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pongo
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e-mail user

Sep 27, 1999, 10:19 PM

Post #201 of 2603 (12385 views)
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I went to Goddard, and the range of student ages was 21 (one undergrad
was finishing up with a couple of terms in the MFA program) to
somewhere over 60 (it wouldn't have been polite to ask Mara her exact
age, but she was retired). I submitted a chapter from my
then-novel-in-progress and, I think, an essay. At Goddard there is no
course work in the ordinary sense. You design your own study plan for
each semester and for the program as a whole, so you should direct it
toward learning what you need to make you a better writer. There are
certain requirements -- you have to write two short formal critical
essays and one long one (5 pages and 20 pages, respectively), you have
to do a teaching practicum, and of course you have to finish a book --
but how and when you complete them is up to you and your advisor (and
you have at least two different advisors over the four semesters; you
can only spend two terms with any one advisor). My first-semester
advisor never saw my work in progress, except the chapter that was
part of the application. During the first residency I realized that I
didn't want to write that any more, so I started something completely
new. I recall that he commented at our first meeting that my technique
was already fairly sound, so I guess that's how he received it. Other
students there came in with works in progress, and from what I could
tell the good projects got good responses. Goddard has a rolling
acceptance program, so if you get your application in now you would be
considered for the spring term. I didn't really spread out my reading
and writing. I tried to do some of each every day. It came to reading
(and writing about) a book every week, plus the creative work and
research on the critical papers, although I was able to combine some
of that with the readings. dmh


rebliv
Rebecca Livingston

Sep 27, 1999, 10:58 PM

Post #202 of 2603 (12385 views)
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The age range at Bennington is anywhere from 22 - 80 something with
the bulk of the students somewhere in the 22-50 range, but there's
plenty of older people too. I believe the deadline for Bennington's
Winter/Spring semester was mid-September, but you should check with
them to be sure. What genre are you applying for? Basically, if you're
applying for poetry, you send 10 pages of poems. If you're applying
for fiction or non-fiction I think it's 20 pages (either a short story
or a completed chapter or a work in progress). You plan your semester
with the faculty member you are studying with. You pick a reading list
20-25 books. There are five packets due each semester (send via
priority mail). In each packet (it varies slightly depending on who
you're studying with)you send 5-10 pages of poetry (I think its 10
pages for fiction or non-fiction, but it might be 20), a few short
annotations on your readings and a 3-4 page letter detailing your
reading and work. At the end of the semester a 10 page paper is due.
The teacher has 10 days to get your packet back to you with a letter
and comments. During your last semseter you work on your thesis and
edit and polish your final manuscript. Graduating students give a 20
minute reading and a 20 minute lecture on their thesis to the rest of
the students and faculty. Bennington requires that you devote at least
25 hours a week to the program (between readings and writings). I have
found that to do decent work and get what I need to get done, that 25
hours is just the minimum. Reb


kstorms
Kris Kurzawa

Sep 28, 1999, 8:58 AM

Post #203 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Thank you all for bringing this conversation back to life! I've lurked
all year and I think this is the year that I will be applying to
low-res programs. I am particularly interested in Bennington and
Warren Wilson. Rebecca, if you don't mind me asking- do you work
full-time while you do all of this writing? I work full time right now
and teach part-time and I'm trying to decide if this is something that
I can add to my full time job if I give up the teaching. Can either of
you talk to the reaction you have gotten from colleagues about your
programs. For example, are you doing/did the MFA to increase
enployment opportunities? To focus solely on writing? Both? In light
of that, what has been the reaction from people around you been like
concerning your programs. Does this make sense? Thanks for indulging
my questions! Your advice and wisdom are duly noted! Kristin


pongo
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e-mail user

Sep 28, 1999, 11:03 AM

Post #204 of 2603 (12385 views)
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I started teaching almost as soon as I got the degree (commencement in
July, start of classes at the end of August), so in that respect the
degree did what I wanted. (This is college teaching, of course; in NY
state you must have at least a master's to teach in a college.) Of
course, it also did a lot for my writing. And a lot of the people with
whom I was in school did the degree purely for the effect on their
writing. But that 25 hours per week sounds about right to me as a
minimum budget of time. That might be tough if you're holding two
jobs. I've only had one response that dealt specifically with my
having been to Goddard, and that was favorable. A number of other
academic opportunities are in the wind because of the MFA (most
schools have Ph.D.s teaching their creative writing courses, and
wouldn't mind having an MFA to do some of it), but what seems to have
been the biggest help is my real-world experience. dmh


champa
Champa Bilwakesh

Sep 28, 1999, 11:31 AM

Post #205 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Thank you David and Rebecca. I work with fiction. I am currently
working on a novel, at least I think it will be a novel! My writing is
centered on my experiences as a woman, an immigrant, and growing up in
India, in that order! I will be looking for someone who will be
supportive of the special angle with which I am writing and I don't
really think I will have a problem in that regard among the
faculty/advisors. I am not sure if I should send my short stories, two
of which have won prizes in a contest and one published in a web
magazine, or the chapters of my novel in progress. I also want to know
if the reading and writing you did as you worked on your MFA enriched
you as a writer - did it help you to write at a different level? take
more risks with your writing with confidence? What would you say is
one single most important thing you gained as a writer from the
program which you don't believe you would have had without it? Thanks
again for sharing your thoughts Champa


rebliv
Rebecca Livingston

Sep 28, 1999, 1:23 PM

Post #206 of 2603 (12385 views)
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I'm currently in the middle of my second semester, so I don't have the
same perspective as David who finished his MFA several years ago.
Kris, I'm not working right now. I saved up money from my past job so
I could devote my time full-time to the program, a luxury that I
realize not everyone has. Many people in the program work part-time,
some work full-time, but I don't know anyone who's working both a
full-time and a part-time job. That seems very ambitious in its own
right. The closest I can think of is one person at Bennington who
works in a running store full-time and trains for marathons. Talk
about a hard worker, last semester he also read over 60 books (and not
light weights either, I'm talking Milton). Of course, he now has
chronic fatigue syndrome and mono. Really. If you're going to work
some psycho schedule, please be sure that your can physically handle
it. Its ok to accept that you have limits. I'm in the program soley to
learn craft and improve my writing. I have little interest in
teaching. I'll probably get a job after I graduate in a field I'm
interested in (I live in the DC area, so there are lots of jobs), but
it most likely won't be a teaching gig. Champa, I recommend that you
send your most polished and finished piece for your manuscript and
save your less-polished work (which sounds like your novel in
progress) for the residency workshops. Many people come to the program
with works in progess and work on them while they're in the program.
At Bennington (and at all other low-res programs I believe) you'll
work with a new faculty member each semester, so you'll get lots of
different input on your work (not to mention input from other
students). As for my work improving, I noticed something just a few
weeks ago. In response to my first packet of my first semseter, my
advisor told me to stop revising my poems for a while. She thought
that my revisions were hurting my poems more than helping them. She
told me to write a good strong first draft of each poem and then set
it aside and move on. So that's what I've been doing for eight months.
I'm going out to St. Paul, MN this week to give a reading with some
other Bennington poets so a few weeks ago I took my big stack of poems
and started going through them, figuring out what poems I wanted to
read and edit them. Whoah, what a HUGE difference! Poems that I
thought were really strong last semester clearly have tons of
problems. Not only can I see things now, that I couldn't see just a
few months ago, but my writing has dramatically improved. I was a bit
startled. It didn't seem like I was making THAT much improvement as I
was going along. So yes, I'm noticing improvement. Reb


pongo
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e-mail user

Sep 28, 1999, 5:28 PM

Post #207 of 2603 (12385 views)
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When I was in my first residency at Goddard, I wrote a story. The
whole first draft, between workshops and meetings. (This is amazingly
fast work for me.) It was one of the best things I'd ever done. I did
two more drafts that semester, at the insistence of my advisor (who
actually said in one of his letters, "take it to the next level"), and
eventually finished it (or stopped working on it) at the end of the
next semester. I wound up writing stuff I could not have imagined when
I started. And that improvement came out of my readings as well as my
writing and the feedback I got on that. The main reason to do the
reading is to use it as a vehicle to think about writing. What we do
in an MFA program is learn how to think better about writing. The rest
is just finger exercises. The single most important thing I gained
from the program was a sense of what I needed to do to bring my work
up to a higher level. And that happened in that first residency. (Now
I can spend the rest of my life working out the implications and
figuring out how to put them into my work.) dmh


rebliv
Rebecca Livingston

Sep 28, 1999, 7:29 PM

Post #208 of 2603 (12385 views)
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I believe this has been said here before, but you get as much out of
these low-residency programs as you put into them. I am always amazed
by the occasional student I meet who skips a majority of the lectures
during the residency, skimps on the readings (either not giving the
time needed for the readings or not picking challenging texts) and
doesn't put a whole lot of effort into their own work. These people
don't make it to graduation (and often not even through the first
semester)because it is so obvious in the very limited work they
produce. The students who are hard working, committed to improving and
learning and honest to themselves get what they came to the program
for because they get to focus on their own curriculum. If you want to
study Shakespeare's sonnets in depth, you don't have to wait for a
class to be offered on it. You work that out with your faculty advisor
during the residency. Or whatever it is that you're interested in. Reb



missglove
Miss Glove

Sep 29, 1999, 11:08 AM

Post #209 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Does anyone know which low-residency program offers a "post-graduate"
semester & what that might consist of? E.G.


kstorms
Kris Kurzawa

Sep 29, 1999, 12:38 PM

Post #210 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Wow! David and Rebecca- you guys are wonderful! Thank you for
responding to my questions. I know that if I were to be accepted into
a program, that I would have to put my teaching part-time on hold.
That's a given. And I don't even know what my full-time job would say
to my being gone during those time, but hey...I won't know if I don't
apply. Right? When you talk about your advisor's writing to you about
your work, do you also talk with them via phone? Or is strictly
through the written word? What about email? Do you send things
electronically? oooohhhh, I'm getting so excited to apply! Now it just
means getting my rumpus in gear and doing it! Thanks guys! Kristin PS.
Champa- I too write fiction. Mostly short stuff, but I've toyed with
the idea of a novel, too. Go for it!


rebliv
Rebecca Livingston

Sep 29, 1999, 3:42 PM

Post #211 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Kris, It depends on the teacher. Some prefer speaking on the phone and
some like e-mail in addition to their letters, but all the packets are
sent via Priority Mail. Some faculty members have tried doing the
packets via e-mail and it really doesn't work out very well. Its hard
to comments on a manuscript on the computer and often they end up just
having to print it out themselves. E.G., I don't think Bennington
offers any post-graduate semesters, but they do invite a few alumni
back each semsester to help welcome the new students. Reb


champa
Champa Bilwakesh

Sep 29, 1999, 6:39 PM

Post #212 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Reb, David thank you so much for all your input. You have clarified a
lot of issues for me.I am now reading up all the material from the
programs and they all look good. Kris, bice to know you're into
fiction too. Keep us posted on how you're doing. Champa


pongo
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e-mail user

Sep 29, 1999, 11:27 PM

Post #213 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Some teachers have e-mail, some don't. I had one advisor who gave us
her phone number, but said to call only in an emergency, and two who
said to call as needed. One advisor never wrote anything back, but
sent his comments on audio tapes. One that I knew, but didn't work
with, was in the habit of e-mailing her students a couple of times a
week. I did send in one packet by e-mail, but as Rebecca points out,
he just had to print it out and mark it up. In fact, there are ways
around that, if everyone has the right software, but it isn't the job
of a student to change the way an advisor does her work. (Word has a
redlining function, which records and marks all changes on a
manuscript. I've used it with my students a few times.) And how much
vacation do you get? You should be able to schedule it a week at a
time, to coincide with residencies. That's what most people do, after
all. If you only get two weeks, it does mean that you get no actual
vacation for a couple of years, but a residency can be just as good --
or better. dmh


champa
Champa Bilwakesh

Sep 30, 1999, 9:27 AM

Post #214 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Good morning David and Reb, i am back with some more questions! How
did you develop your reading list? I tend to read a certain genre and
certain kind of authors but I want to be introduced to other kind of
writing as well. And how about books on the structure and craft of
writing, techniques and such? are these aspects picked up from reading
the works themselves? Can you share what a typical reading list looks
like? Since i probably will not strat until the spring semester I 'd
like to get a head start and diversify my reading. On the comments you
received from your advisors, did you feel good about them? felt
understood about the direction you were going in in your writing?
Thanks


pongo
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e-mail user

Sep 30, 1999, 11:20 AM

Post #215 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Ultimately, you will have to write a transcript of your program, so it
might help to think about that at the beginning. I established clear
goals for each semester, which could be translated into "courses." For
example, I was interested in reading criticism, so for two semesters I
had one annotation in each packet (that is, one book that I read out
of each three) was criticism. One semester I did a unit on the margins
of genre fiction -- things that were not quite standard Westerns,
fantasy, etc. I read a lot of books that drew on the author's
experience (not necessarily autobiographical). I did a unit on poetry.
In each of these I was helped a great deal by my advisors, who
recommended books and approaches. Here's the packet-by-packet
breakdown for my second semester. GHOSTS is the working title of my
thesis novel. This is the semester I did the unit on the margins of
genre. First Packet: GHOSTS, chapters 1 & 2 POETICS, Aristotle THE
NOVEL-MACHINE, Walter M. Kendrick/AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Anthony Trollope
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, Patricia Highsmith THE GHOST WRITER, Philip Roth
Second Packet: GHOSTS, revisions and new material THE ART OF THE
NOVEL, Henry James FOR A NEW NOVEL, Alain Robbe-Grillet THE INFERNAL
DESIRE MACHINES OF DOCTOR HOFFMAN, Angela Carter Third Packet: GHOSTS,
revisions and new material Long critical paper, first draft SIX WALKS
IN THE FICTIONAL WOODS, Umberto Eco THE KILLER INSIDE ME, Jim Thompson
HUMPTY DUMPTY, Damon Knight Fourth Packet: GHOSTS, revisions and new
material Long critical paper, revisions THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS,
Jorge Luis Borges AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER, Mario Vargas Llosa
SLOWNESS, Milan Kundera Fifth Packet: GHOSTS, revisions and new
material Long critical paper, revisions WELCOME TO HARD TIMES, E. L.
Doctorow CARMEN DOG, Carole Emshwiller CRASH, J. G. Ballard Of those
titles, the Ballard, Kundera, Llosa, Thompson, Carter, Highsmith, and
Roth were suggestions from my advisor. The Aristotle was a suggestion
from my advisor of the previous semester. So I would say that while
you can pick up a lot of structural stuff from reading good writing,
it is a good idea to read good critical writing as well. For one
thing, you will need to write some serious criticism to get the
degree, and you should have a some models. For another, you can learn
from it. I also did a unit on 'how-to' books, to see how writing was
being taught, and most of them are useless, but the few good ones are
very valuable. If you want to get a head start on the critical
reading, I would start with John Gardner (not infallible, but very
good where he's good) and David Lodge. They're both writers and
approach criticism from that point of view. The Eco on my list above
is also very good for writers. And it can't hurt to have Aristotle
under your belt. But don't assume that what you read now will count
toward your reading for the program. It will only count toward your
education. Oh, and for craft I recommend CREATING SHORT FICTION, by
Damon Knight. Much of what it says applies to long fiction as well,
and it all makes sense (rare in these books). It's actual instruction,
rather than pep talks (Natalie Goldberg and her ilk). dmh


kstorms
Kris Kurzawa

Oct 3, 1999, 8:48 PM

Post #216 of 2603 (12385 views)
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David- Wow! What a list! It really brought home for me the ideas that
an MFA is more than writing, it's about critical reading, writing and
thinking. And that only when you engage in all three practices, can
real writing take place. Did you get much help in creating the lists?
Or were you purely self directed in your choices? Thanks for sharing
your ideas for solid writing texts. I loved "Writing Down the Bones",
but in recent years I find myself bending toward the more
"how-goes-it" texts on writing. Kris


pongo
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e-mail user

Oct 3, 1999, 10:00 PM

Post #217 of 2603 (12385 views)
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As I said, I got a lot of input from advisors on what to read. Some of
my greatest discoveries were recommendations from advisors -- the
poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Hugo's THE TRIGGERING TOWN, Roth's
THE GHOST WRITER, Nathanael West, Aristotle, Angeal Carter, and so on.
I set the basic goals, in consultation with the advisors, and then we
together set the reading lists. Some advisors demand more input than
others. Sarah Schulman, for example (my advisor in that second
semester whose reading list is mentioned above) set specific rules.
She insisted, that term, that each of her advisees include at least
one pre-Christian text (mine was the Aristotle) and one Victorian (the
Trollope). dmh


robt
Robert Thomas

Oct 3, 1999, 11:11 PM

Post #218 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Help, I need advice! I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I
applied this year for the Warren Wilson MFA program. Well, last week I
got "the call" that I'd been accepted, and I need to let them know
very quickly if I want to go or not, and I'm just not sure. The doubts
aren't about Warren Wilson. I've talked to at least a couple people
who have gone through the program and they are wildly enthusiastic
about it (although they did say it was a ton of work and some people
are driven crazy by the "academic" papers required). The doubts are
about whether I want to get an MFA at all. On the plus side, it could
be a fantastic learning experience. In fact I'm pretty sure it *would*
be a fantastic learning experience. On the minus side (besides its
costing a lot of money), I guess my biggest fear is that the "school
work" involved will leave me even less time for my own writing than I
have now, which could be very very frustrating. It's not that I just
want to write. I love to read too. (The Triggering Town, as David
mentioned above, is a great book about writing poetry.) But I'll still
be working at least part-time, and if I have to spend one of my
precious writing days worrying about turning in some paper on
symbolism in John Donne, I may go ballistic. Words of wisdom, anyone?


penman
Jason Paul Bokenkamp

Oct 3, 1999, 11:36 PM

Post #219 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Well, go ballistic! It seems like a great opportunity. I'm in
Australia, and would like to know who publishes this book, "The
Triggering Town"?


robt
Robert Thomas

Oct 4, 1999, 1:39 AM

Post #220 of 2603 (12385 views)
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W.W. Norton & Co. It's listed in www.amazon.com, The Triggering Town
by Richard Hugo.


kstorms
Kris Kurzawa

Oct 4, 1999, 10:47 AM

Post #221 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Robert- My instinct says to tell you- GO!!! You'll shoot yourself in
the foot if you don't even try! And heck- it's only 2 years. But I do
want to be sensitive to your concerns about going to. Why did you
apply? Have those reasons changed recently? Or is it just the reality
of the acceptance that is making things more complicated? Good luck on
this complicated decision and congratulations on the acceptance! Kris


pongo
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e-mail user

Oct 4, 1999, 11:25 AM

Post #222 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Robert, a lot of you school work will be your own writing. In order to
get an MFA you have to write a book. I never sent in a packet that
didn't include new creative work (except maybe once, when I delivered
my major critical paper; I'd have to check my records). And the
important thing isn't thinking about symbolism in John Donne, it's
thinking about what you can learn from John Donne. In a good program
(and I understand that Warren Wilson is a good program), everything
you do goes toward your understanding of your own writing. Your
annotations, which are informal critical pieces, are about how the
book connects to your own work. Your formal criticism is about your
own critical concerns, which I would hope come out of your own work.
dmh


rebliv
Rebecca Livingston

Oct 4, 1999, 1:02 PM

Post #223 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Champa, I spent my first semester reading some of the many "classics"
that I never read before and felt kind of ridiculous for not having
read (Auden, Bishop, Lawrence, H.D., Dylan Thomas, Whitman, Yeats,
cummings, etc.). This semester I'm reading more contemporary poets
(O'Hara, Kees, Neruda, Carruth, etc.). You should come to the
residency with an idea of what you're interested in reading for the
semester and work out a list with your faculty advisor. They'll
probably make suggestions. I always come with a tentative reading list
and modify it when I come to the residency. Also, your reading list
should in some ways reflect who you're studying with, meaning, you
should take the opportunity to study the things that your faculty
member is an expert in. While all the faculty members have a broad
knowledge of literature, many have specialities. For instance, if you
study with David Lehman, it would be silly not to take that chance and
study the New York School poets (Ashbery, O'Hara, Koch and Schuyler).
Reb


champa
Champa Bilwakesh

Oct 5, 1999, 12:14 PM

Post #224 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Thank you again David and Reb. BTW does Goodard REALLY want 3-6 SINGLE
spaced personal essay? I keep wondering if that was a typo! Robert,
GO! I believe what David says that you will be writing too.I expect
and hope that what I learn will inform my writing and will only get
better. I am attending the open house at Vermont College on Saturday,
the 9th. Any ideas on what I should be looking for, who I should talk
to, what questions to ask? Thanks


dkm
Diane Kirsten-Martin

Oct 5, 1999, 2:57 PM

Post #225 of 2603 (12385 views)
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Ask if anyone there lives in the Bay Area and called about a poetry
workshop. Only joking about your inquiry, but this did happen--and the
phone number they left didn't work and they forgot to leave their
name, so I never got back to them. All I know is that they're in a
low-residency at Vermont college.

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