Your Writing Role Models

By Sophfronia Scott

There’s a part in the documentary History of the Eagles where the band’s Glenn Frey recalls living upstairs from singer Jackson Browne. He could hear Browne’s tea kettle go off at the same time each morning, then Browne at the piano working on a new piece of music. Browne would play sections over and over again.

After a while the tea kettle would go off once more. Then Browne would go back to the piano. Frey said he eventually realized what he was hearing. “This is how you write a song.” In that moment, Browne became Frey’s songwriting role model.

Role models are important because, while you may seek to blaze your own trails, you’ll start out needing a map. Someone else is already doing the things that you want to do. All you have to do is learn how they do it — and be inspired.

I have many role models from various art forms. I’m a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen because of his music, but he’s also a role model for me because I like to read about how he works, how he pursues his art. What does he read? What does he listen to? How does he build a song?

From the film director Sidney Lumet, I learned how to make decisions about which projects to pursue. Author Toni Morrison taught me how to be bold in my writing and find and speak my truth.

I first read Lord Byron in high school and became fascinated by not only his writing, but also his travels throughout Europe — Venice, in particular. In the years to come, I would learn about the travels of many great writers like Ernest Hemingway and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and how moving through the world as they did brought a certain depth and sophistication to their writing. I knew I wanted to someday travel and write in amazing settings as they had.

(Side note: The Alma College Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program will hold its January 2024 winter residency in the Veneto region of Italy at the Hotel Villa Franceschi on the Brenta Canal. Apply today and get your passport ready!)

Who are your role models? Who is doing the writing, teaching, traveling, etc., that you want to do? How can you learn from them?

If you’re a student in the Alma MFA program, you are surrounded by talented, accomplished faculty mentors and you get to have their singular focus as you work with a mentor one-on-one each term.

During the residency, you collaborate on the semester’s study plan and reading list. Then you will implement that plan, submitting five monthly packets of work to your mentor. Each packet includes approximately 25 pages of creative work as well as craft papers, three to four pages each, on a technique or techniques gleaned from your reading. You get accountability, encouragement, and the benefit of the experience from a mentor who is living a writing life you may want to emulate.

From a National Book Award finalist, to Houston’s Poet Laureate, and a PEN Center fellow, Alma’s MFA faculty model the very best of what one can aspire to as writers. They also have a deep commitment to teaching, and to sharing their enthusiasm for their students’ writing. It is a unique opportunity to work so closely with mentors who have so much to offer.

You can get a sense of the talent and experience of our faculty by checking out the Alma MFA YouTube channel. You’ll find a wealth of content, including our “Faculty Friday” series, as well as sample lessons taught by Shonda Buchanan, Anna Clark, Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Benjamin Garcia, and Robert Vivian, among others.

Watch and perhaps you’ll realize what you’re hearing: “This is what it means to understand one’s craft. This is what it means to be a writer.”

Maybe you’ll want the same for yourself. And when you get to that point, our faculty will be here, eager to read your work.