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UW MFA Creative Writing Program Student Published in The Atlantic

March 4, 2014
Woman smiling
Adrian Shirk

A University of Wyoming MFA Creative Writing Program student’s short retrospective on the emergence and disappearance of women’s liberation rhetoric in tobacco advertisements was the subject of a recent story published in The Atlantic.

The magazine published “The Death of the Cool Feminist Smoker,” by Adrian Shirk of Portland, Ore., an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction. The article goes back 40 years ago, when women's lib was used to peddle cigarettes.

Shirk surveyed the campaigns of Virginia Slims and other female-targeted brands as well as the mid-90s anti-tobacco public service advertisements that focused specifically on the loss of a young woman’s good looks. Her essay offers an historical glimpse of a complicated moment in American advertising, second-wave feminism as it went out of style, and changing attitudes in American health.

In her piece, Shirk asks, “How did the notion of freedom from the patriarchy become synonymous with the freedom to self-harm? What was the fantasy women had of themselves, as smokers or as women who’d ‘come a long way?’ Why did the rhetoric of women’s liberation lose its potency for the young women of the ‘80s and ‘90s?”

To read her essay “The Death of the Cool Feminist Smoker” in The Atlantic, visit the website at

Shirk, who also is a producer for Wyoming Public Radio, has published in The Airship, Wilder Quarterly, Packet and Owl Eye Review. She co-founded a small press, The Corresponding Society, and she holds a BFA in writing for publication, performance and media from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.

She's at work on a book about American prophetesses and also a collection of epistolary essays with poet Amber Stewart.

Shirk says she was “totally astonished -- and honored -- to have a piece appearing in The Atlantic.”

The Atlantic is an American magazine founded in 1857 as The Atlantic Monthly in Boston, Mass., and now is based in Washington, D.C. It was created as a literary and cultural commentary magazine and quickly achieved a national reputation that it has held for more than 150 years. The magazine recognizes and publishes new writers and poets, and encourages emerging careers for writers.

Shirk says she was drawn to UW’s MFA Program for many reasons, but mainly for “the great deal of freedom it afforded the students for creative roaming, scholarly exploration and hybrid work.

“MFA Director Beth Loffreda, and all the faculty, made it clear from the get-go that they would help support nearly anything we wanted to do, which is to say, help us make time, give constant and careful feedback, and point out resources,” she says. “The program also seemed to attract some of the most serious, cutting-edge, hard-to-snag professors and visiting writers, and I figured that had to be the case for a reason.”

After finishing her MFA degree at UW, Shirk hopes to continue writing and to work in some combination of public radio, teaching and freelance editorial work.

For more information about the MFA Creative Writing Program, call (307) 766-6453 or visit the program’s website at

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