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APSU grad student Maisie Williams earns prestigious poetry fellowship at Boston University

By: Ethan Steinquest April 18, 2024

Maisie WilliamsCLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Peay State University (APSU) graduate English major Maisie Williams made her mark as a creative force on campus from her time as editor-in-chief of The All State student newspaper to her work as a designer and producer for the Zone 3 literary journal.

Now, Williams is taking her talents to Boston University’s MFA program after earning a highly competitive poetry fellowship and will begin her studies this fall. As a first-generation college student, Williams credits her success to the opportunities and support she has received during her time at APSU.

“I feel like because Austin Peay is a smaller school, I had access to a lot of opportunities that would have been harder to achieve at a larger university,” she said. “All my classes were smaller, so I had a lot more one-on-one time with my professors, which allowed me to develop closer relationships with them and learn a lot.”

Williams is also excited to learn from Boston University’s faculty, which includes accomplished poets like Robert Pinsky, Karl Kirchwey and Andrea Cohen. The MFA program will allow her to personally step into a teaching role as well, as she will lead a creative writing workshop for undergraduate or high school students.

After graduation, Williams hopes to work in the publishing industry because of her experience with Zone 3 while continuing to express herself through writing.

“Writing is the thing that makes me happiest, and it makes me feel connected to people,” she said. “Applying to the MFA program was a risk for me because I’m a first-generation college student. We had financial insecurity growing up, so I’ve always been focused on trying to incur the least amount of debt and setting myself up for the most stable job … but I didn’t want to live my life without seeing how far I could go as a writer.”

To gain acceptance to the program, Williams submitted a diverse selection of writing samples. Some were taken from her master’s thesis, which features narrative poetry about vampires and myths, while others were more personal.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard back from them,” she said. “Boston University was at the top of my list, but to me, it felt the least likely … I was just checking my email one day, and my dream school said they accepted me.”

Williams was drawn to the program partly because of its BU Creative Writing Global Fellowship, which provides full financial support for global travel, writing and study.

“The idea is that learning about and being connected to different countries and cultures is going to make you a better writer and a more empathetic person,” she said. “That really aligns with my values and what I was looking for.”


APSU graduate English major Maisie Williams’s study abroad trip to London, England, in July 2023 was personally and professionally enriching. | Photo by Maisie Williams

Williams plans to take her time deciding which country would help her grow the most as a writer, but she already has some experience to draw from. She previously received funding from APSU’s College of Arts and Letters to visit London, England in July 2023 as part of Dr. Daniel Shea’s Victorian Gothic Literature course, a topic which complemented her master’s thesis.

“For most of my undergrad, all sorts of travel was cut off because of COVID-19,” she said. “That was another thing I had hoped to accomplish in my master’s that I wasn’t sure would be possible, but I really wanted to try. When I heard about that class, it just felt like fate.”

Traveling internationally through a structured university program also gave Williams more confidence in her ability to study abroad, which was a major concern for her beforehand.

“It’s one thing if you grew up with the resources to travel and your family went on a lot of trips,” she said. “You develop that confidence because you’re used to it, and you’ve done it with people you love and trust. So for me, it wasn’t just not having the resources - it was the fear because my family had never done anything like that.”

Williams said she was grateful that APSU and Dr. Buzz Hoon, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, gave her the chance to go on the trip.

“There’s not a lot of financial support available specifically for graduate students studying abroad,” Williams said. “It’s very expensive, and it’s not something I could have ever done if I didn’t have financial support from the dean and Austin Peay. That was really meaningful for me.”

APSU continued to support Williams and her classmates once they arrived, as Shea had already traveled to London several times. He made sure the class felt safe while still encouraging them to spend time exploring the city independently.

“We did a lot of walking tours and learned from subject matter experts on Charles Dickens, Dracula and more,” Williams said. “It was beneficial for my writing, but it also made me braver and more confident when it came to travel. I was really scared to go abroad, to be that far away in a different country. I think that’s something we don’t always consider when it comes to people from a lower financial bracket. It’s obviously hard to travel when you’ve never had the money for it, but it’s also daunting when you’ve never had the experience.”

Williams said her favorite memory from the trip was visiting Shakespeare’s Globe for an opening night performance of “Macbeth.” The venue is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, where many of William Shakespeare’s plays were first performed.

“The opening night happened to be on my birthday, and Dr. Shea helped us work through the crowd so we were right in front of the steps and inches away from the actors,” she said. “We had direct interaction with the players, and it was a really perfect moment … [and] a crazy out-of-body experience to see my favorite Shakespeare play at the Globe on my birthday in London.”

Williams said her time in London fueled her passion for writing and gave her the confidence to continue traveling, making her all the more excited to embark on her next adventure at Boston University's MFA program.

“I feel like I’ll always be writing, and I hope I come out of the program with a good community of writers I can stay in touch with and share work with,” she said. “I have a drive to keep writing, regardless of what I’m doing professionally."