MFA Creative Writing Director Theo Gangi Lands Development Deal for Kingston... Series
With the return of in-person classes and the launch of two new genre tracks – nonfiction writing and graphic writing—now is a thrilling time to be a student in the low-residency Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at St. Francis College (SFC). This exciting program reflects the realities of life as a working writer and allows students to take four online workshops and attend five ten-day residencies to earn their MFA degree.
It's also an amazing time to be Theo Black Gangi, writing professor and director of the MFA program, and co-author of the fantasy novel for young readers "Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found," an epic and imaginative coming-of-age tale about loss, lineage, and the importance of finding your own voice.
Across his illustrious career, Gangi has written several acclaimed novels and short stories, as well as worked on shows for Netflix. He writes, "far-out adventures that happen right next door," which in his case, often means writing books like Kingston... and its sequel, "Kingston and the Echoes of Magic," that take place in Brooklyn—Gangi's home borough. Along with heading SFC's exciting MFA program that reflects the realities of life as a working writer in New York City, it was announced this November that Gangi and his co-writers have signed a development deal to bring Kingston's story to life in a feature film, optioned by streaming powerhouse Disney+.
In a conversation with the Gangi, he speaks about the unique benefits of pursuing a low-residency MFA at SFC–which includes fiction, poetry, screenwriting, nonfiction and writing for comics–and precisely how Brooklyn is a borough, magical like no other.
How did the new Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing program at St. Francis come about?
The Low-Res Program kind of came together because there was a real need for it. Part of it was an effort to keep up with the old Brooklyn vs. the new Brooklyn—there's been such an influx of literary talent and interest in the borough. St. Francis College started partnering with the Brooklyn Book Festival and, with that, I think we saw an opening because there weren't really any low-residency programs there or in New York City. There were a lot of MFA programs that were very reputable, the list goes on, but there were no low-res programs, and New York is such a unique place for a literary scene in that it's right in the heart of the publishing industry! We felt very connected to the literary scene here in Brooklyn.
What type of student would be well-suited for the Low-Residency Creative Writing MFA Program at St. Francis?
We take a very professionally minded, practical approach in the program in terms of getting students what they ultimately want out of the experience. In a low-res environment, you're meeting in short, intensive sessions, and you're not there year-round, so you can have a job and a personal life while you write, which is really the reality for all struggling writers, but especially in NYC. As you're pursuing your own work and honing your craft, you will need a day job—becoming a writer is learning that. My personal experience was kind of learning that the hard way. So, we incorporate that into everything we teach. We introduce writers to the realities of the writing world.
Is that how the story for Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found came about?
Yeah, so the idea for Kingston... originated with my co-writers Rucker Moses [the pen name of writing team Craig S. Phillips and Harold Hayes Jr.] who had both worked in television and had originally tried selling it as a series. I think it was with Amazon for a while, and then it fell through. Meanwhile, I was working on writing a middle-grade fantasy. Those projects were sort of concurrent with launching the MFA program. So, my editor at Penguin/Putnam, Stacey Barney, linked Rucker Moses and me up. She saw something in the book idea paired with my approach to storytelling and thought it would be a good fit, and now—we have a great partnership.
Now that the book has had so much success, what's next?
We're working on a movie based on the first book, potentially incorporating some aspects of the second book, "Kingston and the Echoes of Magic."
Very exciting! What's that process been like? Can you tell us anything?
It's been interesting! Right now, it's all about putting together a team and matching the right talent with the story. Writing it was so much of a team effort, which is kind of unusual for an author. But honestly, writing a book is always more of a team effort than you would think, right? There's you, there's your editor, there's a whole process. A lot of people have to buy-in for a book to ever see the world. You learn that the writer does a lot of the work, obviously, but they're not quite as on their own as you might think. But a film? That gets made with a bunch of people, a lot of talented, creative people, sharing a vision and building something that just cannot be done by one person. So, you know, going through the process as a producer is really about putting that team together.
We'll keep an eye out for the show! What's your favorite part about being director of the Creative Writing Program at SFC?
Well, the students—they're just so passionate about writing. We have some very promising, talented folks in the program. One really exciting thing for me, especially as someone who loves genre fiction, is how the upcoming generation of writers is embracing genre, switching genres, and seeing the value in learning from all the incredible forms that are out there. St. Francis has drawn a lot of writers who are eager to mix it up and put their stamp on things. It's very rewarding.
What kind of writing are these students exploring in terms of genre? Fantasy? Medieval stories? Werewolves?!
There aren't quite any Werewolf stories, but I do have a student who wrote a story that had a "werelion" in it.
Well, the term "werelion" is never actually used, but he's a man, and he turns into a lion, so...Yeah, there's, a transformation. But we have a lot of really solid, interesting fantasy writers here. One alumnus is working on a satirical fantasy about New York City, a dystopic Brooklyn kind of deal, which is a lot of fun. We're getting some great sci-fi stuff.
Is your book, A New Day in America, fantasy-themed as well?
Yes. I mean, A New Day... is an adult thriller, and it's a post-apocalyptic survival story about the relationship between a father and daughter. They're traveling across America, and he's trying to keep his little girl alive. So, it's darker but still very much an adventure with some dystopian elements.
Speaking of fathers, does the disappearance of Kingston's father's in ...Magician's Lost and Found stand as a metaphor for anything going on in the world?
I always saw Kingston's story as a coming of age, a sort of psychological representation of our own independence. It's what it feels like to be in the world and realize your parents can't make you who you are anymore. It's the psychological experience of losing your father or authority figure. You suddenly have to author your identity and find yourself. So, you've got the tools from your parents, but now it's all about you—about you being, you. I think that's why you see that so much, especially in kids' stories, the parents are always gone, because it's about becoming your own person, and in some ways, when your parents are there, you can't quite do that. So yes, the father quest always feels like the quest for your own voice, your own identity.
And what about the role Brooklyn plays in the Kingston series—is Brooklyn magical?
Brooklyn is magic!
Well, it's what draws people here! Brooklyn has a unique mix and a unique style. There's a kind of harmony between the way this borough was built and the nature it's built on that you don't see in other boroughs in the city. I don't know how else to describe it but as "magic." Trees are allowed to grow in Brooklyn. They get huge and burst through the sidewalks. They make you trip sometimes because the cracks are so huge, you know? There's harmony, balance. Brooklyn lets you be who you are and what you are. And that's magic.
What would you say to a prospective student who might be considering a Low-Res MFA at St. Francis?
We have really diverse personnel in the Creative Writing Program, not just in terms of our faculty background, but also faculty interest and expertise. If you're pursuing fiction writing, or you're specifically into adventure and fantasy stories, screenwriting, or any overlap, then SFC might be great for you. If you want to write novels that inspire films–which is a huge industry these days–I'm personally here to help. We also have Hannah Asad, who writes beautiful, soul-searching kind of novels. And renowned faculty member Chloe Cooper Jones who writes nonfiction, is nominated for a Pulitzer, does some incredible reporting, but is also an experienced screenwriter. Then we've got, visiting talks and lectures by writers like Marlon James, who is a Man Booker Prize and National Book Award winner.
In addition to being the only low-res program in New York, SFC now has one of the first MFAs in comic book writing globally! This new program is launching this winter, and writer/faculty member Jason Starr will be leading this program for students interested in comic book writing. But we also have some incredible poets, like Felice Belle, Annie Finch, and Jive Poetic, who are stylistically diverse teachers. So, if you're a writer, we probably have a great slot for you.
It sounds like a great time to be back in Brooklyn.
It is a great time to be back in Brooklyn! I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Learn more about on our Low-Residency Creative Writing MFA.