Rosalind Bentley (MFA ’17), a Pulitzer Prize finalist, two-time James Beard Award finalist and nationally recognized narrative journalist and essayist, has been named the interim director of the Master in Fine Arts in Narrative Nonfiction program.
In addition to this interim appointment, Bentley is the new deputy editor at the Southern Foodways Alliance and new editor-at-large for the Oxford American. Most recently, Bentley served as senior arts and culture writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she worked for 18 years.
“As a graduate of our MFA Narrative Media Writing program, I felt Roz was the ideal person to lead the program through this interim period,” said Jeff Springston, director of MFA programs at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
Valerie Boyd, founder and director of the MFA Narrative Nonfiction program, as it is also known, died in February. Bentley was a student in the program’s inaugural class in 2015.
“I greatly appreciate Roz’s willingness to serve in this capacity and am fully confident that she will help us maintain this program at the high level that Valerie so ably achieved,” Springston said.
Bentley will recruit students to the program and promote and represent it nationally. She will also review Fall 2022 applications along with faculty and design the Fall residency.
“This program changed the trajectory of my life, and it can do the same for others,” Bentley said. “Valerie designed this program to appeal not just to those early in their careers, but also to those who are mid- or even late career, and who want a more fulfilling and productive writing life.”
Bentley has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, the Oxford American, Southern Living, Saveur and Essence. As an enterprise writer at The Minneapolis Star Tribune she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her work on the newspaper’s “Issues of Race” series. In 2019, she was a columnist for “Gravy,” a publication of the Southern Foodways Alliance, where her column “Rooted in Place,” was a finalist for two James Beard Awards, including the M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Her essay “The Blessing and Burden of Forever,” published in the summer 2020 issue of Oxford American, was named a notable essay in the “Best American Essays 2021” edition of the annual series. Bentley’s essay, “Iron and Brass,” is in the upcoming anthology “Bigger than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic,” edited by Boyd and due to be published in September by Lookout Books. Bentley received a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Florida A&M University.
Bentley was close friends with Boyd for 18 years and watched her design and launch the MFA program. This program is among the only low-residency, narrative nonfiction studies in the country based in a college of journalism where it is committed to the mission of telling true, well-reported stories in a literary way.
“Representing this program and leading it during this time of transition is a responsibility not just to the Grady College and the University of Georgia, it is also a chance to make sure Valerie’s vision is not lost,” Bentley said. “Valerie created a program that, while based in journalistic rigor, speaks to the whole student and their dreams.”
The MFA Narrative Nonfiction program is a two-year, low-residency program designed to cultivate writers whose work will be published in book or essay form. The program offers students an opportunity to develop skills that will prepare them to be accomplished authors, editors, literary agents or other industry professionals.
A number of leading editors, writers and instructors serve as MFA mentors including: Moni Basu, the Michael and Linda Connelly Lecturer in Narrative Nonfiction at the University of Florida; John T. Edge, author of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South;” Lolis Eric Elie, filmmaker, television writer for series such as HBO’s “Treme;” Melissa Faye Greene, author of several books including the award-winning “Praying for Sheetrock;” Pat Thomas, professor emerita and former Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at UGA; and Jan Winburn, editor of the Pulitzer Prize winning story, “The Umpire’s Son,” reported by Lisa Pollak.
Now in its seventh year, the program has produced students and graduates who’ve had impressive success in the publishing arena. Among them: Martin Padgett (MFA ’18), author of “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head;” Brandon Fleming (MFA ’21), “Miseducated: A Memoir;” and Andre Gallant (MFA ’17), “A High Low Tide: The Revival of a Southern Oyster.” Others have begun new careers in publishing, such as KaToya Fleming (MFA ’18), now editor of Lookout Books at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Other students have published long-form narrative essays including Jarrett Van Meter and Jasmin Pittman Morrell in the Bitter Southerner and Mikeie Honda Reiland in Oxford American.
“The narrative nonfiction program at UGA is like no other and our diverse student body and faculty are broadening the canon with each story they write,” Bentley said. “It is an honor support them as they bring those true stories into the world.”
Applications for the MFA program are due by May 1. More information can be found on the MFA Narrative Nonfiction website.