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One of Henry “Hadjii” Hand’s personal missions is always trying to get better…and he is trying to encourage his students to do the same.
For Hand (ABJ ’98), returning to Grady College to mentor graduate students is a significant change compared with the undergraduate students he taught in his introductory telecommunications classes in the early-2000s.
“With undergraduates, you are just trying to teach the basics, but with graduate students, you really have the time to dive deeper and talk about how to develop better characters and make outlines really pop,” Hand said. “The one thing I have always appreciated about students, whether they are undergraduates or graduate students, is that they all bring a sincere passion to whatever reason they are here.”
Hand is one of the mentors in the screenwriting track of the Narrative Media MFA program offered at Grady College, an in-depth program with a focus on the art and nuance of writing for television, film and video.
Although he is familiar with the academic setting from his own time as a student and later as an instructor, it’s his experience as a producer that he draws from the most when working with students. He is the producer of the feature film “Somebodies,” that he admits is loosely based on his time as a student at the University of Georgia. “Somebodies” premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and won a Golden Thumb Award from the late film critic Roger Ebert. The film was adapted into a television series for BET, which Hand wrote, starred in and served as the executive producer. Recently, Hand has worked as the consulting producer of the television series, “Step Up,” on YouTube Premium. He is always working on writing material to get his own projects off the ground.
In recognition of his accomplishments, Hand accepted the Henry W. Grady Mid-Career Alumni Award presented by Grady College in April 2019.
Hand said the biggest lesson he has learned working in the entertainment industry, is the realization that not every piece of art is for every person, and it is the writer’s responsibility to have a sense of what’s important and to stay grounded.
Hand explains: “If you have some kind of mission statement for yourself, those criticisms, whether they are for you or against you, are easier to take because you can decipher what’s important and what’s not. If you are just writing stuff trying to please everyone, you are really going to get hurt.”
Hand said it his mission to share with his students the fact that writing is a never-ending process that is never mastered. He finds that audiences are always changing what they want to see.
“Once you think you have today’s style down, that may not be what audiences are into next year. It is your job to have your fundamentals in place. Storytelling never really changes but what audiences are into, and their sensibilities, do.”
“We have an incredible platform and they need to have a voice for something. They can bring about change, but they have to be responsible and be aware.” — Hadjii Hand
As an instructor in the MFA program, Hand joins the students twice a year for a week-long residency at the University of Georgia where they participate in table reads and guest lectures. When the part-time residency is over, he works one-on-one with a few students each semester as their mentor, helping them hone their projects and sharing writing advice. These teaching sessions take place via phone or email every week or two.
“I get the biggest satisfaction working with the MFA students,” Hand continued. We are here to help create some really cool projects that hopefully will help someone go out into the marketplace or help them get their degrees to help with education.”
Together, they will all be better.
The final chapter was written August 5 as the inaugural class of MFA students at Grady College were recognized in convocation ceremonies.
The fourteen graduating students completed two years of the new narrative media writing program in a low-residency format. Five students graduated from the screenwriting track and nine students graduated from the narrative non-fiction writing track.
“It’s amazing to see the fruits of our effort that began in 2009 in an idea that Valerie Boyd presented me,” said Jeff Springston, associate dean of graduate studies and research. “Nate Kohn quickly added to that idea, and though the road of establishing the degree was not always easy, the results have been spectacular.”
There was a lot of love and affection shown for the program’s directors and mentors. The directors included Valerie Boyd, who led the narrative non-fiction program, and Nate Kohn, who directed the screenwriting track.
“Valerie, when you look out at all of us, I hope you know that your legacy is and will always be strong,” said graduate student Rosalind Bentley at the convocation.
Pete Stone, who graduated from the screenwriting program, expressed appreciation on behalf of the students in his track. “This is our passion,” Stone said. “This is what wakes us up and gets us through everything else we do. This is why we are here and to find that is just great. I am so happy to find a program that allows that, and I really do thank Dr. Kohn for allowing that to happen.”
Stone and Bentley also praised the vital role of the mentors, the community bond formed among the students and the networking that was created from the special speakers who were invited to speak during the program.
The convocation program included insights from keynote speakers Thomas French, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Jeffrey Stepakoff, a screenwriter and executive director of the Georgia Film Academy.
French encouraged the students to accept the humbling task of chronicling stories. Stepakoff spoke of the burgeoning film and television market in Georgia and his desire to foster writer’s groups in the state that would in turn keep graduates from the MFA program in the state of Georgia.
Benjamin Bolger, another graduate of the screenwriting track added, “Georgia and Atlanta are exciting places for people who want to be in the entertainment and movie business. I can’t think of a better program that is situated to accelerate people’s careers in a very focused direction.”
A clear majority of the students and instructors commented about how the program delivered more than they expected.
“These are stories the world needs to hear,” commented Kohn as he recognized the graduates. “They have exceeded my expectations in every way.”
Boyd spoke of the “great enthusiasm, great respect and great love” she had for each of her graduates who filled her with “enormous pride and unbridled joy.”
For narrative non-fiction graduate Andre Gallant, the biggest reward of the MFA program was an in-depth study of the field he loves. “I hoped,
and I think everybody hopes, that the program helps them establish a writing life, a writing practice. It’s kind of hard in our busy lives to treat writing not just as a job but as an art form, as a craft, something we work at and improve. This gives us the first steps to do that.”
Bolger, who has a doctorate from Harvard University and studied at the University of Oxford in Cambridge, concluded that the MFA program compares with other programs he has experienced. “I can honestly say that the University of Georgia, and this program in particular, was really a world-class experience that rivals some of the best competitors that exist. I’m delighted that I was able to participate in this great program.”[flickr_set id=”72157687313876145″]