Friday, June 16, 2006

Western Michigan?

A reader of the MFA Handbook writes in...

Western Michigan’s MFA program is not detailed in the Midwest section. I agree with your comment on the poor quality of the website, but do you have any more information regarding the program? I somehow have the impression it is quite highly respected.

I don't have any further insights right now. Does anyone else?


Anonymous said...

I attended the Prague Summer Program last July, which is run by Western Michigan's English department. The program was amazing, and I met a lot of people who were in the W.M. graduate program, mostly Ph.D's in creative writing. Most of them were T.A.'s for the Prague program, which had all sorts of writers and artists at all levels attending. Anyway, my impression was that the faculty at W.M. is very strong, and the students are good too, bit of a mixed bag, but that may well be the case at any program. There's definitely a lot there if you are willing to take advantage of it. Kalamazoo, MI, seems like an interesting place to be for a few years. I hung out with undergrads from W.M. who attended the Prague program, too, so that's an overall impression of Kalamazoo as a place to live. Hope that's helpful...and if you are looking for a summer writing program/conference, definitely check out the Prague program. The deadlines for financial aid have passed for this season, but it really does offer a lot of funding at many levels, and is very well-run. The faculty they recruit is outstanding. For what it's worth, I attended hoping to reach a final decision about whether or not I wanted an MFA, and now I'm headed to U. Florida this fall for poetry.

jaywalke said...

I can't help you with the MFA program, but I can speak to WMU and Kalamazoo.

WMU was my undergrad for a double major in Theatre & English. They are definitely flying under the radar. The school used to be known as "Waste-ern", the party school for those who could not get into Michigan or Michigan State. That is slowly changing, mostly due to the work of a dynamic president (now retired). He raised hundreds of millions of dollars for rebuilding, renewal, and scholarship, and still managed to get to know a lot of students on a first-name basis (at a school with 25,000 undergrads).

Arnie Johnston (the head of the MFA) was my undergrad CW teacher. He pushed me when I was being lazy, and at the same time was laid back enough to hold class in a nearby pub a few times. Obviously, their biggest catch is Stuart Dybek, but I don't know how much teaching he does.

The theatre department at Western has quietly built itself into a player, winning the national college drama competition more than the big 2 (UM and MSU) combined, despite the fact that, unlike the other two, it has no graduate program, fewer well-known faculty and a much smaller budget. I mention this only because I get the impression the English department has been building itself in the same manner: choosing quality and value rather than hype.

Kalamazoo itself is a pretty standard Midwestern city. It has a low cost of living, some crime downtown and wealthier suburbs. There is some racial separation (sweeping generalization = downtown black, suburbs white), but Western itself has a good mix due to its affordability and a vibrant international exchange.

Note: You have to learn to love ice hockey, because it is the only sport in which Western plays with the big boys.

Location: Winters are cold, but not too snowy. Summers are hot and muggy. Fall is alive with color. You are an hour from the white-sand beaches of Lake Michigan, 2.5 hours from Chicago and and 1.5 hours from Detroit. If you want solitude, go north to the Upper Peninsula, where the deer outnumber people and wolves, bear and moose roam the woods and brown trout still wait in the rivers for Hemingway to return.

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