City/State of Residence: Sandusky, OH
Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Brief Bio: Ashley Bethard is a writer and editor who lives in Ohio. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming inPANK Magazine, The Rumpus, Used Furniture Review, andHot Metal Bridge, among others. Her work has also been nominated for the 2012 Dzanc Books Best of the Web, featured in Fwriction’s Story of the Day, and is forthcoming in the anthology, The Best of Hot Metal Bridge. She’s a copy editor for Midwestern Gothic, a regular contributor to Specter Literary Magazine and managing editor of Peripheral Surveys: A Postmodern Journal of Literature, Art and Humanism.
What initially drew you to Ashland's MFA Program? I was an undergrad at Ashland University, and so I was lucky enough to have a lot of influential professors who happened to spearhead the current MFA program. I really got a lot out of their classes, and when it was time for me to apply to grad school, they encouraged me to consider Ashland University’s MFA. Also, the draw of a low-res program was really appealing – like most people, I needed a program that allowed me to work full-time.
What did you appreciate most? The intimacy of the program, without a doubt. The classes and workshops were small and focused. You could really feel the community building going on, even across genres. It was like being part of a very large, very supportive family.
How do you feel this program impacted you? The program taught me what it’s like to balance real life (as in, the work life) and writing. I feel like the low-res track is more realistic, in some ways. The program taught me to balance reading, writing and the day job. When I finished the MFA, I didn’t stop writing. I just kept doing what I had been doing, continuing with and building on the creative habits that the program helped me develop.
What do you feel was the greatest takeaway? I think the greatest takeaway was the confidence it gave me. I also felt more permission to fail, if that makes any sense. The pressure to write a perfect first draft was completely removed, and the focus became on the working at it, the chipping away at this piece in front of you, working to sculpt it into something great. I always felt like a failure if I didn’t get it right the first time. This program taught me that for the most part, that’s unrealistic – and that there’s a lot to be gained in learning how to edit and rewrite your own work.
What was the subject or theme of your thesis? The theme of my thesis was kind of an amalgamation of narrative nonfiction and a partial meditation on the imperfect nature of memory. I think in any nonfiction, there is always the question of truth, and science tells us that the memories we conjure up are often shades of the original event. Some people think that because we have such limited access to the past, nonfiction will be flat and creatively limited. I tend to take the opposite approach – I think that addressing the culpability of memory is where things get really interesting.
Finally, what are you up to now? Current occupation, or otherwise: I’m doing the only thing I know how to do, which is juggling several projects at once. I like to have a hand in everything – it keeps me on my toes. I’m currently editor of a regional entertainment magazine, where I plan, create, and manage content for print and web.