Executive Director: Michael Mercurio
As a 2017 graduate of the Lesley University low-residency MFA program, I believe that the writing community born from our shared experience both on- and off-campus at Lesley doesn’t end at graduation. In fact, it should sustain and support our lifelong writing careers through both rejections and acceptances. That’s why I answered the call from Robbie Gamble and Rex Arrasmith to serve as the first Executive Director for Cambridge Common Writers. During my time in the program, I forged deep connections with many of my fellow students, and came to believe that success was not a limited resource — and that any success of my fellow Lesley writers was worth celebrating.
When I’m not writing and submitting my own poetry, I enjoy editing the work of other writers to bring forth their unique voices. I also serve as associate editor of the Naugatuck River Review and as an editorial board member for Anthropoid: The Collective. I am also a member of the steering committee for the Amherst Poetry Festival, an annual event centered at the Emily Dickinson Museum.
Co-Founder: Rex Carey Arrasmith
Hi all! I am an alumni in Fiction, class of 2018 and Poetry, class of 2020. Like you, I love our Lesley MFA program and hated the feeling of abandonment after it was over. I was surprised to find out that there was no active alumni engagement dedicated solely for our Lesley MFA alums and no way for us to contact each other beyond our immediate cohorts. We cooked up Cambridge Common Writers to fill that void. We are working towards having an available contact list connecting our world wide alumni together. I hope you will join us, we traveled this road together and it doesn’t have to end. Please fill free to contact me at, WrecksWrites@gmail.com or our groups email LesleyCambridgeCommon@gmail.com.
Co-Founder: Robbie Gamble
Greetings! When I graduated from Lesley with an MFA in poetry in 2017, I was astounded to realize that I had built such profound connections with my classmates over two-and-a-half years, and a scanty forty-odd days of actual residency time together. I had stumbled into an extraordinary community of talented and engaging writers, both students and faculty, and I didn’t want that experience of community to end. So I came back for another go-round with the curriculum, this time in nonfiction, and I started talking, first with Rex and then Michael, about ways we could build a dynamic and sustainable organization for Lesley MFA alumni. We came up with the idea of Cambridge Common Writers, to bring alumni together and to support the ongoing mission of the MFA program. Then Julia came on board, and brought this fabulous website into being.
I’m working on a memoir, and sending poems and essays out into the world, while serving as associate poetry editor for Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices. When I’m not perspiring over the keyboard, I work as a nurse practitioner caring for homeless people in Boston.
Website Coordinator & Secretary: Julia Leef
I graduated from Lesley University in June 2018 with an MFA in Fiction and took advantage of my local status in Quincy to continue attending residencies twice a year. I am eternally grateful to the program for the friendships I have made over the years with other people who love the craft of writing as much as I do, and I always look forward to the next residency to see familiar faces and rejuvenate that writing mojo. I am proud to be a part of Cambridge Common Writers as a way to continue in the spirit of those residencies that foster connections between fellow writers and mentors.
When I am not busy running this website I work for Macmillan Learning in Boston and keep on writing while daydreaming about one day owning my own personal library with a secret passageway behind a bookcase. Which, of course, will lead to my writing office, preferably up a tall tower and with even more books inside.
Treasurer: Liz Shick
Joining the Lesley MFA program in 2017 and becoming part of the newly created Cambridge Common Writers a few years later transformed my life as a writer. Living abroad and moving countries often, I’d struggled for years to find a writing community. From my first day at Lesley, I found what I was looking for. I loved everything about residency—the workshops, the seminars, the readings—but the very best part was being surrounded by other writers, people who shared my love of words and craft, and understood the magic of being fully immersed in a piece of writing. I was thrilled when Rex, Robbie, Michael, and Julia took the initiative to start an alumni association and continue to be amazed at the vibrant community CCW has become.
In Spring 2021, I began volunteering for CCW, helping conduct and upload spotlight interviews onto the website. When my debut novel, The Golden Land, won the AWP Prize for the Novel a few months later, and was published in December 2022, CCW and the Lesley community cheered me through the ups and downs of publication. In joining the CCW Board, I look forward to putting my previous Board experience to work to help the association continue to grow and thrive, and to support the writing journeys of our fellow alumni.
Member at Large: Aqueela C. Britt
Hello fellow writers! Graduating from Lesley University in 2018 with my MFA in Fiction has been one of the most rewarding experiences. The bonds I formed during my time at Lesley with current and former students as well as the bonds formed with faculty and staff surpasses all I could have imagined through such an experience. I have the great fortune of living in the Metro Boston area which allows me to attend post-graduate residencies and social gatherings associated with the Lesley MFA program. I discovered that I was in constant need of the connections formed through this program. Needless to say, I was thrilled when Cambridge Commons Writers stepped onto the scene as a way to foster such relationships. The opportunity to join the CCW Board was kismet as it aligns with my work as an alumni ambassador and my passion toward this program. When I am not working on a variety of novel ideas, I am serving in my roll as Academic Advisor at Simmons University in the SW@Simmons Master of Social Work program. My clinical passion is to incorporate writing and storytelling as a framework for at risk youth, particularly those moving through the child protection system. In addition to my CCW Board role, I also sit on the Board of Trustees at the Charles River School in Dover, MA where I am a current parent. Charles River is a Prek-8 independent school where much of my board work centers on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Member-At-Large: Kate Fussner
My time in Lesley’s MFA program meant the world to me, and I am so grateful to be a board member for CCW. I’m a graduate of the WFYP track (June 2022) and I had a particularly strange experience in the program, because I had two wonderful on-campus semesters before the pandemic moved the rest of my time in the program to Zoom. Thankfully, I live locally so it is easy for me to visit every residency (as I fully intend to do…forever).
After over a decade of teaching in Boston Public Schools, I recently became a full-time writer. My thesis for my MFA earned me representation from my agent, Eric Smith at P.S. Literary, and my first two-book deal with HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books. My queer middle grade novel-in-verse, The Song of Us, will be out on May 30, 2023. I’m currently hard at work on my second middle grade novel, as well as a YA project. When I’m not writing, you can find me baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie, walking my overly dramatic dog Weasley, or spending time with my wife.
Member-at-Large: Jo-Anne Hart
I surprised myself by returning to grad school and then graduating with a Lesley MFA, in 2019. What I’ve learned about myself in this process is mind-boggling. Now I want everyone to study storytelling. And recently I’ve even gone a step further by trying to perform my work. By far the highlight of my new foray into performing is winning the Grand Slam Prize at the 2022 KO Radical Festival of Performance Story Slam, Amherst, MA.
In Lesley’s Graduate School of Education, I teach in the MA program for integrating arts – including a course on storytelling and another one on art, culture, and community. In Lesley’s undergraduate college I teach International Relations, Social Policy, Global Family Policy, Contemporary Middle East Studies, and postwar American History.
I also work as a practitioner in international conflict resolution and am active with the international peacemaking NGO Search for Common Ground, where I also serve as Chair of the Emeritus Board of Directors. That last bit should help me with CCW: Alums of the World Unite!
Member-at-Large: Jennifer Kudelka (J. Jean)
I am passionate about using humor to inform and heal and often find myself leaning toward the comedic when writing. I loved my time at Lesley and sincerely believe in the value of community. My work has been produced through The 4208 Group, ArtFactory, Applause Theater, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival. When I’m not writing, I’m working as a Social Worker through Hennepin County, Mn to set up in-home services for persons with severe and persistent mental illness. I love to travel and am a bit of an adrenaline junkie (I’m happy to jump out of a plane when the opportunity presents itself). I live at home in Mn with my wife and rescue dog.
Faculty Representative, ex officio: Tracey Baptiste
When I was asked to join the faculty at Lesley University, I hadn’t even considered teaching in an MFA program. But the idea of being in community at a low-residency program with writers, poets, and playwrights whose work I admired sounded like an incredible opportunity. And it still is. I love working with new writers, helping them discover their voice, and seeing how they do out in the world. The Lesley community feels like an oasis to me, and I’m grateful that Cambridge Common Writers nurtures our student community long past graduation.
In addition to teaching at Lesley, I write (mostly) books for young readers, from picture books to novels and graphic novels, fiction, nonfiction. My books have been on the New York Times bestseller’s list, have made numerous “best of” lists, and been nominated for multiple awards. You can find out more on my website.
Thank You to the Former Members of our Board!
Your contributions to Cambridge Common Writers have shaped us into the organization we are today.
The Board of Cambridge Common Writers reserves the right to determine the contents of our website, including the selection of community members featured in our programs, promotions, and other events or materials.