Tag Archives: MFA Programs

Advice to My Students About MFAs

is over on the Huffington Post today.  The essay is much more in favor of MFA’s than the pull-out quote would indicate.  Check it out, comment, repost, retweet, if you’re interested.

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Drumroll please. Today’s post is on the Huffington Post!!

It was really hard not to put that last bit in all caps because Wordamour really wanted to SHOUT IT!!

But yes, I have, with several of my esteemed colleagues, published a defense of creative writing programs in the Huffington Post.  It’s been in the works since Anis Shivani’s piece appeared the weeks ago (our piece links to it).  So please read, comment and share on your social network of choice!  We want to spread the word.

You’ll find it here.

Bye y’all!



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What should MFA students demand from their programs, part 2.

So, what would I add to Niles’ list?

1. Teachers who read their students work.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but one might be suspicious of teachers who always want their students to read their work out loud to them. It might be a sign they don’t want to do too much reading beforehand, preferring the “off the cuff” method of verbal critique that not coincidentally significantly reduces their paper load and/or workload outside of class.
I’m not exaggerating about this, folks. I’ve been in sessions with teachers bluffing their way through a student’s work; occasionally it was even my own.

To wit, I once read a lengthy tribute to the beloved George Garrett in which the admirer fondly recalled listening to Garrett hold forth about a student’s work even when, well, ahem. . . uh, it became clear that Garrett hadn’t actually read it.

Apparently, it was enough just to be in the legendary writer’s presence.

Garrett’s volume of work and service to the field is also legendary and I have no intention of dimming the light that shines upon it. But it doesn’t make not reading a student’s work and then critiquing it as part of one’s employment responsibilities any more acceptable, especially when one considers that Garrett himself was an enormous influence, as a teacher, on other teachers of creative writing.

2. Programs that promote practice and purpose, not personality. Along with the star system, the cult of personality has a tendency to reign supreme in MFA programs. See #1.

I could write much more about this subject, and have, actually, here on this blog and elsewhere, but some of this is going to be in my book, currently titled Rethinking Creative Writing in Higher Education: Programs and Practices that Work. I don’t want to give it all away. Buying cows and free milk and all that.

Bye y’all,

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What should MFA students demand from their programs? Part 1

Erika Dreifus, over at the esteemed Practicing Writing (seriously, writers, if you don’t read her blog regularly, you need to, she’s on my blogroll ) has drawn my attention to Robert Niles’ post, Eight things that journalism students should demand from their journalism schools. Of course, fellow MFA alum Dreifus wondered aloud “What should MFA students demand from their programs?” and then asked her readers to comment.

Well, Erika, here’s my response:

First of all, anyone seriously interested in this subject should read Niles’ post carefully and not just go by my summary because his arguments are lucid, pointed and convincing. They also demonstrate that despite the fact that MFA students ply their trade in the literary realm, their needs are really not very different from aspiring journalists:

Mentors, check.
Employment contacts, check.
A place to hack, that is, to try out emerging media such as blogging and other forms of digitial writing. Check.
Work contacts, not just internships but work outside the field ( go read what he says about this). Check.
Deep knowledge of a field other than journalism. Check. In journalism, this is known as a “beat field.” In creative writing, it’s known as a niche.

Opportunities to “get your name out there.” Check.
Passion for the field and for teaching it to the next generation. Check.

Those are all things that MFA programs should be doing for their students. And if you’re considering spending several years in such a program, you need to find one that recognizes its responsibilities to its students in the 21st century.

Of course, there are a few things I might add, which are in the next post, “What should MFA students demand from their programs, part 2.”
See y’all over there,

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Arkansas Literary Forum. . .and, a contest!

The Arkansas Literary Forum, the annual online journal of Arkansas writing edited by Marck Beggs, has hit the wires, so to speak.  And what a liteary smorgasboard.  Great stuff from great writers, too many to list without repeating the table of contents.  A special section by and about Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, incredible art from Nancy Dunaway.  And, yes, a personal essay from yours truly and a story from my husband, John Vanderslice.  Check it out.

In the midst of workon my book, Burning Down the Garrett: Revising Creative Writing in Higher Education, I am knee deep in reading about every MFA program listed on the Associated Writing Programs website, with the goal of creating an honor roll of programs breaking the mold and spotlighting a few particularly cutting edge programs.  About halfway through the fifty states (with several big states to go, phew), I can make a couple of perhaps not-so-suprising observations, namely that: programs housed in schools of art tend to be particularly forward leaning, as are programs in universities that in or near cities (though this is not always true).  It’s the rural programs that tend to be more old school.  More on this as it develops. 

In other news. . .

It was a good weekend: crafting, bread baking, chili-making, flu-shot obtaining (we’re all covered now), library visiting, UCA football (we won although my son’s favorite player, Brent Grimes, didn’t get the kind of playing time he usually does), and cruising the Sunday holiday open house downtown.  In spite of the fact that I was fighting crankiness about heading off to a conference this week.  Not that I don’t love conferences once I’m there, but I miss my husband and kiddos.  Also, this is the beginning of my annual November push where I’m away from home three weekends in a row; National Writing Project conference, Thanksgiving in Fayetteville  (with some of my favorite relatives), then Memphis for the St. Jude’s marathon my husband runs in.  Even though the latter two are great family fun, it’s hard to be away three weekends in a row just before the Christmas season begins.  Keeping one’s clothes laundered, for example, is a particular challenge.  The only time of year when I wish I had more underwear.

I am looking forward to the book fair at the conference, though, and am leaving LOTS of extra space in my suitcase for all the goodies I will inevitably bring home.  This year I even plan to bring a poster tube for all the gorgeous children’s book posters the publishers give out.  Last year’s highlight was the advance reader ‘s copy of Trenton Lee Stewart’s current bestseller, The Mysterious Benedict Society.  Tell you what, keep checking back at this blog and next week I’ll post some particularly choice goodies and have a drawing among people who post on this blog from November 19-December 19.  Sound like fun?

I’m off to pack, even though I don’t leave till Weds. on an ungodly seven am flight.  Some years back, my very well-organized sister-in-law, Polly, pointed out that if you pack a few days before you leave, you avoid all that last minute laundry/allnighter/packing stress.  Although I will never be as organized as she is, I do take this advice to heart and find it really does make for a much better leave-taking experience.   

More soon, ta for now.



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