Alumni Profile: MALS Authors

On December 6, 2011 by Grad Forum

The Grad News Forum will be featuring a series of profiles of graduate alumni in upcoming posts.  This week, we’re featuring MALS alums in publishing.

Local author and MALS alumnus Joni Cole’s latest book, Another Bad Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior, was published in October by PublishingWorks. A collection of twenty-eight personal essays that deal with her daily interactions and past experiences, the book is described on her website as mixing “social awkwardness with social observation.”

Despite the title, Cole says, “the book isn’t all about dogs.” Instead, a scene of rejection in a bookstore inspired the title essay of the book.

“I went to Borders, and there was another ‘bad dog book’ sitting on the shelf,” says Cole. “I thought that there was a good story there about how jealous I am over all of these stupid, best-selling books about naughty dogs that fly off the shelf.” She wrote the title essay immediately.

Story in hand, Cole went to her publisher and sold her idea for the book on the spot. “I had never sold a piece half-written before,” says Cole. “It was exciting.” Since its publication, the book has received numerous positive reviews and accolades. One of Another Bad Dog Book’s essays, “Strangers on a Train,” was recently excerpted in the MALS academic journal, The Quarterly, and was a 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee.

According to Cole, her experiences in Dartmouth’s MALS program helped shape her writing, as well as how she evaluates the writings of others. In addition to being a full-time author, Cole runs the Writer’s Center of White River Junction, Vermont, where she serves as a writing instructor–in her workshops, Cole emphasizes the importance of constructive feedback.

One of Cole’s books, Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive, deals with the current culture of creative writing feedback, in which “brutal honesty” is championed and ripping works apart is the norm. For Cole, this is a counter-productive measure that builds up a writer’s emotional walls instead of breaking them down, prematurely weeding out fledgling writers with promise.

“Toxic feedback is something that everyone has experienced,” says Cole. “I’m not trying to change a work into what I think it should be,” says Cole. “It needs to be what the writer wants it to be.”

Cole says that she is “all about positive feedback” in her workshops, as it gives writers confidence. According to Cole, the writers that come through her workshops often have to readjust themselves from the negative feedback that they have typically received in the past. While Cole insists that she “does not coddle by any means,” she maintains that pointing out positive elements of a writer’s work produces much better writing than harsher critiques tend to.

“There is always something working in a piece—even if it’s only a sentence, it’s still there,” says Cole. “These writers are trying. They’re putting something out there, and it’s not easy. I just love them. They’re trying to do something important.”

For Cole, this interaction with writers keeps her excited about her own work.

“I’m so passionate about this because I’m a writer myself,” she explains.

by Erin O’Flaherty


Nina Godiwalla’s Suits: A Woman on Wall Street represents the reflection and self-discovery that the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program encourages. As a Creative Writing student, Nina explored and wrote about her experiences as a woman working in corporate finance. Her MALS thesis was the first draft of the book.

Brock Brower and Tom Powers, two of her thesis readers, continued to advise her through the publishing process. “They really encouraged me to write more,” she says. She and Brock, who re-released his book, The Late Great Creature: A Novel, stay in touch and trade publishing advice through Facebook.

While an undergraduate at The University of Texas at Austin, Godiwalla completed several prestigious internships at Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan. These internships earned her a competitive position in corporate finance after she graduated.

“The prestige and power of Wall Street was very attractive,” she says. “Especially coming from an immigrant family in search of the American Dream.”

After several years in the frenetic Wall Street environment, she wanted to discover her true passion. “I wasn’t sure what I was really passionate about,” she says. She decided to pursue a master’s degree at Dartmouth. “I wanted to explore a variety of subjects and find something that sparked my interest.”

“The MALS program helped me think more strategically and critically. So, when I am faced with complex problems, I feel more confident working through them. This has allowed me to be a better strategic thinker, which is critical in my role as the CEO of MindWorks. I have to think very broadly, since I customize leadership courses focused in self-awareness and stress management for various corporations.”

The MALS program exposed her to academics, journalists, writers, and photographers rather than business professionals. “It was an incredible experience because it took me completely out of my element.” She also found at Dartmouth a colleague who could take her story to the broad audience she has now achieved.

“My MALS classmate, Lauren LeBlanc, was my brilliant editor for Suits: A Woman on Wall Street.  Years after we graduated, she read a draft of the manuscript and convinced her publisher that it was a project worth taking on. Thank you, Lauren!”

Nina advises, “if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll wake up and be daunted by each day. However, if you are passionate about what you’re doing, each new challenge will feel exhilarating. So choose your path carefully.”

by Connor McNulty

Is there an Arts and Sciences graduate alum that you’d like to see featured on the The Graduate Forum? Let us know!


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