2015, Archives, December 2015, The MFA Years

Shakarean Hutchinson Introduction (Applicant ’16)

Image: Andrew Taylor

I finished my first application today (December 8th) with the mailing of my writing sample. I expected to feel something when the USPS worker took the envelope from me—happiness, relief, nervousness.

Instead I felt what can only be described as meh. A 5 on a scale of 10. Baked but lightly salted crackers. Water. And not the icy cold water you drink after being out in the hot sun for hours on end either. Just plain, room temperature, straight from the tap water.


I didn’t know anything about MFA programs until about three years ago while reading the bio of a random writer who had a short story published in an online journal I enjoyed. And even after doing a casual Google search on MFA programs I didn’t give it all that much thought. My future plans included getting an advanced degree in…something (hadn’t decided at the time), become a professor, and spend the rest of my life teaching and paying off student loans. And should I write a story or novel along the way then good for me.

It was in 2014, while in a one on one conference, when a fiction professor told me that MFA programs were a rip off, but someone like me could really benefit from the added attention I could pay to my writing. Thanks professor who is actually really cool but also really jaded out by teaching at this point for opening the floodgates.

His comment began my obsession in researching programs—which schools had them and which did not, where they were located, alumni, class sizes, course load, funding, faculty, etc. I started noticing that a lot of writers had them. Like a lot.


And then Junot Diaz’s “MFA vs. POC” article came out. And within the discussions and think pieces on it was a dose of reality that I desperately needed for my research. I learned two things with that article:

  1. MFAs were not the end all, be all of writing.
  2. MFA programs can be tough, unfulfilling, hostile, and almost destructive environments for us POC.

It was after that article when my real research began. Just how many of those photographs of incoming classes had POC in them? How many had women? How much of the faculty looked something like me—black, fat, female? Was there anyone within the program who didn’t identify as cis het? Did the reading lists feature authors who were not white?

How many of these programs had some type, any type of diversity?


I’ve been thinking about this application cycle since May. I’m pretty sure that’s the cause of my malaise. I’ve had my schools picked out around September. And I was ruthless about which programs I wanted to apply to. A few notable ones didn’t make the list because, for some reason, they didn’t deem one POC worthy of their program. Or at least from what I could find. And, well, I’m not about that life. I would not miss them. And I have a feeling they wouldn’t miss me.

It’s tough when you need to include another requirement for the schools you want to apply to. There have been many times in my life where I knew being something other than black and female was easier. Researching MFA programs was one of those times. Maybe that’s the cause of my malaise. I want to go to an MFA program. I want it more than a lot of things in life.

But I don’t want to be in an environment where I’m the only one who looks like me. I don’t want to have to listen to people tell me my characters are too black or not black enough or something I have experience with not being believable. I don’t think I’m strong enough to handle that.

So I’m finishing these applications. I’m hoping that I’ll be done within the next week and a half, if I can manage it with these two papers and a presentation I still need to finish for my classes. I don’t want to obsess over them the entirety of December. I would like to have a bit of a break before my final semester in undergrad begins. And I hope, when that final application has been submitted, I’ll feel something. Maybe accomplishment.

That would be nice.

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