Perhaps it’s no surprise that Western Colorado University’s newest concentration is growing so quickly—nature’s solace and inspiration have been cherished as never before during COVID times. Though only two years old, the Master in Fine Arts or Master of Arts in Nature Writing concentration is growing rapidly, and the newest faculty hire is Steve Coughlin, Ph.D.
“Steve not only brings to our students his expertise in poetry and creative nonfiction, but also strengthens the bridge between Western’s undergraduate and graduate programs,” said Tyson Hausdoerffer, director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing.
Encouraging All Genres of Nature Writing
Coughlin was hired in 2020 to head up Western’s undergraduate creative writing program and now will be teaching occasional graduate classes in the Nature Writing concentration, joining faculty members Laura Pritchett, Ph.D.; Ana Maria Spagna, M.A.; Molly Murfee, M.A.; and David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Ph.D.
“The Nature Writing concentration encourages all genres of nature writing—we are not just about nonfiction, which is what some typically assume ‘nature writing’ to be,” said Pritchett, who is the director of the program. “No, we encourage all forms of writing. Nature needs and deserves many voices—and Steve brings us his expertise in place-based poetry.”
Pritchett noted that all faculty write in more than one genre, though each faculty member has a specialty: Spagna and Murfee specialize in nonfiction; Weiden’s recent enormous success has been in crime fiction, though he has a children’s book out too; and Pritchett writing “about 50-50 fiction and nonfiction, with a bit of dabbling in poetry.”
“Steve brings the same diversity,” she said. “Actually, I first encountered Steve’s work when reading a fantastic flash nonfiction piece, though I’ve come to greatly respect and admire his poetry. Like the other faculty, he is a truly gifted writer.”
An Exciting Addition to the Faculty
Born and raised in a Boston suburb, Coughlin received his M.F.A. from the University of Idaho and his Ph.D. from Ohio University. His poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in several literary journals and magazines, including the Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Willow Springs, and Slate. Coughlin is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, “Another City” and “Deep Cuts,” as well as a poetry chapbook, “Driving at Twilight.” Before coming to Western Colorado University, Coughlin served as director of Creative Writing at Chadron State College in northwest Nebraska.
He lives with his wife and daughter in Gunnison, Colorado.
“Before moving to the Gunnison Valley, I heard so many impressive things about Western’s MFA degree in Creative Writing. Having this opportunity to teach in the Nature Writing concentration is one of the most exciting opportunities in my professional life,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
Dedication to Writing, Teaching and the Natural World
“Our faculty have had tremendous success in their writing lives, but they are also all gifted teachers,” Pritchett said. “Truly, that makes this program stand out—dedication to contemporary writing, dedication to teaching, and dedication to our natural world.”
She also said the program’s growth is no surprise.
“This program will continue to grow in tandem with societal interest in conversations about environmental health and justice,” Pritchett said. “We are on the forefront of an essential and timely conversation. I can think of no other more exciting program—nature writing is where it’s at.”
Learn more about the Master in Fine Arts or Master of Arts in Nature Writing concentration.
Photo Credit: Katie Lyons