Kelly McHugh-Stewart graduated from the MFA in Creative Writing Program in May of 2018. Formerly a sports journalist, Kelly focused on nonfiction during her time at The New School and is currently working on a memoir about her father, U.S. Army Colonel John McHugh, who was killed in action in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, The Kansas City Star, The Associated Press, Huffington Post and Brooklyn Magazine among others. Kelly was recently named a contributing writer for The War Horse and currently works at The New School as Assistant Director of Academic Communications for the Schools of Public Engagement.
1. Who is your favorite villain, and who is your favorite protagonist in literature?
I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, and not as much fiction as want to, so right now I don’t have a favorite villain that comes to mind. As for a favorite protagonist, I did recently read Patty Yumi Cotrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace. I started this book not knowing what to expect from its narrator and main character, Helen Moran, but the more I read the more I was swept away by her character.
2. When did you know you were a writer?
I’ve loved writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember, but I think the first time I considered myself as a “writer” was in fifth grade. I was filling up notebooks like crazy, so my parents bought me a little blue word processor for Christmas and I spent all of my free time typing stories on it and uploading them to our family computer. I was obsessed with American history and wrote two “books” that year, one very dramatic tale about a girl on the Oregon Trail (loosely based off of the popular computer game, so, yes, everyone dies) and another about a girl whose father serves in World War II.
3. What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a memoir about my father, U.S. Army Colonel John M. McHugh, who was killed in action in Kabul, Afghanistan. I’ve done a lot of searching, and I’ve yet to find a book written about a Gold Star child (the title given to a child who lost a parent in the line of duty) since the Vietnam War. I’m excited to change that. I’m currently working on my proposal with an amazing team of agents at Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agency and hopefully will have the book out in the world in the next few years.
4. How has your writing process changed over the years?
My writing process is ever-changing, and it’s taken me a while to really accept that. I’m in a new phase of life, working full time, so my writing happens more sporadically now than it did when I was a student. Ideally, I’d like to be the kind of person who wakes up at 5 am, fixes a pot of coffee, and writes for a few hours before work, but that doesn’t always happen. Overall, my goal is to jot down a bit of writing every day regardless of where I am or what that looks like. Whether it’s working on my book or simply filling out a page in my journal on the train, as long as I kept up my writing habit I’ll call it a successful day.
5. Describe your writing style in one sentence.
I try to keep my writing honest and objective while telling the whole story without holding back.
Five Questions, by Nicole L. Drayton. Nicole is a writer, screenwriter and independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from The New School, and currently works for the university in the MFA in Creative Writing Program office.