Mira Ptacin MFA '09
Mira Ptacin, who graduated Sarah Lawrence College with an MFA in nonfiction in 2009, didn’t always know that she wanted to pursue creative writing professionally.
“I attended Western Michigan University for my undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology, with a minor in philosophy. After graduating from college, I embarked on a dig in Mongolia to pursue archaeology as a career. But after sitting in a tent, day after day, counting bone fragment after bone fragment and sifting through soil, I soon realized that I’d much rather write about the living than the dead. After Mongolia, I headed to Maine to study at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, where I produced and published Working for the Living, a written documentary about the life of family-run funeral homes. I stuck around Maine for a little over a year, working as an editor at CommonDreams.org. It was then that I decided that I wanted to become a professional writer.”
The lure of the Big Apple, however, proved irresistible—Mira knew that as a literary apex, New York would be the perfect environment for her to hone her skills as a writer. Only, with little formal training, she found it hard to pay the bills through writing alone and supplemented her income working as a dog-walker, as an office temp, and in a bakery.
“That's when I decided that I was going to take the plunge and apply to graduate programs in writing so that I could fully immerse myself in writing, sharpen my sword, and commit myself fully. I visited a few schools and fell instantly in love with Sarah Lawrence. I was wallowing in my self-pity at a draining data-entry job when I received the phone call from the director of the writing program at the time, Vijay Seshadri, who congratulated me on my acceptance to the program and welcomed me to join. It knocked my socks off.”
Mira acknowledges that a twin dynamic of her experience at Sarah Lawrence—the sense of camaraderie between the students juxtaposed with the individualized focus from her professors—proved instrumental in helping her overcome the fears she harbored as an emerging writer and artist.
“My peers didn't feel like my competition; we were champions to one another. Each of us was a unique writer expressing our own subjective things. Each of us had a different strength to offer and each of us had our own area in which we needed improvement. In our workshops, this was put on the table among our instructors and our peers. And then every other week or more, we met individually with our mentors to focus on just our own needs, whatever they might be, professionally, technically—in all sorts of ways. My mentors are now near family members to me. I even invited a few faculty mentors to my wedding and we've remained in close touch since I graduated.”
While at Sarah Lawrence, Mira involved herself with a number of volunteer programs that utilized and enhanced her skills as a writer. The programs included Right to Write, in which SLC students run writing workshops for inmates in correctional facilities. In the four years since she graduated, Mira has continued to improve and develop her skills, and has embarked upon a variety of professional projects that have maintained her ties with the College both in a practical and abstract sense.
“While at Sarah Lawrence, I was given teaching experience, editing experience, workshop experience and experience working on projects individually as well as in a group setting. These skills I acquired at SLC are skills I use today still. For instance, I started a reading series and storytelling community called Freerange Nonfiction in Manhattan that is still going strong today. Since moving back to Maine, however, I've handed over the keys to another SLC grad who is now the director of the series. I’ve continued working on my thesis and turned it into a book. I acquired a super-agent: someone I met in a professional development workshop at SLC who is now shopping my manuscript around to major publishing houses. I currently run the writing program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Much of what helps me navigate my way as a teacher was heavily influenced by what I experienced at Sarah Lawrence.”
Perhaps her most ambitious and challenging project yet has been that of a new mother. Despite the advent of her new family, Mira still feels an especially close affinity to the family she forged while at Sarah Lawrence.
“The Sarah Lawrence community sticks together past graduation. In fact, I was just e-mailing back and forth with two former classmates who are also new mothers as well as professional writers, editors, and educators. When someone recommends an SLC student or alum to me, I immediately feel a confidence in their ability based not only on their skills or characteristics that led them to SLC, but also based on their individual decision to choose Sarah Lawrence as their school.”
By Daniel Ross '13