An estate gift from Amanda Kaufmann will benefit mentorship in the creative writing program.
When Amanda (Shaver) Kaufmann majored in creative writing at the University of Arizona in the late 1980s and early 90s, she honed her skills through workshop-style classes in fiction and playwriting. But it was also her experiences outside of the classroom that helped her launch a successful career in educational publishing.
Kaufmann worked with her undergraduate adviser to craft a for-credit internship and went through the yellow pages cold calling local publishing companies to find one that would take her on. She got interest from Zephyr Press, a small Tucson publishing company that specialized in professional development for educators.
While she says the small press didn’t know what to do with her at first, Kaufmann found a mentor in editor Stacey Lynn – a relationship that lasted until Lynn died of cancer a few years ago. The internship also led to connections that got Kaufmann her first job after graduation and helped her develop her career in the educational publishing world.
Kaufmann hopes to provide similar experiences for UA creative writing majors through an estate gift to the program. She and her husband, Matthew Kaufmann – a UA alumnus in engineering – made a plan to give half of their estate to the University of Arizona. About 25 percent of the total estate is earmarked for creative writing in the Department of English.
“I feel personally that there is a place and a need for good writing and literate folks in the world,” Kaufmann said. “These disciplines do not receive funds. So, it was really important to me to funnel something in that direction.”
After a few years of technical writing and editing, Kaufmann began doing freelance work for educational publishers. She completed a master’s in teaching English from California State University, East Bay in 2011.
Today, Kaufmann heads her own consultancy, CA Thrasher Editorial, working with textbook authors to create video tutorials. She writes scripts and directs the video productions, illuminating topics primarily in the sciences for college students.
“I feel really empowered by the things that I’ve done in my career, and I‘d like to share that with other women who are up and coming.”
Kaufmann is currently working with Ander Monson, the head of the UA’s creative writing program, to develop a student internship at Thrasher. She hopes to mentor young students and to provide an experience similar to her first internship in publishing.
“It’s amazing when I look back at how pivotal it was in my life,” Kaufmann said. “It’s a win-win. I give someone some experience like I had, and I get some help.”
The couple lives in the Bay Area where Matthew works in the electronics industry. While Kaufmann acknowledges that they are younger than most donors to the UA, she insists that making their estate plan was just part of being responsible adults.
In the longer term, Kaufmann said she hopes the gift will open doors for students facing financial and other hardships, particularly women. She points to her own traditional upbringing in a family that was male oriented.
“In this day and age and with what is going on in the world, I want women and girls to feel that they are valuable,” Kaufmann said. “I feel really empowered by the things that I’ve done in my career, and I‘d like to share that with other women who are up and coming.”
Monson is excited about the possibilities Kaufmann’s gift holds for the undergraduate program. He hopes to develop more formal programs for connecting creative writing students with editors, publishers, agents, and other writers. Right now those connections happen on a more ad-hoc basis.
“I take this as a mandate to really work on building these opportunities that were so influential for Amanda and make sure they remain in a real way and are expanded for our current students and the ones to come,” he said.
Kaufmann said she left the small town where she grew up in upstate New York to come to the UA because she wanted adventure – she’d never even visited campus before she arrived. After starting out as an art major, she chose to switch to creative writing as a more “business-minded” career.
She still finds time to fuel her more artistic side though. Kaufmann recently began a collaboration with Victor Miller, the screenwriter for the first Friday the 13th movie.
“After all this time of me assisting other writers I got that itch to write for myself, to do something of my own,” Kaufmann said.
The result is Mother’s Milk, a dark comedy Kaufmann wrote inspired by Miller’s life. Miller plays himself in the short film. Kaufmann hopes to release the film in time for Mother’s Day and plans to enter it into film festivals.
Monson hopes to bring both Kaufmann and Miller to Tucson for a screening of the film and a chance to connect with current students. He’s hoping the experience – and Kaufmann’s estate gift in general – will get students excited about what they can do with a creative writing degree.
“I hope that the estate gift will allow us to make clearer the range of possibilities available to creative writing students at this university,” Monson said. “We want to make those opportunities for discovery more salient for students.”
This story originally appeared in the SBS Developments 2018 magazine