Month: November 2015

Taking my voice back

Image: Antonio Bovino My first week of classes feels so long ago, I wonder if it ever happened. But the chilly autumn wind and rushing leaves confirm time has come to pass. Yet I am still the same as I was. I guess I thought being here would change me – that somehow, a truth would reveal itself and alter my entire way of thinking. I thought being in an MFA program would switch on a lightbulb in my head – that I’d suddenly have all the answers. Truth is, being here has just provided me with better guides. Throughout the application process, I felt like I was losing myself and my voice. Somewhere along the line, my submission piece stopped being my story, and just became a story. Before I came to Stony Brook Southampton, I went to work, ate dinner with my family, saw my boyfriend. Many nights, I’d lay in bed thinking, “Is this all there is? Will it be this way forever?” I still have many of the same worries today …

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Meeting Alison Bechdel, WUSTL’s Visiting Hurst Professor in Nonfiction

Photo Credit: David Blank   Something that really excited me about WUSTL’s MFA program was its impressive rotation of visiting writers. In nonfiction this semester alone we hosted readings from Dinty W. Moore, who also visited one of our graduate classes; and Meghan Daum, who led a small discussion workshop prior to her talk. Hurst Visiting Professors spend even more time with us: we invite one writer per genre per semester to present a craft talk and/or reading, read student manuscripts, and meet with students one-on-one. This semester, our poets met with Claudia Rankine, and our fiction students met with Joy Williams. Being the inaugural year of nonfiction, I didn’t know who WUSTL would be able to bring in. When I found out that our Hurst was Alison Bechdel, I felt pretty embarrassed that I didn’t know who she was. As my partner put it to me, “How do you not know who Alison Bechdel is?” I blame a few things: my somewhat isolated and closeted life growing up in a little bitty farm town …

On Finishing my MFA

Image: waferboard In September 2012, I embarked upon a creative writing MFA at Stony Brook, Southampton. This was my first return to academic environs since my completion of an MA in sociology in 2010. In the intervening years, I taught briefly. I also attempted to write on my own. The idea appealed to me romantically—sitting down each day at my desk, a diary open in front of me, and just writing, writing, writing. Ever since my childhood, I have been an inveterate consumer of notebooks, always eager to finish one as soon as I bought it. I was, as yet, unfamiliar with the idea of revision, happy to believe that the words I had just penned would make their way unassailed to the printed page. Writing on your own is harder than it sounds, much harder. It is difficult to stick to a routine when you are your own master. It is so easy to give up and say that you have no idea what to write, that you are suffering from a mental block. …

How Writing Saves My Life

This is the time of year when people start to talk a lot about gratitude and thankfulness. This is also the time of year when the days drastically shorten and leave with more darkness daily than light; that is both literal and figurative. I don’t remember how many years ago I  first heard of “Seasonal Affective Disorder” You may also know it as Winter Blues, or any host of other names that describe how people with ‘normal’ mental health, fall into a slump of sadness or depression during the winter months. As soon as I knew this was a thing, I knew that this is what I went through every winter, this especially sucks because my  birthday is in the middle of December. Winter is only a few months, so I never thought too much about this and having a bit of winter blah is normal for most people. What I missed in my initial assumptions about Seasonal Affective Disorder is that for many it is a precursor or early warning sign for clinical depression. Depression is one of those things that exist on …

Navigating the MFA Application Process: An Interview With Ishelle Payer

Image: Sarah Murray How many programs did you apply to? How did you narrow your list down? I applied to ten programs in total. While it was pricey—well, because it was so pricey—I went for broke, reasoning that I couldn’t afford another round of applications, so I had better hedge my bets. I was lucky enough that one of my recommenders was willing to sit down and help me to compile and revise my list. Step one was listing the writers that I most wanted to study with, while step two was narrowing down the list of writers to those with appointments at well-funded programs. Step three was shortening the list to the programs and locations we could actually see me thriving in. How did you approach your sample? Did you submit the same one to every program? Given my tendency toward writing very short fiction, I was nervous about sample length, especially given that samples are often limited to one to two stories. That said, the sample that I sent to UO consisted of two …

What is a Low-Residency MFA?

Image: Siebuhr This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about since I was given the chance to contribute to this blog. Most of the narratives you hear about an MFA are narratives stemmed in full residency programs. When I was applying for schools, there were some negative comments that were spouted out about low-residencies, and I almost missed out on a great opportunity because of a culture bias I internalized. Before we begin, I want to say a couple of things. First, I am not in every low-res MFA program. I am in one. Stonecoast is my understanding of how things work. Second, I have never been in a full-res MFA program, so I cannot do a directly personal comparison of the two experiences. With that in mind, what is a low-res MFA? Residency 20 days a year. Home the other 345.  I didn’t move to another part of the country to go to my residency. I live at home in Omaha, and I commute to Maine every six months for my residency. In …

An Inside Look With Kat Saunders, Ohio University ’15

Image Credit: OzinOhio What was it like living in Athens? How far does your stipend go there living wise? Athens is very much a college town (for better and for worse). I actually received my BA from Ohio University so I had already lived in Athens for 4 years. It’s a beautiful campus and town–rowdy undergrads aside. I loved Athens, but I think it could be a difficult place to move to as a graduate student because the majority of the town’s population is 18-22. That can make meeting people outside of the department hard. OU is known for its party school reputation, and at first, it might seem like there’s nothing else to do besides going to bars. That’s certainly not the case. All of the students in the program are fully funded. PhD candidates make more than MA students, but I found that our stipend went a long way in Athens. Rent can be notoriously high, but everything else in town is relatively inexpensive to accommodate the student population. Actually, housing was really the only issue I had …

The MSc and The Expiration Date

Image: Ignacio B. Peña I think it’s safe to say that a large number of people go through their lives and at some point (at many points) stop to ask themselves a very common question: “What the hell am I doing with my life?” It’s a question I find myself asking a lot these days, and I think it’s a fair one to ask. Every graduate student I know made the decision to pursue post-graduate degrees for many different reasons. However, pursuing a masters or a PhD is a big decision, and it’s not one that should be made lightly. It’s expensive and, if you’re disrupting a career like I am, it’s potentially life-changing. While my situation may perhaps speak more to the prospective grad student leaving a career behind as opposed to the fresh-faced 21 year-old transitioning from their undergrad, the questions are still the same. What is it exactly that you want to do? Why? I know that there exists the “career academic.” I don’t feel I can adequately speak for someone who …

NON-FICTION-NOW: My First Writer’s Conference

Am I cheating on my genre? Will my fiction be jealous?  Every time a writer is mentioned during the day, I open a window. At night, before sleeping, I need to close them. My browser is rebelling. Leaves are turning red. That rainbow-pinwheel-ball from hell spins like a hurricane. No more t-shirts at night. Winter is scratching at the window. Layers and layers; Mary Karr, George Saunders, Lori Ostlund, Geoff Dyer, Halidór Laxness, Wells Towers, Angela Flornoy, Betsy Lerner, Eudora Welty, Lorrie Moore, Barry Gifford—then BOOM… my browser goes down. I can’t afford a new computer. Perhaps a used hard-drive. Our program co-sponsored NonFictionNow in Flagstaff Arizona, hosted at Northern Arizona University. We got to attend, costs to be reimbursed. Thanks UNM. Flagstaff. What a town. NAU. What a conference. What an oasis of intellect. As I have never been to any conference of any type before, I have always tried to avoid hotel meeting rooms. I made a few rookie mistakes, like overdosing on panels and not researching the keynotes prior. (Just Roxanne Gay, …

Navigating the MFA Application Process: An Interview With Emily Corwin

Image: Steven W. How many programs did you apply to? How did you narrow your list down? I applied to nine schools: Alabama, Notre Dame, Indiana, Virginia, Temple, Syracuse, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Cornell. My list was determined mainly by funding—nearly all the programs that I chose were fully-funded—and also by geography. The Midwest has been home to me since always—growing up in Michigan and then living in Ohio for school. There was a comfort in staying here, but I also felt intrigued by the East Coast and by the South especially. My significant other is from Alabama and I think, by proxy, it felt familiar to me. At the end of the day, though, my top choices were located in the Midwest. It came down to practicalities: I needed funding, I wanted an easy move, and to not to be far from my family. How did you approach your sample? Did you submit the same one to every program? I sent work that, primarily, excited me. I sent work that I had crafted over months, with …