Equal Opportunity Institution
Photo by Martin Seck
THE NE W SCHOOL
Write Your Book.
Master of Fine Arts
in Creative Writing
Join a community that includes
36 graduates who published
books in 2013. Concentrations
are offered in fiction,
non;ction, poetry, and writing
for children. Live the writer’s
life in New York City.
Earning My Writing for Children
M.F.A. at Simmons
BY NATASHA GILMORE
A new PW staffer reflects on her time at one of the
top children’s writing programs
The books I read as a child and teenager are the ones that left indelible impres- sions on me, though it ook me a while to realize
I wanted to dedicate myself to young
people’s literature. After college, I
moved to Boston and landed a job as a
bookseller at Curious George Books and
Toys in Harvard Square. Around this
Natasha Gilmore is associate children’s book
editor at PW.
time, Twilight was hitting big, and I
happened to be (embarrassingly, finally)
reading Jane Eyre for the first time. I remember being struck by how Jane
lives—her reactions, her tenacity, and
also her capacity for love. I felt that Jane
was not only most assuredly a YA heroine, but she also seemed to me a significantly better role model than Twilight’s
Bella Swan. Why not adore a brooding
boy and claim some agency for yourself?
All this reading, and being surrounded
by books at my new job, got me thinking about my own writerly ambitions. “I
should write the book I wish I had when
I was a teenager trying to figure stuff
out,” I thought. At the bookstore, I
worked with some Simmons alums and
was astonished to learn there was a place
I could actually study what I had long
guarded as a guilty pleasure. It hit me
then—I’d get this degree and I’d outwrite Bella for the good of teens everywhere! In 2009 I enrolled in the M.F.A.
in Writing for Children at Simmons
College, finishing in 2011.
My time there turned out to be much
more than a crash course in how to write
for kids. I went into the program want-
ing to write in an authentic and mean-
ingful way. The Catcher in the Rye was
another early YA favorite—that book
taught me that kids are smart and see
through phoniness—so I set to figuring
out how to write with purpose but with-
out didacticism. The critical theory com-
ponent to the Simmons education
helped. We analyzed books at length, but
also considered the many potential audi-
ences for children’s literature, which
helped clarify the tools at my disposal. I
learned how to harness my own child-
hood experiences for story ideas and to
create authentic voices that would reach
razor-sharp young readers. In the second
year, I was paired with Candlewick editor
Andrea Tompa for a semester as we
worked systematically through an edit of
my novel, and the following semester I
worked on a different project with Kate
Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Both editors pushed me to finish two full
novel drafts in this time, and I also came
away with their incisive notes and sug-
gestions for future edits.
I completed the program able to write
in a more authentic and meaningful way.
I also cultivated a network of trusted
readers, well-connected colleagues, and a
much deeper understanding of children’s
books and children’s publishing. Every
day I’m glad I took the leap to transform
my guilty pleasure into my new profession.
My day job at PW keeps me connected
to the world of children’s books; I’m
inspired daily by what’s coming out (and
also able to anticipate creative pitfalls)
while also working with editors and
writers, sharpening my technical skills,
and trying to be economical with words.
My time at Simmons has prepared me to
engage substantively with the children’s
book industry, as well as with my own
creative process. My degree has led me to
an amazing job in an amazing city, and
that keeps me inspired. ■
A Simmons class from 2011.