SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Hamline University sits in the middle of a rich tradition of children's books. It's the home of Wild Rumpus bookstore, Red Balloon Bookshop and other resources for both customers and writers.
That's why it made perfect sense for Mary Rockcastle, director of The Creative Writing Program at Hamline University, to tailor a Master of Fine Arts program just for writers of literaturefor children and young adults.
"Several local writers came to me," said Rockcastle, "one of them Kate DiCamillo, and said we really need an MFA in writing for children and young adults right here in the Twin Cities."
Rockcastle tappednot only DiCamillo's talents, but also those of more than a dozen other nationally known authors to serve as teacher-mentors for students who come to Hamline from all over the country,even other nations.
"I think this is a gem, and it's a secret and I don't think it should be a secret," said MFAC candidate Miriam Busch, who lives in Chicago.
Busch and other candidates who don't live in Minnesota can enroll in the Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program because it is a low-residency model.
Students meet twice a year for an 11-day residency during the two year program. The rest of the time they work independently, sending their work to their mentors who provide their critique.
"You're sending them voluminous amounts of work," said MFAC candidate Peter Pearson. "There's just this laser focus on what you're doing and what you specifically need."
"They're taking days laboring over your work, giving your feedback," said Alicia Williams, an MFAC candidate who travels from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Williams says that level of attention to a student's work often yields unexpected results. "It's like a treasure. You may find the box, they may open it up and say, 'Did you notice that there's a jewel in there?'"
Hamline's program is a rare breed. Rockcastle knows of only two other programs nationwide that provide a special focus on the craft of writing literature for children and young adults.
Students will also meet agents and editors, and learn how to market their work. Rockcastle points proudly to stacks of books authored by students and faculty. She sets the bar high, both for her students and herself.
"My goal was to make Hamline the place to go for creative writing in the Upper Midwest," said Rockcastle.
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