Thursday, August 14, 2014

Interview with Tom Kealey, Robin Tung, and Ryan Pittington on The Rumpus

Robin Tung (of Affording the MFA), Ryan Pittington, and I sat down to discuss a few guidelines and tips for potential Creative Writing MFA students. Thanks to The Rumpus for running this. We'll hopefully do this again a few more times. Application season is almost here!


The Rumpus: How perfect does a writing sample need to be? Are programs looking for potential or polish?
Kealey: It has to be completely perfect.
Okay, just kidding. It does, though, have to be the strongest work that the student has written up to that point. Prospective applicants should place most of their efforts into writing as many good stories, poems, or novel chapters as they can (in the months leading up to the applications). Then, they should seek feedback from friends who are either writers or who are particularly enthusiastic literary fiction readers. Then, writers simply send in the best sample that they have produced to that point.
By simple, I mean it actually is simple, though not necessarily easy. Read a lot; write a lot. Edit well. Get feedback. Finish the writing sample and send it in. In this way, potential students are not only focusing on the most important element of the application, they are actually using the application process to improve as a writer.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

How Iowa Flattened Literature?

This is an interesting article -- How Iowa Flattened Literature -- about the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, though I'm taking it with a grain of salt. The subtitle is: "With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and eggheaded abstraction. The damage to writing lingers."

"Did the CIA fund creative writing in America? The idea seems like the invention of a creative writer. Yet once upon a time (1967, to be exact), Paul Engle received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was not really a foundation; it was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom."


This is a very fine review of Chad Harbach's MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.

Mr. Harbach delineates two distinct literary cultures in America, “one condensed in New York, the other spread across the diffuse network of provincial college towns that spans from Irvine, Calif., to Austin, Tex., to Ann Arbor, Mich., to Tallahassee, Fla.” There also exists, he observes, “a kind of wormhole at the center, in Iowa City, into which one can step and reappear at the New Yorker offices on 42nd Street.”

 The superficial differences between M.F.A. and N.Y.C., he writes, “can be summed up charticle-style: short stories vs. novels; Amy Hempel vs. Jonathan Franzen; library copies vs. galley copies; Poets & Writers vs. The New York Observer; ‘Wonder Boys’ vs. ‘The Devil Wears Prada’; the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference vs. the Frankfurt Book Fair; departmental parties vs. publishing parties.” And so on.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Blue Field Writers House

I wanted to let all of you know about a new writers residency called Blue Field Writers House.  It is a nurturing and supportive communal residence where writers can come to spend concentrated time completing their writing projects.  Writers can apply for residencies from two weeks to two months in length, and they will be provided with a private room, 24/7 access to the fully-stocked community kitchen, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, parking, and, most importantly, uninterrupted time to write.  Located in the University District of Detroit, writers will have the opportunity to explore all the cultural and artistic events that Detroit has to offer.  Blue Field Writers House will also provide each of its residents the opportunity to do a public reading of their work-in-progress.  Please visit the website,, for more info. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

MFA Fiction Advice from Elizabeth McKracken

Fiction writer Elizabeth McCracken -- who is one of the MFA application readers at UT-Austin -- tweeted advice this autumn for fiction students applying to any MFA program. The fine people at GalleyCat collected them for us (there are over 30 of them), so do check them out. Lots of gems here.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Check out a very wise article from Robin Tung over at Affording the MFA. "Statements: How Much Can They Help?"

One of many highlights:

Don’t apologize (explicitly or implicitly). If you’ve been out of school for a long time,  have never taught, worked at a paper mill for the last decade, grew up destitute or still live under the poverty line–whatever it is, find or impose a narrative line that shows the knowledge and experience that has come out of it. These are origins or outcomes  you couldn’t have changed for a number of reasons. Be a little generous with yourself while still being honest; view yourself from a different viewpoint. Your viewpoint influences the language, which controls the tone of your writing. Don’t put yourself down.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Advice from The Millions

Edan Lepucki has written a wonderful article, offering an overview of the "MFA DEBATE", but more importantly, there is a great list of things that potential students can do in preparation for their MFA. Check it out!

2. Join a writing group and/or enroll in a class.
Here’s an opportunity to meet fellow writers, to get feedback on your work, to figure out what’s bad advice and what is helpful. To get deadlines. To hear about new books. To receive guidance from a teacher. (I teach privately and for UCLA’s continuing education program, and I just pretend most of my classes are graduate-level. I think other teachers do the same.) And if you live in a small town with limited options, research online classes. If you don’t do this, then at least find a friend with whom to exchange work.

Poets and Writers Basics

A great resource is the MFA entrance page on Poets and Writers. They offer quick answers about Choosing and Applying to MFA programs.

Also, there is a list of deadlines on the right side of the page. And, a link to the MFA Program Database.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

LitBridge Interviews with MFA Programs

 The terrific website LitBridge has a number of very helpful and insightful interview with MFA Programs. Yes, some of the information here is a little sugar-coated, and much of it is quite insightful and relevant, going way way beyond what the programs offer via their websites. Some of the programs featured are Ohio State, Hollins, Florida State, Purdue, San Francisco State, Syracuse, Alabama, Houston, Arizona, Montana, UNLV, Oregon, Notre Dame, UNC-Wilmington, and Washington University in St. Louis.