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malber


Feb 22, 2007, 9:13 PM

Post #26 of 213 (3417 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

well, i definitely didn't save up... :) of course, i'm not in yet... AND i only applied to programs who fund all their students. so there's that...

i wasn't an english undergrad either, so to prepare, i took a few classes at Eastern Michigan (upper level fiction for undergrads)... then i got rejected from a few schools my first time around (only applied to 3 highly selective places...and i was NOT ready). so i ended up working on (and this april, finishing) my M.A. in creative writing! so i HOPE i'm ready :) who knows, though?

as far as reading... there are few people you should read, but i wouldn't jam Joyce and Faulkner down your throat if they aren't your thing. i think MFA's are often about what's happening now in fiction, so i'm kind of focusing on the modern masters of short story/novel writing... my list would include:

Haruki Murakami, Donald Barthelme, William Trevor, George Saunders, maybe Ben Marcus and David Foster Wallace if you want some experimental. i really enjoyed "The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories" if you're looking for a collection. some great writers there: Lipsyte, Saunders, Powell, Bender, Wallace, Wells Tower, among others.


v1ctorya


Feb 23, 2007, 10:00 AM

Post #27 of 213 (3361 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

A note about the GREs- if you don't take them before September then that book is worthless, they're doing a major overhaul. Personally, I prefer the test now, it's shorter in time (soon it will be two sections of verbal and two of math, and you can't take it as often - only 20 test dates or so will be offered as well. Just a point to ponder.


jaywalke


Feb 23, 2007, 10:31 AM

Post #28 of 213 (3341 views)
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In Reply To
as far as reading... there are few people you should read, but i wouldn't jam Joyce and Faulkner down your throat if they aren't your thing. i think MFA's are often about what's happening now in fiction, so i'm kind of focusing on the modern masters of short story/novel writing...


This is an interesting discussion. I was just reading an article on Stephen Dixon's retirement from Johns Hopkins, and he mentions the reading background of students here:

"When I give stories to undergrads, I'll ask who's read Tolstoy. Nobody's read Tolstoy. Or I mention James Joyce, when we read a story from Dubliners, maybe one or two have read a story in high school. When I first started out, kids were much more serious as readers, and I could actually have literary discussions
with them, which I cannot do now. Even the ones who are the most avid writers are not avid readers. They just want to write.It's a paradox. It hasn't really stopped undergrads from becoming better writers than the readers who were writing before. You would think just the opposite. But then there's a problem. We grew up on Dostoevsky, Conrad, if there was ever a serious name, we read that writer. It also told us what not to write, because if the thing has been taken up
already, and you have a history of having read it, you want to go on to something new. So a lot of students are sort of writing what's already been written."

Complete article here: http://citypaper.com/printStory.asp?id=13229


Mainer


Feb 23, 2007, 10:45 AM

Post #29 of 213 (3331 views)
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Re: [jaywalke] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Joyce and Faulkner should be jammed down throats with reckless abandon. IMHO, "The Dead" and "The Bear" should be required reading for any writer of fiction.


malber


Feb 23, 2007, 10:51 AM

Post #30 of 213 (3323 views)
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Re: [Mainer] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

i'm not saying they aren't good, mind you. i'm not saying that i haven't read them. i'm saying if you haven't read a lot of classic literature, the surest way i know to really put you off on it would be to try and digest Ulysses. Maybe Faulkner was the wrong "other author" to add to that list of two, though.

and as far as that idea of "i can't have a literary discussion with my students anymore" goes, maybe he just can't have a discussion about the same people. yes, joyce and faulkner are both brilliant... but they don't speak to me in the same way as some of the newer (arguably less brilliant) writers do today.

i know i'm going to be killed for saying this, though.


jaywalke


Feb 23, 2007, 11:02 AM

Post #31 of 213 (3313 views)
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Re: [malber] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
i'm not saying they aren't good, mind you. i'm not saying that i haven't read them. i'm saying if you haven't read a lot of classic literature, the surest way i know to really put you off on it would be to try and digest Ulysses. Maybe Faulkner was the wrong "other author" to add to that list of two, though.

and as far as that idea of "i can't have a literary discussion with my students anymore" goes, maybe he just can't have a discussion about the same people. yes, joyce and faulkner are both brilliant... but they don't speak to me in the same way as some of the newer (arguably less brilliant) writers do today.

i know i'm going to be killed for saying this, though.



I don't think it's a classic vs. modern argument. He is saying they don't read at all. I try to read like the women I've dated: broad and shallow, old and young. (Malber: THAT is a statement to get one killed. I don't think the Barnes & Noble Classics mafia is coming after you. I'll draw their fire, you make a run for it. :-)

"Ulysses" drove me nuts, too.


(This post was edited by jaywalke on Feb 23, 2007, 11:06 AM)


Mainer


Feb 23, 2007, 11:13 AM

Post #32 of 213 (3302 views)
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Re: [malber] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not trying to argue with anyone, I just think people are afraid of some writers unnecessarily. I suggest to writing students that they start with the short stories. I also suggest they read Ulysses and Faulkner's novels with some help--preferably a seminar course or annotated reader's guides.


malber


Feb 23, 2007, 11:25 AM

Post #33 of 213 (3287 views)
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Re: [Mainer] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

yeah, mainer. i don't disagree. but he said he'd been away from lit for most of his life... and he mentioned reading the "classics". to me, that set off warning bells, like "don't send him into that stuff unprepared!"

also, i think it's important to know that almost nobody writes like that anymore. some would argue we're getting worse as writers, but i think we just speak to a culture much different than when the classicists wrote. just a thought.

annotation is KEY though. i just reread Lolita (i recommend!) with an annotated version and it was SO MUCH more interesting... i didn't get half of the references he was making.


jobieh
Jobie Hughes
e-mail user

Feb 23, 2007, 11:38 AM

Post #34 of 213 (3272 views)
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Re: [malber] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

In the most recent issue of Poets and Writers, and I'm simply saying this because it somewhat follows this conversation and not because I agree with it, but Walter Mosley writes "Many writers, and teachers of writing, spend so much time comparing work to past masters that they lose the contemporary voice of the novel being created in this day. You will not become a writer by aping the tones and phrases, form and content, of great books of the past..."

I would agree for the most part that it is very rare to see books written in the style of Faulkner, or Joyce (though I simply believe that nobody could write like Joyce if they wanted to, though that's a good thing), and maybe that is why contemporary writers connect better with the audience these days, though I think it's a shame that few books are written anymore with the levels of complexity of these greats as well. Milan Kundera maybe, but that's about all I can think of off the top of my head.


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Feb 23, 2007, 11:49 AM

Post #35 of 213 (3259 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

The most important single thing you can do to prepare for the program is the most important single thing you can do to improve your writing: practice thinking like a writer. When you read something, think about how and why the author did it that way, and what you can learn from it. When you write something, think about how and why you did it that way and not some other way.


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


Mainer


Feb 23, 2007, 12:12 PM

Post #36 of 213 (3249 views)
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Re: [pongo] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Great advice, Pongo.
Francine Prose's new book, Reading Like a Writer, is a fantastic resource for understanding how to think along those lines. I had very low expectations for the book, but I was blown away by its depth and insight.

Style issues aside, Joyce's stories are a perfect place to learn how to read like a writer. "Araby" and "The Dead" are masterpieces of story writing and aren't dated in the least when it comes to technique and craft. And that's why Joyce should be read.


piratelizzy


Feb 23, 2007, 12:19 PM

Post #37 of 213 (3243 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I don't think I could write if I spent my entire day with words


I work as an editor and I find that it's just the opposite for me. The more I write, the more I discover myself as a writer, the more exciting writing gets. I only wish I had more time to apply the momemtum to my personal projects. The biggest obstacles for me are my commute and the number of hours I have to spend keeping up with the tasks of making a living and staying afloat (as basic and spare as I try to make my life).

As far as how to prepare... I would say just write. Find your voice. Write, write, write. Get better. If going to classes and workshopping your writing motivates you to keep writing, then do that. Not everyone will want/need to go the way of classes, though. Some people--like me--enjoy writing as more of a solitary endeavor. Writing is writing; it is not workshopping... But preparing yourself to be a writer will take exploration, discovery and practice. So get that done, however you can. Oh, and yeah... Read. No one's mentioned Flaubert, but he is really "the source" of the realist vein of writing that still dominates fiction. And read some criticism, too, if you can stand it. It can provide perspective for some people.


'sup?!

(This post was edited by piratelizzy on Feb 23, 2007, 12:38 PM)


EastCoastPoet


Feb 23, 2007, 2:41 PM

Post #38 of 213 (3181 views)
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Re: [piratelizzy] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

The greatest advice I ever received as a writer came from Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin, my "mentor" if you will. He said, and of course I'm paraphrasing, "The only way you're ever going to become an excellent poet is to read. Read everything and everyone. No one has the ability to write anything unless they've read everything." And I find it to be true, not just for poetry. You may be able to write a poem or story without having really read much before, but how can you honestly expect to be any good? You need to know how others have written in the past, how others are writing now, to really understand how writing works at all. You might be saying, "Well, I have my own style," or "I'm an excellent writer now and don't bother reading much." Guess what? You'll only stay as good as you are now, then. If anyone honestly thinks they can say otherwise, feel free. But I seriously doubt anyone can refute the idea. People don't read as much as they used to and I really do believe that that has added to the decline of writers in the last few decades.


ghostracer


Feb 23, 2007, 3:05 PM

Post #39 of 213 (3159 views)
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Re: [EastCoastPoet] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

That's a very nice way of putting it--you can't write unless you've read everything. It makes writing seem easier, though reading everything would seemingly take forever. But I agree that this is the main reason for the decline of writers in recent years. I also think it has something to do with the landscape of popular culture. "People don't read anymore" because books don't have the presence they used to. Books get made into movies, people prefer to consume the time-allotted version, and the whole process of digesting the art becomes constricted within a visual or attitudinal framework. But writing is so old compared to filmmaking. There is so much more history to situate into a context, but at the end of the day the medium has not changed, no technology will change literature. Perhaps laziness has infected the world at large. But who will value time spent with a book? If other people insist on thinking people who read are lazy, then the people who read are moved to write, so they don't look so lazy anymore. I think it's a problem with American literature but it probably lends a unique element to the work that is produced.


flyinghouses.blogspot.com




piratelizzy


Feb 23, 2007, 3:31 PM

Post #40 of 213 (3143 views)
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Re: [ghostracer] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I was just reading an interview with Robert Olen Butler at Bookslut (oh, how that name makes me cringe, though) and he seems to think that reading will never go extinct, no matter the hoopla about the book being dead. He says that literature pertains to a "voice of the soul" or "dream voice" in a way that cinema and other media do not. (Though I think the best cinema can come close to approximating the impact of the best literature on the individual processing/enjoying/experiencing a piece).

I tend to agree with Butler. And I think people want to read, and that when tomorrow's Mark Twain comes along, people will recognize her and flock to her (or him ;-).

If writers aren't reading, we can't hope that others will read what we write. That much seems clear to me.


'sup?!


jobieh
Jobie Hughes
e-mail user

Feb 23, 2007, 3:48 PM

Post #41 of 213 (3130 views)
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Re: [piratelizzy] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Ahh yes, the almighty Bookslut web magazine. You know, it's actually located here in Chicago, and when I moved here in September and the first time I saw it I was like, "Wow, can they get away with that?" I hadn't heard of it before, but it's plastered everywhere and they have all kinds of readings and events and they advertise in all the papers and I see it nearly everyday, and I still haven't gotten used to that word. Not that I mind it at all, because I don't, but it's still like getting smacked in the face each time I stumble upon it.


scheherazade


Feb 23, 2007, 11:09 PM

Post #42 of 213 (3067 views)
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Re: [jaywalke] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Interesting discussion. I have no problem with Joyce and Faulkner being my key classics to attack first. For more arbitrary reasons, they were already at the top of my own list, along with Flannery O'Connor, perhaps because I'm intrigued by southern gothic (Faulkner & O'Connor), and fascinated by anyone described along with my first love, Nabokov, as a "prose stylist" (Faulkner & Joyce).

After reading B.R. Myers' attack on modern "literary fiction" in A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose, I'm a bit skeptical of trying to write after reading only contemporary fiction. I do read contemporary stuff, but I base my decisions more on instinct than on what is hot in the literary scene. So this ends up including some literary darlings like Martin Amis and Michael Chabon, but it also includes nonfiction writers (Susan Orlean, AA Gill), genre writers (Peter Abrahams, Elmore Leonard), and whatever looks good at the bookstore or library or recommended in a magazine. I consider that my candy. But now I'm trying to balance candy reading with more vegetables: the classics that, at the least, are a good source of fibre, but hopefully are even quite tasty once you get used to the flavor. I'd be ashamed to make my living as a writer without having read some of the more well-known classics, and without continuing to read more of them throughout the years. I'm wary of only reading contemporary fiction, because although it may teach you what current literature looks like, you can't really understand where it's going unless you understand where it's coming from.


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Feb 24, 2007, 10:50 AM

Post #43 of 213 (3018 views)
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Re: [scheherazade] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

If all you've read is contemporary fiction, you haven't started your reading yet. How can you try to write when you don't know what Defoe and Cervantes and Murasaki and Fielding and Austen and Zola and Flaubert (and on and on) did with the same human materials?


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


vronsky


Feb 24, 2007, 12:04 PM

Post #44 of 213 (3000 views)
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Re: [pongo] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Not to mention THE RUSSIANS. Jesus Christ, the Russians.


darredet
Darren A. Deth


Feb 24, 2007, 12:45 PM

Post #45 of 213 (2985 views)
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Re: [Mainer] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Indeed. While Faulkner is not being jammed down my throat, Joyce's "The Dead" is scheduled for digestion in two months. I'm in the graduate program at Vermont College. In the program I've read Anne Tyler; The Best American Short Stories of 2005; Flannery O'Connor; Andres Dubus; Raymond Carver (of course), and a multitude of others. It's a great time for discovery, both about one's own writing as well as the wealth of good writing that is out there.


LateApplicant


Feb 24, 2007, 1:12 PM

Post #46 of 213 (2977 views)
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Re: [pongo] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Couldn't agree more with those of you advocating the reading of the classics. Not only will you become a better writer, but a better reader as well. You'll realize, for instance, that many "great" contemporary American writers aren't that great. Just an example: remember all the hype couple of years ago about The Girl With the Flammable Skirt by A. Bender? I don't mean to trash her; she is indeed a talented young writer. She might become a great writer. But as for the aforementioned book, it's just an efficient rehash of Italo Calvino's (Italy) and Julio Cortazar's (Argentina) stories. "Efficient rehash" sounds a bit too harsh; let's say she's heavily influenced by them. Is that bad? Not at all. It's probably part of the process of growing as a writer. But a truly great writer manages to incorporate her influences and turn them into a distinct voice. Bender might very well come to achieve that. But she hasn't yet. And still, everybody went crazy about her. Oh her originality, her creativity, her imagination! She was honest enough to say Calvino was one of her favorites, and a big influence on her. If she doesn't buy too much into the idea that she's a great writer, I'm sure she can grow and become one. But complacency might kill her. And us. For instead of going to those great story-writers, we'll be enjoying the second-hand versions that are promoted in our (sometimes provincial) America. And, fed on second-hand lit, we won't ever become good writers.

Again, I don't mean to trash A. Bender; I like her and think her chances of becoming a great writer are very good. And I don't mean to trash American lit in general, of course.


Lglabor


Feb 24, 2007, 1:27 PM

Post #47 of 213 (2965 views)
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Re: [LateApplicant] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I also find it interesting that many if not most of the writers folks are referring to as the "classics" in this discussion were and remain incredibly innovative, breaking new literary ground, and that many if not most of the writers being cited as contemporary are, in my opinion, not terribly innovative or producing fresh new ways of working with language and considering the human condition at all. Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner, Proust, Borges, Melville, good lord even or especially Fielding from the 18th century and Cervantes from the 17th--sheesh, sit down to read them and you're all flipped around, you think 'did I go to the postmodern section by mistake?' So for me, this is the reason the so-called classics are vital: to be challenged as both reader and writer, to broaden my view of the horizon of the literary possible. I speak, by the way, as someone who did not take a single English class in college and have been trying over the last few years to make up for it by a self-defined course of the classics; it's blown me away to discover what a wild ride such a course can be.


LateApplicant


Feb 24, 2007, 2:20 PM

Post #48 of 213 (2946 views)
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Re: [Lglabor] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Ditto. Couldn't have said it better, Lglabor! (I share that feeling that for good post-modern fiction, I gotta go to Cervantes and the like... :)


JKicker
Jonathan

Feb 26, 2007, 12:52 PM

Post #49 of 213 (2867 views)
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Re: [piratelizzy] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

Your comment about the best cinema being somewhat equivalent to the best writing is timely for me after having watched the Oscars last night. For a couple of the awards like best original screenplay they showed clips of the movie with someone reading the screenplay over top of it. For every clip, I found myself thinking that it was much more powerful hearing the words than merely watching the action. Instead of just watching the general look through his binoculars down at the battlefield, you got "General Tsu peered through his binoculars at the worn torn beaches below. Two hundred tanks were mired in the sands, but still approaching omninously." (paraphrased). I just don't get that same stimulation from watching the same thing. There's definately something lost in the translation from the mind's eye to reality.


lculli18


Feb 26, 2007, 1:37 PM

Post #50 of 213 (2846 views)
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Re: [JKicker] Preparing for an MFA [In reply to] Can't Post

I personally enjoyed the "portrayal of writers" montage...

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