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Preview: MFA Blog


: A Creative Writing Community

Updated: 2018-04-21T02:44:35.751-07:00


Interview with Tom Kealey, Robin Tung, and Ryan Pittington on The Rumpus


(image) Robin Tung (of Affording the MFA), Ryan Pittington, and I sat down to discuss a few guidelines and tips for potential Creative Writing MFA students. Thanks to The Rumpus for running this. We'll hopefully do this again a few more times. Application season is almost here!


The Rumpus: How perfect does a writing sample need to be? Are programs looking for potential or polish?
Kealey: It has to be completely perfect.
Okay, just kidding. It does, though, have to be the strongest work that the student has written up to that point. Prospective applicants should place most of their efforts into writing as many good stories, poems, or novel chapters as they can (in the months leading up to the applications). Then, they should seek feedback from friends who are either writers or who are particularly enthusiastic literary fiction readers. Then, writers simply send in the best sample that they have produced to that point.
By simple, I mean it actually is simple, though not necessarily easy. Read a lot; write a lot. Edit well. Get feedback. Finish the writing sample and send it in. In this way, potential students are not only focusing on the most important element of the application, they are actually using the application process to improve as a writer.

How Iowa Flattened Literature?


This is an interesting article -- How Iowa Flattened Literature -- about the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, though I'm taking it with a grain of salt. The subtitle is: "With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and eggheaded abstraction. The damage to writing lingers."

"Did the CIA fund creative writing in America? The idea seems like the invention of a creative writer. Yet once upon a time (1967, to be exact), Paul Engle received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was not really a foundation; it was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom."



This is a very fine review of Chad Harbach's MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.

Mr. Harbach delineates two distinct literary cultures in America, “one condensed in New York, the other spread across the diffuse network of provincial college towns that spans from Irvine, Calif., to Austin, Tex., to Ann Arbor, Mich., to Tallahassee, Fla.” There also exists, he observes, “a kind of wormhole at the center, in Iowa City, into which one can step and reappear at the New Yorker offices on 42nd Street.”

 The superficial differences between M.F.A. and N.Y.C., he writes, “can be summed up charticle-style: short stories vs. novels; Amy Hempel vs. Jonathan Franzen; library copies vs. galley copies; Poets & Writers vs. The New York Observer; ‘Wonder Boys’ vs. ‘The Devil Wears Prada’; the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference vs. the Frankfurt Book Fair; departmental parties vs. publishing parties.” And so on.

Applications/Acceptances/Waitlists/Rejections 2014


Let the lists begin....

Blue Field Writers House


(image) I wanted to let all of you know about a new writers residency called Blue Field Writers House.  It is a nurturing and supportive communal residence where writers can come to spend concentrated time completing their writing projects.  Writers can apply for residencies from two weeks to two months in length, and they will be provided with a private room, 24/7 access to the fully-stocked community kitchen, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, parking, and, most importantly, uninterrupted time to write.  Located in the University District of Detroit, writers will have the opportunity to explore all the cultural and artistic events that Detroit has to offer.  Blue Field Writers House will also provide each of its residents the opportunity to do a public reading of their work-in-progress.  Please visit the website,, for more info. 

MFA Fiction Advice from Elizabeth McKracken


Fiction writer Elizabeth McCracken -- who is one of the MFA application readers at UT-Austin -- tweeted advice this autumn for fiction students applying to any MFA program. The fine people at GalleyCat collected them for us (there are over 30 of them), so do check them out. Lots of gems here.




Check out a very wise article from Robin Tung over at Affording the MFA. "Statements: How Much Can They Help?"

One of many highlights:

Don’t apologize (explicitly or implicitly). If you’ve been out of school for a long time,  have never taught, worked at a paper mill for the last decade, grew up destitute or still live under the poverty line–whatever it is, find or impose a narrative line that shows the knowledge and experience that has come out of it. These are origins or outcomes  you couldn’t have changed for a number of reasons. Be a little generous with yourself while still being honest; view yourself from a different viewpoint. Your viewpoint influences the language, which controls the tone of your writing. Don’t put yourself down.

Advice from The Millions


Edan Lepucki has written a wonderful article, offering an overview of the "MFA DEBATE", but more importantly, there is a great list of things that potential students can do in preparation for their MFA. Check it out!

2. Join a writing group and/or enroll in a class.
Here’s an opportunity to meet fellow writers, to get feedback on your work, to figure out what’s bad advice and what is helpful. To get deadlines. To hear about new books. To receive guidance from a teacher. (I teach privately and for UCLA’s continuing education program, and I just pretend most of my classes are graduate-level. I think other teachers do the same.) And if you live in a small town with limited options, research online classes. If you don’t do this, then at least find a friend with whom to exchange work.

Poets and Writers Basics


A great resource is the MFA entrance page on Poets and Writers. They offer quick answers about Choosing and Applying to MFA programs.

Also, there is a list of deadlines on the right side of the page. And, a link to the MFA Program Database.

LitBridge Interviews with MFA Programs


(image)  The terrific website LitBridge has a number of very helpful and insightful interview with MFA Programs. Yes, some of the information here is a little sugar-coated, and much of it is quite insightful and relevant, going way way beyond what the programs offer via their websites. Some of the programs featured are Ohio State, Hollins, Florida State, Purdue, San Francisco State, Syracuse, Alabama, Houston, Arizona, Montana, UNLV, Oregon, Notre Dame, UNC-Wilmington, and Washington University in St. Louis.

October MFA mailbag


Okay, it's not snowing much yet, but it is the month of Halloween. I love these USPS ghosts! They definitely delivered some very scary bills to me this last week.

Of course, October is also a ramp-up time for MFA applications. I've included a post earlier to Katie Cruel's FAQs, and that should cover a lot of things, and our own Top 7 FAQs also covers much of this ground.

But send on any new questions. I'll be traveling a lot in October, but I will check in as much as I can, and hopefully our collective knowledge and experience can help those of us wading through the spooky MFA landscape.



Katie Cruel has written a very informative FAQ essay about her experience applying for MFA programs.To me, this is a must-read for any prospective MFA student. There are few absolutes in the application process, and Katie Cruel's essay offers very direct and wise insights into the process as she sees it.5) I don’t know where to apply! Where should I start?!?!!Here’s my very unorthodox method of deciding where to apply: I sat down with a list of the Poets & Writers magazine rankings, determined I wanted to apply to 25 schools (yes!) and got out a highlighter. I decided four schools from the top ten, four from the top twenty, etc, etc. As far as selecting schools, it’s really up to your preference. Schools without fully funding or >10 cohort sizes were out. Then, I picked universities that were in cities that appealed to me, and did lots of research on their websites. It was important for me to submit to all sorts of schools–ultra dream schools, quasi dream schools, oh yeah! schools, etc. (There are no such thing as safe schools.)[...]

MFA Day Job



Leah Falk has a wonderful blog over at MFA Day Job. It looks particularly at the post-MFA world, but it has some very useful and insightful observations relevant to prospective students as well. Check it out! Thanks for all of these terrific interviews and essays, Leah!

Brian Evenson Interview


Lots of great and often irreverent advice for MFA applicants here from Brian Evenson, in an article from the L.A. Times.  

Two of the Eleven tips:

2. Better to turn in one shorter excellent piece than a good piece and one bad one. Don't turn in work just to max out the page limit. And if you're finding yourself trying to cram all sorts of things into the page limit by changing the font and single-spacing, then step back and take a deep breath and think again.
3. Don't try to pretend you're something you're not. Most of you don't, and those of you who do don't do it maliciously, but just kind of slowly convince yourself into it as you write and rewrite your application. Look, it's easy to tell if you're faking. So don't fake.

MFA Interview with Lan Samantha Chang


This interview with Lan Samantha Chang is from 2011, but I think it offers a lot of insight into the application and selection process.

I'm not sure if I agree with the title of the article "Why Critics of MFA Programs Have It Wrong," as MFA Programs should be under a critical eye, and many of the critics are in fact right. And I don't think Chang actually says what the title indicates.

That said, Chang offers a lot of excellent advice and personal experience about the MFA World, including this gem:

I want the admissions system to allow for quirks, because it seems to be that outliers are the ones who often end up being quite good. I don’t know what the difference would be between the people who get in and the people who don’t except sometimes I think it’s timing. A really promising writer in their early 20s who has just graduated from college and applies to the MFA, like straight out of college, stands a lower chance of getting into our program than someone who has been out for a few years and has had a chance to have some experience, and grow, and season, and write some more, and test their writing, and develop a larger body of work. That undergraduate who gets rejected from our program when they’re 22 could easily get in when they’re 26.

In any case, it's worth checking out!

Mailbag is Open


The Poets and Writers MFA Issue is now out. And I've definitely fielded a few phone calls from former undergraduate students, asking questions about MFA Programs.

Let's open the mailbag for the 2013-14 MFA season. As always, we'll rely on our collective knowledge as we move toward answers.

Do check out our "Answering the Most Frequent Questions" post.

I have a question for applicants to get us started though: Which three elements of a program are you weighing (at this early time) when deciding where to apply: Program Ranking, Location, Faculty, Funding, Teaching Opportunities, Word of Mouth from Former Students, Length of Program, and anything else. Looking forward to our questions and answers...

Applications, Etc. Part 7


April is almost here!

Applications, Etc. Part 6


As we approach mid-March.......

Applications, Etc. Part 5


Keep breathing!  Keep posting!

Applications, Etc. Part 4


March is upon us!  Stay sane (it's not over until it's over) and keep posting!

Applications, Etc. Part 3


Keep it coming!  And the best of luck to everyone!

Applications, Etc. Part 2


I always try to start a new thread once the comments get up over 200, so here you go.  Keep those lists coming!



Now that all those applications are done, it's time to sit back, relax, drink a glass of wine....yeah, OK, we know.  But in between excessively checking your email/mailbox and panicking over never-before-seen typos, we thought you might take this opportunity to share with your fellow applicants your list of programs, and then, as the news comes in, your list of acceptances and....that other thing we won't talk about.  Comment away!

MFA Completed.


I'm not ready to write those words. Completed. Graduated. I loved every minute of being a part of Queens low-residency program.

It was a whirlwind bittersweet final fifth residency at Queens. As graduating students, we had a modified schedule - no more workshop! We did attend special topics seminars in the morning, taught by faculty including Lauren Groff, Kim Wiley, Jonathan Dee, and Suzannah Lessard. Topics ranged from publication paths, to novel structure, to the First Amendment and writers, and freelancing.

In the afternoon, we presented or attended graduating student craft seminars. Along with our thesis, Queens graduates are required to write and then teach our craft paper. It's a short session but a great experience. It's a quick way to see if you're ready for a classroom, university or otherwise. I wrote a brief overview of my craft seminar here.

Evenings were reserved for public readings, by faculty (I was thrilled when Lauren Groff read from Arcadia)  and by graduating students. Again, part of our graduating requirements include reading from our thesis. Each night was a mix of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. Any time that we earned from not having workshop was spent instead stressing over our readings and craft presentations. And on Saturday night, we graduated.

What's next? I go back to my day job. Most of us in the low-residency world will. Some of us will try for academic positions or residencies. All of us will keep writing. Because of the nature of the low-res program, I don't feel I'm pressured to search for that tenure-track job (unless it's something you really want to do). What I will continue to do is to keep the writing schedule I've created over the past two years.

Figuring out that writing schedule was the biggest plus, in my opinion, of the low-residency model. I'm not going to be thrown in to some unfamiliar post-graduation world tomorrow. I'm going to get up an hour earlier than necessary, and in those pre-dawn hours before the day job, I'm going to put words on the page.

Mailbag - The 12.12.12 Edition


Post your once-in-a-lifetime questions, comments, and concerns here!  It's deadline time!