Laura Schmitt, NDA Alum, Wins Prestigious Writing Award


Lily Arkens, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

“My parents say that I always had a knack for writing, that even before I could properly spell or write legibly I was creating poems and stories. Writing is always something I’ve gravitated towards in a way that transcends a concrete origin,” said the author of “Runaway Nation” and winner of the Francine Ringold Award, Laura Schmitt.

Schmitt graduated from NDA in 2014 and lived in Green Bay for most of her life until she moved to Nashville after college and later to Virginia for graduate school.

“I’m currently back in Nashville where I am working as an editorial intern for the book publisher Tin House and also as an indie bookseller at a cozy 500-square-foot and women-owned bookstore called The Bookshop,” said Schmitt.

Between her publishing jobs, she is also working on a story collection and a novel.

A lot of her writing focuses on Wisconsin which leads her to “miss this state dearly.” In November of this year, she will be returning to Wisconsin for two weeks for a writing residency in Door County with Write on Door County.

“I’ll get to spend two weeks of uninterrupted time staying in a house in Fish Creek where I’ll work on my novel-in-progress and also teach a workshop open to Door County residents,” the author shared.

Schmitt received her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied journalism and English with an emphasis on creative writing.

“I didn’t know it when I arrived, but UW-Madison has one of the best creative writing programs in the country. My professors played a huge role in fostering my love of fiction and encouraging me to pursue an MFA,” she said. 

While she was there, she was fortunate enough to work with incredible writers such as Jamel Brinkley, Tia Clark, Ron Kuka and Natalie Elbert.

“I received my MFA in creative writing from Hollins University, which is a fully-funded program located in the beautiful mountains of Roanoke, Virginia,” said Schmitt. 

Schmitt started grad school during the pandemic, which she described as a “strange experience.” While most of her classes were on Zoom during her first year, she still learned so much and loved being in literature classes and various writing workshops each week.

While at Hollins she was lucky to be able to study with the late Richard Dillard, husband of Annie Dillard, Karen Bender, Candice Wuehle and Elizabeth Poilner, who all helped guide her thesis and gave her the tools to become a deeper thinker, more observant reader, and ultimately a better reader. 

Hollins is a small program where only 12 writers get accepted each year. 

“Like with any advanced art degree, receiving an MFA doesn’t guarantee a successful writing career, but it absolutely provides a stable foundation on which aspiring writers can begin seriously pursuing a writing career. Most importantly, my MFA in creative writing gave me the time, space and support to develop my craft and figure out who I am as a writer and what I want to say,” said Schmitt.

She left her MFA program feeling more confident in her work, but also more willing to take risks and be ambitious with her writing goals.

It also kick started her career in the editorial side of publishing.

Since her graduation in May 2022, she has worked at Electric Literature, an award-winning online literary magazine, and she most recently joined the Tin House, an indie publisher that has published for award-winning authors such as Claire Fuller and Morgan Talty.

“At Tin House, I get to play a role in helping books come into the world, reading agented manuscripts, weighing in on editorial meetings and acquisition decisions, proofreading and copy-editing books that are in production and learning from experienced editors who are so incredibly smart and passionate about books,” said the author. 

Her story, “Runaway Nation,” is told from the collective point of view of four sisters who reflect on a significant summer in their childhood when a violent crime was committed in their city and all the parents become extra protective of the young girls in the neighborhood. 

The sisters don’t understand why their parents are being overprotective, or why their freedom is becoming more limited as they mature. In an attempt to prove their capability and agency, they end up running away and camping out in a partially constructed apartment complex to prove they can survive the world on their own. 

Schmitt submitted “Runaway Nation” to the Francine Ringold Award for new writers writing competition in May of 2022.

“Then in September, to my great surprise, I received an email saying I’d won the competition and they would publish the story in the Spring/Summer of 2023 issue of Nimrod International Journal,” she said.

The whole process from sitting down to write the story to publication was about a year, which isn’t unusual in the world of writing.

“Publishing often takes a long time, but so do many good things,” said Schmitt.