MFA Students

Our students come from all over the country—all over the world—and the work they produce is as singular as they are. What they have in common is a lifetime membership in the Pitt writing community. Since our MFA program began, our graduates have published an impressive number of books in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In the past 20 years, our students have won major book publication and literary prizes, including the Barnard Women Writers Award, the Nelson Algren Award, The Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and the Whiting and Tufts Awards for emerging writers.

In the last few years alone, they have won or been finalists for fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; the 2008 Slapering Hol Press chapbook competition; the 2008 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction; Wordstock 10 Short Fiction competition; International Association of Business Communicators’ Award of Honor in News Writing and Feature Writing; the 2008 National Magazine Award; the 2008 National Poetry Series contest (judged by Yusef Komunyakaa); the 2007 Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Competition; and the 2008 Fence/Motherwell prize.

For more information about the professional activities of our graduates, please check out our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Current and Recent MFA Students

Lorraine Avila

Lorraine Avila, Fiction LOA17@pitt.edu

Lorraine Avila is a Bronxite with Caribbean roots. Her mission is to break free from generational and colonial trauma by continuing to rupture the traditions of silence. 

Avila has a BA from Fordham University in English and Middle East studies with a minor in Creative Writing, and an MA in Teaching from New York University. She is an anti-racist educator; her eight years of experience lies in middle school literacy and curriculum design.

In 2020, Avila was the K. Leroy Irvis Fellow. In 2021, she received the Josephine and John McCloskey Memorial Nationality Room Scholarship and the Dietrich Diversity Research Grant. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2019 for her personal essay, "How to Leave Home."

In 2019, she published Malcriada & Other Stories, her debut collection of short stories, which Elizabeth Acevedo called “an uppercut to the senses.” She is self-pubishing Celestial Summer, a graphic novel that centers Black love and psychedelics forthcoming Spring 2022, due to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Her words have been published in Bitch Media, Tasteful Rude, Our House LA, Latino USA, Catapult Magazine, Asteri(x) Journal, Hippocampus Magazine, Moko Magazine, The GirlMob, La Galeria Magazine, and Blavity. 

Avila is represented by Patrice Caldwell at New Leaf Literary.

Abdelrahman ElGendy

Abdelrahman ElGendy, Nonfiction abe36@pitt.edu

Abdelrahman ElGendy is a writer and former Egyptian political prisoner. Arrested from a protest, he spent six years and three months behind bars between October 6, 2013, and January 13, 2020.

Incarcerated at 17 and released at 24, he started and earned a mechanical engineering BSc from Ain Shams University in Egypt while in prison.

His smuggled prison writings circulated online until picked up and published in 2018 by Mada Masr, an independent journalism platform in Egypt.

Since his release, he has turned to writing and advocacy work. His vision as a writer has been to utilize counter-narratives of the marginalized and oppressed as a form of resistance to the propaganda of tyrants, with a focus on advocating for the release of Egyptian political prisoners.

During his MFA at the University of Pittsburgh, ElGendy is working on a book project documenting his incarceration experience.

ElGendy’s writing is featured on Mada Masr, Raseef 22, Daraj Media, Newlines Magazine and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. He is also the copywriter and editor of the Leading Change Network NGO. 

You can view his work at abdelrahmanelgendy.com, and find him on Twitter at @El_Gendy_95

Miles Johnson

Miles JohnsonPoetry mej121@pitt.edu

Miles believes that the world would be better off if there were no borders at all, but manages to rep his home, Washington DC, with fervor and gratitude. He loves: his Granny and all the other Black folks who watch out and over him; following NBA basketball, even to his own emotional detriment; and playing video games. You can find (some of) his work at blackandoutside.com, and if you're lucky you can find him on Twitter and Instagram @blackandoutside.

Isaac Knapp

Isaac Knapp, Poetry IJK10@pitt.edu

Isaac Knapp is a writer and artist from Dayton, Ohio pursuing an MFA in poetry at UPitt. Before turning his attentions to an MFA, Isaac completed an MA in English Literature at Wright State University. His work concentrates on reshaping the mundane and finding a new perspective on the ordinary. In addition to poetry, he is interested in surrealism, magical realism, and meta approaches to fiction. 

In addition to his personal creative endeavors, Isaac is the cofounder of Radical Moisture Press, an independent publishing collective that focuses on comics and photography. During his time at UPitt, Isaac looks forward to experimenting with new marriages between the written word and visual forms. His visual sensibility is heavily informed by collage--you can find some of his works on Instagram @afternoonknapp

Sandra Lee

Sandra Lee, Fiction sal287@pitt.edu

Sandra Lee is a first-year MFA candidate in fiction from Queens, NY. She holds a BA in English from Cornell University and has worked in tech for several years. She writes short stories about anxious Korean Americans. 

Paola Liendo

Paola LiendoPoetry PML38@pitt.edu

Paola Liendo is a bisexual Latina poet from Laredo, Texas. A first-generation college student, she graduated with highest honors and a B.A. in English from Kenyon College with a minor in Anthropology and an emphasis in Creative Writing. There, she studied the politics of intimacy in postcolonial literature and the poetics of such intimacy across dynamics of power. She is interested in physical and metaphorical borderlands, having grown up five minutes from the Rio Grande herself, and she tries to live and write by Audre Lord’s advice against injustices and quietude: “there are so many silences to be broken.”

She is currently an MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Pittsburgh and a 2020-2021 Dietrich Fellow. She hopes to continue studying the borders and bridges that poetry creates for us as she examines personal and global engagements of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and nationality. Her work centers family, queerness, and a stubborn dedication to unlearning falsehoods. It has been published in Laurel Moon and Poets.org, and has won her an Academy of American Poets Prize, the John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize, and the Propper Prize for Poetry. In her free time, she spends what she suspects is too much time analyzing TV shows and loving her friends.

T.C. Martin

T.C. Martin, Nonfiction TCM44@pitt.edu

T.C. Martin is a creative nonfiction writer, journalist, and poet from Southern Maryland. His writing interests include social justice, suburbanization, weight stigma, audio journalism, country music, regional cultures, familial histories, food, and much more. His work has appeared in Edible DC MagazineINDY Week, and the Beinecke Library Student Poet Series at Yale. He graduated from Yale in 2020 with a B.A. in English, concentrating in creative writing. In his free time, T.C. enjoys road-tripping, cooking (or trying to, at least), and curling up with his dog, Beeters, and his cat, Duchess. He is currently working on two writing projects: a creative history of his paternal family in Southern Maryland and a memoir about growing up fat. Find him on Twitter at @tcmartinwrites.

Noelle Mateer

Noelle Mateer, Nonfictionnem77@pitt.edu

Noelle Mateer is a nonfiction writer interested in China, where she was a journalist for several years. Her work appears in WIRED, The Economist, Vice and more, and has been recommended in Longform, Longreads’ “Best of 2019: Food Writing,” and Bloomberg Businessweek’s “2019 Jealousy List.” In Beijing, Noelle ran a magazine and worked as a food critic. She is now working on projects that blend literary journalism and memoir. 

Noelle is from State College, Pennsylvania, the home of Penn State, where she earned her BA in journalism.

Anna Millard

Anna MillardFiction adm237@pitt.edu

Anna Denise Millard is a fiction MFA candidate with a BA in Playwriting from Emory University. She's worked for 8 years as a professional advertising and editorial writer in NYC, from writing commercial scripts for ADT Security to celebrity gossip articles for Refinery29 and billboards for The Wall Street Journal. Her short stories have been published in The Dillydoun Review and her plays have been produced at Essential Theatre in Atlanta. Her areas of interest include the American South, film criticism and theory, and media studies. Her writing takes frivolity very seriously.

Kiera O'Brien

Kiera O'BrienPoetry kieraobrien@pitt.edu

Kiera O’Brien (she/her) is a writer and artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico. O’Brien holds a BA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the inaugural 2022-2023 Graduate Student Assistant at the Frick Fine Arts Library, where she is working in-depth with the artist book collection.

Her writing has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Dead Skunk magazine, Foothill Journal, and elsewhere. In 2022, her project weathermachine : a computational chapbook was awarded Best Graduate Work in the University of Pittsburgh Digital Media & Design Showcase. She has toured as a visiting artist and producer with international performance collective Mammalian Diving Reflex since 2015. She hopes you’ll ask her about the weather.

Susan Peterson

Susan Peterson, Nonfiction SSP41@pitt.edu

SUSAN SCOTT PETERSON writes intimate essays and memoir about culture and race; poverty and privilege; environmental degradation; and women, families, and parenthood. Her essays have appeared in The Rumpus and Cleaver Magazine and her reporting in the Texas Observer.

Before beginning the creative nonfiction MFA program at Pitt, Susan worked in the energy/environment field for ten years in Austin, Texas. Most recently, she served as the sustainability director for an affordable housing nonprofit, where she helped the organization achieve a megawatt of installed rooftop solar capacity. She has been an invited speaker on the intersection of sustainability and multifamily affordable housing at a number of national events including the Department of Energy Better Buildings Summit, the National Home Performance Conference, NeighborWorks America Training Institute, and the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute conference. The City of Austin Office of Sustainability named her a Net Zero Hero in 2018. 

Susan was a Ben Barnes Fellow at The University of Texas’ LBJ School, where she earned her Master of Public Affairs degree, and a Justice Scholar at Brandeis University, where she earned her B.A. in English Literature. While at Pitt, she aims to cultivate skills in reporting and audio narrative with the goal of crafting research-driven stories that retain a vulnerable, credible first-person point-of-view.

Susan loves permaculture, public baths across cultures, spreadsheets, musical theater, and a good commencement address. Ask her to help you read your electric bill, then settle in: It’s complicated.

Avery Robinson

Avery Robinson, Poetry mar544@pitt.edu

M. Avery Robinson is a Black poet and punk from Central Florida. They received their BA in Creative Writing at Florida State University, where they interned at the Southeast Review and were the recipient of the 2022 Academy of American Poets Award.

Their work dances in the liminal soundscapes between hip-hop, punk-rock, anime, and Black folklore, transitioning between them as they follow their ear to every note. With an eye for where history intercepts the present, they behold not just the suffering of their bloodline, but the pleasure and mosh-pits of Black euphoria in America’s Southeast too. Their poems have appeared in Interim Magazine, museum of americana, Saw Palm, and are forthcoming in Obsidian and Hunger Mountain. If not at workshop or reading a book, you’ll find them wherever the music’s the loudest.

Kandala Singh

Kandala Singh, Poetry kas739@pitt.edu

Kandala (she/her) is a writer, qualitative researcher and teaching artist from New Delhi, India. 

She works as a creative writing coach, and co-teaches at Writing for Comfort, a series of mixed-genre writing workshops for adults. She holds a joint Masters degree in Human Rights Practice from the Universities of Gothenburg, Roehampton and Tromsoe, and has worked on gender and development issues in India for over a decade.

Her poems appear in Rattle, Rust + Moth, Eclectica, SWWIM Every Day, Hindustan Times, The Alipore Post, Muse India and Contemporary Haibun Online, among other places. Her articles on gender issues can be found in Outlook India, The Quint, The Citizen and Village Square.

Currently a Dietrich fellow at the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh, Kandala is working on her first collection of poems. You can find her chasing clouds, flowers and poems on Instagram @kandalasingh.

Amanda Tien

Amanda Tien, Fiction ajt81@pitt.edu

Amanda Tien (she/her) is a writer, creative professional, and strategist. She grew up on the move as the daughter of an U.S. Army officer and a teacher with a passion for community, storytelling, and adventure. Her writing often explores memory, connection, and Asian American identity. 

Amanda is an MFA Candidate in Fiction at the University of Pittsburgh where she also teaches Seminar in Composition and Introduction to Fiction. She was a 2020-2021 Dietrich Fellow, and has served as the Managing Editor for the transnational feminist literary journal Aster(ix) since Fall 2021. She created the MFA Community Initiative and is one of the inaugural MFA Community Co-Chairs for the 2022-2023 school year. 

For her thesis, she is finishing her first novel. She was the Winner of the 2021 Jean Meyer Aloe Graduate Poetry Award and Third Place Winner of the 2021 Nordan-Kinder Award in Fiction. In Spring 2021, Amanda was selected to present at the Pitt Graduate Student Expo on her research paper, “Takeout and Uptake: An Analysis of Food as a Narrative and Cultural Device in Chinese American Novels."

Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, Call Me [Brackets], Columbia College Today, Poets.org, Public Books, and The Punished Backlog. Her work can be viewed at www.amandatien.com.

Megan Valley

Megan ValleyNonfiction mev66@pitt.edu

Megan Valley is a writer and journalist from Michigan pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction. She earned her B.A. in English and the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame and was most recently a Report For America corps member covering local education issues in southwest Illinois. Her writing is focused on the environment, Catholic culture, local news, and so-called wellness culture.