Current MFA Students


M. Molly Backes is the author of the young adult novel The Princesses of Iowa (Candlewick Press, 2012), which was named Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Fiction for Teens (2013), Forever Young Adult’s Best YA Books of 2012, and was a finalist on’s Best-Ever Teen Novels list in 2012. Her work has appeared in The Prairie Wind, Human Parts, The Rumpus, and the anthology Good Dogs Doing Good. She has performed her personal essays at reading series including Essay FiestaFunny Ha-HaIs This a Thing? and Sunday Salon, and is a frequent guest at writing conferences and festivals across the country.

An accomplished teacher, she has run creative writing workshops for adults and teens across the Midwest. Her teaching career began in rural New Mexico, where she got all 135 of her seventh and eighth grade students to write novels for National Novel Writing Month. Later she moved to Chicago, where she became the assistant director of StoryStudio Chicago, a creative writing studio on the city’s north side, and served as a poet-in-residence with The Poetry Center of Chicago’s Hands On Stanzas program and as an educational ambassador for the Lincoln Park Zoo.

A graduate of Grinnell College, Molly has lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Illinois. She’s not the kind of person to play favorites or anything, but she might just like Iowa the best.


Bascom_Cathleen1Cathleen Bascom pursues an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and the Environment from a platform of 24-years as an Episcopal priest, and involvement in prairie preservation and restoration efforts both rural and urban. Bascom holds literature and theology degrees from the University of Kansas; Seabury-Western Seminary (Evanston, IL) and Exeter University, England. Her Doctorate is in homiletics from Iliff School of Theology (Denver, CO).

Besides weekly compositions for the pulpit, and a lovely family, Bascom considers leadership in transforming a dilapidated parking lot in downtown Des Moines into a sustainable, native, public green-space, to be her most notable artistic offering to-date. She has published pieces on the portrayal of religious experience in C.S. Lewis’ fiction, and wrote her dissertation on the spiritual themes and craft in the lyrics of George Harrison (of Beatle fame.)

During her course at Iowa State she hopes to pen essays and a memoir that portray both the astonishing losses and the sensitive recovery of native grasses in the Midwest, as well as the colorful people involved in this unfolding saga of our sod.


bruen-morningstar_izaBorn and raised in Northern New Mexico, Iza Bruen-Morningstar spent most of her life in arid, jagged places. Iza earned a degree from Prescott College in Natural History and Ecology, with a minor in writing. While pursuing her degree, she discovered that Natural History is, in many ways, interpretive storytelling, as a Naturalist’s purpose is to observe honestly and accurately the many connections within the natural world and condense those observations into cohesive narratives. This realization is why she attends ISU.

Iza has been fortunate to work as an avian field biologist, naturalist, and obsessive analyzer and creator of narratives in Nevada, California, Utah, Idaho, Maine, New Mexico and Sonora, Mexico. During her time at ISU she hopes to hone her abilities as both a writer and a naturalist, and to further explore the overlap between those vocations.


buchanan_danielleDanielle Lea Buchanan, an upcoming second year Master of Fine Arts student, was fortunate to receive the generous 1st year CWE Graduate Fellowship that granted her time to further pursue her writing interests: classism, socio-economics, Midwestern and Southern rurality, trauma theory, collective and generational trauma, intergenerational relationships in adverse family structures, social systems that perpetuate oppression, enculturation and acculturation, the cyclical navigations of poverty, and family system’s models—most notably Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bioecology of human development. She remains in un-ebbed awe of humanities resilience.

Most presently, she’s a “fiction” candidate at Iowa State University who revels in the opportunity to be deeply re-rooted home: The Midwest. Danielle is at work on “Zonkey!”—a novel-in-progress whose focus lies within marginalized communities of the Ozark region with aims to obliterate systemic structures that cyclically perpetuate social injustice, as well as explore trauma’s navigations through generational lineage. Lastly, she’s difficultly at work on a difficult project to make the difficulty of the Avant Garde less difficult by difficultly rejuvenating difficulty in wildly bombastic, fresh effervescence.

Danielle’s poetry, hybridities, fiction, book reviews, interviews and oddities have appeared in McSweeney’s, Puerto del Sol, New Delta Review, Mid-American Review, Psychopomp, Robot Melon, Dinosaur Bees, Whole Beast Rag, and other elsewheres.


renee_christopherRenee Christopher is a second-year who writes speculative fiction and poetry that explores monstrosity, feminism, power dynamics, and how humans relate to their natural and urban environments. Renee is the current editor of Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. When she’s not writing, she enjoys dancing, the occasional yoga session, watching television, and cooking spectacular breakfasts.






Zara Chowdhary is a screenwriter with an MA in Writing for Performance from the University of Leeds. She’s now getting acquainted with prose fiction and rekindling her love affair with poetry through the course of the MFA in Creative Writing and the Environment at Iowa State.

From being that 18 year old kid sweeping the shooting floor on a movie set, she’s worked her way up as a producer and assistant director for TV commercials and indie projects, has run a digital filmmaking studio in Mumbai for five years, served as a senior copywriter on nationwide ad campaigns, and managed to raise a child and a cat with some sanity to spare. The last thing she did before she packed their lives up to move bag and baggage to the US was work in a Bollywood film and distribution studio as one of six storytellers in their Writers’ Room. Plotting and character-defining action are her cocaine.

She enjoys being able to tell stories in everything she does: write, dance, sing, sketch or photograph. She hopes to someday direct a screenplay she’s scripted, adapted from a novel she’s written, inspired by a poem that’s come to her based on a dream she’s dreamed.


Brendan Curtin is a nonfiction candidate in Iowa State University’s MFA in CWE program. He grew up on the north coast of the Midwest—the land of lake-effect snow and decaying steelworks—and on his aunt and uncle’s farm in Upstate New York where the air is sweet with hay dust and coyotes chase deer along abandoned canals.

He graduated from Hiram College in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and held an editorial internship at Big Stone Publishing in Carbondale, Colorado. He has published articles in amaranth and Trail Runner magazines.

After college, Brendan walked over 7,600 miles across the United States. It this experience—and its questions of love, isolation, materialism, conservation, absolutism, and exclusive devotion—that he wishes to explore in his nonfiction work at Iowa State.



Abby Darge-Weeks is a second-year student who primarily explores how uncomfortable realities can be rendered creatively for the purposes of constructive impact in our life contexts. Trauma, disaster, destruction, transformation, regeneration, death, rebirth, and ability are common themes in her fiction and nonfiction, with implicit or explicit commentary on cultural issues. Her work tends to be minimal and genre-recombinant, and she is inspired by personal, family, and community experiences. The only thing she enjoys more than writing is exposing her students to the skills and perspectives necessary for effective communication. She embraces the unexpected, the magical, the absurd and the hyperstrange, and always tries to be brave.



Jon M. Galletley III is a first year MFA fiction writer. His focuses are currently speculative science fiction and apocalyptic horror, but also dabbles in non-fiction and social justice writing. He’s a proud father and supportive husband.

He recently graduated from Iowa State University, receiving his BA in English, with a focus on creative writing. He grew up in California and moved to Iowa with his family in 2007, where he discovered his love for writing.




Matty Layne Glasgow is a third-year MFA candidate in the Creative Writing and Environment program at ISU. His work often explores pop culture, queering environment, drag queens, and his upbringing in Texas. Matty co-led the Ames High Creative Writing Club and continues to lead a therapeutic writing workshop at the National Alliance of Mental Illness in Ames. He also works with Writers in the Schools, teaching creative writing to students in classrooms, community projects, and art galleries throughout Houston and southwest Texas.

Matty served as the Poetry Editor for Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, and he currently reads poetry for The Adroit Journal. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in journals here and there, including BOAAT, Muzzle, The Collagist, Rattle, Frontier, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing & Environment Fellowship, and his poems have recently been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthologies.


Shane Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in History from Iowa State University. He graduated from Western New Mexico University with a Masters in Inter-Disciplinary Studies with concentrations in English and Creative Writing in 2013 and is now a candidate in the MFA CWE at Iowa State University. He has been working as a Firefighter/Paramedic for the Des Moines Fire Department for 14 years. Shane is also a 14 year veteran of the US Armed Forces. Shane, his wife and three daughters live on an acreage east of Ames.

Shane grew up in a farming family and farmed as an adult for a while. He has always been displeased with current farming practices and hopes to see farming become more sustainable. After writing an essay on the natural migration of mountain lions to Iowa and the Midwest, which appeared in the Wapsipinicon Almanac, Shane was inspired to become politically active, seeking protection for Iowa’s lost species, such as the mountain lion, wolves, black bear, elk, and moose. Shane has been working for two years to try to pass an all-inclusive wildlife bill to protect these species and to aid in their return to Iowa. The spirits of these animals and the loss of natural habitat have been recurring themes in his work.

During his time at Iowa State, Shane plans on writing a novel or two concerning the ecological disaster that is occurring here. He plans on melding the cultural change that occurred within him concerning corporate agriculture, with the ignorance that Iowa lawmakers have with their own environment, and to protect and to regenerate what is left of the natural resources in Iowa. He hopes that one day his work will change minds and policy in Iowa. In his free time you may find Shane fishing and canoeing or cheering on his daughters at one of their many sporting events, or you may stumble across him in the woods searching for tracks and signs of what was the wild of Iowa.


Laura Hitt is a first year MFA candidate at Iowa State University’s Creative Writing and Environment program, and is honored to have received the 2015 Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship. She earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Prescott College, and accepted a fellowship from the Frederick & Frances Sommer Foundation during her senior year. Her work has been published on the National Geographic Voices blog, plain china anthology, Alligator Juniper, and Slush Pile. A transplant from the high desert of northern New Mexico, she is excited to explore the prairie and its stories.



horner_emilyEmily Horner is the author of A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, a top-ten title on the American Library Association’s Rainbow Project Book List for 2011.

A first-year MFA candidate in the Creative Writing & Environment program at Iowa State University, she also holds a BA in Linguistics from McGill University and a Master’s of Library and Information Science from the University of North Carolina. In 2001 she studied classical Japanese literature in Nagasaki, Japan as a recipient of a scholarship from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

Before relocating to Ames, she spent eight years as a young adult librarian with Brooklyn Public Library. She writes about girlhood, adolescence, cyborgs, witches, and how humans exist in relationship with urban and suburban environments.


kwassman-amalieAmalie Kwassman is a first-year poet from Brooklyn, New York and a graduate of Smith College. She has experience teaching in New York with Teach for America. Amalie has received scholarships from the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. She has been a guest speaker and spoken word performer at The Anne Frank Center, Dixon Place and The National Conference for Community and Justice. She reflects on urban life, religion and how many poems she can write while riding the NYC subway train.




lisabeth_zachZach Lisabeth wrote a thing once. Unless apprehended he will likely write again. He was born on Long Island and took a circuitous route to MFA by way of Brooklyn, NY, Burlington, VT, Chicago, IL and Los Angeles, CA where his writing career began in earnest. He is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop at UCSD, an experience he credits with exacerbating his Weirdness. His work has appeared in several publications including Liquid Imagination, Freeze Frame Fiction, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Gaia: Shadow & Breath vol. 2 (Pantheon Press), Burningword Literary Journal and the anthology RealLies (The Zharmae Publishing Press). You can follow his intermittent outbursts on Twitter @zachlisabeth or check in with him any time at


Jenna Mertz grew up on a road in Wisconsin named after the two-hundred-year-old burr oak that stood, quite literally, in the middle of the street. She believes, with all the beer and cheese of her soul, that few places on earth rival the beauty of Lake Superior in summer and the Kettle Moraine State Forest in fall.

Jenna earned her BA in English, Spanish, and Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an undergraduate, she served as a peer writing tutor and interned with Lakeshore Nature Preserve. In her final year, she received the Eudora Welty prize for her fiction thesis, Lake Tilson.

Before graduate school, Jenna taught English in a small town in Norway whose name you can’t pronounce, lodged somewhere between canola fields and a Viking grave. In addition to helping Norwegian and international university students with their academic writing, she learned that caviar and bacon-cheese do, in fact, come in tubes.

Jenna serves as a communications consultant at Iowa State’s Writing and Media Center. She plans to write a short story cycle set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.



Ebonesiah Morrow is a first year MFA candidate at Iowa State University’s Creative Writing and Environment Program. She earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in English/ Literature and Professional and Creative Writing at Central Washington University. Although she is a candidate of fiction writing at ISU, she is an experimental writer, who values writing in all genres. Ebony describes herself as a poet who loves to tell stories. With her literature, she strives to be a voice for those who are devoiced by society. During her years here at ISU, her goal is to break the boundaries of the traditional novel, developing experimental works that highlight a variety of writing forms.



NathanaelJoel Nathanael is a first year MFA candidate for poetry at Iowa State University and a Public Speaking Teaching Assistant. Recently Joel graduated From Iowa State University with a B.A. in Communication (emphasis in Nonverbal Communication). He served in the United States Army from 2002 – 2005.

Through the MFA program, Joel wishes to further his study of poetry as an art through practice. Predominately, Joel’s work deals with the intersection of scientific thought and human significance. His primary interests are in educational, scientific, social, religious, and militaristic systems as they manifest in a given environment.

While making music is his creative compliment to poetry, Joel also enjoys graphic novels, quality hair ties, The X-Files, and single malt Scotch.


Mike Robbins is a fiction writer who, sometimes, writes a poem worth sharing. He studied English Literature at Western Connecticut State University and spent two years after college serving as an AmeriCorps member at education related nonprofits in New Haven, CT and Washington, DC. Before arriving in Iowa with the hip and ankle problems that corroborate his former passion for skateboarding, he lived and worked in Washington, DC as a grant writer.

He is writing a collection of short stories and a novel and is grateful to the students and faculty at Iowa State’s Creative Writing program for all of their conversation and support.



Keygan Sands has entered the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment hoping to explore the relationships and reciprocity between humans and nature.

She grew up surrounded by forests and farmland in west-central Wisconsin but migrated westwards. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science and Environmental Science from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. While there, she studied carbon cycling in streams, population trends of gray whales through her internship at Cascadia Research Collective, conservation of lynxes, and a species of sea slug that steals chloroplasts. She expected to become a scientist, but upon her return to the Midwest, she got a job as a naturalist at a cave and fully realized her love of connecting people with science and nature.

She is continuing this task at ISU as a creative nonfiction writer.


stone_ericEric Fisher Stone is from Fort Worth, Texas where he completed his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University. He has had poems published in various literary journals, print and online, including Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Third Wednesday, The Lyric, Jersey Devil Press, Eunoia Review, Yellow Chair Review, Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, Turtle Island Quarterly and New Mexico Review,

His poetic influences are many, but often stem from Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Mary Oliver, Roethke, WS Merwin, Albert Goldbarth and BH Fairchild and he has also studied under “Pete” Fairchild, who gave Eric the gift of poetry in the first place.

He is fascinated by immensity, whales in the deep sea and galaxies arching forever across space and time, and he also loves microbial spots of being, what Blake called “a world in a grain of sand.” He finds that the mundane is a bridge between these two universes. He has discovered there are no ugly animals, only cute ones. Some animals, such as tarantulas and blobfish, have a cuteness that is discovered, not presented at first sight. He is fascinated by animals and his favorite animal is a javelina. He frequently includes animals in his work.


stringfield_shelbyShelby Rae Stringfield is a graduate of the University of Tennessee where she worked with the university’s undergraduate literary arts magazine, the Phoenix, as fiction editor and then editor-in-chief. She writes primarily fiction, occasionally creative nonfiction, and when prompted has been known to turn out a poem or two for which her dog, Gavin, is the primary subject and muse.

In her free time, she enjoys long walks around her apartment complex with Gavin, binge-watching the best of TV drama and comedy (Orphan Black, VEEP, Jane the Virgin, Orange is the New Black, and more that she will adamantly and repeatedly recommend whether her advice is solicited or not), eating, and marveling at the vastness of the corn fields in her new environment that contrast greatly against the mountain views she grew up with in the Tennessee Valley.

Her literary loves include Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jeffrey Eugenides, Donna Tartt, Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon, Colum McCann, and (when in need of a chuckle) Nick Hornby.


Phoebe Wagner grew up in Pennsylvania, the third generation to live in the Susquehanna River Valley. She spent her days among the endless hills, and while she is still getting used to the flatness, Iowa does have its charms. She graduated with a B.A. in English: Creative Writing from Lycoming College where she also met her husband. Phoebe writes primarily fiction but explores poetry and creative nonfiction as well. Her interests revolve around mythology, fantasy, and science fiction, focusing on finding wonder where others have forgotten to look. Her work has appeared in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Hearth Magazine, Rose Red Review, and The Allegheny Review.

While Phoebe has worked as a college admissions counselor, street artist, graphic designer, theatre box office manager, and barista, her writing remains one of the few constants in her life. When not reading or writing, she enjoys weekend adventures with her husband, kayaking, literature discussions over a pint of craft beer, and playing with her cat Mithrandir.


white_connorBorn in a log cabin built with his own tiny hands, Connor White was raised in the deep-fried, sweltering suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. After a childhood’s worth of napping by creek beds and nosing around neighbors’ yards, he attended Georgia Southern University, and although he received his Bachelor’s in Multimedia Communications (namely out of laziness to swap majors halfway through undergrad), it was out in that little town swamped by cotton fields he learned to write, and that he loved to write.

His work explores the wisdom of children and elders, blurred cultural and geographic boundaries, idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, and the conflict versus nature and the self rather than versus one another. He enjoys the history, linguistics, and musical traditions of other cultures and peoples, and draws inspiration from them for his work when he can, respectfully and enthusiastically. Who needs the Kardashians when you have the Habsburgs, rulers of Europe and just as self-destructive?


hagan_whiteleatherHagan Faye Whiteleather is a first year MFA candidate in ISU’s Creative Writing and Environment program. Hagan graduated Summa Cum Laude from Kent State University with degrees in English and Psychology, a minor in Writing, and a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language. She was also president of the English honorary society, Sigma Tau Delta and editor of her university’s literature and arts magazine Luna Negra.

Hagan’s writing is generally of the creative nonfiction variety. Her (yet to be completed) short story cycle revolves around her Aunts and their rural upbringing.

Outside of the MFA, Hagan’s passions include reading children’s literature, watching copious amounts of television, walking aimlessly, sitting in cars, and when she is at her Ohio home—tending to her family’s youngs and olds. Additionally, she is more than mildly obsessed with Shirley Jackson, John Steinbeck, Sylvia Plath, Shel Silverstein, Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Roald Dahl, and any/all of the Brontës.


Brontë Christopher Wieland thinks about language, culture, nature, and storytelling. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.







Kate Wright grew up in Pennsylvania and received a BA and MA from The Pennsylvania State University in English. In her poetry, she explores life, death, and relationships. She takes special interest in familial relationships and relationships with nature, both of which were vital in her small Appalachian town. She looks forward to exploring the new landscapes that both the Midwest and her recent trip to Madagascar will bring to her writing.

In her free time, Kate enjoys trail running in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and has competed in a few trail races, ranging in distance from 7 to 17 miles. She’s excited to explore Iowa’s trails and perhaps complete a marathon. A college wrestling enthusiast (like any true Pennsylvanian), she is elated to study at Cael Sanderson’s Alma Mater, and plans to attend some matches at her new school.