After the MFA: Catching up with Colin McArthur

By Kaitlin C. Young

Colin McArthurShortly after he received his MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics, I ran into Colin (’15) at a reading at Folio, a private library in downtown Seattle. I remembered hearing him read pieces of his thesis—a beautifully written and ambitious start to a novel— at the MFA Salons.

Around the same time Colin was reading at those salons, Seattle City of Literature was in the news for two reasons. First, Seattle lost its bid to receive a UNESCO designation as a city of literature. Second, Ryan Boudinot, a Seattle-based author who had both founded and served on the board of Seattle City of Literature, wrote a tell-all piece about teaching in an MFA that shed a very poor light on creative writing programs. Boudinot was ultimately ousted from the board, and for a time, the future of Seattle City of Literature seemed to rest on unsound ground.

Running into Colin months later was a welcome chance to become acquainted, and when I found that he is serving on the board of Seattle City of Literature, I couldn’t help but pepper him with questions. Now, about a year later, Colin was kind enough to let me ask another slew of inquiries both about Seattle City of Literature and life after the MFA.

How did you find yourself at Seattle City of Literature? 

CM: I originally wanted to set up an internship with City of Lit, and right about the time I was to sign on the dotted line to finalize that, City of Lit went through some sincere changes. The board disbanded, and a group got together to discuss the future of the project. I was invited to that meeting and walked out a member of the newly formed board of directors. 

What are the current goals/focus of Seattle City of Literature? 

CM: City of Lit is Seattle's bid to be recognized by UNESCO as one of their Creative Cities with a distinction in literature. I believe the only other city with this particular distinction in the US is Iowa City, home to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. On a more local level, we are a go-between for many of the city's literary institutions and organizations, bringing together those who do similar work in the city.  

If someone wanted to help or contribute to Seattle City of Literature, what would be the best way to do so? 

CM: Give all your money! And also, go to events that promote culture and the arts in Seattle. Get to know the literary community and show up. But mostly, give all your money. You can do that by going to the City of Lit website and clicking on "Donate" under the "Get Involved" tab.

Are you currently working on any other projects? 

CM: I am a member of two writing groups, and I try to meet with my cohort from the MFA as often as I can. I am writing a novel right now, and it is in its infancy, meaning it makes me tired and produces a staggering amount of shit, but I love it anyway.

I’m amazed that you still meet up with your MFA cohort! How often do you all get together?

CM: Our cohort tries to get together once a month. With a new baby at home I don't get to the gatherings as much as I'd like, but I love all the people in my cohort and really enjoy working with them and getting to see them as often as possible.

You were writing a novel as part of your thesis work, weren’t you? Is that the novel you’re currently working on, or has inspiration taken you in a different direction? 

CM: I am working on a new novel and workshopping it with a writers group I joined with friends from the City of Literature board. I have big plans for my thesis novel still!

Have you had your work published anywhere recently? 

CM: I have not published much in the recent months, but I am always on the lookout to share some of these essays and stories with the world!

How has the MFA has shaped your current practice? 

CM: I think the biggest thing I have learned about writing is that while it can be a very singular practice, to thrive as a writer (outside of financially) is to be fully immersed in a writing community. Sharing ideas and joys and failures is the only way to grow, and the only real way to stay connected to our human-ness, which is the only real weapon writers have.

Do you have a daily writing routine?

CM: I am such an inspiration-based writer. If I am feeling good, I can crank out thousands of words, but if not, it is a chore to type my own name. And I love my own name. I try to write at least 250 creative words a day, and while that doesn't sound like a lot, it can add up. And, like I said, if lightning strikes then I just get after it.

What are you currently reading? 

CM: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.

If you were to recommend one book for everyone to read, what would it be and why? 

CM: Geez. This is a hard question. I want to pick something that would make everyone have exponentially more compassion and joy after leaving the experience of reading it, but that is a text I am not sure exists. Maybe The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by my aforementioned hero George Saunders. God literally shows up and literally saves the day in this short novella, and pseudo-robot humanoid things are members of high school swim teams and drink coffee. It has everything. Either that book, or The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

What do you do outside of writing or working with Seattle City of Literature? 

CM: I am a part of the English faculty for the Seattle College system and it is the BEST JOB. I am also a husband and friend to the beautiful and talented Dawn McArthur, and a father and friend to the 5-week-old Davis Rainier McArthur, my first-born child. He has changed the game.


Kaitlin C. Young is a Seattle-based writer and visual poet who received her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from UWB in June 2016. Her poems, both written and embroidered, play with and against the domestic realm.