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Western’s MFA Director Laura Pritchett’s latest novel is born from a world on fire

Headshot of Laura Pritchett

Students see how an idea can go from the classroom to the bookstore

Laura Pritchett doesn’t like to ask her students to do an assignment without her. As an accomplished novelist and the Director of Western Colorado University’s MFA in Nature Writing, class assignments can serve as exercises that bring her back to the fundamentals of the writing process. From there, she can work on an idea and see where it goes. With some fresh ideas swirling around in her head shortly after experiencing Colorado’s largest-ever wildfire, she put pen to paper, and the whole class watched as her assignment soon blossomed into a novel.

Cover of a book titled "Playing with (Wild)fire“One of the graduate level writing courses I teach is on experimental form and technique in Nature Writing—and I always do the assignments along with my students. So, as I was assigning what’s known as ‘hermit crab’ work, I was writing too,” she said. “The book grew out of these writings.”

The book is her sixth novel, Playing with {Wild}Fire, due for release in February. For her previous work, Pritchett has a long list of accolades, winning the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, the WILLA, the High Plains Book Award, and several Colorado Book Awards.

“Students taking that course—or any course in Western’s Nature Writing curriculum—are so fortunate to be learning from the very best in the field,” Tyson Hausdoerffer, director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing, said. “All of us on the faculty of the Graduate Creative Writing Program are honored to have Laura as a colleague and thrilled that she continues to lead the Nature Writing MFA program to greater and greater heights.”

For the students working on experimental forms right beside her in class, the book’s publication lent legitimacy to her process and showed that a simple assignment that yields a worthwhile idea could, in fact, take them where they’re hoping to go.

“Place-based writing is my field—and my love—which is why I’m so honored to direct the MFA in Nature Writing at WCU. This is one of only a few [programs] in the nation with that focus,” Pritchett said. “Sharing what knowledge I have is satisfying. As all teachers know, we learn as much (or more) than we have to offer. This book came from the writing I did with my students – and was inspired by them and their work.”

Already, the book has garnered rave reviews from other authors as well as starred reviews from literary outlets Booklist and Foreword. The book is available for pre-order at Old Firehouse Books, among others. For more information, visit laurapritchett.com.

Author Credit: Seth Mensing

Photo Credit: Courtesy