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wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Mar 23, 2006, 4:22 PM

Post #101 of 184 (4085 views)
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Re: [trumped] Low-Residency Programs (bennington, lesley, goddard, ww) [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, I'm in fiction. Bennington's fiction faculty is probably no less diverse than today's pool of literary fiction writers. It is becoming an overwhelmingly female profession. Our student body is something like 70 percent women. My advisors so far have been Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Virgil Suarez and Alice Mattison. If you want specifics about individual teachers feel free to hit my e-mail button. I don't want to take up a lot of public space with stuff that's so specific to Bennington.

I was thinking a little more about the question on craft instruction. Students get plenty of it at Bennington and in lots of other places. But I think prospective students have to be careful about what they expect as far as writing instruction in an MFA program. I've come to believe that the teaching is only about 10 percent of what you get out of an MFA.

You've heard the saying that writing can't be taught. That's probably an overstatement. But I do think it's really difficult. The writing process is so inner and esoteric and so different for every writer. Sometimes instructors can only guess at what's going on between your head and your pen, and they can be dead wrong. A craft lecture or class is even dodgier. Giving a group of writers a lesson about craft is like rounding up a bunch of sick people and prescribing the same treatment without asking anyone what's wrong. What works for one writer might be poison for another. Writing isn't tennis or knitting. There's no right way and wrong way. No teacher is going to advise you to move your pen in a certain motion and magically cure your ills.

That being said, a good MFA program - and my biased view is that this is especially true for a good low-residency MFA program - seems to improve writers almost by magic. The magic isn't exactly what you'd call teaching. It's knowledgeable, experienced, spectacularly well-read writers telling you, read this fantastic book and tell me what you learned, read that fantastic book and tell me what you learned - now write me a story (or a chapter, or 10 poems) by the end of the month. Now read again. Now write again. You could almost have a robot instead of a teacher. Except the teacher has some specific idea of what you personally should read next, and a learned opinion about how you did with the writing, and if you're very lucky, some vague idea about why you succeeded or failed and an ability to communicate it. And if you're unbelievably lucky, it comes with some career advice and connections to boot.

That's called mentorship. It's way more important than "craft." And I happen to think it's the best reason to choose a good low-residency program. It's designed for individual mentorship. Whereas the level of mentorship you get in a traditional MFA program will vary widely according to the program and the people involved. I can tell you from my brief time at Iowa a few years back that it didn't sound to me like those students were getting much mentorship from the faculty. In fact it sounded like the teachers were more or less refereeing a competition between the students. It's the last thing I wanted from an MFA. Writing is hard enough as it is.

That's my personal, completely unobjective take. For what it's worth.


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Mar 23, 2006, 4:36 PM

Post #102 of 184 (4076 views)
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Re: [AAuchter] Low-Residency Programs (bennington, lesley, goddard, ww) [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Hi, Wiswriter! I just accepted Bennington's offer, so I will be there in June. How do you like it there? Who are you currently working with? Any tips/advice? Pros/cons?

Thanks!


Hi AA - congrats and I'll see you this summer! I was posting my last message when yours came through. Feel free to hit my e-mail button if you like.

Pros: scenery, Donald Hall, bargain-priced alcohol. Cons: isolation, lecture fatigue, bargain-priced alcohol. Tips: Pace yourself in the pub. Be careful of the End of the World after midnight. Read "The Secret History" before you come. Make friends with someone who can drive you into town. For example, me. The rest should fall into place.


trumped


Mar 23, 2006, 4:39 PM

Post #103 of 184 (4072 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Low-Residency Programs (bennington, lesley, goddard, ww) [In reply to] Can't Post

That's very sound advice and tells me I probably need to stop thinking so hard about it. A program is only going to be as good as what you put into it to some extent and if a program has really sound advisors (with the qualities you mention) then a dedicated writer should do fine. I like your "sick people in a room" analogy. It's right on. Thanks for helping me get my head out of my butt.


AAuchter



Mar 24, 2006, 6:20 PM

Post #104 of 184 (3996 views)
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Re: [trumped] Low-Residency Programs (bennington, lesley, goddard, ww) [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Just curious AAuchter, where else were you considering? I've been accepted to Bennington as well and am trying to make my final decision.

I got accepted by New England College, Bennington, Pacific University (Oregon), Houston, and have not heard anything from Warren Wilson.


AAuchter



Mar 24, 2006, 6:26 PM

Post #105 of 184 (3992 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Low-Residency Programs (bennington, lesley, goddard, ww) [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To


Hi AA - congrats and I'll see you this summer! I was posting my last message when yours came through. Feel free to hit my e-mail button if you like.

Pros: scenery, Donald Hall, bargain-priced alcohol. Cons: isolation, lecture fatigue, bargain-priced alcohol. Tips: Pace yourself in the pub. Be careful of the End of the World after midnight. Read "The Secret History" before you come. Make friends with someone who can drive you into town. For example, me. The rest should fall into place.

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt? Ha! My husband's favorite book. Why read it? And, I am the Pub Pacer. We should exchange emails.


writerle


Mar 24, 2006, 6:39 PM

Post #106 of 184 (3984 views)
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Re: [ssd] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi,

I'm kind of new to this, but here goes. I've been accepted at Vermont and Antioch, and I'm having a terrible time trying to decide between the two. I've been told that both have very good reputations, though I haven't seen any postings about Antioch and I know that Vermont is older and probably more well-established. I live in California, so Antioch would be close, but not close enough to commute, so I'd still have to get a hotel since they don't have on-campus housing. Vermont is 3000 miles away, but at least I'd be able to stay in the dorm.

Besides location, the two programs are running neck-and-neck. Both seem to have a fairly prestigious list of faculty and student accomplishments. Anyone out there know anything about either of these programs that might be able to sway me one way or the other?


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Mar 24, 2006, 6:52 PM

Post #107 of 184 (4338 views)
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Re: [AAuchter] Low-Residency Programs (bennington, lesley, goddard, ww) [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt? Ha! My husband's favorite book. Why read it? And, I am the Pub Pacer. We should exchange emails.


The book is set at Bennington - the name is changed but everything else is the same. It's like a campus tour. Donna Tartt is an alum of the college and started the book as a student.


ssd


Mar 24, 2006, 7:44 PM

Post #108 of 184 (4319 views)
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Re: [writerle] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

I heard that Antioch has kind of an outrageous mentor:student ratio, like 10:1. Is that true? That would kind of scare me. I was warned off from Antioch, but again, that's hearsay.

I've decided on Vermont....though, board, actually I am having a last minute attack about Lesley. I had two great conversations with faculty members at Lesley and I think that should be the central criterion for choosing a program. I haven't seen any students talk about Lesley on here--anyone, anyone? Or happy VC people, please remind me again about how great the program is so I know I've made the right decision!

ssd


coolshoes


Mar 25, 2006, 12:02 AM

Post #109 of 184 (4291 views)
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Re: [ssd] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

ssd
I too am considering Lesley....and also had great conversations w/the director/faculty....I'm a little put off by the interdisciplinary part and especially having to begin on it in the first semester. The other thing that concerns me is that they do the faculty/student match-ups before you arrive at your fist residency, while many (I think most) other low res programs do the match-ups on-site at the residencies. Lesley says it makes more sense this way, doesn't waste time during the residency, etc. But then again, folks at Stonecoast have equally compelling reasons why they do it on-site -- getting to know each other first, the decisions are arrived at somewhat mutually, getting feedback from other students who may have worked with various mentors in past semesters, etc.
Ugh....is anything about this decision process simple??? Geez, having a few nice acceptances to choose from is supposed to be fun, right? Right?


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Mar 25, 2006, 8:34 AM

Post #110 of 184 (4285 views)
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Re: [coolshoes] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

At Bennington you're matched up with your instructor before the residency as well. You make your teacher requests in e-mail about two months before the residency, and you receive your teacher assignment in the mail with all the stories for your workshop about three weeks before you arrive in Vermont. Each workshop at the residency consists of two instructors and their students. It works pretty well - I think it must be difficult to cope with everything going on at a residency AND matching everyone up with a teacher. Plus I'm not sure how you structure the workshops if you don't know who everyone's instructor is beforehand.

By the time you arrive at your second term, it's pretty much immaterial whether you choose your teacher in advance or not. You know all the teachers by then and you've compared notes with other students. At Bennington some classes pool their teacher evaluations and share them by e-mail. The instructors in your genre are comparing notes as well and have some say in the process.

Antioch has the reputation of being more multicultural and experimental than some of the other established low-res programs, which have more of a tilt toward realist style and the so-called canon of literature - though with low-res such things are looser all around because of the large, diverse faculties. Traditional programs tend to have stronger, less fluid identities because there are usually only 2-3 teachers in each genre and they are often tenured.


rooblue


Mar 25, 2006, 9:31 AM

Post #111 of 184 (4280 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

At Warren WIlson you don't choose your advisor in advance. Once you get there, you prepare a semester project form, and you can list who you'd like to work with, but you're not guaranteed to get any one of the people you list. The program's strong preference is that you not put down faculty names -- that you let the faculty select you, based on your work and also on what you've put down as your focus for the term. You find out on the evening of the second day who your advisor will be.

Also, it's important to know that at WW, the workshop leaders float. You get two different faculty in your workshop each time it meets. So the student group stays together but the teachers float.

Some people would hate this system -- they want to know before they get there who they're going to work with -- and they don't like the idea of different faculty in the workshop every time it meets. Other people, like me, don't mind it. I have never put down names for faculty and it's always worked out for me. I have no idea how many people actually put down names and how many people leave it to fate to decide.


ssd


Mar 25, 2006, 10:53 AM

Post #112 of 184 (4271 views)
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hi there,

yeah, i kind of like leaving it up to fate, though i see compelling arguments for having the opportunity to choose who you work with (which I will be doing at VC). i don't think that should be the major deterrant to lesley. in fact, that's the reason i've had this nagging feeling that maybe lesley would be better for me--i absolutely loved the two faculty members who i talked to and they were the ones who had read and commented on my application. steven (cramer--the director) said i would most likely work with one of them since they had enjoyed my work so much.

i think the interdisc. component would be something to consider more, though everyone i talked to seems to like it and that it feeds their writing. one of the faculty members said it really didn't have to be a big deal if we wanted it to be, but it could be--lots of people have found new opportunities to publish/network/etc through their projects.

basically, i think there are advantages and disadvantages to every program/structure/etc you can think of, and we just have to pick one and go wholewheartedly for it. (i should listen to myself). the two mantras i am repeating "every decision is a good decision because it is a step forward" and "make a decision, then make it right."

good luck! let me know where you finally decide on! (and if you do ever make it into the city, let me know!)

ssd


writerle


Mar 25, 2006, 1:36 PM

Post #113 of 184 (4247 views)
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Re: [ssd] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Am looking into this. Emailed the graduating student I've been in contact with from Antioch and am waiting for a reply. Is the faculty to student ratio the only reason you were warned away from Antioch, or were there other factors?

Antioch does seem a bit more nontraditional and experimental than Vermont. Not sure if that's good or bad (maybe bad for me, as I tend toward the more conventional and traditional in my writing and my general outlook on life). Any Antioch students out there who could shed some light on this?


coolshoes


Mar 25, 2006, 8:13 PM

Post #114 of 184 (4214 views)
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I've been waitlisted at Goucher; and by the time anything there might change, it would be past my deadline for notifying Stonecoast (3/31)....I'm thinking all signs point to Stonecoast or Lesley for me...
I had the same experience as you, ssd: - talking to a great faculty member who liked my work, both for Lesley and Stonecoast.....Still I'm doing all the investigating and hard thinking I can about my New School acceptance as well....have been in touch with a few students and asst. director, and going to some events next week in the evenings where I can hopefully meet/mingle/question.
The thing that keeps sticking in my mind (although the low res model is definitely a better fit for my family life circumstances) are these 3things:

1. faculty/students and at least 2 writers I know said, kind of bluntly, that while Stonecoast and Lesley are "fine" programs, the faculty you will interact with there and the students there are in a different league than those you will find at The New School -- that those you work w/at TNS, both faculty and fellow students, will, I'm paraphrasing: "get you published again and again over the years, hook you up with agents and imporant literary folks, introduce you to the right people in NYC publishing, etc. for years and years." This may be partly true, but I tend to think this is a bunch of NYC snobbery I'm hearing. Thoughts anyone?
2. I have the idea in my head that my writing is too conventional for The New School, but one student said something I can't get out of my head: You think you know your writing going in, but you have no idea where the program will take your writing. And so I'm thinking I may be selling myself short and should allow that my writing could grow into something even I can't foresee now. Still, can't that happen with any good faculty/mentor; whether traditional or low res.
3. Finally, is The New School really as highly regarded as some think? I mean, I know it has a lot of cachet in Manhatten, but what about in the wider writing/publishing community? I keep thinking I shouldn't turn it down, since it's so top notch, but maybe it's not really all that.

Any thoughts welcome.


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Mar 25, 2006, 8:58 PM

Post #115 of 184 (4209 views)
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Re: [coolshoes] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

When I was working in publishing in NYC (as a book editor) I was not aware that the New School had an MFA program.

dmh


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/


ssd


Mar 26, 2006, 12:48 AM

Post #116 of 184 (4196 views)
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yeah, coolshoes, i don't think the new school is actually a highly rated program. nyu and columbia are the "name" nyc schools, not tns (and city college is #37 on that tired, old list of schools, which is pretty darn good). but, obviously, being located in new york, there might be opportunity for networking in the nyc publishing world. i do think what you say about your writing taking off in new directions is not an experience limited to the new school. that's probably just as likely, if not more likely, to happen at a good low-res program. but, at some point, after all of the investigation and analysis, you do have to go with your gut, too. if you are having such nagging feelings about the tns, maybe there's a reason. if you won't be able to stop yourself from thinking "what if" if you choose another program, then that is something to consider. because you've been on your own freelancing for so many years, maybe a residential experience is important to you--listen to that. once the decision is made, though, i do hope you can just commit yourself to where you are--you will grow immensely wherever you go if you are present with the experience.

ssd


willbell
Will

Mar 26, 2006, 10:27 AM

Post #117 of 184 (4183 views)
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Also, you might want to look into crossover...some of the faculty at Goddard, for example, are also faculty at TNS, NYU, City College, etc...hence the reason that most low-res residencies take place in January and July. Actually, I think this is another great benefit to low-res programs--the fact that they bring in a diverse pool of faculty. Instead of the 3-4 members of a traditional program, the student meets 18-20 faculty members at different stages of their career and different academic/teaching experience etc...


trumped


Mar 26, 2006, 10:47 AM

Post #118 of 184 (4181 views)
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Re: [coolshoes] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

coolshoes:

this is just my experience with The New School but I would say that given what you've said on speakeasy (life demands and writing style), the low-res programs may work better for you.

I live in NYC and had the wonderful opportunity to take three weeks off work and take a summer intensive program in fiction at The New School. The program was taught by TNS faculty and we spent everyday for three weeks (M-F, 9am-9pm) in a combination of workshop, readings, literature seminars and lectures. It was intense, extremely exhausting and a lot of fun. I learned a lot from my teacher, Sharon Mesmer, and enjoyed the experience as a whole.

What it did, however, was solidify in my mind that I did NOT want to apply to TNS for my MFA. The reasons are varied. First, I considered who my fellow students would be. Most of the people in the program, 90% of whom were taking the course as a precursor to get into the MFA program (as I was admittedly), were just out of undergrad and quite a bit younger than me. Not 22 necessarily because many were getting their BAs at TNS which is a program that caters to those who work while studying and therefore may take longer to get their degrees, but no older than 26 or 27 years old. The work, while fascinating in some respects, was what I thought of as experimental at the time. I now call it more of the "fiction slam" variety. I didn't know you could do that with work other than poetry but the work discussed and read by students were pretty much very long rants turned into stories. I chalked it up to the fact that perhaps the students were younger and still angry, very angry, with their parents for some childhood slights or something.

Next, my turn came up twice during the workshop (and although it was a 3-week program, we spent 2-3 hours everyday in workshop so the total number of hours would be the same as - actually slightly more than - it would be in a semester.) When I inquired, Sharon told me that that was about right for a semester workshop.

What blew me away though was that she said that she has to fight with the administration to keep her workshop to 10 or so students. They were looking to increase workshop size (and some teachers do it already) to 14. She thought that would be way too much to handle. And I agree. She said the program just keeps getting bigger and it gets harder to give students the attention they need. She said workshops used to be 8 but with the popularity in MFAs growing, the program was getting huge. Even at the open house I went to to learn more abput the program, two of the teachers who spoke said their workshop sizes were 12 and 14.

Hope that helps instead of clouding the issue even more. Again, wherever you go you will do well but the low-res format may allow you the time and attention you need at this point in your studies.

Good luck and let us know what you decide.


coolshoes


Mar 26, 2006, 10:40 PM

Post #119 of 184 (4128 views)
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Thank you, all of you, who responded with your insights. The thought you all put into your responses and your time, are so appreciated. I'm inching closer to a decision.

Does anyone have any thoughts of Univ. of So. Maine (Stonecoast) vs. Lesley? It's basically down to these two; I was waitlisted at Goucher and by the time I hear back, it may be past the deadlines for these other two, and Maine and Boston appeal more location-wise. Also, Goucher is only nonfiction, which I at first thought was an advantage, but now I like the idea of being exposed to the fiction and poetry faculty and students as well. So I'm heading to New England, I think, but where.......


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Mar 27, 2006, 11:27 AM

Post #120 of 184 (4094 views)
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Well, I think the opportunity to go to Maine for winter residencies would be deeply cool, but not everyone agrees with me.

dmh


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/


Tweedy


Mar 27, 2006, 2:13 PM

Post #121 of 184 (4061 views)
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Re: [writerle] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

So far, I've been accepted to Antioch and Queens. Waiting to hear from WWC, VC and Spalding. Queens wants my decision by tomorrow, but I haven't heard anything from my other schools. What should I do? Should I gamble, decline Queens and hope I get into the other schools? Or do I take the safe bet and just go with Queens?

I like Queens. I like the director and their syllabus had topics that I wanted to explore/study. It centered more on craft and hands on type of stuff than literary theory and the more esoteric stuff that I've seen at other schools. The faculty is solid, and really, the only drawback is the online workshops...Not a big fan of the blind leading the blind. During the residency it would be ok, but all year long? I dunno.

Antioch seems like a great school. I want to study under a few teachers there, and since i live close to LA, i think the network i'd establish would be, I'd hate to say it, better for my writing career (Eeek, that sounds sort of creepy, I know). Only drawback is the translation paper.

Arr! So torn. Should I wait or should I accept? Thanks guys for your input. Your posts have been really helpful and smart.


rooblue


Mar 27, 2006, 2:42 PM

Post #122 of 184 (4054 views)
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Re: [Tweedy] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

You might try calling the schools you're waiting to hear from to see if they'll give you any indication of thumbs up or down. They'll understand your predicament with Queens. FWIW, I agree about the online workshops being a drawback. The work I do one-on-one with my advisor during the term is more valuable than the face-to-face workshops. I've done one online workshop and the feedback was very mixed. Not everyone is a good reader, and not everyone takes the time to struggle with the author's intention for the work. The question for workshop members should not be, do I like or not like this piece? but rather, what is the author's intention for this story, and where does the story meet or not meet that intention? Good workshopping is really hard. I personally would be leery of a low-res program that focused on it to the detriment of the advisor/advisee relationship.


edwriter



Mar 27, 2006, 3:36 PM

Post #123 of 184 (4035 views)
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Re: [Tweedy] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi, Tweedy:

A few thoughts:

1) Online workshops don't have to be a drawback. When I was at Queens (2001-03), they really didn't work very well at all. My major frustration was with the apparent unwillingness to improve them, but I understand there have been a few changes more recently, and I hope they've helped.

2) Remember that many low-res programs have very large faculties (Queens fits this description). And like the students, each member of the faculty is an individual. Some are better teachers than others. Some are much more helpful than others. Some--whether because of temperament or style or subject matter or other teaching/writing commitments and priorities or any of a number of other highly unpredictable factors--are better teachers and more helpful for some students than for others. And different low-res programs have different policies (as we've previously learned on this board) regarding how those matches are made.

Side note: if you have a "bad match" one semester you'll be very happy to have the possible sustenance of at least one or two members of your online workshop.

3) I'm not sure what you meant by the Queens "syllabus." Do you mean the list of books you're supposed to read for the craft seminars during the residencies? In my experience, this changed every semester, depending on which faculty were giving the seminars. That may be the case elsewhere, too. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be a system in place for feedback on the short papers we wrote for those seminars at Queens. None of my workshop faculty assigned other reading, so the list of readings for seminars was really the only "syllabus" each semester.

By the way, I noticed a few months ago (before the January residency, I think) that the Web site was going to post the "current syllabus," but as of now that page seems to be still "under construction." Ditto the Residency Schedule page. (For a program that employs online workshopping, Queens has never seemed adequately tech-savvy to me.)

It's true that the reading (reading in general, not just "theory" assignments) and critical writing components of the Queens program are much lighter than what's found elsewhere. The problem is that (when I was there, at least) many people came to the program with fairly weak preparation in these areas. This did not help the workshop situation. Of course there was resistance to acknowledging this problem, too.

I found it very frustrating, but as I was repeatedly told by the administration, I was in a minority in this respect. But I also came to the program with a pretty strong academic background and was accustomed to rigorous coursework. Looking back, it's pretty obvious that in many respects, this was not a good program match for me. Which doesn't mean it isn't a good match for others. And which doesn't mean that I could have predicted all the "mismatch" elements beforehand, with the possible no-brainer (as I see it now) that I missed: a program that doesn't emphasize "outside" reading/critical writing is not likely to attract a community that believes those things matter very much for a writer's development.

4) Which leads (sort of) to a more general comment for the thread. I'm a little concerned for people who ask the board for ideas about Program A vs. Program B. First, no one can possibly know the intricacies of two programs without having some direct experience with both of them. And second (this is a big, general point with me), each of us approaches the MFA with our own academic background, writerly strengths, writerly weaknesses, work habits, and so on down the line of variables. There's a lot of good advice in these threads--I hope I've offered some, at times, myself--but remember that it's also often very anonymous commentary, in both directions, and everyone really needs to consider his/her own case in its own context.

Best,
Erika D.


Quiet Americans: Stories
http://www.erikadreifus.com



(This post was edited by edwriter on Mar 27, 2006, 5:31 PM)


elli
Ellen Meeropol

e-mail user

Mar 27, 2006, 7:11 PM

Post #124 of 184 (3996 views)
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Re: [pongo] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

You're right, Pongo. Winter residencies in Maine were magical. Stonecoast meets at the Stone House, an old mansion on the rocky coast outside of Freeport. During the winter residencies, there's lots of snow, fires in the fireplaces in most rooms, and people snowshoe or ski in their (very rare) free time.

Elli


Ellen

www.ellenmeeropol.com


Aubrie


Mar 27, 2006, 7:26 PM

Post #125 of 184 (3988 views)
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Re: [elli] Perils/Positives of New (Low-Res) Programs [In reply to] Can't Post

That sounds absolutely gorgeous....

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