Oval Alum: Brenna Rietmann

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I fell into all things creative writing at UM entirely by accident my sophomore year. In other words, I met Robert Stubblefield in a Gen Ed requirement writing class, found out we were from the same rural area in Oregon (he knew my cousin), and enrolled in Montana Writers Live! the next weekAs it turns out, being a part of the Oval and taking Montana Writers Live! at the same time I was in an honors writing workshop was one of the most important things I could do with my time. Montana Writers Live! gave me opportunities to meet and ask questions of the people behind the words, and being a part of workshops and the Oval made sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and learning the art of a well-considered critique second nature. I served on the Art Board my first year with the Oval and as Managing Editor my second. As a Political Science major with a minor in Wildlife Biology, I spent a good chunk of college listening to English Department and MFA students’ readings.


So what am I up to since my days at the Oval? Well, I graduated May 2015 with a master’s degree in Public Administration and a Certificate in Natural Resource Conflict Resolution from UM, and have found a job similar to one Stubblefield mentioned to me years ago. I am now the Project Coordinator for the Gilliam County Soil and Water Conservation District in eastern Oregon, and a free-lance writer for the non-profit Western Landowners Alliance. I’ve interviewed farmers in Oregon and traveled to southern Arizona to do interviews for articles about conservation issues ranchers face. As Project Coordinator I get to go check out creeks and fields, then write grants to help landowners protect their soil and water from erosion and pollution. These projects also create habitat in riparian areas for wildlife and endangered species. When grants are successful I help implement the plans, spending time out in the field with various agencies, farmers, and engineers. At the end of a project I write up a final report to the grantee in hopes they will award the district more money in the future to work in watersheds along the John Day River.

I never thought I’d get the chance to write for my supper full-time, especially right out of college, but that is exactly what’s happened. Part of what got me the jobs I have now was my experience as an editor with the Oval, lobbying ASUM for funds and being personable with people from all walks of life. These are things I learned to value through interaction with writers and readers in the Creative Writing program, time spent with talking with Stubblefield, and as part of the dynamic Oval staff.

Oval Alum: Jamie Rogers

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DrummingThe first time I met Robert Stubblefield was in the University Center, and I was in crisis. I arrived at UM three years earlier with big plans to become a writer. After four semesters, though, I’d done little writing—hadn’t even taken a workshop—and all the extra-curricular fun I was having left me feeling a little caved-in, a little guilty. So I left.

I attempted to apply to a different university, but never finished the application. I went to culinary school but dropped out. I read an article about Iceland in Newsweek and bought a plane ticket on a whim. Being in Iceland was more expensive than getting there. My parents had to wire me money.

My year of searching ended fruitlessly, and I returned to UM in the fall of 2008 feeling as restless and frustrated with myself as ever. That’s when I met Professor Stubblefield. He told me there were still spots in his Montana Writers Live! class, and that he’d love to have me.

In some ways, that was the first important college class I took. Not necessarily because of the content, but because of the community of thought, conversation and inquiry it fostered in the students. A community that spilled out of the classroom into our personal lives. It’s this community that started The Oval, and it’s how I became its third Editor-in-Chief in 2010.

These days I still live in Missoula. I’ve worked as a staff writer at the Missoula Independent, and contributed essays and articles to Headwall, SBNation, and others. I’ve learned to love writing, the work it demands. It’s trite to say you owe any sort of success to a single person or institution. So I won’t. But there’s no way around this: if not for Professor Stubblefield and my peers at The Oval, I might still be searching for something to make me happy. They taught me how to think, how to communicate, and not only how to keep going, but why I should want to.

Oval Alum: Grace Yon

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My history with the Oval goes back to 2009, when I was a freshman at UM.  I wasn’t a part of the first Oval class that academic year, but I fell in love with the magazine and participated in its creation in one way or another until I graduated in 2014 with degrees in Japanese and Lit-Creative Writing.  Over those five years I saw the Oval staff mature from a small group of dedicated students editing submissions in the UC to a class of talented, experienced editors and publishers.  I am so proud of what we have accomplished, and I know that this year’s Oval will reflect that growth and maturity.

I am now an MSc student in the University of Edinburgh’s Translation Studies program.  Master’s programs in the UK are typically intensive, year-long programs that culminate in a dissertation.  My program focuses on thGrace Yone history and evolution of translation studies theories as well as the link between translation studies and other academic disciplines, including culture and gender studies.  My core courses are in English, but I have a portfolio class in Japanese.  One of the best things about my program is that it encompasses so many languages and cultural backgrounds–out of about thirty classmates only one other person works with Japanese, and together we represent more than ten countries.  Right now I’m working on my final essays, which are due in the next few weeks, and on my dissertation, which is due in mid-August and centers around an original translation of segments from a Japanese novel by Kitamura Kaoru.  My graduation will be in late November.  I have been working as a freelance translator for the past six months or so, and am currently interviewing for a Junior Translator position with Nintendo.

When I started my program back in September of 2014, one of the things I missed most was being a part of a writing community, so I went in search of a student group like the Oval and ended up joining Nomad Magazine.  Each spring Nomad publishes an issue of student travel, politics, culture, art and photography, and creative writing.  Nomad is younger than the Oval by a few years and is entirely student-run.  The magazine is free and receives no funding from the University, so members spend the year fundraising in order to cover printing fees.  We meet at a cafe once a week for workshopping our own writing, often using a fortnightly theme system of writing and editing.  I like this system because it meant that I ended up writing pieces in a variety of different genres and styles that I might not have explored on my own.  Nomad takes submissions from all University of Edinburgh students, but allows Nomad members to submit pieces as well.  A travel piece (which I wrote the skeleton of in one of Robert’s classes back in 2010) and two poems of mine will be published in the 2015 issue, which is going to the printer in the next few weeks.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get a copy to Robert before the semester finishes at UM so that he can share it with everyone at the Oval!

Oval Alum: Erin Schmiel

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Erin takes the train often between her two writing homes of Iowa and Montana while focusing on what travel and place can teach her.
Erin takes the train often between her two writing homes of Iowa and Montana while focusing on what travel and place can teach her.

I would never have heard about The Oval, nor the MFA program in which I am currently a candidate, if it weren’t for Robert Stubblefield’s 310 Fiction course the Fall of 2006. Not only was this my first of many workshops, it was where I met a writing community, classmates, and mentor who have continued to support my writing and creativity. I learned to have faith in stories, in expression and in community at the University of Montana. The Oval was a big part of that experience.

Not only was I on the staff of the Oval, I also worked as an event coordinator for the University Center and initiated the Prose and Poems reading series in the spring semester of 2009

After graduating from the University of Montana, I held various jobs in the Missoula community with alternative transportation agencies: the best was as a Bicycle Ambassador with the City of Missoula. I eventually returned to UM for post-baccalaureate work taking graduate level environmental/creative writing workshops with Phil Condon and, author, Rick Bass.

This continued work in non-fiction helped me get into Iowa State University’s Creative Writing and the Environment MFA program. I am currently studying Creative Non-Fiction with a teaching assistantship leading two levels of compositional courses. I am also the Blog and Social Media editor at Flyway: Journal of Writing and the Environment, posting new content weekly as well as coordinating conference panels and out reach into the Ames community for local events.

I continue to develop my skills in two very rich communities of natural inspiration, fecundity.

Oval Alum: Amanda Marzolf

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imageSince graduating from the University of Montana, I completed my MA in Publishing at Kingston University in London, England. During my time there, I was exposed to people and publishing from all around the world. The programme focused on all facets of publishing – editorial, marketing, publicity, sales, rights and production. The lecturers were constantly pushing us to think about where publishing is headed, as so much is changing every day with new social outlets and online media. We also explored the new possibilities of self-publishing and how that impacts both authors and publishers. Additionally, my colleagues and I produced two publications – a first-time blog-inspired book (which we dubbed a ‘blook’) and the University’s creative writing anthology (where I had a story published!). I also got to attend the London Book Fair, free of charge because I was a student!

Throughout my time in London, I worked in the publishing industry, all within children’s. I did three work placement stints – Ladybird Books (an imprint of Penguin UK), Wayland Books (Hachette UK) and Scholastic UK. I also had an amazing six-month internship in the editorial department at Franklin Watts (Hachette UK). While there, I was able to see a book through from start to finish – I even got credited in two workbook series on the copyright page! Lastly, I worked for a few months as an Assistant Literary Agent at Bright Group International. The company largely represents children’s illustrators, but they are expanding their repertoire into literary as well. I had a fabulous time working with each of these teams, and wish I had had more time with everyone I worked with.

I lived abroad for a year and a half after completing my BA in English at the U of M. It changed me in more ways than I expected. I would greatly encourage anyone to complete his or her Master’s abroad. In England, you can earn a Master’s in one year! London is a great city for international students, as it offers an array of social and culture experiences. The city is filled with historical monuments that one only dreams of seeing, but is also littered with modern architecture, as well as young professionals making their way into the workforce. It’s beyond inspiring and each day is a new adventure. Studying abroad gives you many opportunities to make international connections, see the world and learn more about yourself along the way.


Oval Alum: Daniel Mollet

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BA English: Creative Writing, 2009mollet_oval_alumni_photo

Former Oval Nonfiction Editor, 2008-2009

Former Oval Prose Reader, 2007-2008

After graduating from UM in 2009 I took a job pouring concrete in Amarillo, Texas. I had dreams of becoming the kind of writer who toiled all day long but still woke up early in the morning to work on his novel. By the end of summer I was back home in Vermillion, South Dakota, knocking on doors in the university’s English department, asking for late admission to the MA program. They let me in and gave me a job in the Writing Center and I spent the next year tutoring and developing an interest in early modern European literature. Meanwhile, I was applying to MFA programs and was accepted at Portland State University in late spring.

I left my program at the University of South Dakota and moved to Portland in August of 2010. I almost immediately started to work on what would become my MFA thesis, a novel called Rural Water. I spent the next two and a half years writing and teaching and reading. In my second year I became the prose editor and copy editor of PSU’s then-ailing literary magazine, The Portland Review. We on the editorial team had high hopes of turning the magazine around, but we found ourselves short on guidance and institutional support. (There was no one like Robert Stubblefield working with The Portland Review and at the time the magazine was not associated with the English Department or the MFA program.) Thankfully, the two editorial teams who succeeded us brought the magazine out of its doldrums and gave it a new life online and in print. Along the way of my MFA excursion at Portland State, I finished my MA in English as well, submitting a thesis essay on the epistemology of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy.

On February 20th, 2013, I boarded a plane bound for Santiago, Chile, where I was moving to accept a position teaching 11th and 12th grade English. Over the course of the year I adapted my teaching style to (hopefully) better serve high-schoolers and English language learners and embarked on a project to co-design a new high school English curriculum with the assistant principal. For the upcoming academic year I’ll be directing the English department and spending any free time traveling in South America and revising my novel.

Oval Alum: Samantha Steven

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I’m living in downtown LA, where I work as a copywriter for a gaming start-up called Plaor.  Plaor created the online game app Hollywood Poker, expanded to the online Mega Fame Casino, and is now developing an interactive personal question game called Hyve. (Like a bee hive).  For Hollywood Poker,  I covered the 2013 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and also live Hollywood Poker tournaments.  For Hyve, I write dynamic, irreverent, strange, and funny questions myself and also, I edit every question and manage the other question writers, much like I did on The Oval.

What makes a good game is exactly what makes good writing. Each level is building obstacles, raising the stakes, and figuring out how much to reveal and conceal, how to build anticipation, and keep the player engaged (ultimately addicted!) and clicking forward. Moreover, the workshop experience from college is integral to my job because I constantly have to articulate my insights, questions, and feedback whenever employers ask me what’s it’s like to play the game. Learning how to identify what works and what does not, and moreover, communicating that clearly and tactfully is of enormous value in the real world. Furthermore, being able to take criticism and accept that perfection is not possible or expected in a first draft is key to being realistic and positive about your own work. It’s strange to me when people patronize the English major, as it’s a broad major with a vast and valuable skill set. English majors offer creative, imaginative thinking, eloquent communication skills, and an understanding of storytelling that helps companies sell or entertain–and what business does NOT need to do that? Take as many workshops as possible; they are valuable in improving your writing AND yourself.