Alumni Stories

We asked a few alums to recount their experiences at UA and update us on what they’ve been up to. Read their stories below.

Jessica Lee Richardson

“I attended UA from 2009-2013. My time there was marked by extreme events, both personal and local, including the tornado on April 27th 2011. I’m only leading with disaster because I think it tightened the bond between students and faculty and community beyond what may be normal for an MFA program. Our ego boundaries kind of dropped and we became almost a larger body for a while. Our egos snapped back into place eventually, but the love (and dance parties) continued. I’m still actively rooting for everyone I was in T-town with. I’m in touch with many of my friends and professors still. Both have been incredible supports beyond the program. My professors still write letters for me and offer advice and send postcards(!). Some of the letters and advice really work! After a couple of years teaching at Rutgers and UA again, I was offered an Assistant Professorship teaching Creative Writing at Coastal Carolina University. My first year at Coastal my first book came out from FC2, It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides, and I got to tour around the country with it, which was a huge thrill. I also got married to the most amazing human and ran from several major hurricanes and floods. In the midst of that, I finished two more books which I’m submitting around now, and more are in the works.

Books have made me feel a little less lonely in the world. So that’s my professional ambition. To drop a stone or two into the river of this intimate tradition. In some nebulous way, a writer and a reader, or a bunch of people reading the same book or literary magazine become a larger body too. I’m really interested in the ways we merge as humans, with each other and with environments, and when and why we don’t. My time at ‘Bama was a four year master class in that. I’m forever grateful for it. I got to meet some current students on a recent visit just before the pandemic and they seemed to be on fire and writing their hearts out. I can’t wait to read their books and I’m wishing the new classes well as they navigate these times.”

Jessica Lee Richardson, a New Jersey native, lived in Brooklyn and performed Off-Broadway and elsewhere for years before earning her MFA in Fiction from the University of Alabama. Her short story collection, It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides, was published by FC2, won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award in 2016. Fictions have appeared or are forthcoming in the Adroit Journal, Hobart, Indiana Review, Joyland, the Masters Review, the Rupture, and Slice among other places. She is an Assistant Professor of Fiction at Coastal Carolina University where she coordinates the creative writing program and lives on the Intracoastal Waterway with a magician and a nine-year-old puppy.

Sarah Blackman

“I was in the MFA program at Bama from 2003-2007. I entered as a fiction writer but my first writing love had always been poetry and I wanted to do both. At Alabama, I didn’t have to choose. I took workshops in both genres, literature classes in both genres, wrote two thesis and defended them both. Along the way, I learned how to break down the barriers I had put in place between the two and write a kind of fiction that treated language as a crack in the door through which something Other peered. The Alabama MFA also gave me an opportunity to get experience in many different kinds of writing life professionalization.

I taught rhet/comp classes, lit. classes and creative writing classes. I helped found a summer literary club for high school kids and was a reader and editor for the Black Warrior Review. Now, I teach creative writing in an arts high school (a job I never would have been qualified for without all that varied teaching experience); have worked in an editorial capacity for DIAGRAM for thirteen years (a connection I made through Bama cohort) and am on the board at FC2 who exemplifies that weird language thing in fiction I was talking about earlier and where I get to keep in touch with lots of Alabama folk. I owe a lot to the UA MFA program professionally. Personally, I met my best friends, my lifelong teachers, my partner and father to my future kids all in Tuscaloosa.”

Sarah Blackman is the Director of Creative Writing at the Fine Arts Center, a public arts high school in Greenville, South Carolina. Her story collection Mother Box was the winner of the 2012 Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize and was published by FC2 in 2013. Her novel, Hex, was published by the same press in April, 2016. In 2018, she joined the board of FC2. She is the co-fiction editor of DIAGRAM, the online journal of experimental prose, poetry and schematics, and the founding editor of Crashtest, an online magazine for high school age writers which she edits alongside her students at the Fine Arts Center.