Aggie Stewart ’22 (MFA), a Newport MFA student in the Creative Writing Program, is a published yoga therapist and writer who has made it her goal to pursue healing methods for trauma survivors and others in difficult emotional or medical situations.
The catalyst for his journey? A lifelong love for writing and yoga, as well as a family tragedy that shaped her life.
A lifelong love for writing and yoga
Growing up in South Chicago, Illinois as one of the youngest children in her family, Aggie Stewart looked up to her older siblings.
“We were a family of readers,” Stewart described. “I always wanted to be like the big kids, so I fought hard to read.”
Stewart had a strong imagination and a love for reading and writing. In elementary school, Stewart’s sixth grade teacher allowed her to write her first creative story, and she loved it. She carried that love for writing with her through high school and college.
Stewart earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Latin from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After her undergraduate studies, Stewart continued to nurture her love for creative writing and creating literary works. Stewart continued her pursuits in publishing, technical and business writing, and landed several editorial positions in Chicago. Her writing and editing skills also guided her to become a freelance writer and editor when she left Chicago and moved to New England.
Along with writing, Stewart trained as a certified yoga therapist and described herself as a dedicated yogi. A yoga therapist is different from an average yoga teacher in that they use ancient yoga methods such as breathing and embodiment techniques along with modern scientific methods to help people cope with a variety physical and emotional problems.
Stewart specializes in the therapeutic application of yogic practices for people who have experienced trauma or have been diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. In 2019 Aggie released “Yoga as Self-Care for Healthcare Practitioners” with Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers in the UK and US.
“I’ve always been interested in finding a way to combine my passion for writing and editing and my passion for yoga,” Stewart said. “I looked at how yoga specifically supported creative expression.”
Wanting to dig deeper into her creative work, Stewart researched MFA programs. A good friend encouraged her to check out the new Newport MFA program at Salve Regina.
“When I heard Ann Hood was starting this program, I went to a few open houses and had a chat with Ann about the program,” Stewart explained.
After meeting Hood in person and seeing the Salve Regina campus in Newport, Stewart knew he was the right person for her.
Writing with the Newport MFA
Salve Regina’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, the Newport MFA, holds residencies twice a year in January and June. Faculty mentors guide writers in the genres of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and historical fiction as they work on their manuscripts. The residency offers gender-based workshops, craft talks, readings and social opportunities. One of the unique elements of the residency is the cross-genre workshop where students of all genders come together to generate writing around a specific theme or skill.
As part of the creative non-fiction genre, Stewart worked closely with students of the same genre. Collaborating with other students in the program during the cross-gender workshop was one of Stewart’s favorite parts of her residency.
“We learned from our colleagues who worked in different genres and how they would approach a prompt or similar topic from their particular lens,” Stewart said.
Entering the MFA in Newport, Stewart had a very specific project in mind. She wanted to write about the traumatic experiences she and her family went through growing up in the shadow of her aunt’s murder, which took place when her mother was pregnant with Stewart. It was a closely guarded secret for many years, but the reality was like a shadow within Stewart’s family.
The material Stewart had to work through for his memoir is dark and heavy, and Stewart struggled with the heart of the story, as there were multiple stories to tell.
“I spent a lot of time in the program trying to figure out what that story was about,” Stewart said. “As I got closer and closer to it, I also struggled with the fact that it was dark with a lot of heavy emotions in it.”
Not wanting to distract readers, Stewart had to learn to emotionally pace his story. She says she finds all kinds of advice and support for pacing a story narratively, but none on how to pacing the emotions that live beneath the plot. Stewart found no answer to her question, so she undertook her own study by doing critical thesis work for her MFA.
Learn emotional rhythm for writing about childhood trauma
“Emotional Pacing in Memoirs of Childhood Familial Trauma” was Stewart’s completed thesis upon completion of her MFA. Bernadette Murphy, an assistant professor and one of Stewart’s mentors at Newport’s MFA, encouraged her to post an essay on the subject and apply to present a panel on the subject at the Association of Writers & Writing conference. Programs (AWP Conference), an annual destination. for writers, teachers, students, editors and publishers of contemporary creative writing that attracts thousands of people.
Stewart submitted a short essay on the subject to Brevity: a journal of concise literary non-fiction, as well as an essay on Assay, a journal of non-fiction studies. After reading the short essay, Assay wanted to publish the full thesis. Stewart’s panel proposal on Emotional Rhythm in Trauma Narrative has also been accepted for the AWP conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2022.
To read Stewart’s thesis, “Emotional Pacing: Lessons in Writing a Trauma Narrative”, visit Publication of the essay here.
As Stewart reflected on the work she did with her multiple mentors and colleagues during Newport’s MFA, she credits several adjunct professors who currently teach or have taught in the past, including Edgar Kunz, Alden Jones, Bernadette Murphy, and Danielle Trusonni , for helping guide her. through his critical and creative thesis.
“I’m proud of where I am now, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without my mentors and my cohort of colleagues,” Stewart said.
Stewart continued to write her memoirs as well as several essays. She is also developing a holistic writing coaching business and creating classes on various creative writing topics, as well as contemplative practices to support writing. She will begin teaching these courses in 2023.
Article by student writer Morgan Rizzo ’23
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