K.L. Cook

Associate Professor


Office:219 Ross
527 Farm House Ln.
Ames IA
Office Hours:Thursday 11:30-12:30, 3:30-5:30, + by appt.


Courses I Am Teaching

English 557:  Graduate Studies in Creative Writing—Forms of Fiction
English 304: Creative Writing—Fiction
English 554: Graduate Fiction Workshop—Short Story Cycles, Linked Stories, & Novels- in-Stories<


M.F.A.   Warren Wilson College                                  Creative Writing
M.A.      Southern Illinois University-Carbondale       English (Literature)
B.A.       West Texas A&M University                       English & Theatre

Research Areas

Creative writing (fiction and nonfiction), forms of fiction, short story cycles, literature of the American Dream, the American West in film and literature, place-based literature, Shakespeare, family systems in film and literature

About My Teaching

The best classes are, I believe, gift communities.  I want students to think of their writing as a gift—for themselves and for others.  Everything I teach is predicated on this concept.  My primary goal is to give writers permission to take risks—to surprise themselves, to write not only what they know but also what they don’t know about what they know.  I urge them to listen carefully to their own stories and to use their writing, as Kafka said, “as the ax that breaks the frozen sea inside us.”  I want to help students become more accomplished, more aware artists.  Aware of what?  Aware of the possibilities of character and form, aware of the energy of their material, aware of the techniques and strategies that will help them shape their work into something startling and moving, into something that matters, into what John Gardner called “a shining performance.”  Most of all, I try to encourage students to be generous—as writers, as readers, as critics.  I believe the most generous thing I can do is to read students’ novels, stories, and essays carefully, prompt them to think more fully and rigorously about what they’ve written, and offer suggestions about how they might do that in a way that excites them about returning to their work.

How I Came to Teach Creative Writing & Literature

I was the first member of my extended family to earn a college degree, so I particularly empathize with students for whom college, at either the undergraduate or graduate level, is a foreign experience, not only for them but for their families.  I studied both literature and theatre as an undergraduate and graduate student.  After beginning my Ph.D. in literature, I decided that I wanted to learn how to read like a writer and to write my own stories, so I changed directions and pursued my M.F.A. in creative writing with a fiction focus.  In graduate school, I fell in love with teaching and knew that, along with writing, I wanted to spend my life in the classroom discussing classic and contemporary literature as well as the original creative efforts of my students.  Before coming to Iowa State, I taught for many years at Prescott College, a private liberal arts college in the mountains of Arizona that has an innovative experiential curriculum and a strong environmental and social justice mission.  While there, I also served as the Chair of the Arts & Letters Department and the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.  I have taught, as a visiting distinguished scholar/writer-in-residence, at many other colleges and universities around the country.

Recent Publications


  • Last Call (collection of linked stories)10th Anniversary Paperback Edition.  Bison Books/ University of Nebraska Press, 2013.  Inaugural winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.
  • Love Songs for the Quarantined (collection of stories).  Winner of the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction.  Willow Springs Editions, 2011.
  • The Girl from Charnelle (novel).  Winner of the Willa Award for Contemporary Novel.  William Morrow 2006/Harper Perennial 2007.

Recent Stories and Essays

  • “Last Call” (short story).  In The Prairie Schooner Book Prize: Tenth Anniversary Reader.  University of Nebraska Press, 2013.  Originally published in Last Call.
  • “Filament” (short story).  In Best American Mystery Stories.  Houghton Mifflin, 2012.  Originally published in One Story.  Included in Love Songs for the Quarantined.
  • “Bonnie and Clyde in the Backyard” (short story).  In Best of the West: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri.  University of Texas Press, 2011.  Originally published in Glimmer Train Stories.  Included in Love Songs for the Quarantined.  “The Pleasures of Form” (essay).  In Glimmer Train Bulletin, 2011Available online at http://www.glimmertrain.com/b57cook.html.
  • “Narrative Strategy and Dramatic Design” (essay).  In The Writer’s Chronicle.  May-June, 2010.  Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Other recent stories and essays in Brevity, Poets & Writers, Redux, When I Was a Loser: Essays on (Barely) Surviving High School, Now Write: Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers, and Teachable Moments: Essays on Experiential Education.

Current Research  

I work on multiple projects simultaneously, allowing them to cross-pollinate.  I am currently revising a novel, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, the final book in my Last Call Trilogy.  In 2013, I was awarded a research and development grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts to transform a story of mine, “Bonnie and Clyde in the Backyard,” into a novel.  I also have been researching and writing a novel about a Shakespeare festival in the American West.

Outside of the University

I love theatre (especially Shakespeare), film, and travel.  And when I can combine the three, I’m in heaven.