Graduate Admissions

Creative Writing - Nonfiction Student Spotlight

Nonfiction Student Sharon Burns


Sharon Burns

Sharon Burns describes herself as a “life-long learner,” which lead her to return to school at Columbia College Chicago. She came to the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program simply out of a desire to learn and improve her writing skills. She has no current plans to become a full-time writer, but writing is in everything she does, including her day job.

The Creative Writing - Nonfiction program includes both individual support from the professors and a group dynamic that encourages students to share and critique their work.

Sharon has a very demanding work life: she is the Chief Information Officer of the MacArthur Foundation. In the course of her career, Sharon has been writing on a daily basis, but it was just one of many tasks she had to complete and its artistic elements were not much of a concern for her. In the few months after she came to Columbia, Sharon’s attitude towards writing completely changed. Now, “writing has become personal” for Sharon. The program has raised her sensitivity to the “relationship between the writer and the reader,” which has completely changed the way she approaches writing every writing task.

The Creative Writing - Nonfiction program includes both individual support from the professors and a group dynamic that encourages students to share and critique their work. Group critique initially made Sharon uncomfortable, but in her time at Columbia she has already embraced it, since it has taught her how to look more critically at all writing, both her own work and that of others. Sharon finds the classroom environment equalizing, which allows her to open up her work to critique. She says that the support provided by her fellow students makes her “feel understood as an individual.”

Sharon appreciates the balance the program finds between literary study and the student’s own writing. The program “features an intensive study of nonfiction writing and theory of nonfiction.” The study of literary theory allows Nonfiction students to explore their own work in the larger context of their field.

Columbia’s program is one of only a handful of graduate programs in the broad field of Creative Nonfiction Writing. For Sharon, that wide span presents countless opportunities for growth. Studying nonfiction writing is not “just about building a portfolio, it’s about gaining a skill.” The Creative Nonfiction Writing program cultivates in its students an invaluable ability to write and Sharon firmly believes that it is a skill that anyone can put to great use. While Sharon and her fellow students will complete the program with a book-length manuscript, she has no current plans for her work after graduation. The skills she is learning and using in her daily life are more than enough benefits for Sharon.

Sharon is very happy to have the opportunity to expand her horizons through her work at Columbia. In her writing, Sharon explores the challenges that single parents face and the ways people interact with technology. She hopes to continue to work with these topics during and after her time at Columbia. Sharon believes that her time at Columbia is invaluable and the skills she is learning will be useful in anything and everything she does.

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