Author Spotlight: Pablo Cartaya & MFA in Writing

Sept. 23, 2016

This week KidLit411 presents author Pablo Cartaya

Pablo is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade books, THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA and MARCUS VEGA DOESN'T SPEAK SPANISHh. This past summer Pablo led the new low residency MFA in Writing for Children & Teens at the Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe and we've invited him to share more about the program with us. 

Welcome Pablo! 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! Well, I'm a Virgo. I'm Cuban American and I love spending time reading on the beach and listening to my kids playing in the sand. I secretly (not so secretly) love musical theatre,. I'm a basketball fanatic, oh wait, that's not what you're looking for is it? 

Ahem, let me start over. I'm an author who has organized literary festivals, led literary initiatives (in English y en EspaƱol), and served on committees that promote literacy in places all over the country. This past summer, I had the privilege of leading the new low residency MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe.

Can you tell me what the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults is exactly?

It's a Master's degree program geared for writers and working professionals looking to obtain a terminal degree while working with writers and industry professionals in the field (in our case, the field of writing for children & young adults) who serve as faculty mentors and advisors. This MFA is a terminal degree that gives you the ability to teach at the collegiate level, has possible financial advancement opportunities for K-12 teachers, and provides writers tools for publication. But really there is a great deal more you get.

What exactly is low residency?

Many low residency MFAs are similar in their structure and many have incredible programs but allow me to talk about Sierra Nevada College Lake Tahoe for a moment. The low residency format at SNC means there are a total of five residencies that students attend physically on campus. There are two 10-day residencies a year (early January and early August) on our beautiful campus in Lake Tahoe with one overseas trip every fifth residency. 

While in residency, students attend track-specific workshops and also have a choice of electives they can take that cover various areas of writing and literature in general. There are also community readings, mini lectures and panels, special guest author, agent, and editor visits, and several excursions to inspire the creative spirit. 

Our program Director, the wonderful poet and all around awesome dude, Brian Turner had the brilliant idea of putting all disciplines together in one residency. That means the Writing for Children and Young Adult track students are immersed with the Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and Poetry students throughout residency. It really makes for a wonderful combination of writers creating together under the auspices of our beautiful campus. We are all writers after all and the community at SNC Tahoe is a testament to that.

So what happens after the physical residency on campus?

After each residency you are paired with a faculty mentor for the semester. A semester is in the Fall and the Spring. During the semester you write and read and analyze work in the field that helps you in your own writing. Your mentor is a working writer for the first three semesters and for your final one it is a working editor. 

This is unique because no program in the country offers students the opportunity to work with a working editor in their field of study. The idea is you are working to complete a publishable manuscript by the time you graduate in your fifth residency. So you have three major things you will have upon graduation:

1. A terminal Master's degree enabling you teach in the field.

2. A publishable quality manuscript

3. A series of faculty mentors who will become your champions as you journey forth after graduation

Wow, that's pretty cool! Does that guarantee getting published?

No, I'm afraid it doesn't but I can assure you it will make you incredibly prepared because of the various mentorships and the level of work you will do throughout your graduate education. Plus there is a great network of life long colleagues you build throughout your time in the program. It's a program built for the life of a working writer and meant to prepare you for that life.

You mentioned faculty mentors who are also authors. Can you tell me who they are?

We have several faculty on staff but our core consists of several award-winning and NYT bestselling authors and illustrators including: Lisa Papademetriou, Joe McGee, Gayle Brandeis, Chris Millis, myself, and literary agent Jess Regel. Yes, we have a literary agent on faculty. There are visiting faculty that come to residencies like Ellen Hopkins among others. And we will soon have an editor from one of the major houses on staff also. I can't say who yet but it's really cool. All in all you are getting the top of the top in faculty mentors here at SNC Tahoe.

You mentioned an oversees residency?

Oh yes. And it's amazing. What you see below is Goblin Hill, Jamaica and those gorgeous bungalows are where students, faculty, and staff will be staying from January 2-11, 2017 for Winter residency. Yes, this coming January residency we'll be in Jamaica reading, writing, and creating under the blue skies and waters of Jamaica. Can you tell I'm excited?

Amazing! So what does one have to do to apply?

You apply here ( 

Admissions are rolling so there's time to apply and get on the Jamaica trip this January because, you know, it's Jamaica for writers!

Any last thoughts you want to share?

Look, it's a big step to get your MFA. Like I mentioned there are great programs out there. SNC Tahoe is unique in that it offers an editor semester, has an agent on faculty actively mentoring students, and residencies where every discipline in literature spends time together. It's a wonderful place to get a terminal master's degree.

How can we reach you if we have questions?

Send me an email to pcartaya (at) sierranevada (dot) edu. I am happy to serve as a guide in your application process and to answer any questions. SNC Tahoe isn't a massive institution (even though the college has been around since 1969). It's a personalized experience with a world class organization that is actively seeking unique voices in children's literature. 

Thanks so much for having me!

Pablo Cartaya is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade books, THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA and MARCUS VEGA DOESN'T SPEAK SPANISH  (Viking Children’s Books/Penguin Random House), and the co-author of the picture book, TINA COCOLINA: QUEEN OF THE CUPCAKES  (Random House Children’s Books).

Pablo has been a guest lecturer at Florida International University’s Exile Studies Program, visited schools throughout the northeast and South Florida, and hosted many literary events throughout the region. Pablo has led the development of various literary programs through The Betsy-South Beach's Philanthropy, Arts, Culture, and Education programs and has served on many panels and presentations. He holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA from Loyola Marymount University and currently serves as lead faculty for at Sierra Nevada College's low residency MFA in the Writing for Children and Young Adults track. He calls Miami home.


  1. I've corresponded with Pablo about the program, and I can vouch that he's eminently helpful and encouraging! Great to hear more from him on here


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