Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Mailbag (Delayed) for October 31st, 2005
Okay, a little more breathing space this Thursday AM. I answered some questions yesterday, and you can see that portion of the mailbag near the bottom of this post, starting at the Dracula stamp. Future questions can be sent here.
Austin Kleon writes in and asks how difficult it is to make the transition from an MFA to a Ph.D program. My sense is that it's not too difficult. I've had a number of friends who've done it, and they seem happy with the choice. My advice is for you to consider carefully your classes in your MFA program: Do you want to get a leg up on your Ph.D. by focusing on literature classes, or do you want to concentrate on your writing while you can by taking craft classes? Only you can answer these questions, but you should think carefully about it beforehand. Austin points out the Cornell joint MFA/PhD program, and no, I'm not familiar with any others. However, there are programs that host both MFA and Ph.D programs, like where I went, University of Massachusetts, and you might keep these programs in mind when you're applying. Once you're accepted to a program you can contact the Ph.D. program to find out the possibility of continuing your studies two years down the road. Make your list of attractive MFA programs first, then see if there are Ph.D. programs (in literature or creative writing) there also. My sense is that this will be the case about 30% of the time.
No, I don't think going for an M.A. over an MFA is necessarily an advantage for a Ph.D. program, though it's not a drawback either. And finally, yes, there are Ph.D. literature programs that allow a creative dissertation. I've got them listed in the book, and Albany, Binghamton, Florida State, Georgia State, Georgia, Southern Mississippi, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, and Denver are all on it. Good luck, Austin, and thanks for your kind words about "Bones."
Bait and Switch in San Francisco is a co-winner of our codename of the week. Congratulations Bait and Switch, and glad to hear that you're buds with Erica, who is one of my fellow tutors at 826 Valencia. The questions is: If an applicant sends in stories, can he/she still talk about writing a novel in the personal statement? Definitely yes. Be clear and direct about what you'd like to do with your time. Your time in a writing program will allow you to stretch and try new forms, and the committee will be glad to see that you've got some intentions in mind before you even arrive. Good luck.
Future MFA Student in Texas doesn't have a question, but says he/she appreciates the blog. We appreciate the comment. Rock on in the Lone Star.
Stupid in San Francisco is our other co-winner of codename of the week. Yes, they're both from the San of Fran, which is my current location, and if that indicates favoritism on my part, then I stand guilty as charged. I'll try to spread the wealth around the country in future mailbags, including to "The Middle West," a term future MFA student Jacob Doty has recently popularized. Moving along, Stupid wonders if he/she should apply to Brown, even if his/her writing is not experimental. My answer is no. I can't define what experimental is, but if you think your work is not that way, then save yourself the fifty or so dollars application fee. Brown is definitely known for experimental work.
And no, all your recommenders do not have to be writers. I've addressed this in other mailbags, and your art professor sounds like a good choice for one of your three slots. Go for it, and good luck.
Delirious in Durham asks if it's okay to send a resume with his/her application. My answer is: yes, it's okay. However, don't assume that anyone will read it, and more importantly, don't assume that committee members will notice specific items on your resume. In other words, your personal statement should highlight the most important aspects of your resume. Make sure it does that. Good luck, DD.
Banks, On the Brink in Grand Rapids probably should've won our codename of the week. Sorry, BOBGR. You're the victim of cronyism at its very worst. You ask a number of good questions though:
1. Do I (Tom) have a bad opinion of low-residency programs because they rarely offer funding? Definitely not. Low-Residency programs allow a student to continue his or her career, which, hopefully, offsets the cost of tuition. My point about funding for residency programs: there are options out there, so look into them.
2. Are there low-residency programs that offer funding? I'm not aware of many, BOBGR. I know that Warren Wilson has a few spots, though I don't know the criteria for them. My sense is that most low-residency programs will have one to three spots for funding, but not much more than that. You should definitely budget for tuition before you apply. Don't count on funding.
3. And how much is that tuition? I'd say that a two year low-residency program will cost around $20,000. In some cases more. BOBGR asks "Is it worth it?" In most cases, I'd say yes. Do keep some of the more well-respected programs in mind, including Antioch University, Bennington College, Lesley University, New Orleans University, Vermont College, and Warren Wilson College, and do look into others as well. Ask the coordinator for emails of current students. Talk to them. See if they think it's worth it. If they think it's been worth it, my sense is that you will too. Good luck, Banks.
Finally, Chris from Ohio returns, as does his codename, Torn in Tasmania. He's an "old sckool" reader of the weblog, and he asks an interesting question, based on an answer of mine in a previous mailbag. "Why would you chose sociology if you had it all to do over again? Does it have something to do with your writing personally? Or a career decision? I'm so close (a few credits away) to an english degree I'd be silly not to do it and I only have two or three semesters left. But I'd like to change majors not because I don't enjoy english, but because I feel I can read and write on my own and would be better off studying something else. More tools for a writer."
I would've chosen sociology for the simple reason that I enjoyed it so much, and I found it very relevant to the world and my way of seeing it. In particular, the writings of Jonathan Kozol had a profound impact on me. That said, it's not so much that I would've chosen sociology over English, it's that I would've chosen sociology over History, my other major. On the other hand, I spent a great deal of time in my English major studying Moby Dick, The Scarlett Letter, Sister Carrie and the like, and I'm not sure if those works have had much of an impact on my writing. (No offense to misters Melville, Hawthorne, Dreiser).
My advice, based on what you've asked, Chris, is that you finish your English degree, since you're only a few credits away. But do explore other areas of study that interest and excite you. If you can get a second major, go for it. Or a minor is always a good option as well. I am by no means saying that an English degree is not a good choice. It is. I do think there's also much to be said for studying other areas, expanding your knowledge base, and informing your writing outside of conventional literature. And always: read a lot, write a lot, no matter your major. The Gotham Writers Workshop has a wonderful list of works in a variety of genres and time periods. A must visit for any reader or writer. Good luck with your choices, Chris. Sounds to me like you're already in good shape.
Two final notes: 1. I welcome any and all comments about these issues and others in the "comments" section of the blog, and 2. I'm starting to require word verification for the comments. This is easy, and only requires that you type a word that the blog will prompt for you. This is simply to cut down on a lot of spam the blog has been receiving lately. Sorry for the inconvenience, and I look forward to this week's comments.
Okay, already new emails in the mailbag. But they'll have to wait till Monday. Have a good weekend everyone, and best of luck with those applications.
I know everyone's really busy, and I know I often say that I'm really busy, but man, I am really busy this week. So cut me some slack on the mailbag answers this week. We have over a dozen, and I'll get to them in two installments starting with this one. Questions can be sent here.
First up is Chris, who asks when the book will be out because the Continuum website says February, not December. Thanks for the question, Chris. The MFA book will be available in December from the website, but it won't be in stores till around February. You can order the book via Continuum.
Speaking of books, I want to plug Eric Puchner's new book, Music Through the Floor. Eric is a graduate of the Arizona MFA program, and he was a Stegner Fellow with me at Stanford. He's a wonderfully funny and insightful writer, and you should buy his book because it will make you happy. And it will make me happy too.
Wish I Had More Clarity in NYC asks about MFAs for Childrens writing, and the list that I could come up with is Hamline, New School, Hollins, Lesley, Seton Hill, Spalding, Vermont, Whidbey, British Columbia, Nottingham, University College Winchester, Emerson, and Mills. If I had more time I'd hyperlink to those sites, but I'll have to leave the googling to you.
WIHMC wanted to know my opinion on these programs and this genre, and to be honest, I don't have an opinion. I haven't spoken to anyone who has studied this genre in an MFA program, and if any reader has an insight, we'd love to hear it in the comments section.
Finally, WIHMC is thinking about applying for poetry MFAs to help his/her children's writing, and wants my opinion about this indirect route. I think that sounds like a bad idea. I don't think you'll garner much interest from schools by stating this in your personal statement, and while I'm sure much can be learned, it sounds like too much of an indirect route to help you reach your final destination. That's my two cents. Thanks for the questions WIHMC, and good luck.
Peter from the Frigid Midwest would like to move out this a-way (west), and is thinking about Oregon, Oregon State, and San Francisco State. I'd add to that list University of Washington, UNLV, UC Irvine, and UC Davis. Rock on, Peter.
On the (Fictional) Fence in Texas wants to know about MFA programs that allow a dual concentration in fiction and creative nonfiction. OFF, I know that Texas encourages dual concentrations, but I can't think of any other places, though I suspect there are some. My advice: apply to programs that feature both genres, then when you are accepted, talk to program directors about your needs. I don't know if they will allow you to dually concentrate, but I suspect that some will allow you some leeway with the requirements so that you take workshops and classes in each genre, and perhaps can put forth a combined thesis at the end of your stay. But write better sentences than my last one. Good luck.
Carrie in Oakland asks about the application and wonders if she should mention her work in the visual arts (in her letter) and if she should include a photograph. Yes on the visual arts. State your interests. Show that you're a well rounded and educated person. I'd say no on the photograph. She adds that a professor says he likes to put a face to a name, and so encourages photographs in the applications. Hmm, that sounds like an okay reason, but I don't really like it. I don't think applications should be judged by looks, and no matter how one argues the case, looks will matter. I think if I'm on the committee and a person sends a photograph, then I'll have a laugh about it with the rest of the committee, at the applicants expense. So, I vote for not sending one. And yep, I know Tamara G. Give her a shout out for me if you would. Good luck, Carrie.
Oops, Carrie asks another question. Actually, I'm not meaning to single out Carrie, but if future emailers are going to write me long emails (and that's welcomed), can you set your questions out separately so that I can see them clearly? Thanks... The question is: Is there a particular question I should answer in my personal statement? Well, if no directions are given, I'd answer these questions: Who am I? Why am I applying to this school? What have I done in my life? What will I do with the 2/3 years of the program? As always, come across as a nice person and a hard worker.
Okay, more in the second half of this week's mailbag, which should be posted by Thursday PM. In it, we'll have our codename winner of the week, plus a question about sociology majors. No joke. Talk with you then.