In the moment, I probably nodded politely and smiled, as I’m prone to doing, but his suggestion frustrated me.
How, after living for two years on a barely-sufficient stipend, did he expect that I’d be able — or want — to fling myself across the country to a city with exorbitant rent prices where I had no job, no insurance, and no community? Had I not been living during the two years of my MFA, during which I moved to an unfamiliar-to-me city, taught classes at the university for the first time, learned to edit a journal, found my way into a community of writers, and struggled in draft after draft to improve my own prose?
I’ve probably thought about his offhand comment more than I should, but it also seems to encapsulate some of the larger conversations about the function of MFA and Ph D creative writing programs and the various pros and cons of making a life as a writer within or outside of academia.
More interesting to me than prescribing one way of life over another, however, is to examine the challenges and sources of nourishment in each, and to wonder about the possibilities that exist beyond a reductive dichotomy.
Allie Rowbottom: I remember once, after I finished my MFA thesis, you advised I take my time and sit on the project.
You said something about not publishing too young, or rushing out of the gate, and I’ve thought about that a lot now that I have published—one of my biggest challenges (or strengths? Now that my first book is out in the world, I feel an urgency to produce more, at the same time I worry that rushing never makes for solid work.
Teaching Fellows are required to take English 700 Practicum in the Teaching of Writing.
Students in the MFA Program have the opportunity to intern or volunteer at a variety of cultural organizations and events, such as the PEN World Voices Festival, the National Book Foundation, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and others. Students also have the opportunity to work in a variety of volunteer positions at the Poetry Project.
It’s time to do away with this distinction between the MFAs and the non-MFAs, the unfree and the free, the caged and the wild.
Once we do, perhaps we can venture a new, less normative distinction, based not on the writer’s educational background but on the system within which she earns (or aspires to earn) her living: MFA or NYC.