State of the Obra: Transitions, Traditions, & Connections Between


My blue stockings fit well with the ornate carpet on the second floor of the Marriott. As I sit against the wall waiting for the first panel to open its doors, a rush of thankful emotions drowns out the hum of the crowd. How did I end up at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ large annual conference?

You could say it began when I learned about Stetson’s MFA of the Americas – a creative writing program that focuses in prose and poetry in the expanded field – while having dinner in Orlando last July. You could probably also credit my first MFA residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach last January. Yet this really started with, as most things do, connecting with people. I met Obra/Artifact’s past Editor-in-Chief, Lucianna, and current Prose Editor, Jacklyn, at a Stetson recruiting event, where they handed me a postcard. It was an Artifact – the printed portion of the otherwise digital Obra/Artifact literary journal.

A few months and a few MFA writing packets later, we find ourselves a matter of weeks before AWP with Lucianna passing the Editor-in-Chief torch onto me. That was how I found myself driving to Tampa and representing our program and journal at this year’s conference. But that isn’t the end – it is actually only the beginning of a story that I am excited to find the end at many AWPs from now.

Less than a year ago, I would never have thought of working on a literary magazine; but then again, it was only recently that I realized my love of expressing myself through writing, whether poetry or prose, fit within my career goals. It was a hard decision to return to school because I am working in my dream field of designing theme park attractions. Because the program is low-residency, I am fortunate to be able to continue my passion of designing and producing experiences within theme parks with Universal Creative while pursuing my MFA.

My love for theme parks blossomed in 2016 when I opened the interactive wand experience at Universal Studios Hollywood. My design process involved intimately knowing the fiction and choosing the right spells and magical effects for bringing the story to life. However, the most exciting part came after the guests arrived to try their hand at being a wizard: strangers interacted with each other, teaching each other how to cast spells and forming bonds over this shared interest and experience.

I believe that sharing experiences and looking into another human’s eyes is powerful. It is hard to avoid empathy when you see some reflection of yourself looking back at you. And yet it can be daunting to seek those interactions without some reason to be together – some shared, curated activity. My goal is to use narrative within location-based experiences to foster that empathy and connect people together.

Obra/Artifact’s fusion of writing and expression across all mediums – poetry, prose, visual arts, multi-media collaborations – makes the experimental accessible and reminds us that we are all artists, sharing stories that need to be told, no matter how we tell our stories. Art connects people together across cultures, boundaries, and distance.

Those thankful emotions I mentioned earlier, which are now haphazardly spread across the ornate carpet surrounding me as I wait, largely exist because of the wonderful people I get to work with – the other editors and staff, our advisor, and the contributors who are willing to share their work with us.

Thank you, Nikki and Jackie, for continuing your excellent work as Poetry Editor and Prose Editor, respectively, as well as taking on more responsibilities as we grow. The organization of our presence at AWP is also thanks in large part to Nikki, who has recently taken on the additional role of Events Director.

Thank you to our new staff for enthusiastically jumping in fully clothed (or not, no judgment here) into the deep end of this pool: Nina (Assistant to the Prose Editor & Blog Editor), Carley (Art Editor & Poetry Reader), Tony (The Sound Project – more to come on this later), Shelby (Art Editor & The Sound Project), and Emmy (Prose Reader). I invite you to learn more about and connect with our wonderful team.

Thank you to our prior Editors-in-Chief, Rebecca and Luci. You and the teams that you led truly created a journal representing the MFA of the Americas, a magazine that connects people together across cultures and shares voices less often heard. Keeping it free and accessible, to submit and to read, further emphasizes how important it is for us as a community to collaborate and blur boundaries.

Thank you, Teresa Carmody, for your guidance. Not only do you balance directing the entire MFA program and teaching first-year prose, you graciously offered (I’ll suggest you had a choice) your time and experience to help our journal grow. You are the first person I met in this program, the first to make me feel right at home, and the first to encourage me in an improv-style “yes, and…” to my non-traditional ideas. Teresa just released a new book that is experienced by gazing through a ViewMaster-inspired Look Book (come check it out at our AWP table T1126 – talk about expanded field!)

And, most importantly, thank you to our contributors and readers for making our journal come to life. We’ve had great submissions thus far for Issue 5 and our team looks forward to curating this bi- and multilingual themed edition over the next month.

I am no longer sitting on that ornate carpet. That panel, the appropriately-themed From the Stanza to the Paragraph: Poets Who Write Prose, has already inspired and dispersed, and it is now time to walk back to the Convention Center and rejoin my team. For those also at AWP, I hope to meet you in person at our Bookfair table (T1126) and hand you an Artifact postcard, like Luci and Jackie did for me. Or maybe I’ll see you in our MFA’s faculty reading or Poetry in the Expanded Field panel on Saturday. For the rest of you, I hope to connect with you, whether in person at next week’s Burrow Press event on March 16th in Orlando or through the virtual ether.

Even more exciting announcements coming soon with Issue 6 as we expand on our traditions…

Until then,

Erica McCay




Erica McCay at Obra/Artifact & MFA of the Americas’ AWP table (T1126)

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