New teaching fellowship awarded

Mason Zachary Williams, a recent graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s Master of Fine Arts program, has been awarded the inaugural Irene McKinney Postgraduate Teaching Fellowship.

Williams, of Richwood, received his bachelor’s degree in 2009 from West Virginia Wesleyan College before matriculating through the MFA program.

Williams will be teaching three composition courses in the fall and two composition courses and a literature or creative writing course in the spring. He also will be required to offer a literary reading on campus in the spring. During his tenure, Williams will be working under the supervision of Jessie van Eerden, MFA director, and Eric Waggoner, English department chair, and will also work in close mentorship with Ashley Lawson, assistant professor of English.

“Receiving the Irene McKinney Postgraduate Teaching Fellowship is a tremendous honor, and the opportunity to teach at my alma mater as the recipient of a fellowship named for a tremendous poet, teacher, and our founding director is honestly a dream come true,” stated Williams. “I knew I wanted to use my MFA to teach at the college level, and I am extremely fortunate and honored to have been selected from such a strong cohort of Wesleyan MFA graduates.”

Applicants were required to submit a letter of application, a summary of their teaching philosophy of basic composition, a drafted syllabus for a Composition I course, a sketch of an Introduction to Literature or Creative Writing course, a current curriculum vitae, and a writing sample. Letters of recommendation were also required.

Williams was chosen to receive the fellowship after his entry was reviewed by van Eerden and other core MFA faculty.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer teaching experience to our most promising graduates through this postgraduate teaching fellowship at Wesleyan,” commented van Eerden. “It is a unique innovation to the low-residency model, and we wanted to honor Irene McKinney, the founding program director, with this innovation. Zach was our choice because of the vision he is already developing for the classroom and also because of the incredible growth and commitment he has exhibited throughout his tenure in the program. The faculty and I are excited to see how the year unfolds for him.”

Williams’ MFA work focused on a novel-length creative thesis influenced heavily by critical study of contemporary American literature. Some of his writing influences include Chuck Palahniuk, Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Yates. Williams is a member of the first graduating class from the relatively new program.

“Our MFA program is graduating its first cohort this summer, so it is a really exciting time,” stated van Eerden. “Although we are a writing-focused program, not a teacher-prep program, the MFA is a terminal degree and a teaching credential, so many of our students hope to embark on an academic career after graduation. However, because ours is a low-residency program, students finish most of their coursework off-campus and cannot participate in teaching assistantships like those offered at traditional MFA programs. That is why this fellowship is a great opportunity.”

The Irene McKinney Postgraduate Teaching Fellowship is available to all graduates of the college’s MFA program for up to three years after graduation. The fellowship honors the founding director of the college’s MFA program, Dr. Irene McKinney, professor emeritus and West Virginia Poet Laureate, who passed away in 2012.