Friday, September 28, 2007

University of Cincinnati

This from a student, Rase McCray, at the University of Cincinnati...

Since I haven't really heard many people talking about the program here, I'd like to provide some info on the University of Cincinnati, where I ended up for my MA. Basically, the program has changed wildly since The MFA Handbook was done and, frankly, the department is not so good at updating their website (I'm actually in the process of revamping it for them this fall, so keep your fingers crossed).

That said, I love this program. The faculty (Michael Griffith and Brock Clarke in fiction--and Leah Stewart has just been hired for tenure track starting this fall; Don Bogen, John Drury, and Joanie Mackowski in poetry) have been excellent. Very smart, very accessible. Michael edited The Southern Review for awhile and has two books out; he's currently on fellowship where he is attending to his new baby and finishing up, I believe, a second novel. Brock is away for the quarter on book tour to support the publication of his new novel and with his last three books he took the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and the Mary McCarthy Award. Being a fiction writer, I've not worked yet with any of the poets, but I can tell you that they've all encouraged my efforts informally in trying to study poetry informally, suggesting books and meeting outside of class to discuss things. Additionally, all the faculty have read random things I've sent them, are willing to talk over drinks, answer emails promptly, and just generally want you to succeed.

The community also is phenomenal and we get students from all walks of life, MAs fresh out of their undergrad to post MFAs coming here for PhDs, some who've even taken some time off to edit, write, or teach. The English Graduate Organization has been more and more active each year promoting outside events, getting together for things. We have a strong student reading series and run a number of short seminars on conferences, publication submissions, and more. Beyond the campus, the city sprawls with very cheap places to live, Bengals football, Reds baseball, a symphony, an opera, too many theater companies to count, etc. etc.

Nonetheless, the program still emphasizes crit/lit in addition to creative studies, but the requirements are not nearly so much as might have previously been thought. For the MAs it's a two-year degree, four workshops, two lit classes, one theory, and a handful of other "lesser" requirements, most of them to do with teaching. The funding is pretty good here with a majority of the students on full rides with stipends (for teaching) and nonfunded students teach for two quarters in their second year, for which they are paid as adjuncts. Because teaching counts as a class, the 54 credits is not too hard to reach in two years and the MA exam has been replaced by a capstone class taken by all MAs, lit and creative both. The stipend is somewhere between 10K and 14K, depending on your level, and living in Cincy is very cheap.

At UC we also have the Cincinnati Review, a very nice journal now in our fourth year or so. We've been selected a number of times for Best American Poetry and our editorial staff is fantastic; has us listen on their website as one of the toughest poetry markets in America. Our fiction and nonfiction are also of a very high quality--basically, I enjoy reading the finished journal as much as I enjoy working on it. The staff is mostly graduate students, excepting our head editor, Nicola Mason, and the fiction and poetry editors, Brock Clarke and Don Bogen, respectfully. A number of MAs and PhDs read for the journal each year, and two PhDs recieve two-year appointments to work more heavily on the journal, for which they recieve the same stipend as if they were teaching (basically, the journal replaces the TA position).

Lastly, the teaching support is great with classes in both teaching comp and in creative writing pedagogy. GTAs only teach one class a quarter, which is a lighter load than other schools and PhDs especially are allowed to teach either lit or creative writing instead. I feel fully supported by the faculty, but I had no teaching experience beforehand and have had to work at it from scratch. Lastly, we have a Professional Writing and Editing program (PWE) attached to the English Department that encourages non PWEers to take classes with them (web design, manuscript editing, tech writing, and proposal writing are just a few of the options). If someone is particularly ambitious, it is possible to complete a 20-hour graduate certificate in PWE concurrently with an MA (but it's a lot of work and you need to be focused, driven, insane, and an insomniac--of which I qualify.)

If you have any questions about the program, I'd be happy to talk about it and I've attached a model timeline for how a student might complete their degree (page two for creative writers). Feel free to contact me at cssprocon at yahoo dot com


Beccanne said...

I don't know Rase McCray, but I just want to echo the sentiments posted about U. Cinci. I've written in to this blog before to extol the virtues of Bowling Green State University's program, where I got my MFA in 1994. As it happens, I later earned my PhD in English with a creative dissertation, which became a pretty well-received short story collection, at University of Cincinnati in 2002. I recommend that program highly.

From what Rase says, it seems like the folks in the department took an already great program and made it even better. While the faculty in creative writing have changed radically since I was there, Brock Clarke directed my dissertation--it was his first dissertation-- and it was a fantastic experience. The faculty in creative writing include seasoned professors who are still actively publishing and serve as excellent mentors, as well as "younger" writers with enviable careers as writers and editors, and who are also great mentors. Moreover, the professors in other areas (theory, literatures, linguistics) were accessible and tough in all the right ways, and I believe my brain actually grew another lobe while I was an doctoral student there.

The addition of the _Cincinnati Review_ occurred right after I left, and this magazine is top-shelf; I wish I'd been able to work on it then. Perhaps most compelling, the funding at UC is ample and generous-- and for doctoral students, includes the opportunity for some excellent non-teaching/non-service/just-write fellowships. Also, UC had, when I was there, a course or two to aid in research and pre-professionalization, and another course to support new teachers on assistantships. Finally, all of the U. Cinci's PhD graduates I know have landed tenure-track jobs within their first or second year on the market.

Last but not least, as Rase says, Cincinnati is a lovely, historical, hilly, vibrant city, with gorgeous parks, a great Farmer's Market, the best Indian restaurant in Ohio if not the Midwest, and the Ohio River bending through the town.

My doctoral experience was tough intellectually, but I would never have made it through without the wonderful faculty support & guidance, generous funding, and lovely setting Cincinnati offered.

Rebecca Meacham, MFA, PhD
Associate Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

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