Women writers in Idaho play a vital role in impacting local literature

Boise State is full of incredibly talented women writers who consistently make a difference in the literary sphere through their work and professors who advocate for the work of women writers to be studied.

The local writing community

Boise State MFA candidate and graduate teaching assistant Daisy Rosenstock discussed the unexpected community she has found within the literary sphere as a woman writer in Boise. 

“The arts scene here is so alive, and I have no qualms admitting I was not expecting that at all. Boise, Idaho wasn’t exactly screaming “artsy” to me as I was preparing to move out

here,” Rosenstock said. “The community is supportive and alive and is one of the things that has impressed me the most.”

As previously stated, to be a writer is to be a reader and Rosenstock is no exception to that concept. Rosenstock recounted taking inspiration from former Boise State fiction professor Mary Pauline Lowry in her writing endeavors.

“It sounds cliché but she really changed the way I think about and approach creative writing,” Rosenstock said. “She taught me that writing is not just a hobby; it’s a calling, a vocation and should be honored as such.”

Rosenstock strongly believes in the abilities of the thriving group of women who are pursuing literary-based majors or are involved in the writing community here at Boise State. 

“BSU has a plethora of incredible women writers right at its fingertips — writers I’m so honored to have taught during my time here,” Rosenstock said. “I think the best and easiest place to start would be to raise up and encourage them as much as possible.”

Education program manager and 2023 Boise State graduate, Hillary Colton, discussed the opportunities that a venue like The Cabin presents to all writers, but specifically to women writers. The Cabin is an organization that provides writers with the opportunity to gain advice from more experienced authors, as well as workshops that allow them to hone their craft. 

“We have a lot of programs for all writers, of all ages,” Colton said. “Speaking more to mature writers and to the education side of The Cabin, we offer two free adult writing workshops every month as well as six-week workshops in fall, winter and spring, and we offer scholarships to writers who’d like to attend but might not be able to due to monetary reasons.”

Colton discussed some of the influential women writers who will be speaking at The Cabin in 2023 through 2024, such as fantasy writer V.E. Schwab, reporter Casey Parks and young adult writer Gabrielle Zevin. 

“I’ve experienced a lack of seriousness when I tell people I’m a writer, or that I’m working on a novel,” Colton said. “In fact, outside of my literary family, I don’t usually tell people that I’m writing a novel. I never get the response I’m hoping for, or one that would encourage me to keep writing.” 

Colton shared that she continuously faces the struggle of others making assumptions about her based on her writing. 

“I wrote and published a flash piece where a woman imagines drowning her child due to postpartum psychosis and certain family members were horrified when they read it because they feared I would hurt my own children,” Colton said. “I was never interested in writing about things that people thought I should be writing about as a mother, as a woman. I can be a loving mother and an intelligent woman, and I can write about very dark, real things.”

Working in various bars and restaurants, some of Colton’s writing focuses on women’s experience in the workplace.

“I’ll tell you that I’ve worked very hard to not work in the service industry forever, and my writing is absolutely exploring what women experience in that profession,” Colton said. “Sometimes I explore what I experienced, but I also move beyond that and look at communities of women who have experienced the things I have. I’m interested in writing about real women, about real experiences of women. Anything else, for me, isn’t worth my time.”

Boise State’s writing program incorporates women-centered literature 

Boise State professor Samantha Harvey feels that she is honoring the work of past women writers in her ENGLIT 393 Women Writers course. 

“It is surreal, but in the very best possible way, which is that when we’re studying those writers and women’s literature, we’re thinking about how much they struggled to have a community, to be able to access literacy and to be able to access print culture,” Harvey said. “When we’re in the classroom, we’re embodying something they [past writers] dreamed of for generations.”

The canon is a classically male-defined catalog of literature and a non-concrete list of must-read authors. In courses like “Women Writers” students have the opportunity to be exposed to literature they haven’t engaged with previously.  

“The canon has included so many male writers, and we do want to give a sense of ‘these are the writers who were really forming the conversation in a way that was very visible’, we teach that tradition but we must realize that we are excluding voices,” Harvey said. “To have other places, whether it’s in a women’s literature course, or even within those period courses, reserving at least part of the course for ‘hey, who’s been left out, what’s missing? I think that’s really vital.”

Professor Harvey discussed the enjoyment of having creative writers in her courses and the connection she sees between reading quality literature and becoming a great writer.

“Creative writing encourages students to come over to literature, and I really applaud that because I think to become a writer, you need to read a lot and you need to read very good literature,” Harvey said. “Even though writing is a very lonely pursuit, sometimes you think about the author in their garret, typing away, but really, you are part of a much longer and richer conversation.”

Diversity and the future of the literary sphere

Grad students Hannah Phillips and Kara Killinger are on the fiction track of the creative writing MFA program at Boise State. They are also part of the Idaho Review, a literary magazine and online publication that features poetry and fiction writing from authors globally. 

Phillips and Killinger both shared that the Boise State writing program they’re a part of has been welcoming and supportive. 

“We’re in Idaho, but we’re also kind of in this little bubble in our program,” Killinger said. “There’s a thriving arts community and there’s a thriving queer community.”

Phillips seemed to share this sentiment.

“I can’t speak for all of Idaho, but I do think once you leave Boise … you’re treading different ground pretty quickly,” Phillips said. “I think Boise is kind of a perfect size city in that it’s got a very small tight-knit artists community, but at the same time, it’s like a big cultural hub and you can’t really get that in like New York City or LA. I find Boise to be a really nice place to create art.”

Writing about the experiences of queer women and religious pressures are prevalent themes in both Killinger’s and Phillips’ works.

“I think that’s kind of relevant to a lot of people in Boise especially, there’s a lot of people who have kind of left religious communities,” Phillips said. “I just recently wrote a screenplay that’s being produced by the university which is about a queer woman who is estranged from her biological family and connects with a found family.”

While still acknowledging that the literary canon still has a long way to go, Killinger acknowledged the progress that has been made.

“As far as the contemporary scene and writers that I admire now, I feel like there are so many amazing women who are getting chances to speak on panels. It’s gotten a lot better, a lot more diverse,” Killinger said. “So I think still, sometimes when we talk about the canon, we leave out a lot of women but as far as contemporary I don’t feel like we have as many problems with that as we used to.”

Referencing a more dated canon that many students are familiar with, Phillips discussed some of the barriers women faced as writers.

“Historically, inevitably, women are underrepresented. I think there are probably so many stories that have been lost or just never written because women didn’t have the financial means or the education or the same kind of respect as artists in society that wealthy men did at that time,” Phillips said. “I think nowadays, we’re kind of reshaping the canon … future generations at least are gonna have a canon much more diverse when you look back at this time.”

Phillips and Killinger find themselves constantly inspired by other women authors. 

“Talk about women writers, we have a powerhouse of women writers in this next issue (in the Idaho Review) that I’m so excited about,” Phillips said. “We have Nina Ellis, she’s gonna publish a story called ‘Georgia O’Keeffe and The Angel of Death’, which is a story that’s told in the form of a tarot reading.”

These women are just an example of the many incredibly talented women writers in Boise. If you are interested in pursuing a career in writing, don’t let fear stop you. Take a creative writing course at Boise State, attend a workshop at The Cabin, or even submit something to the Idaho Journal. You never know where it will lead you. 

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