Tag Archives: Evelyn Vaughn

Alumni Profile: Brianna Wilkins

Eddy Hall, before (image by Jill Salahub)

Eddy Hall, before (image by Jill Salahub)

Spring semester is done, graduation ceremonies have commenced and gone, and the renovation of Eddy Hall has officially begun.  Where did the time go? Our first set of Communication Interns in the English department have also finished their work with us. We are so sad to see Brianna and Evelyn go. They have done such great work helping us to tell our story, and set the bar high for the interns who will follow them.

As a way of wrapping up their time together, they sat down a few weeks ago to have a conversation. Intern Evelyn Vaughn interviewed now alumna Brianna Wilkins about her time at CSU and her plans for the future.

Brianna had originally planned to go to college out of state, but the lower tuition rates available to her for staying in state (she’s from Denver) convinced her to stay. After a slow start her first semester, Brianna has been committed to getting the most out of her time at CSU, and has been a hardworking student (once, for two semesters back to back, she took 18 credits, and has earned her goal of over a 3.0 GPA each semester after that first one, even though she’s also been working two jobs and doing internships the past two years) – although, she does admit to slacking off her final semester, taking it easy and nursing a pretty serious case of senioritis. While at CSU, she’s especially appreciated the variety of good food available in the dorms (she hadn’t expected that), and the fact that there’s always something going on and something to do on campus.

Brianna introduces herself

What’s your favorite memory of your time at CSU?

My favorite memory has to be probably these past few weeks, getting ready to graduate because I feel like my life’s moving forward. When you are in school you always know you are going to go back to school the following year, so for me it’s great to know that there’s something new coming in my life, even though I don’t know what it is, It’s exciting to take that new leap and be heading into something great…hopefully [laughter].

Brianna answers the question, “What advice would you give to students?”

You are a Journalism & Technical Communications and English Creative Writing major. Is that what you had originally planned to do?

When I first came, I knew I wanted to do Journalism, right off the bat, probably since my Junior year of high school, but that really changed for me. At first I thought I wanted to do Broadcast Journalism but then I realized I’m not really comfortable on camera, and I’d rather be behind the scenes working. So now I’m looking for jobs in Public Relations or Social Media just because I like being behind the scenes getting everything together.

I added English as a second major Spring semester of my freshman year, so I didn’t start taking English classes until my Sophomore year. I figured I’d do Creative Writing because I knew that I didn’t want to be a teacher.

I realize now that I’m ending everything that the English major has probably been the most challenging for me. I was a decent writer always but it was more like writing essays and stuff. Coming up with stories is so hard. People think it’s so easy and it’s really not. It’s such a challenge for me to write stories because it’s not something I’m really good at and it’s kind of uncomfortable for me — which I kind of liked because it’s a challenge. But at the same time, Journalism is so easy for me because it’s so hands on and we get to work in different aspects of things, like website building or doing publications or broadcasts or social media, all this different stuff we can work on. It gives us such a diverse field to study.

But I’d say together they’ve both made me a really good writer.

What did you originally think you were going to do with your degree? What job prospects did you have in mind?

I really want to get into social media and I’ve had about five internships since straight out of high school. I’ve done a lot of marketing internships, communications and writing for publications, so I’ve had a lot of experience in that area, but I really want to get into social media even though it’s something I haven’t done as much as I had originally planned.

Right now I’m interviewing for a few social media positions. I actually want another internship because if I commit to a job I want to make sure it’s where I want to be, I don’t want to just take a job because I need a job and then get stuck there, but I don’t want to job hop either. So if I can find at least one more internship that’s specifically dealing with social media and marketing then I’d like to go into that as a future career.

So your dream hasn’t changed very much?

Not at all. Writing, news writing is something that I dabbled in a bit, writing for different publications, so I wouldn’t mind trying that but that’s a really hard field to get in to just because people really aren’t reading newspapers and magazines as much, and it’s a very competitive business unless you freelance. So maybe that’s something to try…but Journalism has always been my goal so it hasn’t really changed that much.

What experience has CSU given you that you find the most valuable?

That’s a tough one. I would have to say I took this class, it was my senior capstone in Journalism, and basically they had us build a profile. So all semester we were working on these profiles. We had to take work samples, or school samples if we didn’t have any professional work experience, put them all together. It took us the whole year and then we had to create these huge projects, and then at the end of the semester we have an online portfolio which is basically like a resume online plus all your work, in a website form and a hardcopy portfolio. We did mock interviews with business people from different journalism fields, like public relations and news people. I felt like that helped me so much. It helped me realize, “wow, this is a competitive world out here and I need to get myself together.”

So bringing in professionals, not just with the Journalism department but English as well, going to the readings and stuff. Just having professionals who are good at what they do come on campus and speak to people or do their readings, it really helped me realize “dreams do come true.” Sometimes it feels like it’s so far off and that you can never achieve what you want to do but having professors as well that are not only professors but they’ve been published or they were recent newscasters or they work for these big corporations, having all these people available, at your disposal, to gain knowledge from, that’s probably been the best aspect of CSU for me. And they’re so willing to help you out if you need it. Having those conversations with them and interacting with them as not only professors but as just regular people and gaining knowledge — that’s been really awesome.

Brianna answers the question, “How does it feel to be graduating?”

Besides doing one more internship and traveling to visit family and friends before finding a job (hopefully something in public relations or social media), Brianna dreams of starting a book group with other young women like her, having a career (not “just a job” but work she loves), and doing more traveling.

We wish Brianna and Evelyn, and all of our students, whether they are graduating or returning next year, the safest and best of summers, the best of luck wherever they land. We also hope they will keep in touch, let us know how and what they are doing and where.

Reading Series: Ben Findlay and Kaelyn Riley

At the final MFA reading of the semester, the two readers were Ben Findlay and Kaelyn Riley, a fiction writer and a poet (respectively). The crowd was rather large for the UCA, and because I was early, I had the pleasure of watching people scramble trying to gather enough chairs for the event. When Ben was introduced to the audience, his ability to describe conditions of poverty was praised, and when he read the story he had prepared, “Pressure,” I could see what the introduction had meant.


“We’re smiling in most of the photographs, even if we knew it wouldn’t last…She’s starting to look past me, she’s not looking for a better solution, she’s looking for a better equation.”

The story recounted the tale of a young man named George who works for a glass business, desperately trying to get home to his girlfriend but being constantly held up by the routine of getting paid by a particularly difficult auto repair shop owner. Through his eyes, we see the conditions of poverty and how unfortunate it is to have kidney stones (which made the audience laugh a lot), as well as the toll this lifestyle can have on a relationship. I was so enthralled throughout the entire thing that I decided rather than take careful notes of lines that I liked that I would just record it so I could pay more attention.

I had to do the same thing for the next reader, Kaelyn Riley. As many people filed out of the UCA as soon as Ben finished, I wondered why anyone would want to miss the superb poet that came on stage. While it’s much harder to summarize poetry, many of the ideas presented in Riley’s poetry revolved around what it is to be a woman and what it is to say what you mean, though that does not do her poetry justice. As I walked home that night, I pondered these ideas.


“’I’d forgotten autumn here,’ I say, lamely, anything, and loathe the poetry of it. The block that we just walked is a termination of the light.”

The final reading of the semester was well worth the time the week before Dead Week. These two readers provided an escape from the grueling hours of studying and writing essays, and I certainly look forward to the series continuing in the fall, even if I will not be writing about them any longer.

~Evelyn Vaughn

Reading Series: Brenda Hillman and Robert Hass

For the April 24th reading with Brenda Hillman and Robert Hass, we were not in the University Art Museum at the UCA. This time, we had the prestigious North Ballroom in the LSC because the large crowd of people who came to see these two poets would have knocked all of the art off of the walls in the Art Museum. Being the champion of punctuality that I am, I walked in during Brenda Hillman’s introduction and awkwardly made my way through the rows of chairs before settling in to listen to her poetry.

Hillman read from what she described as a 17 year project in esoteric studies, a tetralogy of poetry books based on the elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Before she started to read, she had a few words to say to young writers:

“Poetry is a really good way to access the most odd and peculiar parts of your psyche.”

brendahillmanShe read a few poems from each of the books in the tetralogy, and shared with the audience a time in her life when she had decided to protest at an army base in Nevada using poetry. At this, she remarked, “I believe in pointless protest … The connection between poetry and outcomes is very tenuous.” After everyone had stopped laughing, she went on to read a poem that yielded my favorite line from her all night, which was “They throw paper dreams and sins upon / the pyre and kiss.”

When Robert Hass came on stage, we were warned that lately, he had been writing a lot about death. The former U.S. Poet Laureate was quite amusing, despite the fact that his poems were entitled things like “Death in Infancy” and “Death in Childhood,” or my personal favorite, a poem simply called “Dream Poem” (which was one of the few that he read that wasn’t about death). He also talked a lot about how it was a poet’s job to describe the environment around them, and read a poem about his own environment.


“We threw white roses in his grave
There’s a green wind on the pond
Summer on the pond.”

This poem used repetition to describe California, and was the last that he read that night. As I guiltily left without buying a book (having forgotten my wallet), I thought that it was understandable that we were unable to meet in the UCA, because the two poets that read to us that night were both engaging, and deserved the crowd that had gathered for them. Even though there was no knit “Batman” suit to accompany the reading, it was entertaining just the same.

~Evelyn Vaughn

Alumna Profile: Brenna Yovanoff

Brenna Yovanoff
MFA, Creative Writing, 2006
Brenna Yovanoff
How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?

The MFA program helped me in a lot of ways, but I’d say the biggest thing was probably that it taught me how to take critique and also to finish what I start. Before grad school, I always had a lot of half-finished manuscripts and little snippets lying around, but over the course of three years, I learned to just sit myself down and write until I got to the end.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?

My first novel, The Replacement, debuted on the New York Times list, which was huge and disorienting and wonderful. It wasn’t a possibility I’d even really considered and so it was almost too inconceivable to really take in. Even now, I sometimes have a hard time believing that it happened. My most recent novel, Paper Valentine, was just named as one of NPR’s best books of 2013, which was definitely one of my proudest moments.


What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study at CSU?

I’m a local girl, so as unexciting as it sounds, that factored pretty heavily into my decision. When it came time to choose a masters program, I already knew that I loved the English department, the city, the campus, the library, and I wanted to stay.

Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department? Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors?

Gilbert Findlay, no contest. He was my adviser when I transferred to CSU during my undergrad and in addition to being just a wonderful human being, it turned out that he taught a class called “Adolescent Literature.” Even though I’d recently been reading a lot of YA in my spare time, I hadn’t really considered how brilliant and complex and diverse it could be. Professor Findlay and his class were largely responsible for my decision to focus on writing YA longterm.

What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?

I think I’d tell them that the English department, and Creative Writing in particular, has an amazing sense of community. The friends I made there are lifetime friends. Also, I think that Fort Collins in general is just a great place to live. The arts and literature scene is amazing, so if you’re looking for fun, fascinating people to get excited about writing and literature with, this is definitely your place.

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?

Internships. If you have an opportunity for an internship, take it. I had a number of them during my time at CSU and they were always invaluable, no matter what the actual work experience was.

And also, the library is your best friend. Especially the basement and the top floor. And everywhere else too, but especially the cozy, secluded places where no one goes and you can hunker down and work for hours in peace and quiet. I love Morgan Library. I would live there. (For a couple years, I kind of did.)

You have an hour to spend in a bookstore. What section do you make a beeline to?

The YA section, always and absolutely! My reading tastes are pretty eclectic, so the YA section is a perfect way to pick just one shelf without actually having to pick. I know that under that designation, I’ll find books that encompass every genre and subject and style and voice, with no shortage of literary quality and risk-taking.

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?

In a lot of ways, I’m very much a homebody. I love to cook and sew, and to plant terrariums and grow houseplants. I write about a lot of dark and creepy things, and I think that maybe being aggressively domestic is a way to balance that out.

What helps you start writing? What inspires you?

The short answer? Coffee! I’m a big fan of routine, and I really like to settle in somewhere with my headphones on and something hot to drink, and just dive in. While I think it’s really important to pay attention to what’s happening in the world, and ideas can come from anywhere at any time, I don’t really subscribe to the concept of waiting for the muse. If you write for your day job, the bottom line is, you have to write, and I always find that the more I do it, the more I get excited about writing and the faster the ideas come together and build on each other.

What led to you being published?

Lots and lots and lots of revisions. And research. The internet is a great resource. If you aren’t learning about literary agents or submitting short work to journals and magazines or writing query letters in any of your writing classes, the internet is there to tell you everything you need to know.

Also, persistence is key. Publishing is an industry where you will hear “No” a lot and you have to just kind of be okay with that. The trick is to hear it, make note of it, and then mentally adjust the answer from “No” to “Not yet.” Then, you sit down and try again.

Do you have any advice for writers looking to be published?

See above—lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of revision. It really helps to think of writing as an endurance sport. If you expect immediate results, you’re probably going to wind up disappointed, but if your main focus is on improving your work, then it will always improve. You’ll get there in the end.

Your most recent book was YA Fiction. What did you enjoy most about writing it (Paper Valentine)?

Paper Valentine is my third YA novel, but the first one that has what I’d call a truly contemporary feel. I write a lot of fantasy and horror, and my other books are definitely a little more fantastical in tone and setting.

My latest book, Fiendish, which comes out in August, goes back to that really dreamlike, monstrous world, and so with Paper Valentine it was nice to take a detour into the suburban everyday. Even though the story still involves some prominent genre elements like ghosts and serial murder, the main character, Hannah, is living in a city a lot like Fort Collins and it was a lot of fun to walk that line between fantasy and realism.


What did you think you would do with your degree when you graduated from CSU?

I’d always intended to write fiction, no matter what else I wound up doing, but the future in my head definitely involved a day-job, and for awhile after I graduated, it actually seemed likely that I’d wind up in editorial. I’d been an editorial assistant at the Center for Literary Publishing, working under Stephanie G’Schwind, and I absolutely loved it. But instead, I got an agent, she sold The Replacement to Penguin, and now I write full-time, and it’s the best job I can imagine!

*(Special thanks to intern Evelyn Vaughn for facilitating this profile).

It made us so happy to get an update from Brenna. The English Department has many alumni, just like Brenna, who are doing good and interesting work, living full and vibrant lives. When stories about our alumni hit the news or we are emailed an update, we love to share it. Teachers, staff, and fellow alumni are happy to hear how their friends are doing. Current students appreciate examples of previous students making a life, making a difference. Prospective students are encouraged knowing what our program has to offer and where it takes people.

We are hoping to feature more news of CSU English Department alumni making their way in the world. If you are a CSU English Department Alumni, please email Jill.Salahub@Colostate.edu and let her help you share your story.

Reading Series: Sam Tucker Iacovetto & Tara Smith

by Evelyn Vaughn

At the Creative Nonfiction thesis reading on April 17th, the night opened with a definition of the word “war.” According to the Oxford Online Dictionary, it is simply “a state of armed conflict,” but by the end of the night, those who attended the reading had several new definitions for the world war. In particular, what comes to my mind is “damaging” and “heartbreaking,” but unfortunately, these things are not included in the Oxford Online Dictionary definition.

The reason the night opened with these definitions is because the two readers that night, Tara Smith and Sam Tucker Iacovetto, both wrote and spoke of war. Though from different perspectives, the two pieces shared the same sorrow at the necessity of war. Tara Smith, a student veteran, read a chapter from what will one day be her memoir discussing why she came to CSU. As she told us, she considered reading something more comedic to lighten the mood after the piece about war and her attempted suicide, but she decided that her work needed to stand on its own.

“The darkest part of me was disappointed that I’d survived.”

“The darkest part of me was disappointed that I’d survived.”

By the end of her reading, I found myself envying not only Smith’s writing, but her bravery at speaking about her experiences. When Sam Tucker Iacovetto came on stage, I was unprepared, as usual, for the outpouring of emotion that every reading seems to bring out of me. Having no personal experience with war myself, I did not think that I would find myself choking up, but when Tucker spoke of the loss of her brother in war, I could not help but think of my own siblings, and how much it would hurt me to lose them.

I was, apparently, so affected by these two readers that I managed not to snap a photo of Sam Tucker Iacovetto reading some of what she called her “micro-essays,” but I did note a few lines that struck me as powerful and emblematic of her ability as a writer. The one I found the most heartbreaking was when she spoke of her brother, saying, “I need you to know that Ronnie is momentary,” in reference to her memories of him.

Near the end of the semester, reflecting on the nature of war seems to color the world in an apocalyptic shade, especially when we are all drowning in work and finals. For me, however, it was a reminder of the things that are greater than ourselves, of the things that people face and overcome. If these two fantastic readers can face such things as war and death and come out as accomplished as they are today, then I have hope that we are much stronger than we think we are – certainly strong enough to survive finals.

One more reading is scheduled for this semester: Ben Findlay & Kaelyn Riley, May 1st, tonight, MFA Thesis Reading, (fiction & poetry).

Sponsors of the Reading Series include the English Department and Creative Writing Program at Colorado State University, Organization of Graduate Student Writers through ASCSU, College of Liberal Arts, and the Armstrong Hotel. These events are also sponsored by a grant from the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Fund, a premier supporter of arts and culture at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx.

All events are free and open to the public. For additional information call 970.491.6428 or e-mail mary.ellen.ballard@gmail.com.

Reading Series: Neely O’Connor, Artemis Savory, and Whitney Dean

by Evelyn Vaughn

The reading on March 27th, 2014 consisted of three graduate students from the English Department’s Creative Non-Fiction Program. When I first arrived at the reading, as usual in the Art Museum portion of the University Center for the Arts, I was unaware that the readers that night would be so moving. The first two readers, Neely O’Connor and Artemis Savory, both read about their fathers, while Whitney Dean read a piece called “Holes, Depressions, and Other Losses.”

O’Connor’s piece from her thesis was entitled “Gone,” a heartbreaking story of her father’s alcoholism and manic depression.


“The kind of box they put my father in had four white walls. Padded.” The words would haunt me as I left the reading that night. The humor in O’Connor’s piece was what kept me from tearing up as she read, however. Ending on the fervent wish that her father, when he died, would come back as a Wisconsin cow (because the cows there are happy), O’Connor managed to express both a love for her father, and a disappointment in him that will never leave her.

So when Artemis Savory took the stage and said her piece was about her father, I steeled myself to try not to cry again, but her first piece entitled “Doing it Right” turned out to be downright hilarious. There are very few joys on this planet like making fun of our families. In “Doing it Right,” Savory makes fun of her own family’s tendency NOT to do it right the first time.

artemis“So what if the doorknob is on wrong for fifteen years?” she asked the audience. Her father’s bathroom door had a doorknob that had been put on wrong, so the lock was facing out. This meant that while you couldn’t lock people out of the bathroom, you certainly could be locked in. The belly-aching laughter that accompanied “Doing it Right” and her second piece, “Imaginary Boyfriends,” was quite a relief from the heart-rending pieces by Neely O’Connor, and the final reader, Whitney Dean.

Prior to coming on stage, Whitney Dean was introduced in the context of hurricanes,        “Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Sandy. Whitney Dean.” It certainly gave quite an impression of the powerful woman that was about to come on stage, a woman who is a part of the so-called “cult” of CrossFit, with a deadlift of 345 pounds (information that was, right after the hurricane introduction, shared with us). When she began her piece “Holes, Depressions, and Other Losses,” she warned us that she might cry while reading it. After laughing so hard at Savory’s reading, I did not think that this final piece would affect me so much.

whitneydean“I wonder, before the hole opened up, if the television was on.”  The piece, about a sinkhole devouring a house in Florida, did indeed make her tear up a little bit. She imagined the people who lived in the house before the ground opened; she compared them to people she had known in her past.  “I know these guys, sinking long before the ground sunk, and I bet the television was on.”

The Creative Non-Fiction Program has certainly done a wonderful job with these three writers. Lines from all of their work would be bouncing around in my head in the weeks to come, and I’m sure others in the audience that night can attest to the same.

One more reading is scheduled for this semester: Ben Findlay & Kaelyn Riley, May 1st, MFA Thesis Reading, (fiction & poetry).

Sponsors of the Reading Series include the English Department and Creative Writing Program at Colorado State University, Organization of Graduate Student Writers through ASCSU, College of Liberal Arts, and the Armstrong Hotel. These events are also sponsored by a grant from the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Fund, a premier supporter of arts and culture at CSU. Please help grow this fund with a gift at: http://president.colostate.edu/lillabmorgan/index.aspx.

All events are free and open to the public. For additional information call 970.491.6428 or e-mail mary.ellen.ballard@gmail.com.


Humans of Eddy: Summers Baker

Name: Summers Baker
Major: Creative Writing

What’s your favorite moment in Eddy Hall? Seeing Dan Robinson in his kilt.

Describe Eddy in one word. The Senate. That’s what I want you to write.

Who’s your favorite author or poet? At the moment, my favorite poet that I’ve been reading is George Oppers. And Robert Hass has always been one of my favorites.

What advice would you give to incoming CSU English majors? Read more than you’re assigned and never stop reading.

Tell the story of the chair you built for one of your English classes. It was Intro to American Lit, and [David Milofsky] said we could have extra credit, and do whatever we wanted. If he liked it, he’d give you extra credit. We were reading Walden at the time, and there’s a quote in it by Henry David Thoreau that says “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society”. Because of that quote, I decided to build a solitude chair. It’s now my homework slash solitude chair.

Last words: Some friends and I started a poetry slam called Slamogadro, which is starting April 27th, and going on the final Sunday of every month at Avogadro’s Number. If you’re reading this, you should be there.