Department of Writing BFA graduate Cody Klippenstein has always loved stories and storytelling. As a child, her curious and creative nature would often get her into trouble. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t inventing things, even when I probably shouldn’t have been,” she jokes.
And when she enrolled in UVic’s creative writing program, she asked herself the same question many amateur writing students do: Why am I enrolling in a writing program? In the end, it was her love of fiction, and her experiences in UVic’s writing department, that encouraged her to complete a writing degree.
“I had a feeling UVic was kind of special because it was the only fine arts writing department that I’d come across while looking at universities,” she explains. “I’d done some interviews and articles in high school and originally thought I wanted to be a journalist; after spending a week studying fiction in Writing 100, though, I totally changed my mind.”
Four years later, her talents and hard work have paid off with some prestigious—and well-paid—prizes: this past year alone, she won first place in The Fiddlehead’s 2011 Fiction Contest, and was a finalist for The Malahat Review’s Open Season Awards. That story appears in The Malahat Review’s Spring 2013 issue.
Perhaps her biggest success was winning the 2012 Short Fiction Contest with Zoetrope: All Story, a quarterly American magazine founded in 1997 by film director and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola. Previous authors published in Zoetrope: All Story include literary powerhouses Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Don DeLillo, to name a few. Klippenstein’s story, “Case Studies in Ascension,” was chosen over nearly 2,200 other submissions.
“The best thing about winning was that I got the opportunity to correspond with Michael Ray, Zoetrope: All-Story’s editor, about my piece before the magazine sent it off for printing,” recalls Klippenstein. “I also had several great conversations with American agents and agencies that contacted me while the spring issue was being put together.”
When asked where she found encouragement to submit stories for publication, Klippenstein says it involved “a combination of support from instructors in the writing program and also this desire to get more involved with the journals that publish work I admire. Sometimes all it takes is a few words from someone whose opinion you trust to make you take that step forward.” Her successes as an undergraduate writer prove that student publication in literary magazines is no pipe dream.
Despite her recent accolades, Klippenstein admits that she has nagging doubts, just as all writers do. But she has a solution for keeping them at bay. “When I sit down to write, I take a fair bit of time before actually beginning to just be still and allow myself to sink into this state,” she says. “Once I’m far enough in, all those surface thoughts get a lot quieter, and I’m able to focus on the words themselves.”
Klippenstein is grateful that her professors provided more than just encouragement, citing their advice that as a writer, you also need to read. “[The department] reinforced that I read widely, constantly, everything, always—to react to stories and novels, to actively like them and to dislike them, and to want to understand why I’m reacting the way I am.”
Klippenstein will begin work on an MFA in fiction at Cornell this September. She’s also working on a longer manuscript whose pages will contain dinosaur bones, a potential revolution and, most importantly, lots of books.
—Patrick Grace (note: this story originally ran in the June issue of The Ring)