poem, and congratulations!

Aaron Caycedo-Kimura is a poet, painter, and cartoonist. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Poet LoreDMQ ReviewCrab Creek ReviewNaugatuck River ReviewOff the CoastConnecticut River ReviewGravelCrack the SpineRust + MothTule Review, and elsewhere. He is also the author and illustrator of Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life, published by TarcherPerigee. Aaron is currently an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at Boston University.