Academics and Research / News

Creative writing student receives accolades

Joanna Ruocco says she always wanted to be a writer. As a child, she spent countless hours lying flat on her stomach writing her epic novel about mice by pencil. The novel never came to fruition, but Ruocco’s dream came true.

Ruocco, who is pursuing a PhD in creative writing at DU, has already published two books and just received the $15,000 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize for Another Governess/The Least Blacksmith-A Diptych from Fiction Collective Two (FC2).

“Joanna’s success is impressive and a testament to her discipline,” says Brian Kiteley, professor of English. “She’s a beloved student.”

Ruocco already has a MFA from Brown University but says she attended DU because of its community of writers.

“I’m totally blown away by the talent of people I’m in classes with,” she says. “It’s a privilege to be around them.”

Others feel the same about Ruocco. Kiteley describes her as modest, but tough. He says she’s one of the smartest students he’s ever had.

“Her fiction is very precise,” Kiteley says. “It strikes me that she almost never does anything that’s wrong or out of place; whatever rules she’s setting for herself she sticks to them.”

Ruocco seems to delight in setting rules for different projects. She explains how in The Mothering Coven (Ellipsis Press, 2009) she used word play and drew on the Saxon and German languages to create a languages for the witches in the novel.

David  Simon, in his review for The Nation, described the book as, “a laboratory in which she conducts experiments by combining language and language-like-systems — those that display both regulated coherence and infinite flexibility.”

Ruocco says when she tackles a project with such heavy language she finds that she often works simultaneously on a work with language that’s much more mundane. She did that with Man’s Companions (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2010).

“I change a lot from project to project,” she says. “I get excited about figuring out a different narrative, the logic and vocabulary. I try not to have set idea about what I’ll produce — I like that mysterious space feeling out what could happen with the language.”

While Ruocco relishes her mysterious space, her fans know her success is no mystery. Still she is overwhelmed by her recent award by FC2.

“It’s really exciting and overwhelming,” she says. “I feel very lucky that my work is being rewarded with this kind of recognition.”


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