St. Francis College's MFA Program Prepares a New Generation of Poets
Leah Schmerl


Since launching its MFA program in 2017, St. Francis College has been educating a new generation of poets, contributing its mark on one of the most enduring and treasured forms of written expression.

Poetry is one of the three areas of concentration – referred to as "tracks" – open to students who enroll in the two-year MFA in creative writing program. Screenwriting/playwriting and fiction are the other two.

In an intimate and collaborative learning environment, student poets hone their craft under the mentorship of some of the field's leading practitioners.

Theo Gangi

"Poetry is important to teach at SFC because it is the purest form of writing there is," said Theo Gangi, MFA, director of the SFC MFA program, reflecting on the importance of poetry education in honor of World Poetry Day on March 21. "From fiction to screenwriting, all creative writing has poetry at its core. From the sound two words make together to epic poems that took days to recite, poetry is the original force that powers our collective, creative imagination."

SFC's poetry students are guided by the program's poetry coordinators, Mahogany Browne and Felice Belle – each an accomplished artist in their own right – along with renowned guest instructors like Annie Finch, Shira Erlichman and Adam Falkner.

"I'm most interested in the validity of voice. I value the voice. I value different

dialects and organic dialogue," said Browne – a Cave Canem poet who is the Executive Director of Bowery Poetry

Mahogany Browne

Club; Artistic Director of Urban Word NYC; and author of "Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice," "Woke Baby," "Black Girl Magic," "Kissing Caskets" and "#Dear Twitter" – about her approach to teaching poetry when she joined the program in 2019. "I think we lose a lot of our power and our beauty when we're trying to recreate or repurpose or copy things that already exist instead of coming into a space with our individual stories. We're [often] so busy trying to make [our work] universal that we forget our value. And then, in turn, [the work is] homogenized. The homogenized voice is not an evolutionary voice."

Belle, who was a featured poet at TED's City2.0 conference and had her young audiences play, "Game On!," premiere at the Kennedy Center's One Mic: Hip Hop Culture Worldwide festival, points out that poetry education matters because it is foundational in human expression and connection.

Felice Belle

"That National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman's poem was one of the most talked-about moments of the [2021 U.S.] presidential inauguration is a testament to the power of poetry to embody our lived experience and touch people's hearts," said Belle, who also performs alongside Jennifer Murphy in "Other Women," a two-woman show they co-wrote about the enduring nature of sisterhood. "Poetry is about a deep attention to language. Our words matter on an individual and a global scale. Walter Mosely said, 'You have to study poetry. It will teach you everything.' I think that is true."

Among the writers who graduated from the SFC MFA program is poet Adela Sinclair '19, who completed two manuscripts while an MFA student. Her first, "La Revedere," will be published by Finishing Line Press later this year.

"Enrolling in the St. Francis College MFA program, within the poetry track, has

Adela Sinclair

been transformative and essential to my writing," said Sinclair. "I had the pleasure of working with luminaries such as Annie Finch, Mahogany Browne, Felice Belle, Shira Erlichman and many others. Prosody, rhythm, form, rhyming and meter have become not just techniques I had read about, but essential tools I used every time I picked up a pen to write poems...The community I had built around me at St. Francis is instrumental in my life as a writer."

Students in the two-year MFA program complete two 10-day residencies each year – one each in January and July – during which time they participate in a full-time schedule of workshops and other interactive sessions. The rest of the time, they work remotely on their own schedules – staying in close touch with their peers and instructors – making the program particularly accommodating to aspiring writers with jobs and other outside commitments.

St. Francis College awarded its first MFA degrees in July 2019 and has graduated a total of 12 MFA students to date. Anyone interested in the SFC MFA program should reach out to mfa@sfc.edu.

Pictured, top to bottom: Theo Gangi, Mahogany Browne, Felice Belle, Adela Sinclair