John T. Edge teaches Grady College MFA students to explore narrative to better understand the world

The words “story” and “narrative” are in most responses from John T. Edge when he is asked about what students learn in Grady College’s MFA in Narrative Media Writing.

Edge watches the “TrueSouth” screening at Grady College.

It is a simple reminder of the essence and foundation of the low residency graduate program.

Edge has taught in the program since its inception. He mentors three or four students per semester to provide hyper-individualized instruction.

“I act as their first and best editor,” Edge said.

His editing knowledge stems from a vast resume including authoring many books, most recently “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.” He has written a column for the New York Times, and now serves as a columnist for Garden & Gun and Oxford American. He has won three James Beard Foundation Awards for his writing. He is also the host of “TrueSouth” on the SEC Network, a show that tells honest stories of the modern South.

Larry Scott of Scott’s Bar B-Q and John T. Edge pose for a photo at the screening of “TrueSouth.” The episode hosted by Edge featured Scott’s story and restaurant.

Edge says his students share common characteristics even if they have interests in different subject matters.

“A hunger for story is first and foremost, a rage to explain, a want to tell complicated, nuanced stories using narrative devices,” Edge said.

He counsels them on what to read to fuel writing and what research is required to become a better writer. He encourages students to apply the same devices found in fiction such as characters and story arc to non-fiction narratives.

“Narrative transforms our understanding of our place and the people who inhabit it,” said Edge.

Grady College MFA narrative instructors have specialized interests including food, health and biography, among others.

“The people who teach in this program have a wide range of expertise,” said Edge. “The crazy quilt we stitch together makes this thing work. That is what our students draw upon.”

Learn more about Grady College’s MFA graduate program in nonfiction narrative.

MFA in Narrative Media Writing

More information about the MFA Narrative Media Writing Program, including the screenwriting program and narrative nonfiction program, can be found by visiting Applications for the next MFA class are due May 1, 2019 (special alumni extension).

By Lori Johnston (BA ’95, MFA ’17)

I waited for the Grady College’s Master of Fine Arts in Narrative Media Writing program, and it was worth it.

I was enjoying a successful journalism career covering crime, celebrities, politics, business, and home design and architecture. I published freelance stories with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,, American City Business Journals, Wall Street Journal and many others, following full-time work as a reporter for The Associated Press and an editor for magazines and websites.

Lori Johnston (second from left) joins other MFA graduates Max Blau (MFA ’18), KaToya Fleming (MFA ’18) and Mark Shavin (ABJ ’79, MFA ’18) in a panel discussion about preparing for the last semester of the narrative nonfiction program.

As I approached my career midpoint, about 20 years after I earned my bachelor’s degree from Grady in 1995, I desired to move to the next level in my writing and deepen my ability to tell true stories. As with other times in my life, Grady played a key role in my career goals.

When I heard that Grady was launching an MFA program that was the first of its kind in a journalism school and directed by Valerie Boyd, associate professor and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence, I decided almost immediately that I would be part of the first cohort, the class of 2017.

The program appealed to me for its low-residency format. I didn’t have to shut down or take a break from my freelance writing. Each semester, I was paired with one of the faculty mentors, who are accomplished writers. They embraced the experience I bought to the program. They challenged me by providing rigorous feedback throughout the semester. I relished the monthly one-on-one discussions with my mentor and monthly meetings, sometimes virtually, sometimes in person, with peers to discuss books and our writing projects.

The two-year program was a huge investment in my future. It required me to carve out time — early mornings, nights and weekends — for reading, researching, reporting and writing. At the start of every semester, I immersed myself in the MFA residency in Athens — an invigorating, yet intense week of on-campus lectures, seminars, panel discussions and readings by faculty mentors and visiting writers, agents and editors. Our days and nights were filled with intimate and sometimes relentless discussions about the craft of writing with published authors and classmates, who ranged from their 20s to 60s.

The professional and personal relationships I formed exceeded my expectations. My peers from across the country challenged my thinking and gave me confidence to find my voice as a writer.

The MFA program gave me a way to “steal time,” as faculty mentor John T. Edge told us, from our busy lives. For me, that was the life of mother, wife, journalist, entrepreneur, mentor and friend. I finished with three long-form narrative stories and a burgeoning book proposal, all focused on the intersection of faith, race and culture. Since earning my degree, my pieces on faith have been published in The Washington Post.

Hadjii Hand (seated on left in hand), an instructor in the screenwriting program, discusses a scene with current student Wendy Eley Jackson.

The program broadened my writing abilities, honed my leadership skills and gave me the academic qualifications, with a terminal degree, to pursue teaching full time on the collegiate level.

Recently, I joined fellow MFA graduates to read our work during a night of factual, creative storytelling in Athens. When I looked around the room, I saw the same array of ages, including several Grady undergraduate students. One of them told me the next day, “It was like art.”

Hearing that was worth the wait.

Johnston is a part-time journalism instructor at Grady College and co-owner of Fast Copy News Service.


Telling True Stories

Join graduates, current students and faculty from the Grady College of Journalism’s MFA in Narrative Nonfiction Program at the University of Georgia, for an evening of factual, creative storytelling and learn about the innovative, low-residency writing degree.

Interested in joining a community of writers? Ever wanted to write a nonfiction book but didn’t know how to begin? Ready to compose and publish literary essays grounded in fact yet beautifully told? Come meet your people.

Featured readers include Georgia-based journalists and MFA graduates Rosalind Bentley (New York Times, Essence, AJC), Max Blau (Atlanta magazine, Bitter Southerner), André Gallant (Garden and Gun, Oxford American), Emanuella Grinberg (CNN, Smithsonian, Atlas Obscura), Jeffery Johnson (University of North Georgia), Kristin Lowe (Religion News Service), and more.

The event will be held on the second floor of the Atlanta Georgia Beer Garden from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

MFA Narrative Nonfiction Program writing degree event

Grady College of Journalism’s MFA Narrative Nonfiction Program will be hosting an evening of factual, creative storytelling at Lotta Mae’s on Feb. 28 from 7-9 p.m.
Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the innovative, low-residency writing degree, get to know students and faculty involved and enjoy complimentary beer and wine.
Featured readers include Georgia-based journalists and MFA graduates Max Blau, who has written for the New York Times and Bitter Southerner, Lori Johnston, who has written for the Washington Post and AJC, Rosalind Bentley, who has written for the New York Times and AJC and André Gallant, who has written for Garden and Gun and Oxford American.