Graduate Alumni Interview: Erika Staiger
MFA Creative Writing
Erika Staiger is a Gryffindor, writer, and living in Orlando with far too many pets. Her academic achievements include an MFA in creative writing from the University of South Florida, a BA in English from Michigan State University, and literary publications in "Permafrost," "Black Fox Literary Magazine," the Young Adult fiction anthology "What Doesn't Kill You," and others. To date, Erika has won over 20 different "Harry Potter" bar trivia events in three different states.
What is your position now?
I am the supplementary instruction coordinator at the University of Central Florida. SI is a peer tutoring program where students who have previously received A's in high-fail classes lead voluntary review sessions driven by the needs of current students.
Why did you come to the USF graduate program?
I chose USF because of the teaching and professional development opportunities available to MFA students. While at USF, I taught composition, creative writing, and professional writing, worked in the Writing Studio, and interned for a literary agent--all of which expanded my options after graduation. From a writing stand point, I chose USF because I enjoy writing both literary and genre fiction as well as non-fiction and it was important to me to attend a program where I wasn't going to be limited to writing in one particular genre.
What was a unique opportunity you had at USF?
It's really difficult to pick just one thing! But I'd say the biggest thing was that in addition to being incredibly encouraging and supportive, USF's creative writing faculty encourage you to write outside your primary genre, which is a relatively rare approach in MFA programs. I feel like I grew so much as a writer because I able to dabble in everything from literary non-fiction to Young Adult fantasy fiction. I wanted an MFA program where I could learn to write in ways I never imagined before, and USF really delivered on that front.
The funding was also a huge factor for me. USF provides funding not just to attend the program, but also for students who are accepted to present at conferences. One of my favorite memories from USF was getting to present a panel on fanfiction as a pedagogical tool at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference. There was no way I'd have been able to do that without the funding from USF, as the conference was in Portland that year.
How did USF prepare you for your position?
In my third year, I had the opportunity to work as one of the coordinators of the USF Writing Studio. The administrative and leadership experience I gained in that role made me so much more competitive on the job market, and ultimately gave me the skills I needed to get the job at UCF. I ended up applying for the Writing Studio coordinator job on kind of a whim, not sure if I had any real chance of getting it, but I ended up leaving with a deep love of writing center work and of the learning support field more broadly because of the massive impact these kinds of programs have on student success. I'll always be grateful to the USF Writing Studio staff and I'm going to miss them a lot as I transition into my role at UCF.
What advice would you give to new graduate students in the program?
One of the most wonderful things about USF can also be one of the most challenging things to deal with--there are more opportunities than there are hours in the day to pursue them. You can't do everything, and if you try to do everything, you'll end up not writing very much, which is why you're here in the first place. Because of this, you have to be defensive of your time, you have to say no to things, and you have to sometimes say to yourself, "This isn't my best, but it's the best I can give right now." Don't fill up your schedule with obligations that drain you because you think you ought to or because it seems like that's what everyone else is doing. Your time is precious -- use it doing what excites you and what allows you to grow as a writer and as a professional. Most importantly, make sure you spend time taking care of your own mental and physical health, even if it means you're not always the perfect grad student. You'll get more out of the program if you're able to deeply engage with what excites and challenges you, and that's only possible if you give your brain what it needs to function.