August 3, 2016
Alumna Krysten Hill wins St. Botolph Club Foundation award
Kansas City native Krysten Hill ’13 says she took a risk when she chose to pursue her Master of Fine Arts degree in an area of the country she had never been before. In fact, she had never even seen the coastline.
Hill had been working at an office supplies box store after taking a few years off from school following her undergraduate graduation from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.
“I was very sad because I wasn’t writing, or making art a primary part of my life,” Hill recalls. “I was looking at new MFA programs because I felt like they have the benefit of not knowing their established voice yet, so they don’t force that on their students.”
She discovered UMass Boston’s MFA program through an online search, and never looked back. Now, six years later, she is celebrating her achievement of winning the St. Botolph Club Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award in literature.
Hill is the second UMass Boston MFA student in two years to earn the award, which is designed to encourage artists early on in their career and “seeks to identify individuals to whom it can ‘make a difference’ through the combination of financial support, recognition, and endorsement.’” UMass Boston alumna Danielle Jones-Pruett ’12 won the award in 2015.
“It’s kind of breathtaking,” said Professor Lloyd Schwartz, Frederick S. Troy Professor of English, of UMass Boston’s winning streak.
“Krysten’s someone whose talent we recognized right when she applied,” he added. “I think because she really does think in words – and words in the context of images – she really is reimaging the world she is part of in words and in images that words create.”
After learning she had been nominated for the honor, Hill said she had a difficult time choosing which poems reflected her best work to round out her application. She chose six poems that “live in her mouth and her brain,” she said.
“My poetry mainly deals in the narrative; a lot of it is just about telling my stories about black female identity and what it was like to grow up in a city,” she said. “A lot of my poems are about family, especially around the women who raised me, and the women who dealt with their own hardships but also laughed and have their own story to tell.”
Hill has been writing and performing poetry for many years, on top of her job as an adjunct faculty member teaching in the critical reading and writing department and tutoring in the graduate and undergraduate writing centers at UMass Boston. She has performed her poetry in locations such as the Haley House Café, and the Blacksmith Poetry Series.
“I don’t think I ever want to move from Boston; you can go to a reading every night here,” she said.
For that reason, the term “emerging artist,” and the $3,000 accompanying the award, may open up even more opportunities for her, Hill said.
“Part of it is just having more time to commit to making writing primary to your identity,” Hill said. “People ask what you do, and you’re sometimes hesitant to say, ‘I’m a writer' or 'an artist,’ because they kind of side-eye you about that. I’ve had to learn to introduce myself to say, ‘Yes, I’m a writer,’ because I’m putting in the work to do it. It’s something I want to spend the rest of my life doing.”
With the grant, Hill hopes to take workshops through the GrubStreet creative writing workshop in Boston, to apply for a membership to the Boston Athenæum, one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries in the country, or reserve space in the Writer’s Room of Boston. Hill also plans to apply to contests and for publication in more literary magazines.
Looking back on her decision to come to UMass Boston, Hill said “it was a great move.”
“One of the best things UMass Boston has given me is a sense of community that I didn’t have in Missouri,” she said. “Jill McDonough and Joyce Peseroff, two of my mentors while I was in the program, were just really great. They’ve given me good advice about how to stay in the program, and how to stay writing.”
“UMass Boston’s mission as a public university is great, too, because I love my students and their backgrounds and the diversity of students that you see,” she added. “Nobody has a classroom as diverse as we do.”