College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Alumna Receives Prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford

Rachel Smith plans to use fellowship to finish novel and work on stories

Rachel Smith, an MFA graduate of University of Mississippi, has been selected as a 2013 recipient for the Wallace Stegner Fellowship for the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University.

Stanford offers 10 two-year fellowships each year, five in fiction and five in poetry. The two-year fellowship program, named after novelist and creative writing program founder Wallace Stegner, provides each fellow with a living stipend of $26,000 and covers tuition and health insurance. The new fellows, selected from a pool of more than 1,760 applicants, will begin the program in the fall.

A Seattle native residing in China, Smith was very familiar with the program when she applied. “I had two teachers, Gary Short and Jesmyn Ward, who had received the fellowship in the past,” she said. “It’s a well-known program and many superb writers have come out of it.”

The Creative Writing Program at Stanford is unusual in that it confers no degree and carries no teaching responsibilities. The writers are expected to use the time to finish a book and attend workshops each week.

“We’re thrilled that one of our recent graduates was chosen for a Stegner, the most prestigious fellowship for creative writers in the country,” said Beth Ann Fennelly, UM associate professor of English and director of the MFA program. “Rachel is amazingly talented, gifted with both great instincts and a great work ethic, and I have no doubt that she’ll take advantage of her two fellowship years to write a book that we’ll all be reading and praising before too long.”

To her credit, Smith has directed the documentary film “MINUSTAH Steals Goats,” about her experience in Haiti, as an outsider, trying to make sense of the situation with the UN peacekeepers. The film showed at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in 2010 and was picked up by 7th Art Releasing.

Smith attributes her success to her exposure to great teachers at Ole Miss.

“My teachers were accomplished, wise and generous,” she said. “Through my teachers and classmates, I was introduced to a lot of great writing and encouraged always to read more. The deadlines and critiques were a great help. And it is wonderful as a writer just starting out to know other people who have the same aspirations, to be around people who love books and language and want to tell stories, too.”

“Rachel Smith was a very talented MFA student in our creative writing program,” said Ivo Kamps, chair of the Department of English. “She is the first graduate from our MFA program to receive this award. Rachel winning the Stegner tells our other students that it is possible for them to reach high and be successful.”

While at Stanford, Smith plans to continue working on a novel and writing stories.

“One of my teachers told me that writing would only get better after the MFA, that it would be more serious,” she said. “It’s true that once you leave, you’ve had your training, you’re out in the world and it’s just you and the work. Improving your craft, editing your stories, putting in the hours day by day by day – all of it is what you make it. The MFA prepares you for that.”