Carlow program for writers includes an Irish flair

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This year, Carlow University celebrates the 10th anniversary of founding its master of fine arts in creative writing program.

The late Patricia Dobler, a poet and English professor who spent eight years developing it, died in 2004 about six months before the school welcomed its first students, said professor Ellie Wymard, the program director.

The program is low residency, but students spend 11 days in Pittsburgh in January and another 11 days at Trinity College in Dublin in June. In both cases, students attend classes with successful writers and poets and are paired with a mentor. Most students finish their degree in 21/2 to three years.

The program has 35 students and 53 alumni. Tess Barry, who graduated from Carlow in 2013, was a finalist in the North American Review's 2012 James Hearst Poetry Prize. She received an honorable mention and her poem, "Not a Self-Portrait," was published in the North American Review's spring 2012 issue.

"That's the oldest literary journal in the United States," Mrs. Wymard said.

Beth Peyton's book "Clear Skies, Deep Water: A Chautauqua Memoir" was published in February by Excelsior Editions, an imprint of SUNY Press. She graduated from Carlow in 2012.

During the Ireland residency in June, students will hear from Claire Keegan, an Irish short story writer who received the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2000 and won the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award for the story "Foster" in 2009.

Another speaker is Irish author Kevin Barry, recipient of the Rooney Prize in 2007. Mr. Barry's novel "City of Bohane" won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2013. A third speaker is poet Sinead Morrissey, whose fifth collection of poetry, "Parallax," won the T.S. Eliot Prize in January.

One of the regular speakers at Trinity College is author Carlo Gebler, son of Edna O'Brien.

"He has been a mentor for us since the beginning," Mrs. Wymard said. A couple of years ago, she asked Mr. Gebler to invite his mother to speak to the Carlow students at Trinity College.

"She liked the program. She came to Trinity College twice and spoke. She was a great hit. I invited her to Pittsburgh for our 10th anniversary," Mrs. Wymard said.

In Carlow's program, a student continues to study with the same Irish mentor after they return to the U.S. Students write a contract with the mentor before they leave Ireland. That contract is tailored to the needs and the talents of the student and outlines a specific reading list.

"The student is required to do the reading and write critical papers and do creative writing. Every month, there is a packet the student sends to the mentor. The mentor critiques and sends it back," Mrs. Wymard said. "Inevitably, some of our students write their final manuscript with an Irish mentor."

During the program's first three years, Anne Enright, who received the Mann Booker prize in 2007 for "The Gathering," served as a mentor. She still speaks to students at Trinity College each year.

Mrs. Wymard has written about the lives of people in steel towns plus two books on divorce. Her critical essays are largely focused on women writers, including Kate Chopin, Barbara Pym, J.F. Powers, Annie Dillard and Mary Gordon.

Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648.

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