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CalArts Student Transformed Tragedy into Memoir Published by Bloomsbury

CalArts Student Transformed Tragedy into Memoir Published by Bloomsbury
Click here for high resolution image. Courtesy of Bloomsbury.
Rose Andersen developed The Heart and Other Monsters in CalArts’ MFA Creative Writing Program with support of faculty mentor Brian Evenson.

Valencia, CA—July 13—What does it take to write a memoir? How do writers transform, often painful, intimate experiences into this highly popular genre? First-time memoirist Rose Andersen developed The Heart and Other Monsters in the MFA Creative Writing Program at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) with the support of faculty mentor Brian Evenson. Working with Evenson, Anderson shaped complex personal events into a narrative accepted by a major publisher. 

With rural California’s opioid crisis as the background, Anderson’s book explores the dark side of the counterculture to recall her childhood and sister’s mysterious death. The Heart and Other Monsters, published by Bloomsbury, launched in July.

Evenson offered to mentor any of his students who were ready to write a book. Andersen answered the call. Together they worked through multiple drafts of what was to become The Heart and Other Monsters. Rose graduated with a strong complete draft.

“I came to the MFA program knowing what book I had to write and with Brian as my mentor, I was able to navigate that process which proved to be emotionally difficult and logistically trying,” noted Andersen. “While Brian writes primarily literary speculative horror, he was an ideal mentor for my memoir as I was grappling with similar themes: fear, grief, the unknown, darkness.”

Evenson commented that “Rose’s memoir of a sister's death, in which the line between overdose and murder becomes blurred, is the most clearsighted depiction I know of what it's like to piece life together after a great, irreparable loss, and a deft navigation of the byways and channels leading up to that loss, through it, and beyond.”  

The faculty of CalArts’ MFA Creative Writing Program saw the promise in Andersen’s book, and in 2018, her manuscript was the chosen for the annual faculty-driven Emi Kuriyama Thesis Prize.

About the book: In November 2013, Andersen’s younger sister Sarah died of an overdose in the bathroom of her boyfriend's home in a small town with one of the highest rates of opioid use in California. To imagine her way into Sarah’s life, Andersen revisits their volatile childhood, marked by a stepfather’s omnipresent rage and father’s pathological lying. As the dysfunction comes into focus, so does a broader picture of the opioid crisis and the drug rehabilitation industry in small towns across America. And when Andersen learns that Sarah's cause of death was a methamphetamine overdose, the story takes a wildly unexpected turn.

The Creative Writing MFA Program at CalArts was designed to get over the division between ‘creative’ and ‘critical.’  Here, writing is understood as an art form best practiced alongside the other arts, and students benefit from having access to the CalArts community of artists as their peers and fellow travelers. A defining feature of the Creative Writing Program is hybridity and experimentation, so students are free to take courses in, and to write in, any genre they wish. Poets may take prose workshops to learn narrative conventions and how to deploy or challenge them; fiction and nonfiction writers may benefit from poetry workshops that hone their use of and engagement with language; and still other students may develop multidimensional writing practices.