Pacing, Patience, and Practice: Southern New Hampshire University Pushcart Prize nominee Sarah E. Caouette used a Hemingway short story and an MFA program's community of high-achieving writers to find her identity as an artist


MANCHESTER, N.H., Dec. 30, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Among all our art forms, the practice of literature is perhaps our most solitary. For some, that's part of its appeal.

That would be the case with Sarah E. Caouette, whose short story "We All Come Here From a Long Way Off" has just been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. And yet, she says, a sense of community has become part of the essential oxygen of what she does, and what keeps her writing.

Caouette, a 2013 graduate of Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program, grew up the child of two teachers and in a house full of books, she said, "about painters and naturalists, poets and architects, spiritualists and historians." These mapped out destinies that were as intimidating as they were inspiring.

"For an insular, shy, and socially awkward young woman, it often felt as though I was surrounded by the eccentricities of big personalities accomplishing avant-garde things," she said. "My lack of confidence inhibited me from pursuing my dreams, and so I wrote in a closeted fashion, in journals mostly, pages of poetry that I didn't dare let other people see."

Eventually an Ernest Hemingway story, "Hills Like White Elephants," showed Caouette how fiction might allow a step or two outside that closet. "I was sixteen, and that changed everything for me," she said. "I realized metaphor could be the invisible cloak I could wear to tell the truth as I saw it. And if I was just able to tell stories well enough, no one would be focused on the insecure person behind the writing."

She went to college, and then to work: a small ethnic newspaper in Boston, and then a big marketing firm. She sent essays "to publications that were out of my league," and to no avail.

Finally she decided she needed the company of other people who wore invisible cloaks like hers. In 2011 she applied to, and was accepted into, Southern New Hampshire's MFA program.

"So much of writing is about relationships—how we relate to the world, and how the world relates to us," she said, looking back on those two years. "Every time I think about this, I remember that inspiration is plentiful, and also immeasurable. I feel rich in the relationships I forged being part of a supportive literary community, grateful to have been encouraged to find my voice."

A portion of that inspiration was drawn from the energy of the work being done around her—and a year after Caouette's graduation, much of this work is coming to fruition. On the Southern New Hampshire faculty, Leslie Jamison has seen her debut essay collection, "The Empathy Exams," included on every best-of-the-year list going. Novelist Wiley Cash has just won a second Gold Dagger from the Crime Writers' Association for "This Dark Road to Mercy," the year's best crime novel.

Program director Benjamin Nugent, a novelist and essayist, has had a short story included in the 2014 edition of "The Best American Short Stories," while "The Waking Dark," an acclaimed Young Adult novel by Robin Wasserman, has just come out in paperback. Fellow YA novelist Jo Knowles has earned a starred listing in Kirkus Reviews for "Between the Lines," to be published next month.

The end of this year has also been good for program alumni besides Caouette. The Pushcart Prize honors the year's best from small presses and literary magazines, and David Rawding '11 is a fellow Pushcart nominee for his short story "The Climber's Crux," published in Crack the Spine. Meanwhile well-received first novels were published by Kelly Stone Gamble '12 ("They Call Me Crazy") and James Marino '09 ("The Keepers of Mercia"). Fellow novelists Kenneth Butler '12 and C.G. Fewston '13 will make their debuts this spring with the publication, respectively, of "The Holy Fool" and "A Time to Love in Tehran."

Caouette's short story appeared in the Milo Review, and it's told from the perspective of an educated young woman who finds herself in the waiting room of an urban free clinic. There she weighs her own disappointments against the poverty and desperation of others in that unexpected community. "I'm a nobody surrounded by nobodies," the girl thinks.

The same can't be said for the promising writer who created her—a writer who begins to shed her invisible cloak with this nomination. But for Caouette—who now has a portfolio of published stories, essays, and poetry, and who (like all writers) still gets rejections slips—it's no more than a step.

"This has been a nice surprise," she said. "But the real deal is that I'm still working on my craft every day, still evolving and growing as a writer and a human being, and most importantly, developing the stamina necessary to do what I love for the rest of my life. Pacing, patience, and practice."

A photo accompanying this release is available at:


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