Sunday, March 19, 2006

From the Low Residency Queen

A reader named The Low Residency Queen has these observations on some Low-Residency Programs. Feel free to leave comments...


Here’s the rundown:
Lesley—new program, which means a lot of attention. The program director has been great to talk to. They have an interdisciplinary component, though, which I’m unsure about. I personally love integrative, cross-disciplinary stuff (hey, being a writer kind of means I should pay attention to lots of things), but going for my MFA is my way of trying to quell my dilettantish tendencies and just focus on the craft of writing. Do you think the interdisciplinary component would be too distracting, or would it be stimulating and enriching for the writing?

Queens University of Charlotte—I’m skeptical of their online workshopping method. A program director at another program who used to be on faculty there said that it didn’t work. I like a lot of the faculty there, though, and again, a friendly, helpful director. It was obvious that he had really read and absorbed my application and already seemed very invested in me as a writer. Based on my work, he already had people in mind I could work with. I thought this was amazing.

Vermont College—my writing mentor went there, so I already have good feelings about them. I like that all of their faculty members have “teaching philosophies” on the website so you know upfront how they like to interact with students and respond to work. Plus, they just added a residency in Slovenia, which is so random and cool to me.

Pine Manor College—I would be in the inaugural class if I went here, which is super scary, but the program director is so available and warm and I think with a good head on her shoulders. She founded and ran the National Book Foundation’s intergenerational summer camp which I attended last year—really good reminder of how much there is to learn from anyone if you are open. Diversity is key. They will have a third semester applied track which sounds interesting, as her objective is to show students there are other ways to support yourself as a writer other than teaching (and I don’t want to teach!) I think a new program would bend over backwards to help me (they already are), but I have no one to talk to about it because it’s never existed before! Plus, Pine Manor sounds like the name of a retirement home.

Goddard—they feel kind of touchy-feely to me, which is not a bad thing. The main thing that sets them apart from other low res programs is their teaching practicum. It seems like with a terminal degree, it might be nice to actually gain some experience teaching. This is more of a “should” I do it, not I want to, though. I just want to write. I want to improve my craft.

Warren Wilson—well, what can I say, I think they are the “best” by reputation and I grew up in North Carolina so it would feel kind of “homey” to go back to the mountains for residencies. But I don’t know much more about them than that. They’ve been perfectly congenial the little contact I’ve had with them, but not as overwhelming helpful as some of the other programs, and I have a sense this is because they know they don’t have to be. Still, I want to know what makes them so damn good, because they are the best, word on the street. Though, this is the only one on the list I haven’t heard back from yet, and as they are mythically difficult to get into, maybe this is a moot point.


Lisa Romeo said...

You say Lesley is a new program -- I believe you are mistaken; that the program has been running at least 3-4 years. I've been accepted there (nonfiction) and was also impressed w/the director, by phone, just as you say.

I was rejected at Queens, but I also heard the same thing you did -that the on-line workshop method they use is combersome.

I did not apply to the others you discuss, but I do also have an acceptance to Univ. of Southern Maine (Stonecoast) and would love to hear from anyone about that program.

Also waiting to hear from Goucher, and The New School (not Low-Res, I live nearby).

Frankly, I don't see that many distinct differences between the low-res programs, except for those few that have been running a long time and/or have outstanding reputations. (One writer I know, who did a lew-res MFA 6 years ago, said, "just pick the school that's in a location you really want to visit for 3+ weeks each year and go there."

I would love to hear from others with their insights/expereiences re: Low Res.

Anonymous said...

During my research, I found a wide variation between low-res programs--Queens has the online workshop, Goddard a teaching portion, Bennington has a publishing module, Fairleigh Dickinson is broken down into modules and has an international component, etc. Also, the length of residency varies and the correspondence (packets, electronic, etc.) is different in each program.

I think faculty is important. The top tier low-res programs (Bennington, Warren Wilson, Vermont...IMO) have not only been around a long time, but they also have extraordinary faculty. That's not to say that Lesley or Spaulding or Goucher or Stonecoast doesn't have a great list of faculty members...

Just as in traditional MFA programs, prospective students must talk with students and alumni to get to know each program's internal logic and atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

Hi. This is the Low-Res queen again. Jerzygirl--you are correct. The Lesley program has been around since 2003, I believe. I still consider that "new," as compared to some other programs, however. They are very solid, though. And I think there IS a difference between the programs--the components, but also the atmosphere and community, too. The Speakeasy forum on Poets and Writers has a whole thread on Low-residency programs if you are interested. I think a few people talk about the Stonecoast program on there. I think all of these programs have a lot going for them--it's a matter of finding which is the best fit for you. Best of luck everyone!

Windiciti said...

I applied to Bennington, Warren Wilson and the new Sewanee School of Letters, all Low Res.

So far: accepted by Northwestern University MA in CW
accepted by Sewanee
rejected by Columbia-CChicago
Probably: rejected by UIC and Bennington
No news: WWC

Although I am concerned about NU not being an MFA program, if I get the funding I will go there. It's a great school
I am thinking of ALSO doing MFA at Sewanee, which only has one residency per year in the summer. No work is done the rest of the year. This is an MFA program

Anonymous said...

I was told by a writing tacher in a traditional MFA program that low-res programs offer much better instruction - especially if you're someone who is a few years out of college (not because of the convenience of not moving but because the one-on-one mentor aspect probably fits better with where you are in life.) She said she actually can't teach in the low-res program anymore because it takes too much time and effort - she's sticking to traditional programs. So there you have it. My observations so far:

Lesley - consensus is the director is extremely helpful. He is. In "The Creative Writing MFA Handbook" George Saunders notes that the atmosphere of a program comes from the top down so it'snothing to sneeze at.

Bennington - a little more chilly but sent a lot of information. Great reputation certainly associated with the undergrad program. Can't find a lot of hype for the individual staff members of the graduate program (except Hempel and Kohler). Don't like that the bulk of the residency curriculum seems to be taught by the graduate students.

Warren Wilson - supposedly the best with well-known faculty. That must mean something. Need to talk to students to find out more.

Goddard - hands on people. Great rep a few decades ago but not sure about now. Some faculty seem just okay. The teaching practicum is nice but I don't know if it should be a "must" or a "can".

Antioch - good rep but I can't really add anything beyond that. It derserves a closer look.

Vermont - very good rep as well. Supposedly the good parts of Goddard went to WWC and Vermont some time ago.

I guess we'll all know more in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts that might help one choose between Bennington and Warren Wilson for low res would be appreciated? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

About Goddard...
Warren Wilson's program actually began at Goddard in the 1970s. After Goddard went through one of its many financial crises, Ellen Bryan Voight left and reinvented the program at WWC. After a period of transition, Goddard re-started their MFA-CW program and it has grown over the last decade.

Goddard's faculty is amazing. They are not big names; they don't have superstar sales, but they know what really matters--craft, vision, and truth. Their objective is to help the writer dig deep to find their own personal truth, say something that matters, and to create art...not sales. This may come across as "touchy-feely" or "hands on," but it is, perhaps, the most important thing a writer/student can learn, a writer must learn.

Windiciti said...

Rejected by Bennington for Fiction! They are very distant, quite cold when you call there...

Still waiting for WWC...can't go there w/o a scholarship, I think.
They are extremely kind, and understand a candidate's anxiety about the process, the $, etc. Worth waiting for, IMO, great rep.

What do you all think about going to a brand NEW school suach as the Sewanee School of Letters at the U of the South? I love Erin McGraw who is going to teach the Fiction class this summer in June.
This MFA program only meets in the summer and can be completed in 4 summers. Only 10 to a class!

Anonymous said...

Hi...I have offers from two programs, one well-known, well-respected and one that is pretty new. Now, the newer one has fine faculty, according to the bios, and their students have been successful at publishing; the program also offers cross-genre opportunities while the other discourages it; lastly it offers some teaching experience while the other states the program is for writing, not for training teachers.

Now, I am focused and have a fiction project I want to complete during my tenure there, but some cross-genre pollination would be welcome for me; and while I'm not presently interested in pursuing a full-time academic job, I would like to teach if only part-time and for local workshops, etc.

So, how important is reputation? When is reputation important, for what purpose? Does it help you get published? Does it help you land a job?

One thing I'm also a little discouraged about at both programs is that they both had negative things to say about the other.

Anyway, thoughts about choosing program on reputation and what significance that has on a future writing career?

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm looking for some help as well. I've been accepted to Antioch and Vermont, still waiting on Warren Wilson and Farleigh Dickinson. Antioch has been incredibly welcoming, but Vermont seems to have a better rep. Any comments? Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

For all you Warren Wilson hopefuls:
Found out today on the phone that I didn't make the first cut for Fiction. BTW I called them.
They have about 200 applications total, and will take 10 Fiction writers.
Disappointed, but glad it's over.
Have two other acceptances.
Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

Hey Queen: Why are you skeptical about Queens University's online workshopping method? I've been accepted there as well and the it seemed to me it was simply exchanging stories by e-mail in order to get feedback from peers as well as profs when you are not at the workshops. I like the idea. But then, I work at a dot-com and became one with the Internet ten years ago. (blush) So I'm comfortable with idea and would like to know if you have any more insight as to why some feel it doesn't work. I'm hoping I'll make some enthusiastic chums and we'll swap comments frequently anyway, or maybe just send those bad Internet jokes back and forth for comic relief.

I'm deciding between Queens and another college, but am leaning towards Queens for a number of reasons: fresh new look, like the books of faculty, it's in a metropolitan area, diverse publications -- a few profs have also published in music magazines and I freelance for a number of them, something in common.

Give a post if you find out anything else useful. Good luck in your decision making and congrats on the acceptances.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Bennington student here...just wanted to weigh in on the comment about most of our residency being taught by graduating students.

For one thing, it's not exactly true. Yes, there are up to three lectures a day by the graduating students. But they're short - they're over by 10:30 a.m. The meat of the day is the 1.5 hour faculty lecture after the student presentations, followed by workshops or other lectures or panels, with student readings in the late afternoon and faculty readings in the evening. All told, you get plenty of lecturing and teaching by faculty. In fact, I don't think a human could take much more in 11 days.

The graduating student lectures are there as much for the graduating students as for everyone else. It's your one opportunity to teach. You wouldn't want to be in a program that didn't offer it. It just takes up a little more time at Bennington because we don't segregate the genres like some other programs. There's only one event at a time and everyone gets the opportunity to attend everything on the schedule as a single group. Whereas at Vermont College, for example, you'll have a fiction lecture going on concurrently with a poetry lecture and maybe a nonfiction lecture as well, and people have to pick and choose.

That strikes at the heart of what separates Bennington from some of the other low-res programs. Bennington is big on an education in literature broadly, not just in your chosen genre. Fiction writers get a basic grounding in poetry, nonfiction writers learn the basics of fiction, etc. There's even an opportunity to switch genres for an entire term.

So that's what's behind three periods of graduating student lectures a day - not an effort by Bennington to cheap out on faculty. Besides, the student lectures are superb, often better than the faculty lectures. Why shouldn't they be? You spend two years preparing a 40-minute lecture, it better be good.

Anonymous said...

I just graduated from Queens MFA program (poetry), if anyone has any questions you can email me.

Anonymous said...

The problem for me with Queens workshop format is that it seems to replace the book annotations that other programs require, i.e. Warren Wilson and Antioch. You are required to write 500-600 words on each submitted story in your group and that occurs pretty much monthly. I would rather spend the time reading and analyzing literature to improve my own writing. That said, if you don't mind that, the faculty at Queens is well-connected and work hard to get their students work circulated. Antioch is an excellent program, modeled closely after Warren Wilson. They have several really good people on their permament staff.

uncharted said...

I am looking for an MFA program in creative nonfiction. Does anyone have any advice, recommendations, or warnings? Most likely I will be applying to low-residency programs, but possibly traditional programs, especially if they are in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thank you!! It's difficult to find out about nonfiction programs in general, especially low-residency ones.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know anything about UBC's optional-residency program?

x said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mirabee (Mira Bartok) said...

I just found your site after one of my readers asked about MFA programs. I am going to post your link on my site for her (and others) since it is so informative. You have a great site! Mira from "Mira's List"

Unknown said...

Hi There,

I'm wondering of reputable programs for nonfiction. Any suggestions? As a secondary question, I also write poetry. I was wondering if any low residency graduates could speak to their experiences at particular schools. I'd really like to get a feel for them before applying.

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4langes said...

Hi there, Looks like it's been a while since there's been any action on this blog, but thought I send out my question. I want to complete a low res MFA program and have been doing my research. The difficulty is that there are so many options, it's a little overwhelming. I'm not actually interested in teaching, but would love to learn more about editing and publishing. So many programs seem to include a teaching component of some kind. Any suggestions/comments would be welcome.

I'm also wondering is anyone has feedback on Augsburg in Minnesota? I like what I've read about it, and there is only one annual residency, which would be very helpful for me.

Open to any feedback while I try to figure out the best fit!

Unknown said...

Hi 4langes!

It looks like you posted a couple of months ago, but I have some insight on low-res programs. I've been accepted to:
The University of Nebraska-Omaha
Lesley University
Queen University of Charlotte
Goddard College
Fairfield University

I've ruled out three and trying to figure out which of the two I would like; basically it's distance/tuition vs. notable faculty.