Nathan Dragon: An M.F.A. Graduate Student Spotlight
November 3, 2022
Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, third-year Master of Fine Arts student Nathan Dragon was busy falling in love with Tucson, Arizona. Tucson is where he would love to live again after he finishes his studies in Blacksburg. During his time in Tucson, Dragon and his fiancée, Raegan Bird, wanted to start a residency program to bring other writers and artists to the location he deems the most beautiful place he’s ever lived.
Although the residency program didn’t pan out, Dragon and Bird started Blue Arrangements, an online publication that produces the Lazy Susan. Dragon describes Lazy Susans as online journals/art shows, and the annual publication includes contemporary prose, poetry, and art. Of his work with Blue Arrangements, Dragon explains it is a flexible workload allowing he and Bird to work on the publication as they can while not having to pressure themselves with hard deadlines that might take away from their other responsibilities. Such a sustainable model allows Dragon to pursue other endeavors, whether these are educational or his self-proclaimed hobby of playing guitar badly.
Dragon’s work with Blue Arrangements places him on one side of the publisher’s desk, but he has seen the business from the other side as well, publishing over 10 stories in NOON Annual. This is an independent literary journal published and edited by Diane Williams.
“I feel really connected to NOON because it was my first invitation to writing and being taken seriously,” he said.
Dragon’s first story in NOON, “The Rest of It,” was published in 2017. It was then that Dragon got his first glimpse into literary society as he headed to New York for the launch. As the youngest contributor there, Dragon realized how much of a big a deal his acceptance was into NOON.
As he learned more about NOON and its editor, Dragon felt a bit of imposter syndrome, he said, but his continued acceptance into the magazine proved his work deserved to be showcased. Dragon has also read for NOON at two different launches, one in Toronto and one at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn, New York, a place Dragon describes as cultish and corporate.
In addition to Blue Arrangements and writing his own fiction, Dragon is focusing on his thesis and other responsibilities as an upper-level M.F.A. student at Virginia Tech.
“My thesis is about trying to be cool with where you are,” he said and added that various members of the English faculty, including Matthew Vollmer, Evan Lavender-Smith, and Silas Cassinelli are encouraging about his topic.
His relationship with Vollmer began before Dragon set foot in Blacksburg. Vollmer called and asked Dragon if he had made a decision regarding his acceptance into Virginia Tech’s M.F.A. program. At the time, Dragon hadn’t, but it was this extra care that helped push him in the direction of packing up and heading to the East Coast.
Dragon speaks highly of Vollmer, both of his teaching and his mentorship. His guidance has helped Dragon throughout his career, and he says Vollmer has a special knack for reminding him where some of his initial impulses began.
“Professor Vollmer helps see through the stress and relates it to some of the ideas of how the project first started,” Dragon said. “And he takes the time to really engage with his students’ work and prompt it in the right direction.”
Another faculty member Dragon has worked with extensively throughout his career is Evan Lavender-Smith, who Dragon describes as an “incredible editor.” Much like Vollmer, Lavender-Smith’s commitment to his students is clear, as he sat with Dragon one evening and went through every page of a manuscript draft together.
“I really can’t believe someone would do that… it’s really generous,” Dragon said of his work with Lavender-Smith and the time his mentor took to help him grow as a student and writer.
Silas Moon Cassinelli has also played an important role in Dragon’s career here at Virginia Tech, and Dragon speaks fondly of an essay he wrote in Cassinelli’s class on slowness.
“Dr. Cassinelli, along with Professor Vollmer, have helped me work on the concept of slowness in my work,” Dragon said. Dragon got interested in slowness by reading Norwegian writer Jon Fosse’s “Septology” and learning more about Fosse. Fosse has been cited as saying he writes slow prose, which is “fiction that takes its time, is a bit meandering and hypnotic, and doesn’t rush from one thing to the next.”
Dragon explains that all three of these professors possess a nice, caring generosity. And these descriptions can be extended to the Virginia Tech English Department faculty as a whole.
In his last year of the M.F.A. program, Dragon hopes to leave Blacksburg with a draft of a third book and to spend more time exploring Blacksburg.
“It sounds funny because it's my third year, but I'm looking forward to trying to get out and learn a little bit more about Blacksburg and surrounding towns," he said. "My first year was spent entirely on Zoom and in the apartment.”
Looking beyond Virginia Tech, Dragon would love to get back to Tucson. Taking a page from his own thesis, Dragon explains that his goal is to just figure out what would be the best thing for him to do next. He doesn’t want to have any plans so that he can enjoy the challenge of figuring out what’s next as it happens.
He said that’s a mindset that he has benefitted from in the past. In addition to this mindset, Dragon’s advice for English students is to never stop reading and writing, but to also go easy on themselves if they need to take a few months off.
Written by Hannah Ballowe, an M.A. student in the Department of English.