MFA Graduates Explode Onto The Literary Scene

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Three Rutgers University, Newark, alumni are making the month of March into a triumphant literary march.  The three will become published authors on March 5, when each will have a first book released.

Christa Parravani, Class of 2011; and Ryan McIlvain and Evan Roskos, both Class of 2009, are all graduates of Rutgers-Newark’s nationally acclaimed Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, directed by award-winning author Jayne Anne Phillips.  Each book is already creating waves in the literary world:

  • Christa Parravani’s Her, a memoir, was already named one of 16 books to “read now” by O, the Oprah magazine (March 2013).  Amazon chose Her as the “Debut of the Month” for March, and the book has been recommended by Cosmopolitan; Vanity Fair; Marie Claire; and Real Simple magazine.  She will be interviewed on NPR’s Brian Lehrer Show on March 1 at 11:45 a.m. More on Parravani  Hear Parravani read from her memoir
  • Ryan McIlvain’s novel Elders, the story of a young man's Mormon mission to Brazil, was described as “a powerful and deeply moving debut from a gifted young writer” by T.C. Boyle, author of San Miguel, and “a refreshingly earnest, clear-eyed, and self-assured debut by a young writer to watch” by author Jonathan Evison ( The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving). While still at R-N, McIlvain was one of five U.S. fiction writers to be awarded a 2009 Stegner Fellowship, which supports two years at Stanford University through a stipend of $26,000.  He undertook the fellowship after completing his MFA in Creative Writing.
  • Evan Roskos’ Dr. Bird's Advice To Sad Poets is a young adult novel based on a teen's fascination with Walt Whitman.  In a starred review Kirkus stated, “Self-deprecating humor abounds in this debut novel that pulls no punches about the experience of depression and anxiety for its teen protagonist.”  Publisher’s Weekly calls it a “sensitive first novel.” As an MFA student, Roskos’ short story, “Conspiracy of Males,” was featured nationally in Granta’s online series, “New Voices” (2008) and Roskos also was named one of Narrative's Best New Writers.

The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Rutgers University, Newark, is the result of Phillips’ vision of a “dynamic MFA for the 21st century, a time in which diversity and communication will be paramount.” Phillips also tapped the energy of the campus’s urban environment, an environment in which she saw many intriguing possibilities for an aspiring writer. 

Before it even accepted its first students in fall 2007, the program was already hailed as one of “Five Up-and Coming Programs in Creative Writing in the U.S.” by The Atlantic magazine, in its 2007 Fiction/Summer Reading issue.

The MFA at Rutgers-Newark features The Writers at Newark Reading Series, as well as a wide range of electives taught by Rutgers scholars, and workshops by an accomplished writing faculty, including Rigoberto González, winter of the 2013 “Writer for Writers” award, and Brenda Shaughnessy, whose new book Our Andromeda has been praised by the New York Times, The New Yorker and The Harvard Review.

Phillips herself is the award-winning author of Lark & Termite, which in 2009 was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and for the National Book Award. Her other works include Motherkind, Shelter, and Machine Dreams, and two collections of widely anthologized stories, Fast Lanes and Black Tickets.  Her honors include two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, Fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Howard Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bunting Institute of Radcliff College, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.