2014, Archives, August 2014, The MFA Years

An Inside Look with Justin Carter, Bowling Green State University ’14

A photo of Justin Carter wearing glasses and a denim jacket. He has brown hair and is standing in front of taxidermy.

Justin Carter is a graduate of the MFA program at Bowling Green State University & a current student in the PhD program at the University of North Texas. The winner of the 2014 Sonora Review Prize, his poems appear/ will appear in The Collagist, Hobart, The Journal, Ninth Letter, & Whiskey Island. Find him online at http://justinrcarter.tumblr.com.

What was it like living in Bowling Green? How far did your stipend go there?

Living in BG was pretty great– the stipend here is a little on the small side (~9000 a year with two of the ten students in each genre having a chance at a summer fellowship), but the cost of living is really low– I had a studio for $375, all bills paid (although it was THE smallest apartment I’ve ever seen) &, with the town being so small, you don’t need to worry about gas much either. There’s not much exciting stuff in town, just bars & a few restaurants, but Toledo’s only a short drive away, & Toledo has– a few things to do. It’s definitely not a big city, but it helps fill some of the gaps that BG has. But I love how small the town is. Just last night, I went to my favorite bar here one last time & ran into someone from my cohort. Also– summers are great, the town’s just a big empty place & it feels like you own everything, & the line at Chipotle is manageable then.

Though, it was below zero for a couple of months. As a Texan, that was rough. I got to see a river up near Toledo that was just a giant sheet of snow & ice. Shit was weird.

How did the program equip you for and support you during your teaching assistantship?

I’d say this is my one complaint about the program. Everyone teaches one creative writing class & the pedagogy class for that class is great, but the preparation you’re given for the composition classes is lacking. The pedagogy class routinely covers assignments a week or so after you’ve assigned them, there’s a lot of unnecessary repetition (I think the library visited the class three times & just repeated the same information) & the structure of the composition classes here is– not many people’s cup of tea. You get a grad student mentor your first year, which helps cover all the issues that the class itself overlooks, so that’s nice. Plus, complaining about teaching brings everyone together! But hey! You get to teach creative writing, which makes the ordeal of the composition program worth it!

What was the workshop environment like?

Workshop here is pretty much the same as workshop anywhere, unless you have workshop with Larissa Szporluk (which, as a poet, you will at least once– there’s two poetry profs, her & Sharona Muir, plus a visiting professor in the spring every other year), in which case you get to have some kind of magical workshop experience, which I’m not going to ruin by going into detail. I’d say the visiting professor thing is a mixed bag— I had Eugene Gloria in my first year, & I thought it was fine, but it can be a little more difficult having an outsider come in if it’s during your final semester, because they’re not as in-tune with you & you’re driving the thesis train. I’d imagine it’s a bigger issue in fiction, though, the juggling of visiting prof & thesis writing, more so than in poetry.

What was your MFA experience like outside of the classroom in terms of literary journals, visiting readers, etc?

The non-classroom aspects of the program here are pretty rad. There’s a weekly reading series in an old chapel on campus. Every student reads twice– the second semester of their first year & the first semester of their second year, plus there’s always visiting writers. Here’s a list of names that came while I was here: Carolyn Forche (who, OMG, was great– &, because she’s Carolyn Forche, there was a reception at the university president’s house with free wine & these really fancy finger foods), Adam Clay, Lisa Russ Spaar, Dara Wier, Matt Bell, Tracy Brimhall, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Vievee Francis & other people that I’m forgetting, because I’m in the middle of moving & am too tired to think.

There’s also Winter Wheat, a little mini-AWP type thing put on by Mid-American Review. All the MFAs have the option of teaching little workshop sessions at Winter Wheat (last year I did one over sports poetry with Karissa Morton (& Matt Bell came to it!)) & we also get alums who come back & teach stuff too (Dara Wier read & did a workshop my first year, & I guess she loved it, because she came back the next year to lead another session).

Here’s a link to all the sessions from last year: http://casit.bgsu.edu/midamericanreview/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/WW13esessions.docx

It’s a great little event & it draws in a good crowd of locals, Ohio-based students & writers, & BGSU alumni. I think everyone gets to attend six different workshops + the readings, & there’s also an open mic/dinner afterwards, plus a book fair on Saturday where you can get books by the presenters + a lot of journals come to it, including Barn Owl Review, Rubbertop Review, & Midwestern Gothic.

So, yes, Winter Wheat– this year, Sharona Muir, Anne Valente, Allison Joseph, & Marcus Wicker are all reading & I’m bummed I won’t be in town anymore to see them. Sharona’s got a new bestiary out that I’m stoked to read sometime, Anne’s new book comes out in the fall & is going to be great, & Allison Joseph/ Marcus Wicker are both just so great.

Everyone gets to edit MAR too. Abby Cloud brings snacks to the MAR class. Everyone likes snacks.


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