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Graduate student relishes new creative challenges


Katherine Arnoldi entered the English Department’s doctoral program last fall as an accomplished, published author with a literary agent. But she’s finding new success and exploring new creative avenues with the help of Binghamton’s faculty.

A collection of Arnoldi’s short stories, All Things Are Labor, recently won the Juniper Prize from the University of Massachusetts Press, which will publish the book next spring. The book was also a finalist for the Ohio State University Short Fiction Prize.

It explores issues of personal importance to Arnoldi, including life as a teen mother, being a Mennonite and living in New York City.

Arnoldi said she’s more interested in language, meaning and imagery than plot. She worked on many of the stories in class with Assistant Professor Jaimee Wriston Colbert.

Arnoldi also is participating in an exhibit titled “She Draws Comics: 100 Years of America’s Women Cartoonists,” which is on display at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City until Nov. 6. The exhibition has traveled to Germany, Portugal, Spain, Austria and San Francisco.

The piece in the show is from her powerful, mostly autobiographical book, The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom, which was published by Hyperion in 1998.

The graphic novel, which won numerous awards, is being made into a movie for release in 2008, with Scott Elliot as the director and Nellie McKay as music director.

“I’m on to the next thing,” Arnoldi said, and thus unable to worry too much about how her book will be translated on film. “I think it’s nice that when the movie comes out I’ll be getting my doctorate.”

Arnoldi attended Metropolitan State College of Denver and finished her undergraduate degree in art at the University of Arkansas. She later received a master’s degree in creative writing from the City College of New York.

She said she was drawn to Binghamton’s program by the opportunity to work with faculty members such as William Spanos, Leslie Heywood and Colbert and because not many schools offer doctorates in creative writing.

A class with Heywood has inspired Arnoldi to begin working on a second graphic novel, this time focused on explaining globalization to young adults.

But her main concern remains fighting for equal access to college for teen mothers.

Arnoldi, now in her 50s, is originally from Ohio. She managed to finish high school despite her pregnancy, but believes that even today too many teen mothers are forced to leave school before graduating.

After the birth of her daughter, Arnoldi worked in a factory for four years. She said it was like a miracle when she learned about financial aid for college. Spreading that information was the impetus for her first book.

Arnoldi still speaks to young women taking classes to prepare for their high school equivalency tests and encourages them to learn more about financial aid and how to apply to college.

“I hope I give them hope that it’s never too late to find out how we might contribute and what our purpose here is,” she said. “I guess I’m a living example of that.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08