Thursday, October 14, 2010

Improving the MFA . . .

For the past few months, I have been reaching out to poets from both inside and outside the MFA to discuss the merits and drawbacks of the current MFA system and to consider how it can be bettered.

As a holder of the degree, it would be nice to lift the English Masters Lite stigma. I am wondering what those of you who attend or teach in an MFA think might improve your program. For those looking at programs, how closely have you considered the curricular requirements of the programs to which you're applying? What criteria are you using?

I'm most interested in pedagogical questions. As a poet and visual artist who also works with sound, I wanted more interdisciplinary opportunities. I also hankered for a more demanding academic program that considered the history of poetry and asked poets to have a firm grasp on prosody.

What do you think would make for an ideal program? If your experiences were generally positive, to what do you attribute that success? If you didn't feel that the degree benefited you as a writer, what do you think could have been done differently?


Jennifer said...

I think my program (George Mason fiction) is the ideal mix of studio writing and literature. Our first semester we take a “forms” class that requires both reading and writing each week. Then we go on to take both workshop and lit classes—required are three workshops in your genre (most take more) and two lit classes (many take more). But what has been really great are the craft classes I have taken, and all of those have been a mix of both reading and writing. (Some examples of craft classes offered are Setting, War Writing, Dialogue, Scene Making, Character, Imagining the Other).

I have only had to write one academic paper (and won’t have to write any more); it was written for one of my literature classes—a class I took with a non-MFA faculty member (and it was a wonderful class on Mark Twain). My other lit class (another great class with a focus on World War II novels) is with an MFA faculty member who allows us to do creative projects instead of academic papers. I think one “academic paper lit class” and one “creative paper lit class” has been the perfect mix—but I think you can avoid having to write an academic paper if you want to by taking all of your lit classes with MFA faculty.

We are required to take one out-of-genre class and having to do that led to one of my best experiences so far in my program. I took a forms of nonfiction class and fell in love with essay writing.

I really can’t say enough good things about our curriculum. I think it is as good as it gets.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Thanks for this, Jennifer!--and wonderful that your experience has been so positive and productive. It does sound like a good balance between study and writing.