Student Spotlight: Naomi Washer

Student Spotlight: Naomi Washer


The Nonfiction MFA program at Columbia College is fairly small, with less than 12 students per year in a three-year program, each of us coming from different backgrounds, with a variety of interests and influences. I recently sat down with third-year MFA candidate in Nonfiction, Naomi Washer to talk about writing, publishing, and why she chose Columbia College Chicago.

Washer comes to Columbia from Bennington College where she studied theatre and dance as an undergraduate. Although she had been writing her whole life, she didn’t realize what she had been writing until her senior year where she took a course in the lyric essay. During that semester, she was introduced to work by authors such as Eula Biss, Wayne Kostenbaum, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Columbia College Chicago’s Director of the Creative Writing—Nonfiction MFA program, Jenny Boully.

After reading The Body by Jenny Boully, and curious to learn more about the author, she discovered Columbia College Chicago. As an editor of plain china, Washer encountered an epistolary essay by Zachary Zalman Green (Columbia College Chicago BFA Poetry alum) in CCC’s South Loop Review. She interviewed Green for plain china and began her own epistolary correspondence with him. By Thanksgiving break of her senior year, she made the decision to pursue graduate studies and apply to Columbia College Chicago.


“Essays are not so different from other forms,” Washer says. For most of her life, she had been writing prose poems, but until studying the lyric essay she didn’t have a term to describe it. Although she’s not a fan of labels, she describes herself as “obsessed with forms,” and often reads beyond the boundaries of what would be considered traditional essays. She enjoys reading philosophy, literary theory, and criticism, but most often, you can find her reading poetry rather than prose because it inspires her write “in the middle of genre.”

“Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart. The interior is therefore rather dim and poetic.” (–Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie)

Her background as a performer informs also her interest in scripts for stage plays (her favorite playwrights being Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams). She explained that stage directions from plays such as Williams’ The Glass Menagerie are often as rich and evocative as the dialogue itself. In addition to reading plays, she often assigns them as reading for her Writing and Rhetoric students to learn about elements of descriptive writing. She believes that is beneficial for everyone to explore creatively and surpass boundaries of genre or form, a philosophy she brings to her writing and teaching practice.

Washer looks for “entry points [into essays] in unexpected places,” finding connections with other disciplines (such as poetry, dance, or theatre), and her background as a performer continues to influence her nonfiction work as she explores monologues and scripts as forms essays can assume.

Ghost Proposal

In fall 2011, Washer sent her first email to Zachary Zalman Green to solicit a piece for plain china. She did not realize that from that first email, a literary journal would be born. After their initial correspondence, they realized they shared similar literary tastes, and the two became friends after his work was published with plain china. Green asked Washer if she ever considered starting a journal, and after months of planning, a few meetings, and a mysterious message with the perfect name for the project, Ghost Proposal, an online publication of nonfiction and poetry emerged from the ether. Their inaugural issue was released during Washer’s first semester at Columbia College Chicago.

Ghost Proposal recently released issue 4, which unlike past issues does not have authors separated into categories of “essay” or “poetry,” keeping in line with their vision and interest in transgenre work. Editor-in-Chief, Washer (who was recently interviewed by the Poetry Society of America) said this choice was made so readers encounter the work as it is without names to limit the conversation about the work or create expectations for how it is supposed to function.

Washer hopes to eventually transfer the online work of Ghost Proposal into a small press venture following graduation.

MFA and Beyond

Her interests in cross-genre and interdisciplinary work make collaboration a central part of her creative process. Since she has arrived in Chicago, Washer has participated in various reading series (including The Swell and the 33 Reading Series) and performed with the Curious Theatre. When discussing the trajectory of her own writing, she noted that she is interested in remixing, reworking, and re-envisioning her own work. She describes herself as a slower writer, noting that for her “revising is the writing.” Washer’s essay “Notes on Walking” recently appeared in the South Loop Review Volume 15 and her translation work was recently published in St. Petersburg Review Volume 6.

When she isn’t working on Ghost Proposal, attending class, or writing, Washer teaches First Year Writing as a Graduate Student Instructor at Columbia College Chicago and serves as the Coordinator of Graduate Writing Consultants at the Learning Studio of Columbia College Chicago. As she approaches the end of her time at Columbia, Washer is beginning to think about post-grad life, which may include publishing, teaching, writing center work, or even a PhD program. What is for certain is that she wants to continue pushing boundaries and exploring the possibilities of nonfiction.