2015, Archives, March 2015, The MFA Years

An Inside Look With Chloe Clark, Iowa State University ’16

What is it like living in Ames? How far does your stipend go there living wise?

Ames is a great town. It has a small and friendly city feel, something I appreciate after having lived in a larger city for my undergrad. Because of this feeling, though, it’s easy to be surprised by the food and local music scene—which seem like they belong in a larger city.

There is a huge focus on sustainable living, particularly in terms of agriculture, and so there is a great farmer’s market, co-op, and several breweries.

The campus, itself, is gorgeous (and is routinely mentioned on lists of the most beautiful campuses in the country) with a slew of art pieces and museums located throughout and a gigantic garden (which has an indoor butterfly house).

If you’re not as charmed by the small city feel, a much larger city (Des Moines) is only about a half hour away as well.

The stipend from ISU is one of the most generous around and the living costs in Ames are some of the cheapest. So, it’s entirely within reason to think that you could live comfortably and even save some money!

How has the program equipped you for and supported you during your teaching assistantship?

Teaching is one of the main reasons I was intrigued by the program to begin with and, I’m happy to say, has been one of my favorite parts of being here. The first month of teaching can be a bit brutal, you have only a week of training at first, but you take a pedagogy course while you’re teaching your first semester. So, it becomes much smoother as you get the opportunity to interact with a teaching mentor and get advice/ ask questions of your peers and more experienced teachers.

The teaching mentor aspect has been great for me. I’ve never hesitated to ask questions when I’ve been unsure of something and my mentors respond quickly and are quite willing (and happy) to give a lot of great guidance.

In addition to the initial pedagogy class, others are offered (which you can take as your elective credits), including in teaching creative writing and in teaching literature.

What is the workshop environment like?

The workshop environment has been a pretty positive one for me. I was worried that workshopping, at the grad level, might bring out competitiveness or unpleasantness. However, ISU really puts a lot of emphasis on being a community of writers versus pushing the idea of competition amongst peers.

I’ve so far taken a fiction, poetry, and a special topics workshop dealing with literary influences. The program also offers workshops in play/script writing and non-fiction. Multi-genre is really encouraged here. I believe that everyone in the program writes in at least two genres. There’s a lot of chances to explore a genre you’re not familiar with, and not feel like you’ll be torn apart in workshop because it’s not your primary genre.

What is your MFA experience like outside of the classroom?

Everyone has the ability to apply for a position on the literary journal, Flyway, and receive credit for any position that they get hired for. I worked as the Fiction Editor there and it was a good chance to get a feel for a national literary magazine from behind-the-scenes. One of the extra perks of working for the magazine is that you will receive money to attend AWP as well.

The program has an ongoing series of readings where 3 of the MFA students read each month. There is also a symposium each year that brings some great writers to read on campus— last year’s readers included Kevin Brockmeier. ISU as a whole also brings writers to their yearlong Lecture Series, some writers in the past year included Jane Smiley and Elizabeth Kolbert. This semester Alison Bechdel will be one of the featured Lecture guests.

How does the environmental aspect of the program factor into your work and into the program as a whole?

The environmental aspect factors into my own work in a very long-way-round sort of way. While I myself am very committed to the environment, that doesn’t necessarily show up in my work. The program takes “Environment” to mean something much wider than, I think, people normally take it to mean. Environment here is equally about a sense of place in your work.

In my own work, I write a lot of sci-fi and horror, so “place” for me is a very different thing than place in, say, the work of one of my beloved cohort members who writes very amazing rural-farm-based pieces. That’s one of the things I really love about this program—the wide range of kinds of writing being done.

In a wider sense of how it factors in, you do have to take 4 courses (12 credits) of work outside the English department that are supposed to reflect your place or environmental-based leanings. Some people focus on geology, sustainable agriculture, biology, etc. I took many of my classes in anthropology, for example, since I do a lot with folklore and mythology and the ways stories are shaped by cultures. So, obviously, there is a lot of room for taking courses outside the department that actually do interest you as a writer/ student!

What’s something about Iowa State’s MFA that can’t be found on the program website, that you think potential applicants should know about?

I think it would definitely be the funding. For some reason, this isn’t advertised very much on the website. Everyone in the program is fully, and very generously, funded. You receive your funding in return for teaching either 1 or 2 composition courses a semester. There is also one fellow a year who receives funding without having to teach. In addition to a stipend, tuition is waived, and you also receive health insurance (with fairly cheap dental and eye plans offered as well). If I could go one further, I’d also like to reiterate what I mentioned above: the range of writers isn’t mentioned on the website, but it’s something ISU should be extremely proud of!

Image: Sarah Cady


Chloe N. Clark is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing & Environment at Iowa State. Her poetry and fiction has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Booth, Bombay Gin, Rosebud, The Stoneslide Corrective, Wyvern Lit, and more. She also writes a monthly column on Fan Studies and Genre, Ghosts and Fandoms, for Luna Station Quarterly. In her free time, she bakes way too much, studies stage magicians and ghostlore, and tweets much too often @PintsNCupcakes.

If you’re a current student or a recent graduate of a creative writing program and are interested in being interviewed, visit our submissions page.

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