On writing, MFA student Kij Johnson has one piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid of it—you just have to go do it.” If her determination and dedication to writing are any indication, she takes her own advice seriously.
Johnson (MFA candidate, 2012), who did not start writing until she was 25, is the winner of two consecutive Nebula Awards, one of the most prestigious literary awards offered within the science fiction community. She won her first award in2010 for the short story “Spar,” and traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to receive her second award for the short story “Ponies.”
For most writers, receiving such honors would be validation of a certain level of mastery of the craft. For Johnson, who recognizes the potential to continuously improve, it simply wasn’t enough. Determined to hone her skills, she applied to graduate school for creative writing after winning her first Nebula.
“Even supposing mastery is possible in something as mutable as fiction, it’s necessary for any artist to return to the basics again and again. I knew that wherever I entered a writing program I would be looking at my craft with new eyes, and I hoped this would make me ask questions I hadn’t even thought about in years. And it did.”
NC State’s MFA program was Johnson’s top choice from the start. According to Johnson, many creative writing programs are resistant to recognizing speculative fiction as a valid literature and tend to discourage writing within genres pertaining to the fantastical. As a writer seeking to develop her skills within such a genre, she anticipated a nurturing environment in which she could grow.
“I had heard so many horror stories about other programs that basically said, ‘No genre whatsoever.’ It’s incredibly cool that State’s program is so friendly towards science fiction. That’s what brought me here.”
After being accepted into the program, Johnson found the nurturing community she had been looking for. At NC State, she felt at home not only with her genre-friendly professors but with her talented peers as well.
“Of course you learn from the professors, but then you learn from other people in the program, too. They’re a thoughtful, positive, critically savvy group. I’m learning something different every day.”
Johnson considers this unique combination of talent,collaboration, and openness to be one of the best features of NC State’s nationally-competitive young MFA program for aspiring writers of all genres.
“What’s great is that it’s a new program and it’s already got such a strong national reputation. I’m going to be proud to be a graduate.”
Jen Jernigan, CHASS Communication Intern