Thursday, August 16, 2007

MFA Faculty Roundup

Surveys of faculty members (workshop approaches, personalities, styles, etc) at the various MFA programs have appeared on this blog before, but considering the ever-changing lineups it could be helpful to resurrect this practice. Those interested in the MFA should certainly research the scope of the faculty presence at particular programs before applying.

Before my current MFA days I completed the MA program at Rutgers, Newark, and since I experienced the gamut there I may as well use two RU professors as examples. Alice Elliott Dark and Rachel Hadas both taught in the MA program during my years at RU and are current faculty in the newly established MFA program. Alice’s fiction workshops were small--8 to 10 students--and the focus was on the student-produced writing, although a sampling of published short stories was offered. Alice was a caring, honest teacher, and I think her word and opinion is backed by the respect of other established writers.

Rachel’s classes were a bit bigger, perhaps 15-18, but she remained approachable. She used her extensive background in scholarship to help the discussions, and was very honest about her own craft. We sampled poets from Anthony Hecht to W. B. Yeats, so when student-produced work was on the table expectations were high. We also wrote critical evaluations of particular poets (I chose Gerard Manley Hopkins and was able to later publish an essay produced during her course).

I obviously recommend both Alice and Rachel to prospective students, but this is merely information on one program. Could others share their experiences from different programs? I think prospective students who view this blog would appreciate specific notes on faculty members.


Lizzy said...

Check with me later in the year, Nicholas. I might be able to offer some insights on faculty style as fall progresses.

Lincoln said...

FWIW, I'd have to say that a 8-10 person class is not a small class. That is the normal size creative writing class. Anything larger than 12 students strikes me as pretty crazy. Too many voices and not nearly enough time to let each student turn in enough work.

Sonia said...


Thank you for starting this thread! I'll be applying to MFA programs later this year and have found it nearly impossible to get specific info on faculty members styles/strengths/weakness.

Really look forward to reading what others readers/bloggers will contribute. Am especially interested in seeing if anyone has any insights they can share about the faculty at UC Irvine and Indiana U.

CrankyOldPoster said...

I think this could be helpful in theory, but I doubt many people are going to want to say which professors are the best and which are sub-par in an online forum that said professors could easily read. That would be a bad move.

Maybe there is a way to list where contributors are going to school and then readers of this blog could ask them questions privately?

Lizzy said...

The way I understood what Nicholas is proposing is that we could describe a professor's teaching style in neutral terms. I mean, just because something doesn't appeal to me doesn't mean I assume it won't appeal to others. So I think most of us should be able to say some things about a professor's style without it getting personal or offensive.

And to be honest, cranky, I don't know anyone else here, but ragging on people "in private" just isn't my style. Isn't that what RateMyProfessors is for, anyway?

Nicholas Ripatrazone said...

Cranky, you're correct that it would not be prudent to voice complaints about professors here, and nor do I think that would be helpful to others. Lizzy was spot-on in terms of my intentions: I hoped that others could get as many specific names out there as possible so that potential applicants could get a better understanding of who is teaching particular courses. For example, a 'name' teacher may be on the faculty at program X, but they may teach infrequently. It would probably be best for people to share the teaching and reading styles of as many faculty members as possible and let viewers of this blog make their own decisions.

Whiffless Apprentice said...

RE: I think prospective students who view this blog would appreciate specific notes on faculty members.

Info on faculty might help prospective students in, perhaps, their decision on what program is best for them... but on the other hand, I think a lot of MFA hopefuls already have programs in mind, based on location / rank / funding, etc. (not saying that faculty shouldn't play a part in that decision process, because it definitely should)

It seems to me, when it comes to writing a Statement of Purpose, a lot of people think including a sentence or two on a specific faculty member is a good idea. I disagree... unless you're 100% honest in your intent to work with this professor and you're as close to their work as you are to your own feet...

(I know this post wasn't intended for SOP writing, but I thought I'd throw my 2c in.)