Elena Passarello, associate professor in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film, leads the storied MFA creative writing program

Elena Passarello

Elena Passarello

By Ellie Webb-Bowen, CLA Student Writer - March 6, 2024

Oregon State University has over 100 graduate programs, including a Master’s in Fine Arts in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film (SWLF). Associate Professor Elena Passarello leads the distinguished, 24-student program consisting of emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Now in her 12th year of teaching at SWLF, Passarello arrived at the MFA program at a time when a nonfiction writing track wasn’t offered. The program only consisted of fiction and poetry, so Passarello’s expertise and experience in nonfiction writing was a valuable and necessary addition to the college in helping to start the nonfiction track in 2014. Today, Passarello continues to teach undergraduate and graduate students all that nonfiction writing has to offer, including memoirs, literary essays, and nature writing.

In addition to her teaching, Passarello continues to write. She’s written two nonfiction books and is currently working on a third. Her first book, titled Let Me Clear My Throat, is a collection of essays all about the human voice and how people use it to express themselves. Her second book, Animals Strike Curious Poses, is about animals in pop-culture and the various times when an animal has become famous.

Passarello's newest book, which is currently untitled, will investigate the phenomenon that is Elvis Presley, and why he remains so prevalent in today's culture.

“I have been going around the country, talking to people and finding ways in which Elvis is dispersed among our society and culture,” Passarello explained. “The question to be asked is, ‘What does it mean that we have this celebrity who half the planet doesn’t remember, but who many still see as a legend?’”

Passarello also co-hosts the variety radio program Live Wire, which typically records at Portland's Alberta Rose Theater and airs on over 200 stations across the the United States. A live taping of the show will take place at the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts (PRAx) in Corvallis on April 26.

Currently, the MFA program Passarello leads is one of the most competitive and selective graduate-level degrees offered at OSU, with only 9-12 applicants chosen out of thousands of submissions every year. The program is also fully funded. “We are one of the few programs where a student can graduate with a top-notch fine arts degree without having  to take on significant debt,” Passarello stated.

Emily Podwoiski, a second-year graduate student, explained her appreciation for the accessibility of the program. “The fact that the MFA program is fully funded is important to me, because I could not afford to go into debt,” said Podwoiski. “Education should be free and accessible, so I’m grateful that OSU provides that support.”

Podwoiski specializes in creative nonfiction, particularly literary essays, and relishes in everything the MFA program has to offer at OSU. “The massive Douglas firs on campus, writing dates at Interzone, inventing new craft terms in workshop, but mostly, it’s been an honor to meet so many compassionate, talented, and down-to-earth writers in this program. I’ve felt so inspired and moved by their words. There’s a real community here, and it means a lot to have that support.”

Passarello (left) co-hosting Livewire with Luke Burbank in April, 2023.

Passarello (left) co-hosting Livewire with Luke Burbank in April, 2023.