ASU alumna finds success as an author after graduating from MFA program

April 6, 2018

Author and Arizona State University alumna Adrienne Celt was once dubbed a liberal arts success story by her literary agent.

“And it's true,” Celt said. Adrienne Celt graduated from Arizona State University with a Master of Fine Arts in 2012. Download Full Image

Celt said she can draw a direct line from a Vladimir Nabokov seminar she took while an undergrad at Grinnell College in Iowa to her latest novel, “Invitation to a Bonfire,” which debuts this summer.

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and Russian language, she went to work in advertising for Google, but eventually found her way back to her love of words.

“I was too burned out on school at the end of my undergraduate experience to go straight into graduate school,” Celt said. “By the time I was ready to go back, the little voice in my head that said, ‘make stories, make stories,’ had gotten really loud.”

After weighing her options between different graduate programs, Celt decided Arizona State University was the just the right place for her and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in 2012 from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“The MFA program and Piper Center for Creative Writing are really wonderful, nurturing places,” she said. “I began taking myself more seriously as a writer at ASU, and learned that I can make choices in my work instead of letting it all just happen to me.”

While immersing herself into the MFA program, Celt explored herself as a writer and learned what it meant, for her, to be successful in the world of literature.

“There's a mythos around writing and artistic work that suggests that all you need is inspiration and talent — as if the rest will just happen. But I rarely see ‘having good ideas’ as the problem artists run into,” Celt said

“The trick is to pick [a project] that's meaningful for you, and continue to work on it until it's done. And then look at the spectrum of your work across years and think: is this what I want to say to the world? Is this stretching me as a thinker, as a human? If not, maybe you need to think harder. Setting work that's not quite right aside can be as difficult as completing something perfect,” she said.

Since graduating, Celt has gone on to become a successful author. Her debut novel, “The Daughters,” which she began writing at ASU as part of her MFA thesis, was published in 2015 and won the 2015 PEN Southwest Book Award for Fiction; she also won a 2016 O. Henry Prize for her short story, “Temples.” These days, she draws comics for several media platforms and continues to work for Google as a contractor, allowing her to work creatively from home.

“I honestly can't imagine not having a larger purpose or project animating my days,” Celt said. “I feel extremely lucky to be part of the vibrant, funny, intelligent, sarcastic, ambitious world of literature.”

Celt’s literary pursuits have continued, and she is set to publish her newest novel this June.

“‘Invitation to a Bonfire’ is a literary thriller which twists through a seductive love triangle and a murder mystery, all while looking at questions of identity and national allegiance,” Celt said.

“The book is set mainly in the late 1920s, early 1930s, but goes back as far as the Russian Revolution. The main action takes place at a girl's prep school in New Jersey, where the protagonist, Zoya, has been placed as a refugee from the Soviet Union,” Celt said. “She has a hard time of it until she meets Leo Orlov, a Russian writer whose work she has been reading for years, and starts an affair with him — though that affair brings a whole new set of problems, mainly in the form of Leo's mysterious and manipulative wife Vera.”

Celt said the inspiration for her new novel is difficult to pinpoint, but part of it was loosely influenced by the history of Vladimir and Véra Nabokov, which she learned about while studying abroad in Russia during her undergraduate studies.

“Where do ideas come from? Everywhere? Your whole life? I began writing 'Invitation to a Bonfire' while I was working on a different project that was, for various reasons, frustrating me, and I fell headlong into this novel as a huge and beautiful relief,” Celt said. “I didn't tell anyone about it until after I had finished a full draft, so it was just my secret, which made it extra enjoyable.”

Although Celt has found success as a writer, she does note that life as an author isn’t always as easy as it seems.

“I think everyone meets with obstacles, writers especially. There's a lot of rejection, not a lot of money, a lot of uncertainty,” Celt said. “You just have to keep going, and try to be so in love with your work that you can tune out the rest of the world. When I'm stressed out about publishing, I remind myself that I'm not happiest when I succeed in public: I'm happiest when, in private, all alone, my writing is thrilling me.”

Devoted to her work, Celt continues to work on multiple projects and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

"I'm pretty ambitious, and have a strong inner motor,” Celt said. “Mainly this comes from my own deep love of literature, and my desire to continue diving into it — both as a reader and a writer — for as long as I can. There's nothing like the feeling of stepping inside a new story and walking around.”

“Invitation to a Bonfire” will be out June 5 and is available for pre-order at Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, Powell’s, Bloomsbury, and Amazon. Visit Celt's website for more information about the author and her work.

Olivia Knecht

Student writer-reporter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


ASU School of Molecular Sciences shows the power of women

April 6, 2018

The world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has a problem: Women are underrepresented. This year, Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences has set out on a mission to change the societal underrepresentation of women in science, starting with its own project.

“It is a well-known problem that women are underrepresented in various forms of STEM fields,” said Ian Gould, President's Professor and associate director of outreach, online and communications for the School of Molecular Sciences. “The fundamental root cause of this underrepresentation is a societal issue, so we wanted to do a social contribution to change the culture.” Marya sabir Marya Sabir (left) is one of the many incredible alumnae featured in the School of Molecular Sciences' Spotlight on Women in Science project. She is pictured here with her colleague Angelika Dampf Stone. Download Full Image

And thus the Spotlight on Women in Science project was born.  

Mary Zhu, technical support analyst coordinator, and Rachel Lee, intern of communications at the School of Molecular Sciences, joined forces with Gould to begin the process of collecting stories of ASU alumnae in science to highlight.

“We tried to contact alumnae in many different ways,” Lee said. “We started a campaign on Facebook, sent out emails, advertised through word of mouth, and hoped that more people would see what we were working on and want to contribute themselves.”

Once they had stories and photos, Zhu and Lee began highlighting women in science on the school’s social media channels to show the important work they contribute to the industry.

“The first element of bringing about social change is acknowledging that a problem does indeed exist, and in this case, it is the underrepresentation of women in the sciences,” said ASU alumna Marya Sabir, who received her Bachelor of Science in biochemistry in 2015. “The Spotlight on Women in Science initiative led by the School of Molecular Sciences gives women a platform to be recognized for their successes while ushering in a call to action for all women and men to become more vested in empowering women to fulfill their full potential especially in the scientific sphere.”

Sabir was the first woman featured in the project when it made its debut in early January on the school’s Facebook page. Sabir said she knows the importance of creating an equal environment for women in the sciences to work and succeed.

“I have been fortunate to have had mentors who understood the importance of involving women in the sciences,” Sabir said. “However, it is no secret that we as women face broad and invisible barriers to success in the academic sciences and engineering spheres as a result of unintentional/implicit gender biases and outdated, historically-driven policies and structures that continue to govern institutions.”

Sabir refuses to be held back by such barriers. She has gone on to conduct research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute as a Ben and Catherine Ivy Neurological Sciences Scholar, and has received multiple accolades for her work including the Post-Baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health.

Once the initial Facebook post of Sabir was published, the project evolved to include an additional element that would stand out and uniquely tackle the bigger societal issue. Using the photos sent in by the many graduates from the college, the team began working on a collage video that would focus on the women themselves.

“The content of the video is a variety of women,” Gould said. “There’s no text, no speaking, just photos of these women in their scientific environments, which is more impactful.”

The use of empowering images of women in their fields as the primary content of the video is intended to emphasize the role that women fill within the sciences. By focusing on the photos of these scientists in their work environment, Gould, Lee and Zhu hope that everyone who sees the video will feel empowered and recognize how influential women are in the science industry. It’s a hope shared by Sabir as well.

“It is a dawning realization that women are often evaluated based on our gender rather than merit in today’s society,” Sabir said. “This should empower every woman, especially in the sciences, to speak out and lead initiatives to bring attention to this invisible ceiling and the solutions we can formulate as a community to break through these barriers; we owe this to the next generation of women scientists and engineers.”

The completed video, “Women in Science Make A Difference,” premiered in mid-March and features over 100 alumnae from the School of Molecular Sciences who have found success in various scientific professions.

“The video really shows the diversity of our community,” Lee said. “It puts emphasis on the women who actually create what the scientific community is really about.”

Another alumna featured in the project is Ara Austin, who graduated from the School of Molecular Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry in 2011, and defended her doctorate in chemistry education earlier this year.

"When I first saw the video project, it really made me smile,” Austin said. “It was so wonderful to see so many familiar faces that belonged to my students and colleagues. I'm sure that the effect of this project is a positive one.”

Austin has recently begun working for the School of Molecular Sciences as the new clinical assistant professor, where she works with students in the new online biochemistry program. Austin said she recognizes the great strides taken by her female students and colleagues and hopes this project gives women the chance to commend themselves and stand proudly.

“I hope that all of our female students and graduates take some time to congratulate themselves on their own accomplishments,” Austin said. “I have found that our students, especially females, often forget the hardships they have conquered. It’s OK to celebrate your happy moments. You deserve to be confident.”

While working to restructure the status quo is no easy task, it’s one that the School of Molecular Sciences team and its alumni agree is worth it.

“So many great women came before our time to pave a path for us in the sciences,” Austin said. “I hope that like them, we remain headstrong, hardworking, and constantly curious.”

Olivia Knecht

Student writer-reporter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences