Texas State’s Professor of Creative Writing, Dr. Debra Monroe, was recently recognized with two awards for her twenty-seven successful years mentoring MFA Creative Writing students: The Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award sponsored by Texas State, and The Conference of Southern Graduate School’s Outstanding Mentor Award.
At Texas State, Dr. Monroe was selected unanimously over other nominated mentors for her work with graduate fiction writers. She received a plaque, an honorarium, and a nomination from Dean of the Graduate College Dr. Andrea Golato for the Conference of Southern Graduate School’s Outstanding Mentor Award. In this nationwide competition between other universities’ most successful mentors, Dr. Monroe rose above other nominees to win the conference award for 2019-2020, which celebrates best practices in graduate studies. The Conference of Southern Graduate Schools reports that this award recognizes an advisor who has maintained successful mentorship of graduate students by “facilitating student learning by making complex ideas understandable and meaningful,” the “establishment and maintenance of high academic standards,” and “consistent and ongoing guidance of students regarding resources within and outside the university, conflict resolution, and advocacy for completion of the program of study in a timely manner.” On each of these standards, and many others, Dr. Monroe exceeds expectations for winning this regional award.
Dr. Golato was introduced to Dr. Monroe through the impressive record of her work and the many successes of her writing students after she was nominated for Texas State’s Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award. “This woman never sleeps,” Dr. Golato states as she passionately relates the extensive list of Dr. Monroe’s accomplishments and contributions, which include 32 student publications of work by former students over just the past two years, and a total of 27 book publications by her graduate mentees over her tenure at Texas State. Today, many of her students attribute the success of their own writing to the mentorship and critical guidance they received from Dr. Monroe, who found success in publishing her own work after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Utah.
Dr. Monroe’s dissertation became her first fiction publication, The Source of Trouble, which was awarded The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 1990. Not only does Dr. Monroe support young fiction writers as a mentor and Professor of Creative Writing, but her accomplishments as a writer allow her to bring her own notable successes and experiences with writing and publishing to the advice she offers her students. Other successful works include her nationally acclaimed memoir On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain (2015), which details her experience as the mother in a mixed-race, single-parent family in the American South.
Admiring Dr. Monroe’s work with students beyond her work as a professor, Dr. Golato explains what is “truly special about [Dr. Monroe’s] mentorship is that she has helped students find daycare for their children … find family resources…. [She] encourage[s] students to go on when life gets tough” and return to their work if they have had to leave the program. Dr. Golato’s endorsement of Dr. Monroe continues as she describes her enduring and special impact as an advisor in the humanities. “In the sciences students publish in a team of other students, postdocs, and their professor. Student research interests are often the same as the professor’s because of this.” She explains that, since students in the humanities generally work on isolated projects with their professor’s guidance, they generally graduate with fewer publications than students in the sciences. However, Dr. Monroe’s achievement is that this general trend is not true for her students, and that “this is where Dr. Monroe breaks the mold.”
Dr. Monroe comes to know and value her students as people as well as young writers. It is this mentorship that many students cite as crucial to their successful writing careers, which contain such a long list of student publications that her nomination for the Conference of Southern Graduate School’s Outstanding Mentor Award could include only the most recent two years of student achievements. Serving as much more than a writing coach, Dr. Monroe contributes to the lives and work of her graduate students while maintaining a successful writing career herself.
– Kennedy Farrell, English Major