John and Olivia McDonough ’13, Creative Writing

Two Published Writers Prepared to Make an Impact Beyond NVU


When John McDonough ’13 switched his major from political science to creative writing, he didn’t know how much the decision would impact his life. In addition to renewing his passion for writing and being inspired to earn a graduate degree, he met the fellow NVU student he would marry.

Both John and his wife, English major Olivia Lawrance McDonough ’13, were mentored by Elizabeth Powell, director of the Bachelor of Fine Arts creative writing program. John changed his major after Professor Powell encouraged him with his writing.

At NVU, Olivia and John found the hands-on experiences, close faculty relationships, and a supportive campus community that helped them succeed — at NVU and in graduate school, which Professor Powell encouraged them to consider.

Without the push from Professor Powell, “I would have been intimidated about pursuing a master’s degree,” Olivia says. “She instilled in me the idea that there was so much possible and that I was capable of pursuing it. I don’t think I would be where I am now without that idea being fostered in me.”

Real-World Experience and Life-long Connections at NVU

Olivia and John each earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing. The real-world opportunities they pursued at NVU prepared them well for graduate school.

They both read submissions and did editing for NVU’s Gihon River Review (now called Pamplemousse) and Green Mountains Review, attended professional writing conferences around the country, and networked with writers and poets invited to campus.

“I was blown away by the number of world-class writers I was exposed to and worked with in the classroom,” John says. “That stands out as one of the most valuable things for me at NVU as I move forward in life as a writer.”

“Meeting high-caliber writers…clarified and distilled the work of being a writer. I gained a good understanding of how to cultivate creativity in everyday life,” Olivia says.

Olivia and John met in one of Professor Powell’s creative writing classes, and she officiated at their wedding.

Ready to Excel in Graduate School

With NVU’s caring faculty, relevant writing courses, and liberal arts tradition that provides a well-rounded education, John and Olivia were ready for graduate studies and writing pursuits.

John and Olivia each made an impact in graduate school. At Wichita State University, Olivia was a graduate teaching assistant and writing center tutor. At the University of New Hampshire, John was a teaching assistant.

Exposure to different writing styles by working with NVU’s literary magazines and evaluating other writers’ work was helpful to them as graduate students, when they reviewed their peers’ writing in workshops. “NVU’s creative writing program was run in a very similar fashion to my graduate program,” John says.

Influencing Future Writers through their Careers

Their involvement with the NVU literary community is helping Olivia and John create a writers’ network at Dickinson State University in North Dakota, where she coordinates the tutoring center and he’s an enrollment recruiter. They help arrange author visits, readings, and workshops on campus. Both published writers, they continue to pursue opportunities to publish their work.

NVU influences their work at Dickinson State, too.

John recently worked with Native American reservations in Montana on ways to make college accessible. “I’ve been elated to create more pathways for folks…That has been tremendously rewarding for me,” he says. “One of my strengths is dealing very well with nonconventional students. I’ve been taught to think creatively and outside the box, and that’s something I trace to NVU.”

Olivia draws on her NVU experiences in helping students at Dickinson State’s tutoring center.

“I form great one-on-one relationships with students. I know their full name, life story, and who their professors are…The most rewarding thing for me is watching students succeed,” she says. “NVU instilled in me the values of fostering relationships and of giving back. Those are two of the main values I aim for in my career now. I really want to give students what I got at NVU. I want to create a place where they can have that.”