Friday, October 15, 2010

Adam Atkinson: Another New MFA Blog Contributor!

Greetings all!

First, thanks to the bigwigs at MFA Blog for inviting me and the other new contributors to participate. I really look forward to exchanging info and opinions, MFA-related or more broadly literary, with as many of you as possible!

I used this blog from summer 2009 to spring 2010 for a multitude of reasons that I'm sure a lot of you know well: researching programs, navigating outdated websites, searching for funding, nailing down the details of application requirements, and sharing news (and hearsay) of notifications. Perhaps the best thing about MFA Blog was the community. Yes, there were Negative Nelsons here and there, but there was also phillywriter, who cheered me on (and I her) as we awaited the verdict of our wait list status at LSU. Now, she's my friend and colleague at the program here in Baton Rouge, and we both still reminisce about the online friends we made here at the blog. And of course, there remain a multitude of positive, helpful, humorous voices like phillywriter--I hope I can be one of them for you!

Before I left Pittsburgh for LSU, I spent five years between school keeping myself very busy: teaching writing and theory at a high school for the arts, starting a regional literary & arts non-profit with a small press component, and founding Pittsburgh's small press festival, which just completed its second annual installment! I somehow managed to write a few poems in that time, and there's one online if you're interested. The transition away from all of this Pittsburgh activity has been difficult, but I'm still keeping myself busy with the rigorous program at LSU, a new small press venture and, of course, blogging here!

I won't post any specific topic this time, but instead I'll tell you a few things I think I can speak to fairly well: getting a literary initiative going in your local community; applying for residencies and grants; applying to schools when you have a bad undergraduate GPA; the prospect of going long-distance with your relationship; being openly gay at a large southern university; and facing down the dreaded strikeout, which nearly happened to me and which I'd already come to accept by the time LSU suddenly yanked me off the waiting list.

Ask away!


Tory said...

Hi Adam,

I believe we are from the same application season, class of 2012 (or 2011 depending on MFA duration). It's cool to see you on here contributing.

I am interested in your experience being out at LSU. We have similar backgrounds from what I gather (out gay men moving from large, urban cities near the coasts to programs smack dab in the middle/south of the country) and I think it'd be interesting to start a dialogue about that here, if you're okay with it of course.

I'm interested to learn more :-)

Adam Atkinson said...

I'm all for it! I'm class of 2013, applied in fall 2009--but I've been posting on here since 2008.

Where did you move from, Tory, and where are you now? Baton Rouge has in many ways been what I've expected, in my brief time here, anyway: relatively tolerant city, very progressive program, home to a decent few creative people inside the university and out, and very STATE UNIVERSITY (football is king, jock and cheerleader types are everywhere, etc.).

But it's also thrown me some surprises, good and bad, including an alarming encounter (non-violent) in the middle of the academic quad where I was loudly "called out" for being queer (I had tight pants on, I guess.), as well as some long and lovely on-campus conversations with trans community members I was meeting for the first time. It's never quite what you think it will be, is it? In any case, my peers and professors couldn't be more gay-positive (particularly Lara Glenum, who may as well have rainbow hair ties), which is what's most important to me while I'm here.

Anyone else, please share your experience, be it similar or wildly different!

Tory said...

Ah, I see! 2008, you're practically an institution :-P

I moved from sunny Los Angeles, CA and am now living in occasionally sunny Columbus, OH where I go to OSU for poetry. Like you, I was surprised by the progressive/queerpositivity of the place when I first moved here...two of the three poets teaching here are GLBT, there's a vibrant graduate queer culture and the city is apparently one of the gayest in the Midwest, though Columbus's claim as the "San Francisco of the Midwest" is something I just can't agree to, heh. I went to a state school for undergrad (UCLA) but the environment there and here seems very different to me. Can't quite say what...but I think the football culture is probably it. These OSU folks love their football.

I've definitely had some uncomfortable/awkward instances of being "called out" too--memorably in April of this year when a prospective (gay man of color no less) and I were walking back to my place and a car drive up and starting jeering at us. Luckily he handled it like a pro and ended up coming here. Actually, the fun thing has been coming up go to punchlines, of which my current favorite is "looking is free, but touching'll cost ya." Sassy no?

I'm with Adam. Interested parties should discuss/ helps elaborate the places we end up calling home for 2-3 years.

Sheila Lamb said...

Hi Adam -
Love the fact that you and phillywriter are now friends at LSU!
Look forward to blogging with you :-)

Adam Atkinson said...

Amazing, no? My boyfriend is in town for the weekend, and phillywriter and her husband are hosting us for dinner in T-minus half an hour. Got to run! :)

Jess Smith said...

I love the idea of starting a local literary initiative. How did you do it? What was the community response? I think DC would respond really well to more literary events/initiatives, but I do not know where to start and would love to hear more about what you did!

Adam Atkinson said...

Awesome, Jess! Every community can use a more vibrant literary presence, except maybe the Twin Cities ;)

Step 1 is always "gap analysis"--in other words, see what's there now and thus what's missing! If you're going to make a contribution to the DC literary community, you should have as much context for that contribution as possible.

When I really invested myself in researching what small presses, reading series, writing groups, and other literary initiatives there were in Pittsburgh, I was amazed at the quantity and quality of what existed outside my clique of friends!

You have a great opportunity coming with AWP in February. I expect a lot of DC organizations will be tabling, but those that aren't will likely be involved in hosting offsite events, and those that aren't doing that either will likely be out networking, handing out literature (the other kind), etc.

What sort of literary initiatives are you interested in? Myself, when we felt we had a good grasp of what was in Pittsburgh, we decided to create an organization that functioned as a regional organizing force: bringing writers and artists from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia together in anthologies and chapbooks; bringing musicians, comedians, and performance artists from those states together for cabarets; and bringing other organizations together for the small press festival in Pittsburgh. Essentially, we try to make our events and publications a sort of record of what's good in the region.

It only worked (we're three years old and still growing) and wins grants because Pittsburgh needed it, and we were able to explain why Pittsburgh needed it after all the research we'd done. Oh! Also: find people who will do lots of work for free! Like make an attractive website! :)

honeybadger said...

HI ADAM!!! You go dude! :)

Hey this is weird. Tory, I know you from CSSSA 2004, and Adam I know from Pittsburgh, both part of the Friendship crew. So yeah, ya'll should be friends or something.


Jessica said...

Hi, Adam.

I love that you're opening up a discussion about long-distance relationships, especially in the context of MFA studies. Any opening words of wisdom?

Adam Atkinson said...

Hey, Sally/honeybadger!!!

Tory and I are way ahead of you on the friend score. It's facebook official and everything. How is Cornell treating you?

@Jessica: Think I should do an individual blog post about it? I've been mulling it over. In the meantime, what I've learned so far:

- I have it easy in the respect that my partner is also in the arts and also pursuing an MFA: I did not seem crazy for wanting to move far away for a non-vocational degree. Some applicants have more convincing to do from the start.

- Such a mutual understanding (that we both needed to do this, and we both had to follow the money) doesn't magically alleviate the problems that arise.

- Skype is great but only if your internet connection is primo.

- Save up for airfare.

What's your situation, Jessica? My partner just visited for the weekend (our first visit since we left for our programs), and it was great. Even though I'll see him soon for Thanksgiving, it's already driving me nuts, him not being here!

Jessica said...


I totally think you should do a post about the long-distance thing. But I'm biased toward content that addresses the actual program experience. And I do have my own long-distance issues, just not sure if I'm ready to bring them up in a public arena. Sounds like you're coping pretty well; thanks for sharing your insights so far. I look forward to hearing more from you.

the Havisham Effect said...


I am an international student living in Bloomington and about to enter the applying mayhem! anyway my background is Economics and an MBA,but i am fairly well read.
i was wondering if there is a list of books i could read in the gap till next fall? any ideas

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