Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sample of Program Profiles

Below is a sample of three program profiles from the Creative Writing MFA Handbook

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Johns Hopkins University – A two-year program that has just changed from a long-running M.A. program to a new MFA program (though the M.A. program is still available. See below)… Fiction or poetry concentrations in Baltimore, MD… Four workshops, four literature or craft courses, plus the creative thesis… Approximately five poets and six fiction writers are admitted annually… Students are fully-funded in the form of teaching assistantships. This is great, though keep in mind that teaching is a requirement, not an option… Students must turn in half of their thesis after one year. I think this is impressive. It says that the faculty wants to be involved and helpful during the entire process, not just the end…. There is a secondary language requirement… This program has always been thought of highly in the writing community. The MFA program is an excellent addition. One of the top ten programs in the country… There is also a continuation of the long-running M.A. program in creative writing, though this program focuses on part-time students, and if that’s what you’re looking for, this would be an excellent option for you… Additionally, there is a Master of Arts in Science Writing.

University of North Carolina Wilmington – A three year program in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction in the coastal town of Wilmington, NC… 48 degree hours total, which breaks down to about five writing classes, six to seven literature courses, and six hours of thesis credit… An MFA exam and thesis is also required… Has an interesting Publishing Laboratory that offers experience in editing, design, production, and marketing… I like this program. It’s relatively new, and certainly very innovative… The program is connected to, but officially separate from the English department. This is unusual and quite possibly a good thing… Students may explore a minor concentration in screenwriting through the Department of Film Studies… About a third of students are awarded TAships, and other students receive partial funding… About 15-20 students accepted per year… I’d like the funding to be better, but overall this is an up-and-coming writing program.

University of Iowa – A two year MFA program in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in Iowa City… Known as The Writers Workshop, the program is the oldest in the country, and is often regarded as the best… I guess you could say that graduates have had some publishing success. As in, say, a dozen Pulitzer Prizes. Four recent U.S. Poet Laureates are graduates of the program. Many, many, many have had success in the publishing and professional world… The program has been the model for other programs for decades… Iowa City is a terrific college town… The Nonfiction Writers Program is separate from the Writers Workshop… More than 60 students are admitted each year… 48 semester hours: half in writing workshops and classes, and the rest with great flexibility to take classes in or outside the department… Funding is available, but very competitive. The top third of students receive full funding, the middle third receive full-to-some funding, the bottom third receive some-to-no funding. In-state tuition is affordable… This ‘tiered’ system of funding sets up a very competitive atmosphere within the program. Students are in competition with each other for funding before they enter the program, and for some, after the first year… A very distinguished faculty… To be fair, because The Iowa Writer’s Workshop is so highly regarded, it creates a lot of supporters and many detractors… I don’t like the competitive funding system, though this is not unique to Iowa… What I can tell you is this: the Iowa graduates that I have met are either very enthusiastic about the program, or very down on it. Rarely do I meet someone in the middle. My sense is that their reactions are often related to their funding or lack of, and how they were treated within the program accordingly… Because of the funding situation, Iowa is no longer the best program in the country, and because of the competitive atmosphere it should not be considered a top ten program either… This program should be considered by any prospective student, especially those who are awarded funding. A top twenty program.

34 comments:

bababooie said...

This is great information! It completely changed how I look at the Iowa Writers' Workshop I recently talked to a current student thereand she says It’s not just the competitive atmosphere that's bad but there’s also a dismissive envirnment there. A certain kind of writing is favored and experimental writing looked down uopn by faculty members.

Anonymous said...

Not only is Iowa City an extremely cheap place to live, not to mention a fun place where you can't swing a stick without hitting a writer, but all workshop students get in-state tuition -- also cheap -- and the new director is focusing on ensuring that all students are guaranteed sufficient funding, and that the funding will very likely no longer be competitive. Bottom line, even with current funding, no one I know who came through the program ended up owing the University a cent. Whereas I know folks in other program owing thousands. Success speaks a lot louder than vague statements about "funding," surely! If a "competitive atmosphere" suddenly drops you out of the top ten (after Iowa's incredible track record of the past seven decades), someone should warn Harvard Law School. Personally, I found it more collaborative than competitive, but every person sees things differently. As for experiemental writing being frowned on, I suspect it was bad experimental writing. There is no "workshop style." That is a myth, as any glance at any of the submitted stories for any week would show you.

bababooie said...

I talked to the current student again last night. She says it's not just experimental writing that is frowned upon but also anything that deviates from Christian beliefs, anything that drifts away from the mainstream, is dismissed...But she says the main problem is that the Iowa Writers' Workshop admits the same kind of people, the kind of people who suck up to the system, the establishment. It happens because the WW is so geared toward success, success, success!

Anonymous said...

As another graduate of Iowa, I have a few things to say:

1) Your friend sounds upset. My guess is that has more to do with the critical tenor of the workshop than with anything like a "christian" bias, which is, frankly, laughable (though I think I know who gave her that impression- one faculty member who is often controversial in their opinions and workshop manners, but makes up for it by being brilliant). Iowa workshops vary depending on the instructor, but for the most part, they arent particularly supportive, at least in class. Outside of class is another matter.

Harsh criticism makes some people better writers. It can also breaks others. Which group a particular person would be in depends on a lot of things. But I personally wouldn't want a program that coddles me. Being a writer at all is touchy feely enough for this guy, thanks.

2) Do I have complaints about how that place was run? Absolutely. But they don't necessarily jive with the standard outside-in speculative ones voiced with confidence and, frankly, what sounds a lot like resentment. What annoys me the most is how the pro/con iowa debate recurs without ever really changing. It's like playing for the New York Yankees. There's no nuance to this question, and whenever you try to add any, it doesn't stick. Having gone to the program, people assume that it is a conversation I want to have on a regular basis. It isn't.

3) The book seems to put a premium on funding and relative competition. Those are surely factors. But in the most important regard, Iowa did for me what I'm not sure some of the more supportive and cheery programs would have: it didn't waste my time. I have no doubt that I am better equipped for my career as a writer than I was before Iowa. I have a sense of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and I'm that much more inured against rejection and criticism. I have contacts in publishing and elsewhere, because Iowa people are achievers and we have our own diaspora in the professional world. I suppose I could have gone to a smaller, more supportive program, but from what I understand of those programs, they probaby wouldn't have pushed me like Iowa did (or scar me, either): the stakes just seem higher at Iowa.

Anonymous said...

jibe. not jive. jibe.

that seriously drives me nuts!

Anonymous said...

I'm that second anonymous guy.

No shit! I never made the nautical connection before. Of course. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

bababooie...bababooie...bababooie...bababooie...bababooie!...

bababooie said...

Who the fuck is this? Anonymous, are you Grendel?

Anonymous said...

I need to know about any crazy Christian shit that might be happening at Iowa. I'm a Canadian who has applied to Iowa (and is/was hoping to get in), but if ANY workshop instructor subscribes (seriously) to any mythology, Greek, Christian, Astrology or otherwise...yikes...how can they be taken seriously?

Terrifying development. Please advise.

Grendel said...

Nope, the offending anonymous ain't me.

The notion of a "Christian" flavor at the workshop is laughably absurd. That said, common sense should prevail. If you have a story about a band of satanists attempting to assassinate John Calvin, you might consider not submitting that in Marilynne's workshop and putting it up in one of your three other terms. Any fool who's read Gilead should be able to deduce that. Otherwise, the place is as much a den of secular heathens, and properly so, as anywhere else.

bababooie said...

hello terrified Canadian,

i talked to my friend a current student a few moments ago and she says that the “Lady with a Bible” is taken seriously here, especially since she won a series of big lit awards, and has become a sort of authoritarian figure here. She adds that many students here have church connections, so it’s good to tell in your application if you have anything like that. Once you get in, as Grendel says, don’t say anything irreverent in and out of class, that’s the only way to survive in this Christian environment, she says.

bababooie

MSF said...

my dear canadian,

i'm a bit suspicious of bababooie's comment as relayed by an alleged current student, simply because right now, marilynne isn't here--she's on sabbatical. hard to imagine how her influence could be that strongly felt in absentia.

regardless: unless the program has changed radically in the short time since i graduated--and as i'm still living in good old ic, i'd like to think i'd have heard about it--the workshop is as secular an environment as i've ever lived in. and irreverence in workshop is the norm, not something you should avoid--if that weren't the case, they'd have kicked my ass out sans degree, i promise.

Anonymous said...

If you're suspicious, go to One Story magazine at http://www.one-story.com/ and read the interview. Another current student says something similar and honest.

Anonymous said...

suspicious of what? The christian malarkey or the denial of it? And which interview am I reading at one story? I'm confused.

Count this anonymous guy as another recent iowa grad who has no memory of a Robinson-run theocracy. People say a lot of shit about this program for a lot of reasons. The unfortunate side effect is that legitimate criticism is sometimes greeted defensively. I think the profile's criticism is fair, but it begs an important question. What is most important in your search for an MFA program: funding or the improvement of your own writing? The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, and what will improve your writing is a nebulous question that you might not know the answer to even when you think you do. So I can see why funding, good old concrete money after all, is given prominence in the evaluations. Unfortunately for all of us, the more nebulous question is infinitely more important.

Grendel said...

Bababooie, I didn't say anything like that. Much of what I did at Iowa was irreverent. I turned in stories about spying on the babysitter while she's on the toilet, falling through the ceiling while masturbating, gunning down a baby godzilla, hitting a deer while driving high, losing one's virginity with a friend's girlfriend, and humiliating a cheesy religious faith healer at a dinner party.

Anonymous said...

"She says the main problem is that the Iowa Writers' Workshop admits the same kind of people, the kind of people who suck up to the system, the establishment. It happens because the WW is so geared toward success, success, success!"

...And the success of its graduates is often illusory, or built on fraud. Iowa is just about the number 1 offender when it comes to publishing its own students - sometimes its faculty - as winners of their own paid contests. It's not just the poetry folks that are doing it, either:

http://foetry.com/newbb/viewtopic.php?t=280

Anonymous said...

Some say that’s just a tip of the iceberg. Whenever its graduates win lit awards—I am not just talking about Iowa contests here, I tend to look at them with suspicion.

Anonymous said...

Okay, for all the Iowa-bashers here: if you were accepted to Iowa, would you go? You would, wouldn't you?

Tao Lin said...

someone emailed me telling me to come here so i'll post here to tell people to come to my site:

reader-of-depressing-books.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

"Okay, for all the Iowa-bashers here: if you were accepted to Iowa, would you go? You would, wouldn't you? "

It's a good school...but attending Iowa and cheating at contests - gaining bs academic careers for the writers and 'prestige' for the school - is not the same thing. Many students don't fall into that trap. Those would be the fairly published ones.

But, knowing a little about how that school operates, I'm less inclined to consider it above other, better schools detailed in on this blog.

Anonymous said...

HOLY CRAP!!!

Well, this is shocking. Here's a conversation with David Callan, a '98 Iowa Writer's Workshop grad and Maytag Fellow. He discusses the workshop, how fraud there builds careers, and other matters.

I'm not sure what a 'podcast' is, but you can right click on 'David James Callan' to save the mp3 to your computer.

http://foetry.com/feed/2006/01/second-podcast-is-now-up.html

Anonymous said...

We advise all the prospective students to read this essay by a graduate of the WW. This is the most honest look at Iowa’s ‘tiered’ system of funding: www.litline.org/abr/PDF/Volume25/bernard.pdf

Anonymous said...

For more info on "Iowa aesthetic," read this interview: http://www.identitytheory.com/people/birnbaum49.html

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of misinformation here. I went to Iowa and also know a lot of people who went to Hopkins, and I can tell you this:

1. You know who goes to JHU? People who got rejected from Iowa.

2. I don't know about fiction, but in the poetry division there is a diverse aesthetic and experimentation is strongly encouraged.

3. The workshop run by Christians? Pretty f'in hilarious!

tom said...

If you are all aspiring writers, please, just write. Your own commitment to writing is the only thing that will serve you throughout the rest of your writing life. I graduated from the workshop five years ago. Our class was one of the most diverse and hard working group of writers you can imagine. We were from incredibly different class backgrounds, different races, different beliefs, different ethnicities, and we all had different ideas about writing--MFA graduates from other programs frequently recognize the intensity of the Iowa program, and how hard the writers work at their craft. At Iowa writing was the only thing that mattered. There was no distinct 'school' of writing, nor were writers pushed to write in a certain way. From my class of twenty-five, fifteen writers have already been published by major publishing houses. We are not connected, we write nothing alike (our published work shows more diversity than any other program), and besides the Michener award for two or three of those students in the time since we've left, we've never won awards connected to or with Iowa--we've simply worked incredibly hard at writing fine stories, collections, and novels. Many different types of writers attend Iowa and some are still yet very immature, having come directly from their undergraduate schools, and are not yet ready for the intensity of the workshop experience--Iowa is not for everyone, and it shouldn't be. This was evident while I was there. If a person wishes to blame Iowa for their writing frustrations, failings etc, they are entitled to do so. But it would seem that this is more telling of their character than anything else. I assume that when they face rejection in the real world they respond in a similar fashion. I was accepted by five MFA programs and finally chose Iowa--even though I received little financial aid from them--because of the workshop's intensive nature and because after sitting in on a workshop I realized that, in the end, they only cared about one thing: the writing, and the writing that emerges from the individual for this, not conformity, is what shapes great works. From talking with students who attended Iowa (spanning twenty years) and who shared a deep commitment to the craft of writing, I learned how Iowa was a difficult yet incredibly enriching experience for all of us (I understand that poets at Iowa experience the workshop quite differently). It is amazing to me that such a focus on craft frequently incites such rabid and erroneous debate. The time spent on this is quite absurd.

The best to all of you in your writing.

Anonymous said...

What is the age range of Iowa students? I'm thinking of applying, but I would be 32 when I entered, and it would freak me out to be surrounded by baby writers fresh out of undergrad.

Anonymous said...

As someone who attended Iowa recently, I agree that there's a competitive environment and that the tier system they use only adds to this problem, but the bottom line is that the system works, or appears to work, since almost everyone who attends the program ends up publishing a book at some point. And it's true that probably half the graduates you talk to hated it and half loved it, and that's because roughly half receive significant financial aid and the other half don't. But, in the end, Iowa is not a place you go to be nurtured or to learn how to write. If you're lucky enough to get in, it's because they believe that you already know what you're doing and that you're already producing publishable work. I would say that well over half of my class at this point have already published books, and I'm sure that many more will in the next few years. Going to Iowa, more than anything else, is a calculated career decision. The name and the reputation of the program will open doors for you in both the publishing and academic worlds, and that's the reason to go. If you want to boo-hoo about how competitive and mean it is, that's fine. But if you're serious about starting a career as a writer, why wouldn't you go? It's like someone opting not to go to Harvard Law School because they're scared of the competition.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...notsopithy got busy lately.

Notsopithy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Executioner said...

Tom, you’re a f—king liar. You know that, uh? Diversity in Iowa? Ha ha ha!

elsford said...

Guys - I've read some very weird stuff about Iowa - mainly by people who haven't been there - but I have to say, this tops it.I haven't been there for a few years, but the 'Christian' hysteria really is just plain silly. (believe me.I'm a hard core aetheist - even worse, ex-catholic- never disguise it, and I honestly never had any problem. Nor did any one else I knew, or even knew of.)The previous comments were right on the money though - in that, I certainly knew, and know people, who hated iowa. It is a tough, critical and, yes, competative atmosphere. personally, I thrived on that. I loved just being able to concentrate on writing for writing's sake - and having it judged hard. When something is good there, you know its good. And if it doesn't cut it, you know that too. I never found it unfair - but it may not be for everyone. Work hard, write well, then better - and you'll do fine. Incidentally, i wrote at least one story that was pretty mean about 'christians' ( not for the sake of it but because I was writing about the south where I grew up and it was hard to miss) and nobody turned a hair. There are really, really fantastic teachers at iowa. Just getting to be around them for a while is 'pure gold'.

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Miss G said...

I recently decided to apply to MFA programs for creative writhing (poetry emphasis). I live in Iowa and the Writer's Workshop is my goal. I have attempted to publish... maybe 3 times ever and have been published twice, so I think my batting average is fair. I am tough and believe in competition. What advice can you share, those of you who went to Iowa, about getting accepted? How do I make sure I get in? (I am well aware that this question sounds excessively naive, but I'm willing to look foolish).