It must be the end of summer, since I've spotted a number of articles in recent days about MFA programs. The application season officially opens after Labor Day, shortly after the end of the writers's workshop season.
The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine ran a long piece Sunday by Janet Wells on the pros and cons of programs that offer a master’s degree in creative writing. While she focuses on Bay Area schools, her article also takes a look at the best-known programs, such as the one at the University of Iowa.
I’ve been reading the blog The Daily Pick for a while now, but never knew it was written by Tom Kealy, a former Wallace Stegner fellow who teaches fiction writing at Stanford. Tom has written a guide to MFA programs that will by published in 2006, but in the meantime he’s started a new blog about them. Kealy is soliciting questions about the programs. A little advice might be helpful, for these programs are tough to get into, according to Wells.
“Getting into a writing program may be the hardest part. The creative- writing MFA (usually an offshoot of the English department) now has the largest number of applicants in the field of English graduate studies. The Iowa Writers' Workshop gets more than 1,000 applicants for 50 spaces. San Francisco State University, the most competitive program in the Bay Area, got nearly 400 applications for 20 spots in fiction, 20 in poetry and eight in playwriting this year”.
Of course, for a true, uncensored look at MFA programs, read Bay Area writer Michelle Richmond’s fabulous essay in the anthology, “Bookmark Now,” edited by Kevin Smokler. It’s not online, but here’s a taste:
“What I remember most vividly about my first year as an MFA candidate are the parties. First came the welcoming party at the home of a beloved bear of a professor, whose backyard contained a little pond in the shade of some big green trees. That’s the first time I remember taking my clothes off as an MFA. There we were – a bunch of would-be Zeldas sans the fame and the old family money – frolicking in our underwear in a pond in the moonlight less than one week into our graduate school experience.”
Richmond must have learned something, because she just sold her third novel.