Alma College Set to Open New Master of Fine Arts Program

United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo to give public reading at kick-off event

Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo is pictured in this 2019 photo. Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo is pictured in this 2019 photo.ALMA — The first graduate students in the 134-year history of Alma College will form the inaugural class for the college’s new Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.

The first summer residency for MFA students is from June 17-27, based at the Wright Leppien Opera House. The program will begin with a virtual reading by the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, which will be livestreamed, on June 18 at 7:30 p.m.

The public is welcome to attend the livestreamed event. For more information on Harjo’s public reading, including the link to access the livestream, visit

“We are delighted to open the inaugural summer residency with a class of such promising students,” Scott said. “We are also honored to have Joy Harjo — one of the most powerful voices in our nation — join us at Alma College. I know she will set the tone for our residency and inspire everyone.”

Scott — an author of multiple novels, memoirs, and collections of essays, as well as fiction and creative nonfiction works published in journals nationwide — serves as the program director. She assists students while exploring the program as their potential next step and throughout their time with Alma and beyond.

Its low-residency format is designed for students who want to continue working while earning a degree. The program’s inaugural class of 15 participants will come together four times over the two-year curriculum to take part in 10 days of intensive lectures, workshops, readings and 1-on-1 time with faculty.

The winter residencies will take place at the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center, located on the shore of Higgins Lake in Roscommon. After each residency, writers will return home to continue their studies one-on-one with a faculty mentor, creating and submitting packets of creative and critical work on a monthly basis. The end goal is the development of a critical thesis, a graduate lecture, and a creative thesis subsisting of a manuscript in poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction.

The Alma College MFA faculty features a diverse group of writers with decades of experience between them. Faculty members include Matthew Gavin Frank, author of “Flight of the Diamond Smugglers: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa,” among other titles; Leslie Contreras Schwartz, the fourth Houston Poet Laureate; Dhonielle Clayton, the New York Times bestselling author of “The Belles” series; Anna Clark, author of “The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Tragedy,” among other titles; Karen E. Bender, author of “Refund,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction; Jim Daniels, a 1978 Alma College graduate and author of poetry, fiction and screenplays; Benjamin Garcia, author of “Thrown in the Throat,” among other titles; Kiese Laymon, author of “Heavy: An American Memoir,” among other titles; and Donald Quist, author of the linked story collection “For Other Ghosts” and the essay collection “Harbors,” among other titles.

“We’re pleased to launch a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program that will help students find their voices and develop their work as artists,” said Kathleen Dougherty, Alma College provost and senior vice president for student affairs. “Students will read deeply, participate in energetic discussions and learn to see their work in the context of current issues and events.”

Visiting writers and speakers include Khaled Mattawa, author of five books of poetry, and a critical study of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish; Heather Jackson, who worked for 20 years as an editor for dozens of New York Times bestsellers; Janet Simmonds, an Oxford-educated geographer and travel writer; and Harjo, an award-winning poet, writer, performer, and saxophone player of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation.

Faculty members will also give readings that are open to the public:

  • Garcia and Clark will speak at 7 p.m. June 17, at the Opera House.
  • Quist will speak at 7:30 p.m. June 19 at the Alma bookstore, Ballyhoo Books, 111 W. Superior St.
  • Clayton will give a reading at 7 p.m. June 20, at Ballyhoo Books.
  • Mattawa will speak at 7:30 p.m. June 21, at the Opera House.
  • Daniels will speak at 7 p.m. June 22, at the Opera House.
  • Bender will give a reading at 7 p.m. June 23, at the Opera House.
  • Frank will speak at 7 p.m. June 24, at the Opera House.
  • Contreras Schwartz and Scott will speak at 7 p.m. June 25, at the Opera House.

Harjo has authored nine books of poetry and a memoir and is the first Native American to hold the position of U.S. Poet Laureate. She has won many writing awards, including the 2019 Jackson Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

In addition to her virtual reading, Harjo will lecture Alma College MFA students.

“We are honored to have Joy Harjo join us at Alma College,” said Alma College President Jeff Abernathy. “She is only the second poet to be appoint­ed a third term as U.S. Poet Laureate, which is a testament to her groundbreaking work across many years. We look forward to welcoming her as our first students join us in Alma’s new MFA program.”

If you are interested in learning more about the MFA program, visit You can also email Scott at or call (989) 463-7394.

Story published on June 08, 2021