Learning the art of storytelling
Creative Writing Program at UGA opens up opportunities to share artistic voice.
Gabrielle Lucia Fuentes, a third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia who is studying in English with a concentration in creative writing, types furiously away at her computer, clicking between edits and additions to her first novel.
The year is 1975 in Spain. Police arrive at Mosca’s grandmother’s door to hand over her brother Alexis’ medallion. Mosca’s brother has become one of the ‘disappeared,’ taken by the secret police to never be seen from again.
So begins “Sleeping World,” set in the political turmoil of Spain in the 1970s, which will be published by Simon & Schuster next year.
“The book follows Mosca, the narrator, in finding her kidnapped brother,” Fuentes said. “She’s part of a group of university students resisting the government. It’s an emotional journey that takes Mosca through Spain and eventually France.”
Fuentes drew inspiration for the book from her time spent living in Spain.
“I saw that older people were more fascist and conservative in their beliefs, while younger people were anarchists and trying to rebel,” she said. “I used those ideas to come up with the story.”
The rest of the novel fast-forwards two years, taking place in 1977, when there is an absence of power. Fascists fight anarchists for control, students take part in protests in the city, and the new order of life has yet to be decided.
“My book is a work of literal fiction but has elements of magic and realism,” she said. “Even though the book is set in the 1970s, I still saw this divide between the fascist and anarchist ideologies when I lived in Spain. It’s about the connection of then and now… about the tension between forgetting and remembering.”
Fuentes wrote “Sleeping World” as a full-length piece for her Master of Fine Arts program in fiction at the University of Colorado Boulder. After graduation, she started her doctoral program at UGA, where she actively sent out her manuscript and made edits.
The Creative Writing Program at UGA offers academic and professional opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduates can take introductory courses in creative writing, while graduate students can obtain doctorates in English with a concentration in creative writing.
In their first two years, doctoral students take courses on literary history and disciplinary change within the English department. Students can choose to study earlier periods of literature during this time.
Before their third year, students study for comprehensive exams in three fields. Finally, in their fourth and fifth years, students complete a creative dissertation. The dissertation is often a full-length work—either in fiction, non-fiction or poetry.
“Many of our students already have one or two books when they arrive at UGA. By the time they leave, it’s not unusual for them to have three or four books out.”
— Magdalena Zurawski, assistant professor of English and creative writing
Fuentes has two books in the works—she received an offer from Simon & Schuster for her first novel, and as of fall 2016, it will be everywhere books are sold. Along with wrapping up “Sleeping World,” she hopes to have a draft of her second novel finished by the end of this year.
“It’ll be totally different than ‘Sleeping World,’” she said. “It’s set in the 1930s at a religious commune up north. It’ll be a retelling of Wuthering Heights.”
A continuous writing pace is not uncommon for students in UGA’s Creative Writing Program.
“Many of our students already have one or two books when they arrive at UGA,” said Magdalena Zurawski, an assistant professor of English and creative writing. “By the time they leave, it’s not unusual for them to have three or four books out.”
Like the students, the Creative Writing faculty members are expected to publish books. Zurawski, who has worked closely with Fuentes, has written a novel called “The Bruise” and a collection of poetry titled “Companion Animal.”
With nearly two books completed, Fuentes said UGA has been a great decision for her career in terms of its classes, mentors and creative environment.
“I picked Athens because it’s a town that embraces artists,” she said. “In this town, it’s realistic to be an artist and make a living. It’s really a place with a vibrant arts culture.”
Between writing and working with her agent and publisher, Fuentes also stays busy taking courses and teaching an undergraduate “Introduction to Creative Writing” class.
“My students are so engaged and have keen insights on the books we read,” she said. “Even though I’m teaching them, I’m learning a lot at the same time.”
Fuentes said her mentors include Reginald McKnight and Magdalena Zurawski, both faculty in the Creative Writing Program.
“Gabrielle was done with this novel before I ever met her,” Zurawski said. “I have seen some of a new novel she is working on, and it’s wonderful. But she doesn’t need my help in writing. She just needs friendly ears to help her better understand her work as she is writing it. ‘Teaching’ writing I think is mostly about helping someone see what they are actually doing.”
Fuentes also appreciates her peers in the program.
“There are lots of people here who are dedicated to their students and their growth,” she said. “You’ll find students and professors here who have published multiple books. We’re always working on writing new projects.”
To learn more about the Creative Writing Program, visit https://www.english.uga.edu/cwp/pages/143.
— Molly Berg, News Service