Alumni Spotlight | M. M. De Voe (Writing '01)

Was there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?

Michael Cunningham was one of my writing workshop instructors. He always told us that faculty and students in the Writing Division were the same: all just writers struggling to get a good story on paper in the best way. One day he came to class extremely frustrated by his morning writing. "Guys," he said, "I'm writing a book about Virginia Woolf and my mother. Is that stupid?" Whenever I feel down on my own creative writing I remember his despair while writing the novel that won him a Pulitzer Prize, and I get right back to work.

How did attending the School of the Arts impact your work and career as an artist?

SOA made me take my writing seriously. Before attending grad school, writing was just something I did for fun or at times when I was really down on everything else. It was more than a hobby but far less than a career. Let's call it an "interest". Columbia made me see myself as a serious artist. I got to mingle with artists of other disciplines and feel the importance of storytelling not just while writing but also while making theater, music...even running a business. I realized at Columbia that the farther you push your boundaries, the better you become. It's easy to pull back--it's hard to fly. But at Columbia we were encouraged to jump and hope for the best. I have done this with every new story I have begun--even while founding a literary nonprofit--jumped and hoped the idea had wings.

What were the most pressing social/political issues on the minds of the students when you were here?          
The Writing Division was worried about itself--that it was being neglected in favor of the other divisions in the school. We had fierce turnover in staff and faculty and administration. It was a very frustrating time to be at the SOA--the years before us were filled with angst and frustration at the school. We students tried to stay out of the university politics but it was hard--we felt neglected by the school and that we would be required to make our own opportunities. Then, three months after I graduated, the WTC disaster happened and the entire arts world had to be remade.

If you could revisit any piece you created during your time at the School of the Arts, which would it be? Why?       
I would like to work again with Robert Woodruff and Anne Bogart. I took a few interdisciplinary courses for Writers to act and to direct, and I found that while I was on stage or directing a scene, my creative mind took off--I was suddenly a far better writer. Boundaries no longer existed. Just watching them rethink the assumptions that their actors and directors made was enough to crumble walls. It was magical.

What was your favorite or most memorable class while at the School of the Arts?         
Had to be Michael Cunningham's writing workshop. I wrote one story and behind closed doors in his office, he taught me to cut. He pulled out a pair of scissors and actually cut up my story in to paragraphs. Then he rearranged the paragraphs on the desk and swept a few of the paragraphs into his lap. "Here's your story," he said. And I looked: I had written every word but now it was tight and fierce. The story was published in the first literary magazine I sent it to. It gave me great confidence to allow editors to trim my work, and to see the importance of their talent. I will never forget it.

About M. M. De Voe
M. M. De Voe is a Manhattan-based writer whose short fiction has won many literary prizes. Her musical, R/Evolution, premiered Off Broadway in 2014. She founded the literary nonprofit, Pen Parentis, in 2013 providing resources to writers who are also parents. Anthologized alongside Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood and nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, some recent placements include The Brooklyn Rail, BuzzyMag Black Static (winner of Campaign for Real Fear), Mississippi Review, Bellevue Review, Oklahoma Review, Sojourn (Editor’s Prize), Literal Latte (first prize, short-short), NMW (first prize, short-short), and Speck Lit. She is the recipient of multiple grants including the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, Fund for Creative Communities, and Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant for Historical Fiction with Gay Positive Characters. Inaugural winner University of Notre Dame of Maryland’s Sigma Tau Delta Outstanding Alumni Award (2014). Columbia University Writing Fellow, MFA.
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