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Sarah Van Arsdale, MFA

Antioch University Los Angeles

Sarah Van Arsdale’s first poetry chapbook is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in October, 2021. She is the author of four books of fiction and a single book-length poem, titled The Catamount (Nomadic Press, 2017), illustrated with her watercolors. Her fourth book of fiction, a collection of novellas titled In Case of Emergency, Break Glass, was published by Queens Ferry Press in 2016. Her third novel, Grand Isle, was published by SUNY Press in 2012. Her second, Blue, winner of the 2002 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2003, and her first, Toward Amnesia, was published in 1996 by Riverhead Books.

Her poetry, fiction, and essays have been published in literary magazines including Guernica, Passages North, The New Guard, and Bayou; her essays on craft have appeared in The AWP Writers’ Chronicle, and The Writer. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College. In addition to teaching in the Antioch/LA low-residency MFA program, she has taught with Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy, at New York University, and with Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. For seven years, she curated BLOOM, a reading series in New York City, and serves on the board of the Ferro-Grumley Award in LGBTQ Fiction.  More of her drawings, short films, and writing can be seen at sarahvanarsdale.com.

Educational History

MFA in Creative Writing, VCFA

Teaching Statement

In my fiction writing, I work to create characters that are believable in their courage or fear, their tenderness or irascibility, their ultimate yearning to connect. But it’s in my students that I see the real emotional spectrum; it’s my students who can be exhilarated by praise or pierced by criticism. And it’s with my students that I’m able to truly connect, because working on fiction together is like that: when we enter one another’s fictional worlds, we operate on a level of intimacy that demands respect and caution—tempered by humor and an unwavering expectation of quality.

Fiction writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it’s necessary for anyone writing fiction to read widely and well, and it’s important in our time to read as internationally as possible. So I encourage my writing students to read from other perspectives, places, and times than their own, in order to better see their own world in a larger context. At the same time, fiction writing is ultimately very personal, and it’s not my job to impose my own preferences onto my students, but to help them understand their stories, and to learn the elements of craft which can help those stories emerge.

As a teacher, it’s up to me to finely-tune the best way to deliver information to my students; just as I can’t tell a reader everything about a character upfront, so too I can’t tell a student everything they need to know immediately. There’s a delicate of offering criticism and encouragement, of teaching points of craft and appreciating the student’s concept. I try to always be cognizant of the ways in which differences in background and experience may influence my students’ work, and to remember that as the teacher, I’m ultimately the one responsible for creating the bridge between myself and my students.

In the Antioch low-residency program, I work with students online and through the mail, making comments on the page with Track Changes (or with a pen) and including a long letter about structural points in the fiction. I encourage my students to use some of their writing time to write me a letter as well, which they can use to consider their process and work through thoughts about their work.

Affiliate Faculty,

MFA in Creative Writing Program

CONTACT INFORMATION

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