A number of writers in our Writers’ Café have MFA’s in Writing and we asked them to comment on the value they felt they’d received from their 2-year low-residency writing programs. Lisa Calderone, a Guilford resident, who did the marketing for the first ever MFA program at Fairfield U and completed the degree course herself, explained the main benefits of an MFA.
“Overall, the most important benefits were a sense of community and a thorough grounding in the craft of writing,” said Lisa. Others agreed with her when she said that having academic expectations forced her to write, even when she didn’t necessarily want to. Jane Sherman of Westport added that this course of study helped her set up a writing routine, which she still uses to ensure she writes every day.
I asked about the faculty. Our MFA graduates felt that having access to a high quality of faculty during their studies was a huge benefit. “It helped me form a network of writing contacts which I wouldn’t otherwise have had,” said Christine Shaffer of Westport, who was featured recently in Poets & Writers’ online magazine: http://www.pw.org/content/portraits_from_MFA_nation .(Here’s her blog on Open Salon: http://open.salon.com/blog/frenchgirl.) In fact, the article (not Christine) and the list it provided of top MFA schools in the US, provoked an angry reaction from 190 writers and teachers, who claimed the list was unfair. Alison Flood, of the Guardian newspaper in London, was moved to write a whole article about it. Since she explained it much more succinctly than I could, I’m posting the link to it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/16/ranking-creative-writing-courses .
Back to the benefits of an MFA. With an MFA degree, you’re qualified to teach writing (while you’re waiting for your novel to hit the NYT best seller lists). For example, Lisa Calderone will be teaching an online journalism course next semester for Fairfield U. She’s also the founder and editor of Mason’s Road, the university’s literary journal. Here are their submission guidelines: http://www.masonsroad.com/about-2/submission-guidelines/ . Another graduate, AJ O’Connell, is also teaching at the university level. All in all, our graduates were happy with their degrees, and the new friends and connections they made as a result of taking the course.
At our last Café, Alex McNab brought information and some suggested reading about the granddaddy of all the MFA programs, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (http://www.uiowa.edu/~iww/). Here are a couple of books he suggested on the subject:
Mentor: a Memoir, by Tom Grimes
We Wanted to be Writers: Life, Love and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop by Eric Olsen & Glen Schaeffer
So, it’s up to you. If you need an incentive to get you writing, these graduate courses will provide you with structure, deadlines and potentially great or even famous mentors. All you need now is a little time and a credit card. If you decide you’re serious, check out this web page for masses of information to help you decide: http://creative-writing-mfa-handbook.blogspot.com/