I admit, I was a spoiled undergrad. I went to Sarah Lawrence College where there are no tests, no grades, and very few academic rules. I could study whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and it didn't matter if I had never tried the subject. It was that level of freedom and exploration that allowed me to try writing for the first time - I signed up for my first fiction workshop and my first playwriting workshop as a sophomore, having never written anything creative before. It was a life changing experience.
I spent the rest of my undergraduate career studying writing, and when I decided to apply to a MFA program, I was looking for the same level of creative flexibility. It turns out that can often be difficult to find. Most graduate programs are divided into categories: fiction and poetry are in the Writing Program, playwriting is in the Theatre Program, and screenwriting is part of the Film School. Those limitations just didn't work for me. I knew I wanted to write both plays and screenplays, but I had no desire to get a theatre degree or attend film school. I just wanted to write, not direct or act or edit or design.
So I went in search of multi-genre programs. I already knew exactly what I wanted my thesis project to be (a pilot script for an one-hour dramatic television show), so I needed a program that would support that project and had the faculty to teach me how to write it. I also wanted a program that would allow me to take classes outside of playwriting/screenwriting. Plus I wanted the opportunity to pursue Independent Study if the standard courses were not enough. My criteria definitely narrowed my selection of schools, but it was important to me to find a program that would work with me to accomplish my goals.
Ultimately, the program that worked for me was the MFA at Southampton College. I took workshops in creative non-fiction and screenwriting, and I also took classes in Women's Literature, Southern Literature, and Fiction into Film. It was exactly what I needed, and my relationship with the program continues to be strong and productive.
What are you looking for in a MFA program? Would love to hear from you, so leave comments!
*Shameless Promotion* Applications are available for the new Florence Writers Conference, sponsored by the Southampton MFA program. Study fiction and creative non-fiction for 10 days in Florence, Italy! Go to www.stonybrook.edu/mfa for more details. Deadline: November 1st, 2010.