Celebrated Author Bret Anthony Johnston Named New Michener Center Director

Image of man in gray shirt and glasses

This month, award-winning author Bret Anthony Johnston has assumed the directorship of the Michener Center for Writers, one of the most selective and prestigious writing programs in the country.

Johnston has directed the creative writing program at Harvard University for the past 12 years. A native Texan, his fiction titles include the story collection Corpus Christi and the novel Remember Me Like This.

For the past 12 years, he has directed the creative writing program at Harvard University.  A serious skateboarder for over 30 years, he also wrote the documentary film about the sport, Waiting for Lightning, which was released by Samuel Goldwyn Films and premiered at Austin’s SXSW.

Johnston was born and reared in Corpus Christi, Texas, and attended Miami University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  His many honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a “5 Under 35″ honor from the National Book Foundation, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and both the Stephen Turner Award and Kay Cattarulla Prize from the Texas Institute of Letters.  Most recently, he won the $30£ Sunday Times EFG Award, the world’s richest and most prestigious prize for a single short story for his “Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows about Horses,” originally published in American Short Fiction.

Johnston replaces outgoing director James Magnuson  who retired in May after 23 years at the helm of the Michener Center.  Magnuson was responsible for bringing the program from its inception to national prominence among MFA programs.

“Bret’s going to be great for the Center,” says Magnuson.  “He’s walking into a situation where there are extraordinary faculty and resources, and amazing students.  The students at the Michener Center have been the joy of my life, and I’m sure they will be for Bret, too.”

“With Mr. Michener’s original vision and Jim’s inspired leadership,” Johnston says, “the Michener Center for Writers has had, since its start, a hand in shaping contemporary literature. The opportunity to be part of the Center’s future is an honor and a privilege.  It’s a gift.  The students, faculty, and staff are unparalleled, and their commitment to art-making is contagious.  In most respects, my job is simply to keep the lights on and get out of their way.”

The Michener Center for Writers is a three-year interdisciplinary Master of Arts program. Admitting fiction writers, poets, playwrights, and screenwriting for fully-funded graduate study, it was created by a $20-million endowment from James A. Michener, philanthropist and author of over 50 books.

Michener Center Hosts Reading by Poet and Novelist Laura Kasischke Feb. 11

image of authorThe UT Michener Center for Writers will host a reading by poet and novelist Laura Kasischke on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302 on UT campus.

Kasischke is the author of nine acclaimed books of poetry, most recently The Infinitesimals. She won the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for Space, In Chains. She has also written nine novels, three adapted to feature film: The Life Before Her Eyes, starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood; Suspicious River; and White Bird in a Blizzard, which premiered at Sundance in 2014. Her collected stories were published in If A Stranger Approaches You. She is the endowed chair of English at the University of Michigan, where she teaches in their distinguished MFA program.

“It is not enough to say that Kasischke’s language is ‘poetic,’ a word that has come to mean ‘pretty.’ Rather, her writing does what good poetry does—it shows us an alternate world and lulls us into living in it.”– The New York Times

Parking is available in the nearby UT San Jacinto Garage, and the event is free and open to the public.

Save the Date: Michener Center’s Visiting Professors Read their Works Dec. 3

Visiting professors, Jim Crace and Anthony Giardina, will be reading and discussing their literary works at a campus event hosted by the Michener Center for Writers on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Aces Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302.

 image of booksCrace’s ten books to date have received such honors as the Whitbread Novel Award and the National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award (Being Dead). His books Quarantine and Harvest have been shortlisted twice for the Man Booker Prize. His archive resides at the university’s Ransom Center

booksAnthony Giardina is the author of five novels, a story collection, and numerous plays, most recently City of Conversation, which has its world premier at Lincoln Center last year.

Parking is available in the nearby UT San Jacinto Garage, and the event is free and open to the public.

 

Michener Grad’s Debut Among Year’s Best

Article and photos provided by the editors of Know

Powers, Kevin 2012Kevin Powers, MFA ’12, has written one of the best books of the year, according to The New York Times and The Guardian, the British national daily newspaper that gave Powers its Guardian First Book Award. The prize, awarded in late November, is the latest of several accolades for “The Yellow Birds,” Powers’ debut novel about two young soldiers in the Iraq War.

“It’s really quite incredible,” Powers said in an interview with The Guardian. “I think back to the long hours I spent writing this book by myself, wondering if anybody would read it or have any interest in it. So to have this kind of affirmation is really incredible.”

“The Yellow Birds” was also a National Book Award finalist.

In its “10 Best Books of 2012” list, The New York Times writes,

Book Cover_200px“A veteran of the Iraq war, Powers places that conflict at the center of his impressionistic first novel, about the connected but diverging fates of two young soldiers and the trouble one of them has readjusting to life at home. Reflecting the chaos of war, the fractured narrative jumps around in time and location, but Powers anchors it with crystalline prose and a driving mystery: How did the narrator’s friend die?”

Powers returned to school — first to Virginia Commonwealth University, and then to the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin — after completing his military service. He wanted to pursue a childhood dream.

“Growing up, when I was young, as a teenager, reading and writing was really important to me,” he told The Guardian. “I’ve been writing poetry and stories since I was 13, but it never occurred to me that it was something someone like me could actually do. One of the things my service in Iraq did give me was this freedom from fear of failure…or any kind of expectation that I had to take a standard path.”

Michener Center Director James Magnuson read swatches of Powers’ novel in a fiction workshop during Powers’ first year in the program. “The battle scenes were so intense and poetic. I knew there was something really special going on,” he said in a May 2012 article about Powers in KNOW.

“I hope that when people read it, they will feel that they’ve had an experience that they might not have otherwise,” Powers said in the KNOW article. “The stories of the men and women who fight our wars are often — I believe — seen in our culture as incomprehensible, that if you haven’t been there you can’t understand. I don’t know if I agree with that notion.”