Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mailbag, Thursday, March 25, 2010 - plus, gosh-darn-it, some actual content!

Hi Everyone,

The new content posting has been pretty quiet around here as I seem to be one of the only people updating the blog these days, what with Tom and Seth busy writing and all, and I have been distracted myself -- with writing, teaching, editing, etc. Never fear. I'll continue to throw up new mailbags, and though the blog tends to quiet down over the summer, there will be semi-regular new posts with relevant MFA related content, so be sure to check back, no matter your status heading into the fall.

For now I have a grab-bag of links for you, and some questions I want to throw out there, and a few thoughts.

The eminently sane Vince Gotera (whose personal statement advice has already proved helpful to many an MFA applicant) has advice about how to handle acceptances, rejections, and (maybe most importantly) waitlists. Sure, this is from 2006, but I think it still stands.

Gotera suggests that if you end up with rejections, you should try and figure out why. The new incarnation of ALC, known as Driftless House (and which seems to be ALC minus Seth) is offering a service to help you do just that. You give them ten pages of fiction, or five of poetry, plus your list of schools, plus $90, and in return you'll get "in-line notes and an evaluation letter." That's nine or eighteen bucks a page! Just sayin'. (I work for less than that, if you are interested...)

This brings me to some questions: If you didn't get accepted, will you be reapplying next year? And what, if anything, do you think you gained from going through the process this time around?

For what it's worth, I always tell my MFA application students and clients that they should think of an MFA as a five or six year process: one or two years to apply, two or three years in the program, and a year to adjust afterward. And that's a minimum, in my opinion.

Also for what it's worth: last year I worked with someone going through her fourth year of applications. She'd been waitlisted before, but never had any full offers. After polishing up her stories and statements she went at it again and was accepted, in fiction, at multiple top schools, including Hollins, Brooklyn, and UNCW [Updated - it was actually UNCG, my mistake.] I can't take much credit on that one -- she did so well because she didn't give up, and used the time in between applications to workshop, hone her craft, and improve her stories. By the time I met her she was already in good shape and just needed guidance on statements and some final developmental feedback. But it goes to show that tenacity pays, both for MFA applications and in your future writing lives. Sometimes the ones who make it are the ones who don't give up.

***end pep talk***

More links: many MFA programs have really terrible websites -- any applicant knows this. But how many have blogs? NMSU does, but I'm not sure of any others. Can we crowdsource this one? Post your links to official (or, I guess, unofficial) MFA blogs in the comments.

Current NMSU student Carrie Murphy also emailed me to let me know about her blog, Master of Fine Eats. "Thought this might be of interest to the MFA blog readers," she wrote, "many of whom are already (if not about to be) poor graduate students."

Last thought: one commentator was lamenting over what to tell your recommenders if you don't have the outcome you were looking for. I say (as a fairly prolific recommendation writer myself) just tell them straight. They won't hold it against you one little bit, and most will be happy to get an update, no matter the results. I sometimes don't hear anything from the people I write recs for -- and I always wish I did.

For all this post's focus on possible less-than-desirable results, the acceptance season is not yet over, and there are still more happy "yay, I've been accepted" comments to come. So don't give up the good fight yet, people!


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Unknown said...

@ ryan: how did transferring work? and why did you leave your original program? Just curious.

Brittany said...

BEST BELATED BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER (my birthday was yesterday):

Just received word from Deirdre McNamer at Montana that I am receiving a TAship!!!!!! This was after they said it was "unlikely" that I would. I AM ECSTATIC!!

Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

Soo guys, I'm going to Emerson!

Thus, giving up my poetry spot at Sarah Lawrence (with a small scholarship, $8000). I really hope that benefits one of the SLC waitlisters here.

Jamie said...

@ Courtney

If money is a serious part of your equation, the answer would be reapply next year, right? Unless Hollins is giving you a really good chunk. Or else you're willing to play MFA chicken - leave your offers hanging in case there's some fellowship at a school slotted for someone who declines their spot and you're next on the list.

If you're up for swinging an unfunded/partially funded MFA, I'd approach the question from the perspective of what the programs will give you.

For example, I'd imagine the NYC area schools would be valuable for their proximity to publishing and media. If long-form journalism is your thing, being able to intern at the New Yorker or having editors come in and lecture, do seminars, etc., would have more value than if you were trying to do highly personal memoir, right?

I think so much depends on what you write and where you're at with it. First, why again does your progress demand that you go to an unfunded/poorly funded MFA program this year, vs. trying for a fully or better funded program next year?

If I were making your decision and were considering paying, I would ask myself exactly what I expected to get for however many dollars I was putting on the barrelhead. Would I be paying for something I could do for free or for vastly lower cost, for example something as nebulous as "finding my voice"? Would I be paying for something unrealistic, like a book deal or a super-slim chance of one? I would create a list - on one side, the cost; on the other, the benefits of each program, and the downsides (aside from dollar cost). And of course, create another list saying exactly why going this year and spending money is essential, vs. going in a future year at no or low cost.

Courtney said...


Thanks so much for the advice! I have researched all schools pretty extensively and it is hard to come to a decision. Overall, Hollins is actually the strongest in CNF and while their other genres are great, I'm pretty sure CNF still gets the credit it deserves at Hollins. At Hollins, I'm receiving the most amount of money and would go into the least amount of debt given that it is located in a pretty low cost of living area. I grew up in the south and would love the chance to spend some more time down there, so location is appealing. It's a very small program which is appealing to me because of the individual attention and because of location I believe there is a close community of writers down there, which is also something I'm looking for.

I think Columbia would be a tough school to attend based on the amount of money I would go into debt, in order to attend. In terms of connections for jobs after school my sense is that you're right Columbia and Sarah Lawrence would trump the other schools. When it comes head to head Columbia and Sarah Lawrence, I would choose Sarah Lawrence. I don't know that mucb about George Mason and I haven't been offered any funding, so for me the real decision would be between Sarah Lawrence and Hollins. Sarah Lawrence does offer the connections to the NY publishing/magazine/etc world, so that is certainly something to consider. It's also a bigger sized program than Hollins, by a lot actually, so there is more diversity. What I like about the size is that it still maintains individual attention to each writer. I don't like that Sarah Lawrence is a commuter school, so my sense is that the community of writers wouldn't be as close as they are at Hollins. Also, Sarah Lawrence doesn't offer teaching fellowships like Hollins does.

I did visit Sarah Lawrence and I loved the structure of the program and felt like I could see myself there, but I haven't really considered Hollins because I only just got accepted from the waitlist today. I had kind of decided, okay it's definitely Sarah Lawrence, and now this is making me reconsider.

What makes this a tough decision, is that I think these prgrams (Hollins and Sarah Lawrence) are very different, and I'm struggling to figure out where I fit and where my writing fits best.

Laura said...

@ Courtney,

I think Hollins might be your best bet. I love Sarah Lawrence and came pretty close to accepting their offer, but the amount of debt stopped me. So if you have an option that is better funded, I would definitely go with that one. And other than funding, I have heard that Hollins' CNF program is amazing and they're well-known for it. Sarah Lawrence is known for being strongest in poetry, I think. I think that the advantage of connections in NYC is really vague and not in any way guaranteed, so that doesn't seem like a determining factor to me, especially given the other advantages of Hollins.

Unknown said...

@ nonfiction Courtney

sometimes it's hard to discern your gut feeling when you're evaluating things logically, but from reading your post with an outsider (ie not yourself) perspective, it sounds like you're really leaning toward Hollins. of course, that could be from your initial elation about getting off the waitlist (congrats!) and getting maybe the most funding from there? (congrats! and what a nice way to be taken off the waitlist!) But you still have like, what, 3 days to make a decision?!! oh MFA deadlines :(

for the record, i think hollins sounds like a great school. (i looked into it for fiction, and only didn't apply b/c i felt the area would be too small/remote for me, though it looks beautiful.)

i think with any MFA, no matter where you go, you get the most out of it based on what you put in and from having specific goals, as jamie echoes above. anyway, congrats and enjoy whatever program you decide on!

frankish said...

I just called Florida International University and accepted. Miami, here I come! :D

Turning down other programs was a bit sad. On the plus side, there should now be funded spots opening up at Houston and FSU for fiction.


Mr. Hemlock said...

Congrats, Brittany. That truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

MommyJ said...

I still haven't been able to get an answer from SUNY Albany. I spoke to the department secretary last week, and she said the director would call or email that day. It's been a week, so I called again. She told me to email her regarding our comversation. Can I scream? There isn't any change to my status on the website, and she said she can't tell me anything.

Could this possibly be good news? Why would he have to call if it was a rejection? Aaaargh!

@Seth, maybe it's too soon to say presumed rejection for SUNY Albany.

Kara said...

Lydia E. Wright@

I remember, a long while back in this blog, that you posted that you got into UCSD. Did you accept their offer? I did, in Fiction.

Is anyone else going to UCSD this Fall?

Kara said...


phillywriter said...

I woke up this morning with so much hope. I thought maybe Dolores Humbert's and Ariel's Indiana spots were still floating out there due to AWP delays. I thought the "short waitling list" at Indiana was perhaps getting short enough to put me within reach (since Ariel and M.Fit made it off the waitlist). But alas, no word.

I'm trying to think of a reason why Indiana may not have contacted the waitlist for those two spots yet, but with each passing minute I fear more for the worst.

The day started with hope and now it's just the usual tortured anxiety.

Thanks for reading my frustrated rambles.

Emma said...

I know other people have asked this, but no one's given an answer -- whom should I call to accept? Whom should I call to decline?

Thank you!

frankish said...

@Emma - I called the director of the program to accept. If there was a particular faculty member who was your main contact, you might call them instead and just send an email to the director.

I decided to email the schools where I declined. I sent an email to the program director in one case and to the program director's assistant in another, since she had been my primary contact.

Hope that helps!

Unknown said...


what's your email address? I wouldn't mind answering your question privately. I don't really want to name the school that I left publically.

Unknown said...

@ ryan : elio00921 at gmail dot com.

thanks. i look forward to your email.

Unknown said...

Gena here, reporting rejection across the board. I was "released" from Bama's waitlist (don't know if the whole waitlist was released, do not fret). If I had another offer to go to-- (and honestly, an offer better for me than Bama? I doubt it)-- I probably would not be so dejected about it. But as it is, Bama, you've made me very sad.

I'll probably see some of you while reapplying next year.

In an aside-- congrats to Laura T and all the others who have decided on a school! Huzzah!

Coughka said...


I guess some admission councils haven't read The Giver?

Unknown said...

M.Swann-- it would seem not. Peaceful slaughter is not my thing-- though I am a red-haired female. However, I am not named Fiona.

Perpetua said...

Congratulations Brittany and anyone else who's had good news.

To those on the waitlist - hang in there, anything is possible.

Emma said...

Just accepted a (funded) position for fiction at the University of Montana, and am thrilled about it :)

I let go of a spot at the University of Oregon, and hope that will make someone here happy.

Brittany (and anyone!), are you going to Montana? If so, email me!

Andrea said...

Congrats to all the decision-makers! And to Brittany- that birthday mojo is working pretty well this year!

@ Courtney

From reading your posts, it seems like you're leaning toward Hollins. I know I'm just a random stranger, but reading your initial list, I thought, "Go with Hollins!" Good luck with your decision!

@ phillywriter

We're all pulling for you! I'm sending massive good vibes your way.

frankish said...

@Courtney - Let me start off by saying that I know very little about CNF. But I do adore Hollins. I did a one-year MA there and think it's a great place.

Everyone has to decide on his or her own priorities, but during this application process I ended up deciding that it was much more important for me to pick a program where I thought I would get the best writing done rather than a larger for more prestigious program.

Good luck!

Brittany said...

@DigAPony: I know, right? I was so glad to see your birthday brought you good news, and I was hoping I'd get a belated gift! Woo hoo for birthdays and awesome MFA offers!

Brittany said...

PS: Emma, just emailed you! I am attending Montana and couldn't be happier.

koru said...

@Brittany, congrats on funding!

@frankish, congrats on FIU! :-) I'll be jealous of your winters!

@Courtney, I'll add my agreement to the Hollins chorus. :-)

@Emma, when i declined spots, i emailed the people I'd been in touch with at each school; it wasn't necessarily the director in each case, but whatever professor had been the one to notify me.

for the school i accepted, i emailed all three poetry faculty, since i'd been in contact with all three over phone and email. seemed to make sense to tell all. the real "acceptance" bit i think was having to click a button on their website, i think(?). anyhoo, they know i want to come so if i've missed anything i bet they'll tell me. :-)

@Sigma, as for whether you get the paperwork and all back in by the 15th, i suspect that depends on how organised the programme was to get it to you in a timely fashion. i've sent my paperwork back in. but they also had it to me ages ago. some of the late-accepting schools, or for people coming off of waitlists, they might not yet have the paperwork to return, or schools may do stuff differently. i guess just do whatever your program wants. :-)

Kristina said...


Thanks for the update on Hollins...the wait on them has been killing me!

Mr. Hemlock said...


I'd also like to know how transferring worked for you and why you left. Could you email me as well: sublissimes (@) yahoo (.) com.

We're all pulling for you, but if you don't get in this year I think next year it will definitely happen.

Ena said...

Anyone considering a funded spot at Maryland in poetry, and how likely you are to attend? I'm trying to establish my luck for funding, but I haven't seen anyone on here in there for poetry.

Also, three more days!

Jacqueline Stephens said...

If you were not accepted, do you notify your LOR writers by e-mail, or do you have to do it in person?

koru said...


I guess it depends on how you communicate with your LOR writers and where they are. None of mine are local to me, so I would email them. Emailing might be a bit odd, if, for instance, you see them in class each week. I don't think there's any real protocol, but I do think it's proper to let them know what the result of the process is, whether it's the result you hoped for or not. For those reapplying next year, your LOR writers might have some ideas on where to apply/what to do differently, etc.

pdg said...

@ phillywriter, inkli, all on indiana waitlist

I don't think I received this follow up "touching ground" email from Indiana. I only received the initial waitlist e-mail and told them I had no other offers. Did you mention other offers to them, and that was why they were checking up?

Agh, pretty anxious over this one.

Unknown said...


Sorry that I can't comment on funding because I didn't apply to UMD for MFA, but in terms of poetry, I went there for undergrad. Just wanted to weigh in that working with Michael Collier is absolutely wonderful and he has helped my poetry grow immensely. So if decision is based on faculty, I can say with a certainty that he pushed me to become a better poet.

~poetry Julia

Andrea said...

I emailed Boise State to remove my name from the waitlist. I got an email back right away that said, "So sorry to hear we were too late. We had a withdrawal this afternoon and I was just about to email you with our TA offer. Good luck."

Jesus. My logical brain knows I'm making the right choice, etc etc, but this is giving me quite the mindfuck.

Heads up, Boise State fiction waitlisters! A spot is headed someone's way!

jenpopa said...

Bath Spa? Is it rolling admissions? I've heard it mentioned here, but am not all that familiar with the program. Anyone care to share their experience applying or decisions to attend or not? I'm entirely unfamiliar with the program and found the website a tad frustrating, but that just might be my general crankiness today :) My general leanings right now are to flee the country and write elsewhere for a year, so I'm certainly tempted and curious. Please take pity on a waitlister with few prospects!

Morgan said...

Today I accepted my spot in poetry at NYU. I'm pretty excited. Anyone else?

kaybay said...

Ugh, no news from FSU again? Why are they doing this to me :(

And whose leg do I have to hump to get a story published. I'm getting sick of constant rejection. Makes me want to give up >:(

Anonymous said...

Just curious:
Anybody here accepting/declining poetry spots at Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio State??????

I'm on the waitlist at all three schools and trying to gauge my overall chances (which seem to be shrinking by the day).

Leslie said...

Kaybay--if you figure out which leg, let me know. Have had two stories rejected since my MFA rejection last week.

So maybe the universe is trying to tell me something????

Momus said...


My list for fiction:

Rutgers-Camden - Accepted, Attending
Rutgers-Newark - Accepted
NYU - Rejected


Charlie Bast said...

I haven't caught up on comments, but I wanted to say that fiction spots should be opening up at Eastern Washington and Hollins. Good luck to waitlisters! Also, someone at Hollins should be getting (relatively) epic funding.

Otkuda said...
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Otkuda said...

I've been away for a little while; wow, glad to see all the recent acceptances!

So, who will be attending City College with me this Fall? Who's still deliberating?

Anonymous said...

Hi, bloggers. This is the person who stepped on Seth's and others toes with a poorly written, rambling query about PSU a month and a half back, where I accidentally dissed Seth. I wrote an apology then and following that took a week or 2 away, and since then I've been mostly lurking in the background erratically. Odd as it sounds I never saw Seth or anybody else's response to my apology, until just a few minutes ago when I finally searched it out. But now I've read it and feel happy and touched with how nice everyone was in the end following my faux pas, and want to say thanks to y'all for that.

Daniel AKA Dandelion

Santhi said...

So I'm a bit stunned, this has nothing to do with MFA programs, but my writing instructor won the Pulitzer for fiction...

Alex said...

@Old Poet

I'll be either accepting or declining a spot at Ohio State (helpful, I know). I am waiting to hear back about funding from UWashington. If I get the funding, I'll be heading there; if not, I'll be off to OSU.

I don't expect to hear anything definitive from UW before Thursday, but I'll post on the blog as soon as I do. Sorry for being one of the people keeping the waitlist lockup going--or not going, as it were.

Best of luck.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for letting me know. At this point, I think Ohio State is looking like a longshot for me because I already know of a couple people (Nick McRae & koru, I think) who have accepted spots.

Best of luck getting funding from Washington! If not, I'm sure you'll enjoy Ohio State's program too.

John said...

Email from SDSU today. In for poetry.

Ali Haider said...

Just got an instructional assistantship at Texas State. So excited!

koru said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
many many birdies said...


I don't have my spreadsheet in front of me for exact figures, but I'm pretty sure I submitted something like 34 poems before I finally got one published - and since then, I've had something accepted pretty much every time I submit a manuscript. This is not because my writing wildly improved in the course of a year or two; it's because I figured out what to submit, and how and where to submit things (and my writing improved a little). I think the first time I submitted anything I did something like submit only to the Kenyon Review (or some similar lit mag, if it wasn't that exact one). I'm convinced publishing is not wildly dissimilar to MFA programs, in that you have to know your market. skip leg humping, *don't give up,* and make sure you research your market. :)

kaybay said...

Thanks Megan :) It's just so annoying! Your advice is helpful, though, so thank you.

Lydia E. Wright said...


Yes I did accept!

nattyish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nattyish said...


You also have to remember that getting published is a lot harder for fiction writers than it is for poets. It's just math: there's about 10-20 slots for poems in your average literary journal issue, while there are maybe 2-4 spaces for fiction. Even established fiction writers have a tough time getting things published! Based on my experience, a fiction writer who's published 1-2 stories will have sent out about the same number of submissions as a poet who's published maybe 5-15 poems. Which is to say, either one will have put a lot of work into submitting!

My instructor from undergrad (who had a short story collection and a novel to his name) said that his method was to send a story to about 30 journals before he would consider revising it.

Anyways, it's all the more reason to not get discouraged, and also to do like Megan said and try really hard to research what journals might be a good fit for your work. That means reading a lot of journals, looking at a lot of webpages, looking at their Duotrope pages, etc.

Kara said...

@Lydia -

I'm excited to "meet" another UCSD MFAer! Are you in Fiction or Poetry? I'm a fiction writer, myself.

Have you visited yet? I went down (from L.A.) last Wednesday for a TA informational session, and was supposed to have a longer visit this Wednesday, but postponed due to work. I really liked Sarah Bynum (and her book "Ms. Hempel Chronicles") and Anna Joy Springer.

If you want to share notes on the program you can email me at castle_road_designs at yahoo dot com. Otherwise, I'll see you in the Fall.

Mangs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia E. Wright said...


I emailed you!

Summer said...

@Ena - I'm in at Maryland for poetry. Also unfunded, however. Michael Collier told me they have 4 funded spots for poets this year. Good luck on getting the call!

Emily said...


This is my third year of applications. The first two I was waitlisted at (different) elite programs. Cost a lot of money to keep at it, and so many long-winded explanations to family, apologies for time spent to write, etc.

This year it all worked out beautifully, and by the skin of its teeth.

Don't be disheartened by the subjectivity is my point. That will always be an issue, but most writers get good because they persist and pay attention. Some persist and fail, we all know. Most do. But if you believe in your work, really, you won't let it go because you didn't jackpot your first time around. What were the chances you would?

Michael James Gossett said...


Maryland told me I was number 6 on a list for 4 funded positions in poetry. I got an e-mail last night offering me one of those spots; I have already accepted it.

I really wish you good luck with funding. I'm not sure if Michael Collier told you this, but he told me on the phone sometime in February that there are often paid teaching positions that open up at the last second because of late enrollment etc. He told me that they can't present these opportunities as "official" because they aren't guaranteed, but that they have nearly always opened up a few extra spots for MFA students.

I hope we end up becoming classmates.

Michael James Gossett said...

Ditto @Summer

See above.

Nancy Rawlinson said...

Official new mailbag is up.

Ena said...


Thank you, and good luck to you, too!

@Michael Bear

Yeah, I'm next on the waitlist, but I can't accept unless I get funding even if there's a chance for it later on. Crossing my fingers for one more person to decline!

Henry said...

Just accepted at NC State!!

No funding, but it's my first acceptance so I'm thrilled all the same.

Sud said...

@Henry-Congratulations, that's fantastic!

Jessica said...

Sycamore Review is technically independent of our program at Purdue, but the staffers are MFAs, and we keep the web site updated, blog-style...

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