Overall: I loved it! I was learning, I was writing, I was challenged to think and write in new directions. Faculty, staff, and students were extremely supportive and, at the same time, provided balanced critique. Meaning: no one was “too nice” and everyone followed the critiquing golden rule to critique as you would like to be critiqued. Seminars and craft classes examined topics such as Literary Reviewing, Writing the Other, and the Joy of Writing Sex, as well as a program-wide panel on magazine publishing. Interspersed throughout the day were graduate student craft presentations and thesis readings. Faculty readings in each genre were given in the evenings, including readings by Peter Stitt (non-fiction), Dave Johnson (screenwriting), Fred Leebron (fiction), and Morrie Creech (poetry).
Sunday: We arrived in Charlotte and met for an opening reception Sunday night on Queens campus. Students and faculty received a warm welcome from program director Fred Leebron and on-campus director, Michael Kobre. It was an opportunity to mingle, to meet students from all residency levels and genres, and to exchange manuscripts with our large and small groups. Our large group instructors were Elissa Schappell and Steve Rinehart. Part of the group meetings introduced us to our adviser/mentor for the semester (for me, Steve Rinehart!) and to review the critique how-to’s, along with the critiquing handbook given to us in advance.
Our program coordinator and directors had warned us that a storm was forecast, for the first time in low-residency history, and to be prepared for a few schedule changes.
Then...it snowed. To my hometown - which comprises the D.C. Metro Area – I will never make fun of you again for your snow panic. Charlotte wins. The Queen City shut down completely - for approximately five inches of snow. Now, for all you snow-scoffers out there, it was snow and ice. The roads were completely covered in ice and we really could have skated to campus.
The upshot was that for January residency, MFA students stayed in three nearby hotels with shuttle service, since undergraduates filled the dorms (we’ll stay in the dorms during the May residency when undergrads are gone). The hotel was able to provide conference room space, so with some creative scheduling, we continued with workshops on Monday and Tuesday even though the campus had shut down.
Monday: Our first seminar on Literary Reviewing of Fiction (for year 1 and 2 students) was held at the Marriot. Jenny Offill gave an engaging and thorough presentation on the in’s, outs, and how-to of literary reviewing. We also discussed the advent of user-created book review blogs and the impact on book critics. This was one of my favorite aspects about the entire program – discussion is highly encouraged in all seminars.
Tuesday: Campus was closed again (and the public schools were closed for the entire week!) So we were given the unprecedented gift of time in the morning to spend with our group manuscripts to read and critique. We met again at the Marriot in the afternoon, and examined the two manuscripts. For our particular group, the writer listens and takes note while his/her piece is being workshopped. Questions and comments by the writer are saved until the end. I felt that the critiques of my piece were spot on (ex: more character development). There were some things I disagreed with but only as a technicality (ex: dialogue tags – I minimize them. One workshopper wanted more of them). It’s the writers call.
By Wednesday, we were up and running full speed ahead! All missed seminars and graduate thesis readings were rescheduled into the remainder of the week. Kudos to Melissa, our program coordinator, who successfully accomplished the scheduling feat!
I’ll sum up the rest of the week - and what happens next throughout the semester - in another post. Right now, I have homework to do!