Hannah Reed is in her final year of the MFA program at Louisiana State University, where she edits the New Delta Review. Prior to entering the program, Hannah served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, where she worked with youth and their families in the southern Andes.
What is it like living in Baton Rouge? How far does your stipend go there living wise?
I like Baton Rouge a lot. I love the MFA program, which is the biggest part of my life, but the place is really pleasant as well. I live in this great neighborhood called Spanish Town where people are always out on their porches monitoring what everyone is up to; there’s a little informal community garden outside my house and a store down the street where they know what kind of candy I like. Rent is relatively cheap in Baton Rouge, especially if you’re coming from a coast or a bigger city, so you can reasonably expect to live on the stipend you get, although you won’t be living large, that’s for sure. Some people get by without a car, especially if they live near the LSU bus line, but Baton Rouge isn’t a biking or walking friendly city, and it is nice to have a vehicle here. I’m not from around here, so living here and learning about the cultures of Southern Louisiana has been a great adventure. New Orleans and Cajun country are not far, and Baton Rouge itself has its own arts and music scene that’s pretty cool.
How has the program equipped you for and supported you during your teaching assistantship?
Most LSU MFA students are classroom assistants for their first two semesters, teach composition their third, fourth, and fifth, and then teach a workshop in their genre their sixth semester. They take a class during their second year on pedagogy specifically related to the composition teaching. I was able to take advantage of a different path; during my second year, I got an assistantship working with a local school district on their writing curriculum and this year I serve as the editor for our graduate literary journal, New Delta Review. I can’t speak to the preparation for teaching composition, but I can say that the program has given me a diverse set of experiences and skills, and that I have found exceptional mentors who have helped me develop in each of my roles.
What is the workshop environment like?
One of the greatest things about this program is that people generally approach workshop with a very generous and collaborative spirit. It’s a small program, and I’ve always felt that we support each other and celebrate each other’s successes. That doesn’t mean that people don’t pound on the table and have fierce arguments about aesthetics, but there’s an underlying respect there that I think is really important. The professors—Jim Wilcox and Jennifer Davis in fiction, Lara Glenum and Laura Mullen in poetry, Mari Kornhauser, Zach Godshall, Jason Buch in screenwriting, and Femi Euba in playwriting—will all go to great lengths to help you be successful with your work. I’ve had professors invite me to coffee just to talk more about a story I turned in. It’s incredible how much professors will go out of their way to help their students, here—and that includes the English Lit professors as well. From what I hear, this kind of support and mentorship is fairly unique, and is one of the greatest assets of LSU’s program.
What is your MFA experience like outside of the classroom?
We have visiting writers—this semester Keija Parssinen is teaching a fiction seminar—and several reading series as well. Readers and Writers has brought in some awesome writers, some of whom give master classes while they are here—this year we’re going to bring in LaTasha Diggs, Cristina Henriquez, and several others, and that’s always exciting. The Underpass is the MFA reading series, in which all of the MFA students read at this bar that is literally beneath an underpass, or an overpass, I never know the difference. The Southern Review, which is co-edited by MFA alum Emily Nemens, offers an assistantship to one incoming MFA student, and the graduate journal, New Delta Review offers the opportunity to get some serious editorial experience under your belt. There are also opportunities to engage in arts outreach, community work, and work in public schools in the area.
Is Baton Rouge a literary friendly city?
Southern Review and LSU Press have a big presence and there’s a handful of literary events organized by local arts groups and non-profits. It’s a subculture, though– I wouldn’t characterize Baton Rouge as an enthusiastically literary city. The library is closed on game days, and recently I went out for dinner and noticed that the parking spot in front of the restaurant is permanently reserved for Les Miles. That might give you an idea of the more dominant culture…
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