A Duluthian in Paris
Andy Bennett, the creative director at Zeitgeist Arts, wrote some "really, really bad short stories" in sixth and seventh grade. He graduated to "a period of really awful poetry in middle school when everything is really emotional." Now at age 36, he is about to embark on a course of international study while earning his Masters in Fine Arts in creative writing from New York University (NYU).
On Jan. 3, Bennett will leave Duluth for 10 days of intense study in Paris, which will be the first of five 10-day study periods over two years in NYU's Low-Residency Writer's Workshop. His time in Duluth in between Paris trips will be spent working on an adult fiction manuscript with his faculty advisor.
"It's sort of a dream come true to get my masters from this program and still have my life here. I didn't relish the idea of spending two to three years picking up and moving. The low-residency program is the best of both worlds. It allows us to keep our jobs and stay in Duluth," said Bennett.
Born in Duluth, Bennett met his wife, Katy Helbacka, at Denfeld High School. Helbacka is the artistic and executive director of Renegade Theater Company. After Bennett graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical performance from the University of Minnesota Duluth, Bennett and Helbacka moved to Chicago for five years.
"It was amazing to come back from Chicago and see how the arts scene has exploded in Duluth. I really feel like Katy and I have lucked into the greatest jobs in the community; they're perfect for us," said Bennett.
Bennett plans to focus his studies on adult fiction because it is what he reads the most. However his writing background includes plays, "spec scripts" (non-commissioned, unsolicited screenplays) for television sitcoms, nonfiction and young adult fiction.
A couple of almost-but-not-quite successes lead to his decision to get his MFA. He worked with a Hollywood agent who presented his screenplay for a television sitcom to a producer. After traveling to Los Angeles to discuss a potential contract, the deal fell through.
Fellow writer Lucy Amundsen encouraged him to focus on writing prose. He took her advice and studied fiction and nonfiction writing at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where he was paired up with mentor David Small, who wrote and illustrated the graphic memoir "Stitches."
He wrote his first young adult novel and, with his literary agent's assistance, came close to getting it published, but that deal also fell through.
"After all of those close but not-close-enough moments I started to think, 'Maybe there's something I'm missing.' I've never had any education in writing, but I've always really loved it, so I started to look at programs. I've wanted my MFA for a long time," said Bennett.
Despite his literary near-misses, Bennett persevered. He self-published his second young adult novel, "The Line," in June 2015 and the Renegade Theater Company produced his play "Ghost Light" in 2012.
"The Line" is an "action/adventure novel that follows six high school students trapped in a deli as a virus rampages across the city of Chicago." The book is doing better than Bennett expected. First released as a free ebook on Amazon.com, it ranked number one among free young adult action/adventure books. Now, as a 99-cent downloadable ebook, it is ranked in the top 200 young adult novels for purchase.
"The most valuable thing for a writer is to have someone read their work. I didn't want to get rich off of [The Line]; I just wanted people to be able to read it."
Bennett is working on his third novel, a collection of short stories and a nonfiction piece about his childhood.
"[The low-residency program] will be game-changing for me. I need a little focus and guidance. As far as I know, you get one shot at [life] so you might as well go for it. I would rather do it than regret not doing it."