Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Go ahead and see for yourself

I have two questions, really. I am currently working on my own MFA search, and I would of course like to choose some programs with faculty whose writing I respect. Unfortunately I find that I rarely recognize the faculty names or titles they have written. What would you suggest as a good way to become familiar with faculty writings? Thus far I have been trying to search out faculty written books at my local library, with limited results. I was also wondering if you had any ideas for other methods to learn whether or not one would like to work with a school's faculty? Many thanks!

I am currently doing the same thing.  These are some suggestions:

**i would look at each program's list of faculty for the particular genre you are interested in and check your local mega bookstore for the title.

Note that sometimes only excerpts are published within a magazine, anthology, or literary journal. people are allowed to just sit for the whole day and read something without having the obligation to buy.

**check the public University libraries closest to you for particular book titles and journal holdings. A large University library holds an extensive collection of literary journals. Try and see if your local library has a borrowing agreement with other libraries, too.

**otherwise, i think you need to actually purchase the book for yourself or track down someone who bought it for themselves. If it's from a journal, track down a subscriber (person or library).

**in regards to working with faculty, i would check if the particular faculty member has their own webpage. it's normally chock-full with work tidbits and biographical information.

good luck.


M. Ramirez Talusan said...

um, ask people in the know? ultimately, the only way you'll get this kind of information is by asking people who are actually in the programs or have worked with the people involved, though ultimately, this kind of sleuthing may be counterproductive since your manuscript is your biggest priority. in a way, a program picks you in terms of your work matching theirs...

Emily Benton said...

just Google the authors you don't know and you'll probably find numerous links to their work in online journals (or online versions of print journals). For poets, good resources are the Poetry Foundation ( and the Academy of American Poets ( And of course, if you read enough literary magazines anyway you're bound to start recognizing authors listed in the contributors notes who are also on faculty at programs that interest you.

Noah said...

ugh... i struggled with this question, too. eventually, i decided the best policy was to just give up on it. how in the world am i supposed to get familiar with 4-10 authors from 12-13 schools? that's 85+ authors!!! that i need to read in six months... in a addition to all the reading i feel like i need to catch up on anyway?

so, for now i'm just going on reputation, word-of-mouth, location, and the work of some of the professors that i do know to choose the programs i want to apply to. i mean - what's the point of doing all that research if you don't get into the program (not that i wouldn't enjoy it, just couldn't find the time)? and who's to say that the teacher that really gets you excited will be there next year (or will be teaching a class)?

then, if i get accepted to a program, i'm gonna hit the journals, websites, and collections/novels hard. hopefully, i'll get accepted to more than one program and get a choice.

anyway... my take: at this point, just check out what you can find online (many school's instructor bios have links to work samples... and personal websites are a great source as well). get a general feel for the program and worry about finding a book-length copy of their work later.

Erika D. said...

When I saw that Spalding University's MFA program (low-res) had compiled an anthology of its faculty's work (available, according to the Spalding MFA home page, free to prospective students), I thought they were really on to something. I don't know how many other programs do something similar. I believe Warren Wilson (also low-res) also has a couple of volumes of faculty work available, with an emphasis on craft essays. On a similar note, the University of British Columbia program (optional-residency) has posted downloadable audio from its summer residency panels and faculty lectures on its Web site. Other ideas?

Brian said...

I was also wondering if you had any ideas for other methods to learn whether or not one would like to work with a school's faculty?

Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because you enjoy or respect the work of people who teach at a particular program, that you'll like working with them, or they with you. Writers have notoriously quirky personalities--I'm being euphemistic here--and it's real easy to be disappointed, if not disillusioned by your teachers. About the best advice I can give is to tour the campus and meet as many people as you can before you choose, assuming you have options.

amy said...

I had a question about recommendations. I have a few recommendations from writing professors but I've been out of college for a few years now. Should I have something current as well? I was thinking of asking one of the women in my writers group. Is this a good idea? How do the programs feel about peer recommendations? Also, if they ask for three recommendations is it alright to submit four?
Thanks for your help.
Oh, and how do you post a new topic? I could only figure out how to post a comment.

Vince said...

i wouldn't submit four recommendations if they ask for three. follow each program's guidelines to the letter. programs might specifically ask for recommendations from professors who know your writing, former workforce supervisiors who know your character and work ethic, or a combination of both types of individuals. you need to choose your strongest recommenders to write letters for you. i think a writing peer in a group is a poor choice.

grumpy said...

Jeez, people, look for the faculty books on Amazon. Not only can you get the titles of the books and the reviews, you can buy them (often at huge discounts if you buy them used). No question it's expensive if you try to buy them all and time consuming if you try to read them all, but it ain't rocket science.

Andrew said...

I don't mean to be a jerk, but if you're worried about tracking down 4-10 authors from a dozen schools -- and if you don't have it together enough to find published books that you're looking for (on Amazon, eBay, Powell's) -- perhaps you're not ready for the rigors of an MFA program. If you can't handle the stress of being a buyer of books, how will you ever write them?

Noah said...

yeah, andrew, you kinda do sound like a jerk...

i don't think this is an issue of whether or not one can find an author's book (no, it's really not hard at all), but a question of if it is worth it to buy and read a book-length work in order to decide if a program is right for you.

personally, i don't have the time with working a 40+ hr/week job, writing 1-2 hours a day, reading things from my own reading list, life, etc. to devote to 85-100 books in 6 months. plus, how could it possibly be worthwhile (if your only goal is to try to decide if you'll like the program)? it's nice to like an author's work, but it is no indication as to their skills as a teacher. wouldn't a quick email to other student's in the program be a much better use of time, and much more informative?

i'm not saying that reading faculty's work is a worthless endeavor. if you can find it easily in the library, at a book store, or online, definitely read a bit. just don't sweat it if you can't find a book easily for free.

the mfa handbook seems to stress this point. application is not the best time to get into the nitty-gritty of a program. narrow your programs down to a managable list and do the real heavy lifting (visiting, reading every faculty member, etc.) after you get it.

Lizzy said...

There's no way you're going to be able to read everything you might want to read to prepare for applying, especially if you have other responsibilities. Given that, I'd just do my best to read as much as I could, and try to get in touch with people attending programs that interest me. What do they say in Zen? It's a problem if it has a solution, otherwise you are imagining it??? Or something like that. lol

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