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Kean University

Kean Students Succeed in Publishing Creative Writing

Kean alumna Rabia Ashraf and her mother posing for a selfie in a car

Rabia Ashraf poses with her mother. The Kean alumna recently signed with a literary agent as she seeks to publish her novel about a South Asian Muslim mother and her daughter in New York City post-9/11.

Students and alumni of Kean’s Department of English Studies have had short stories, poetry and other creative works published, and at least one is close to seeing her novel in print.

“To be able to say I’m a published writer means so much to me and my career,” said Rabia Ashraf ’20, of Union, who had a poem, an essay and two short stories published and recently signed with a literary agent as she seeks to publish her novel about a South Asian Muslim mother and her daughter in New York City post-9/11.

The American-born daughter of Pakistani-Indian immigrants, Ashraf said she was encouraged by her Kean professors to share her perspective. 

“As a person of color and a daughter of immigrants, I realize the importance of words and the power they possess,” Ashraf said. “Kean University played a huge role in my writing career.”

Kean boasts more than 200 English majors, who learn from faculty, many of whom are published authors themselves. 

“Getting published is a major accomplishment that our students, and anyone who achieves it, should be proud of,” said College of Liberal Arts Acting Dean Jonathan Mercantini, Ph.D. “Publication shows you have done something new and original and contributed to our larger world. It is a great honor.”

Kean Adjunct Instructor William Mesce, a screenwriter and author, teaches creative writing and other classes. Being published is not required for class, he said, but he looks for student work he feels may fit various literary sources and guides students who want to publish.

“If a student is serious about pursuing writing in any way, they need to learn the ropes – gauging whether a publication may be a good fit for their material, tailoring work for specific publications and dealing with rejection,” Mesce said.

“Even if work is accepted at a small online literary journal, when you make your next submission, it’s part of your pitch. Perhaps most importantly, it helps a student’s self-confidence. That first publication provides valuable validation for an aspiring writer.”

Kathryn Birchfield, ’22, an English writing major, is now a graduate student in writing studies at Kean. The Alabama native attended Kean to be near New York City, intending to enter publishing sales.

Instead, she fell in love with writing and editing, and hopes to become an editor.

“I’ve always said that I write to breathe,” said Birchfield, whose short story, Cold Love was published and republished under the pen name Katie Lane Dei. “I see my story and name alongside all of these other writers, and it is kind of crazy. I feel incredibly thankful to these publications for taking a chance on me and my story.”

Amanda Vogel, of Linden, an undergraduate communication studies major, has seen three of her pieces published digitally, and one in print. She said she would like to become a music journalist.

“I love the idea of producing content in a way that people forget they're reading when they read my pieces – something light, fun and maybe a bit funny,” she said. “I love having my work published. It’s like, ‘Hey, Mom, look what I did!’ in such a powerful way.”

The writers all said they’ve experienced rejection, too, part of the process for virtually all who seek to publish. 

“It’s a terrifying feeling, but it’s important to remind myself that the work I do matters,” Ashraf said. “All it takes is one yes.”