Monday, June 19, 2006

Needed: More Online Reviews

I feel a little awkward in asking this, but I've run into a problem over at

The MFA Handbook has twelve reader reviews. Eleven 5-star ratings, and one 1-star rating. The 1-star rater thinks "Kealey has some type of bone to pick with Iowa, and my guess is that he was probably rejected at some point."

You can read my review of the Iowa program here. The reviewer, curiously, also adds "Everything that Kealey says is true."

In any case, what I'm asking is: If you've read the MFA Handbook and found it helpful, I'd really appreciate it if you could leave a short review at Amazon,, or Powell's. You don't have to feel the need to reply to the Iowa issue. I don't want this to be about Iowa. I want it to be about the book itself and whether it's helpful or not.

If the spirit moves you, I'd appreciate any comments you feel comfortable in posting. Thanks in advance.

And for the record: I applied to MFA programs only once, and I applied to five programs. Iowa was not among them. If the twenty-six year old Tom Kealey (when I initially applied) knew what the thirty-six year old Tom Kealey knew -- that applying to between eight and twelve programs is a smart move -- Iowa would likely be among them. That said, I stand behind my comments on the program.


Jason MacLeod said...

Honestly, whoever wrote that was just trolling. Anyone reading the reviews would realize as much. I wouldn't worry about it.

nnin said...

Trolling is right. That review reads as if the entire book were about Iowa as an overrated program. I left a five-star review some time ago, and I've rated the negative review as "unhelpful" as well as reporting it as inappropriate. I don't mean to be too partisan about it, but angst about the perception of one's own program really shouldn't come into play in these things. But as pointed out, anyone with the least bit of net savvy will know to ignore that bit of trolling without any extra prompting.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the troll on Amazon, but I do think the way you presented the financial situation is misguiding and something that should be fixed in future editions.

Tom Kealey said...

Thanks Anonymous, for your comment. I'd be interested to read how my presentation of the financial situatution is misguided. I definitely spent the longest time of all the profiles on Iowa. I wanted to be fair and accurate. If I've not been, I will change it for the next edition. I'd appreciate you insights. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Kealey's presentation of the financial situation at Iowa is not misguiding but accurate. What needs to be changed is not his book but Iowa's tiered funding situation, Iowa's continuing disrespect of its students, its fostering of a competitive atmosphere, its widespread networking and favoritism…

Anonymous said...

Why don't you call Sam directly and ask her?

In your guide, you say the top third gets full funding, the middle third gets full to none, and the bottom third gets none. To my knowledge, this is how it actually works:
There are about 25 in each entering class per genre. A few are awarded two year non-teaching fellowships. Some of these fellowships are awarded by the graduate school. The number varies from year to year but I would say that it's less than eight per genre. The bulk of the class gets the standard teaching fellowship which is a 14K stipend in exchange for teaching creative writing or comp. When you add the teaching fellowship numbers with the number of non-teaching fellowships, over half the class is fully funded. And half is a way conservative estimate on my side. Most people are offered a teaching fellowship. For those that are not, there are other sources of income including office work, RA work or working on the Iowa Review.

A few other points of interest:
I have heard of people who didn't get an initial teaching appointment being offered one in the second year.

You can also arrange for a fully funded GA position at a library or as an administrative assistant in various departments. GA positions usually offer a livable salary along with in-state tuition etc.

The TWF is another thing entirely. About six fiction people get offered the TWF for their second year. They teach one less section and read the incoming applications. Since the amount of work ends up being about the same for TWFs and non-TWFs and the difference in the stipend is not that much, I don't think the angst over TWF selection have much to do with actual funding. It is more about people being bitter because the TWF fellowship is a way of validating the work of a few students. In a sense, everyone wants to produce the best work and it can be disappointing when that doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

People in the program are competitive, but it is a productive, self-driven kind of competitiveness where everyone wants to find their voice and produce their best work. It is not the nasty kind of competitiveness that people think of when it comes to Iowa. There is a great sense of community.

Ok, back to funding.
To summarize:
Your numbers are way off. I think that you may have confused TWF with the regular funding process.

The way you define good funding can be counterproductive. In the book, good funding = everyone being funded at the same amount. Well, there are schools where everyone is funded with the same stipend but almost everyone takes out loans to get by because the stipend doesn't cut it. I don't see how these schools are better than Iowa, which is really cheap.

You also assume that equal funding means that people are non-competitive, which isn't true at all. In the viusal arts, performing arts, dance and music community, there are people who are favored by the faculty and reap benefits because of this favoritism. It is no different with MFA programs. Even if the demarcation is not as overt as it is at Iowa, it definitely exists, even at programs where everyone is funded equally.

In general, I feel that a lot of your commentary on Iowa is drawn from the era when Frank Conroy was director. Things have changed and will continue to change because Sam and Frank have completely different personalities. I believe that there is a lot of support for Sam and her goals among the students at Iowa.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...notsopithy got busy last night.

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