2016, Archives, June 2016, The MFA Years

An Inside Look With Dan Calhoun, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Image: Kent Kanouse

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

Lafayette is in an interesting area. One of the upsides is the rich Cajun culture. The food is fantastic (red beans and rice, boudin and sausage, etouffee and fresh seafood) there are tons of festivals, and the locals are friendly. Another plus is New Orleans is a pleasant two hour car ride away from Lafayette (and Baton Rouge is a one hour car ride away and Houston is a three car ride away). Lafayette has the essentials: a good mix of local stores and restaurants and chain stores and restaurants. And if you happen to love daiquiris, Lafayette is paradise. There are at least six different bars dedicated to daiquiris (Daiquiris Supreme is my personal favorite).  The downside to Lafayette is the heat (summer is brutal!) and the traffic.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD after graduating from Wichita State?

I decided to pursue a PhD because I wanted a few more years to work on my writing. My MFA program lasted three years. After year two, I was burnt out. I really thought I would finish my degree and apply for any job I could get. Then a few weeks into my third year I got a second wind. The PhD program isn’t for everyone, but I still think it offers an amazing period for a writer to continue developing.

Is most of your coursework focused in creative writing or are you required to focus in other areas as well?

The course load isn’t overwhelming and remaining in an academic environment has helped me stay focused. I was lucky enough to transfer in 27 credits from my MFA so I can focus more on my creative work. From what I’ve been told UL-Lafayette’s Creative Writing PhD is more literature heavy than other programs. However, this last semester I took a Chaucer course, a Creative Writing Pedagogy course and an independent study course on Lil’ Kim. Next semester I’m taking a fiction and non-fiction workshops, and a course on 19th century British Literature. The faculty is fantastic. Sometimes departments have a lot of dysfunction that affects the students, but the work environment at UL is great and supportive.

What is your MFA experience like outside of the classroom?

One of the best things about the English program at UL-Lafayette is the Thursday Night Reading Series. Each week two students in the program read their work at a local bar. There’s a lot of great events happening on campus. People in the program are pretty good about getting together and hanging out. There are a lot of cultural events going on in the area (music and food, especially).

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

Honestly, what makes the program stand out is how creative writers are prioritized in the English department. It seems that most English departments favor literature students and treat creative writers like step children, but not at UL. We out number the literature students. My cohort consists of 8 creative writers and one literature student.


Dan Calhoun is a PhD candidate at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. His first book, Safe Sex, is forthcoming from LitRiot Press.

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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