MFA Students Read Prize-Winning Original Pieces

By Aysha Khan, Bloc Reporter

Graduate students presented their poetry and fiction at this year’s final Writers Here & Now Wednesday with readings covering everything from metaphorical ivory animals to war-torn regions.

M.K. Foster, an master’s student in fine arts and instructor of academic and creative writing, won the Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize. Master of Fine Arts candidate and teaching assistant Ali Goldstein won the year’s Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize.

Foster read several pieces in a lively style resembling slam poetry to a crowd of more than 60 students and faculty in Ulrich Recital Hall.

M.K. Foster, Poetry
Aysha Khan/Bloc Reporter~MFA candidate M.K. Foster (center) discusses her poetry with audience members.

In “Litany for the Memory of My Mother’s Hands,” Foster’s evocative imagery built up layer upon layer in her typical technique: “hands like smooth old stones,” “hands like ivory animals nodding into themselves to pray,” “hands hungry, always hungry, for what they themselves cannot taste[…]”

“It’s no great secret that I’m a fan of National Geographic,” she joked of her tendency for animal-based imagery.

MFA student Aaron Brown’s poetry won an honorable mention. Brown said his work focused on the 2008 “pseudo-civil war” in the Central African country of Chad, where he lived for 10 years.

Brown’s work — featuring toy guns, dusty books, Arabic phrases, executions and a soldier with “a bullet to his brain” — echoed the instability and violence of the nation. His final poem, “N’Djamena, Meaning ‘We Will Rest,’” ended with the resounding image of “receding tail lights and a street littered with empty shells.”

George Mason University professor Sally Keith selected the poetry prize winners. Keith previously read her own poems at a Writers Here & Now event in September.

University of Maryland’s creative writing program and the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House sponsors the Writers Here & Now series, now in its 41st year.

Ali Goldstein, Fiction
Aysha Khan/Bloc Reporter~MFA student of fiction Ali Goldstein (center) speaks with audience members after her reading.

Goldstein, whose story “Howling” made her the night’s big fiction winner, presented the beginning of her book. The excerpt featured two young North Carolina girls, jostled into adulthood early as their grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

“Rachel curled her lip around her teeth,” Goldstein read to the audience. “She could almost be pretty without her crooked apology for a smile. Rachel was exhausted by all the the empathy required by the city.”

Goldstein’s world, a picturesque suburbia, contrasted with the gory setting created by MFA candidate Jacob Eckstein piece, “The Third Estate.”

Eckstein won an honorable mention from the Porter Fiction Prize for an excerpt from his piece, a story fraught with evocative images of war.

“Do you see how I have learned to read and write my letters?” he recited, his voice moving from angry and forlorn to matter-of-fact as he ended. “Good things borne bad things, always.”

Laura van den Berg, a Boston-area novelist and Emerson College creative writing instructor who read at a Writers Here & Now event in March, chose the fiction award winners.

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