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Meet Rachel Howard, the 2011-2012 Beebe Fellow

by Grace Hatton, staff writer

Rachel Howard was awarded this year's Joan Beebe Graduate Teaching Fellowship. Photo by Wyatt Pace.

The Joan Beebe Graduate Teaching Fellowship is a one-year teaching position at Warren Wilson that is available to all alumni of college’s MFA Program for Writers. Each year a different Beebe Fellow teaches College Composition I and creative writing classes. The Fellow also leads a group of creative writing students through the winter MFA residency. Many Beebe Fellows stay with the creative writing department after their year as a Fellow comes to an end.

For the current year, the Beebe Fellow is Rachel Howard. Rachel Howard is a memoirist, fiction writer, critic, and arts journalist. Her first book, The Lost Night, a memoir about the emotional aftermath of her father’s unsolved murder, was published in 2005. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times; O, the Oprah Magazine; San Francisco Magazine; Village Voice; Dance Magazine; and other publications. Howard graduated from the Wilson MFA program in July 2009 and is teaching two classes this semester: Creative Writing: Fiction and College Composition I: Everyone’s a Critic: Writing about the Arts.

Howard completed her undergraduate degree at the University of California Santa Barbara in 1998. Howard’s undergrad experience was quite unique: “I attended a small college within the university called the College of Creative Studies (CCS). It’s an experimental college founded in the 1960s. It offers concentrations in literature (my area), biology, physics, music, art, computer science, and chemistry. All classes were small seminars or workshops. All classes are pass/no pass, no grades. The students do not have to complete the typical Gen Ed requirements but are instead expected to go right into upper-level classes. Our only course requirements were to study Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton.

“I ended up at CCS by fluke,” Howard says. “I actually performed quite poorly in high school because I was more concerned with being on the color guard and joining a summer drum corps called the Blue Devils, which I did march with in 1994, and also I was running around with boys. So my grades did not qualify me for the UC system. But I wanted to be a writer, and one day I spotted a writing contest sponsored by CCS. I entered and won, and the school waived GPA requirements for me and gave me a scholarship. That was an amazing second chance. I’m very, very lucky.”

Howard’s journey as a writer has been equally as unique and has been inspired by dramatic events in her own life.

“I wanted to be a writer for the first time around age 10, but I was growing up in Fresno, California, where there is little culture and little idea of ‘being a writer’ as viable reality. So getting into CCS made a huge difference. At CCS, I wrote fiction and began to have a strong need to face what happened to my father and to put the murder behind me. So about a year after undergrad, the fiction shifted to nonfiction, and I started writing the memoir. And then once the memoir was done, I turned back to fiction,” Howard said.

“Reading biographies of writers continually inspires me because seeing what they went through to write their books makes the endeavor real and galvanizes me to work harder. Recent biographies I have loved: A Tragic Honesty about Richard Yates, Flaubert and Madame Bovary, about how in the hell Flaubert managed to write Madame Bovary. And it’s quite a story, involving a first novel he labored five years on and never published, as well as the collaboration of two close friends who believed in his talent.”

“Another inspiration: my mentors, especially my last advisor at Warren Wilson, novelist Frederick Reiken,” says Howard. “He’s written three gorgeous novels–and struggled and worked so damn hard. I admire both his writing and the way he lives his life.”

Howard is a welcome addition to the creative writing faculty and is happy to be at Wilson. “I’m really enjoying teaching here,” says Howard. ”The students in my classes are so smart–book-smart, yes, but also wonderfully no-b.s.-gets-past-them smart. I’m learning new things from them every day.

“I also have to add how glad I am to be in the creative writing department here. I had a good undergrad creative writing experience as a student at UCSB, but damn, I would have been better off if I’d had some classes with Catherine [Reid], Gary [Hawkins], Sebastian [Matthews], Rose [McLarney], John [Crutchfield], and Justin [Gardiner]. The thoughtfulness they invest in their classes astounds me, and I’m learning so much from their example”.



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