“Each of My Callings Brings Joy”: Denise Frame Harlan

Click here to read SPU MFA graduate Denise Frame Harlan’s essay “Unemployed, Underemployed, and Overemployed,” published recently on Faith and Leadership.

Denise studied Creative Nonfiction in Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program, and graduated in 2009. She is a writer, an educator, and a craftsperson who specializes in wool toys and wool yarns. Her work has been published in Comment Magazine, Lost Magazine and Eat Well: A Road Map, a publication of Catapult Magazine. She also writes for crafting magazines such as Interweave Spin-Off and Living Crafts.

Denise lives north of Boston with her husband and two children. She teaches for Gordon College and guides tours with Exploritas New England. Her story about learning to cook will be featured in The Spirit of Food, available from Cascade Books in September 2010.

She had this to say about her experience the MFA program:

“I came to writing late, and I came hungry for excellence. I’d already studied faith and the arts for twenty years, through the pages of Image Journal. When I first started, I had a hard time calling myself a writer. My reading standards were high and my skills were…okay. I wanted much more from my stories. I knew I would need to stretch intellectually and artistically to move from okay-writing toward the kind of writing I want to read.

The Seattle Pacific MFA program forged me into a better reader, first—better than I thought possible. And my writing skills were transformed by the quantity and quality of work demanded by my mentors. I had hoped to grow in my craft, but I didn’t expect my writing and my reading and classroom times to change me. But I did change, in my reading preferences, in my writing style, in my understanding of literary history. I learned to take my work seriously, to dismantle it, to find the heart of it, to start over. I learned to take revision as a spiritual discipline, as a muscular act of prayer.

I also gained connections with writing professionals, and I’m surprised to feel at home with these professionals. I ask my former classmates for writing help, editing, advice—and friendship. These writing-friends continue to demand my best writing, long after the due dates of grad school are over.

Recently someone asked if I write about sustainability. No. I write about un-sustainability, or that feeling that surely we can’t go on living this way much longer. But we do go on. That’s what I write about.”