Kate Rasmussen

Kate Rasmussen, who will graduate from the University of Montana's Creative Writing Program this Saturday, reads earlier this week to other writers from UM at one of their last gatherings. "I think the writing program is a gem," says Rasmussen, "and the people who are there are a draw for kids, for people who want to take writing seriously."

Kate Rasmussen wants to do some mule packing and some traveling to South Africa and Vietnam in the next five years.

Eventually, the South Dakota woman and University of Montana graduate in creative writing wants to learn to raise falcons like rancher, author and falconer Dan O'Brien of the Black Hills.

"I want to be Dan O'Brien when I grow up," Rasmussen said, maybe only half joking.

First, though, she'll complete a writing fellowship in Oregon this summer. And this week, of course, she'll graduate.

Already, the writer who honed her craft in Missoula has a portfolio filled with fiction and nonfiction, paychecks from selling her work, and a deep appreciation for the launch the UM writing program and its professors gave her.

"I think the writing program is a gem, and the people who are there are a draw for kids, for people who want to take writing seriously," Rasmussen said.

Early this week, Rasmussen joined other writers from UM for a reading at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library in one of the semester's last gatherings around the program's literary magazine for undergraduates. 

Adviser Robert Stubblefield, an author and lecturer at UM, said the reading was an opportunity for Rasmussen and other staff of The Oval to showcase their own fiction and nonfiction after spending hours focused on the work of their peers. One of three literary publications at UM, The Oval was started and is staffed by undergraduates and publishes their work exclusively.

"They put in all of this work for other people's creative output, and this is a chance to recognize them," Stubblefield said.


Rasmussen spent three years at Montana State University before transferring to UM, and she said she was thrilled to set foot in Missoula and join UM's community of writers.

She met a staff member, Maria Mangold, who knew how to ensure she would graduate, the type of person she wished she'd met earlier in her college career: "She just knew everything, and it was so great to have a person like that."

She met teachers and a peer group who were eager to help push her work up a notch. Rasmussen said she can't help but contrast the experience to her time in Bozeman. There, she said students who decided they didn't want to be engineers anymore decided to try out writing, but at UM she found committed colleagues.

"Everyone was just on their toes, ready to go, ready to figure out what was working in your paper and what wasn't working in your paper," Rasmussen said.

Already, Rasmussen has produced and sold articles to the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, a private land stewardship nonprofit. In the fall, she may be working for the coalition in a salaried position, and she credits her instructors.

"The writing I've done for them is influenced by Judy Blunt and Stubblefield and Pete Fromm," Rasmussen said. "They really helped me and guided me with those kinds of skills to actually make it work."

Blunt teaches nonfiction and wrote best-selling memoir "Breaking Clean," Stubblefield teaches creative writing and composition, and Fromm is a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award for his novels and taught at UM in the fall.


The Oval is a significant draw for students heading into the creative writing program, Stubblefield said. It offers the staff of some 20 students a shot at producing a print magazine with the deadlines and responsibilities the publishing world entails, and the students take their experiences at UM into their careers.

"We've had a significant amount of alumni from The Oval go into publishing, into editing, and of course onto MFA programs in creative writing," Stubblefield said.

The magazine is one of three literary publications produced at UM, he said; the others are Camas, from the environmental studies program, and Cutbank, from the graduate program in creative writing.

Rasmussen didn't need the credits, but she said she decided to work on The Oval anyway. She found the process of reviewing submissions, seeing the steps in publication, and working with a team to make a product a meaningful contribution to her professional development and one she's proud to put on her resume.

"I was pretty overbooked with credits, but it was so worthwhile," Rasmussen said.

This year, the magazine in its 11th edition accepted just 20 or 30 pieces out of roughly 300 submissions, and Rasmussen said it's the first time some students have had their work published.

"There were a lot of submissions, so to have us decide that their writing stands out a lot means so much," she said.

The students have been committed to a print edition of the magazine despite the cost, Stubblefield said; major sponsors are the Mansfield Library, Associated Students of the University of Montana, UM Printing & Graphics, and the Writers' Fall Opus with Kevin Head.


At the reading, Rasmussen read about sacred places and the Badlands, her peers read about patriotism and love, and 30 or so people in the room listened and kept electronic devices mostly out of sight.

Eventually, Rasmussen wants to return to her family cattle ranch in South Dakota and write. Come summer, she'll head to northeastern Oregon for a writing fellowship at Fishtrap, a literary nonprofit focused on "clear thinking and good writing in and about the West." The fellowship is jointly sponsored by UM through the Writers' Fall Opus and Fishtrap. 

She'll continue to use the lessons she learned at UM about writing well:

Slow down a story in the good parts.

Write like you talk.

Don't get overwhelmed by the creative experience. 

"It's not like we're hard rock mining or anything. You just do it, and we're lucky to be able to do something so creative and worthwhile," Rasmussen said.

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