Aug 12, 2004, 11:26 AM
Post #26 of 2090
Part 2 of the reply:
Re: [fattery] creative writing ph.d. ?
[In reply to]
I think U.H. is mostly a supportive environment. Yes, there is competition, especially for the coveted annual awards. But it's mostly a feeling of camaraderie, of people trying to give you honest opinions about your work. There are times when it gets a bit much for everyone involved, and there are tiny spats. But it's a professional environment, one in which people are fostered and nurtured. It's not a catty environment, on the whole -- though there are always jealous monsters among the poetry circle. Mostly, I think the students here are INCREDIBLY bright, helpful people who are hungry for literary conversation, for ideas, for motivation. My feeling is that we want -- and push -- each other to be better writers.
Another problem, some people say, with the program is mentoring. Students here sometimes don't feel that one-on-one connection with writers with whom they're studying. I was quite used to that kind of attention in a low-residency program. But I've found it among several teachers here, both in literature and in creative writing. Tony Hoagland and Mark Doty, for instance, are both incredibly generous with their time. If Tony sees you in the halls, he might say, "Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you about your poems." That's pretty incredible.
I know plenty of people who only teach here and live off that income. It's entirely possible. But a lot of people do Writers in the Schools. Here's their homepage: http://www.writersintheschools.org/ It pays well, and isn't quite a burden in terms of time. I've never done it, and have had friends who really like it, and friends who've hated it. Other students pick up spare sections at the local community college, which can lead to summer work as well.
I've taken out loans, basically, because I want to focus on my studies. As a graduate student in America, you're able to take out up to 7-8,000 bucks each semester. And, honey, I'm taking it. I did my first 2 years without it, but I wasn't quite a social animal either. (And it's easy to be social here -- I don't know ANYONE who doesn't fit in here).
I can write anywhere -- always have been able to. I guess the question is writing well. My first year sucked, because I didn't understand how to make boundaries, to manage time. I didn't write well at all (but, as people say, the writing tends to break down a bit when you begin a new program -- I'm certain it has something to do with finding an identity in a new space). After that, things calmed down, and I got back to basics. I think the critical, academic world SAVED my writing. It forced me to become a better critic. Queer theory, for me, gave me an approach to material I was lacking; it helped me see how I could create mythic spaces with language by investigating the very tools of that language. I know that sounds very academic-speak, but I think what I'm saying is that theory returned me to the building blocks of the poem, which is what I needed to focus on.
As far as the strongest PhD programs, I've heard good things about the following programs (which I won't rank because I've never been to these programs):
Utah: Modeled on Houston's program (which I think was the first to have a creative PhD in the U.S.), they've since re-modeled the format. The comprehensive exams, for example, are designed on a student's own project. So, say you're working on a book of poems that explores ethnicity. Your doctoral exams would each feed into that project. (This is different than Houston's program, where this can conceivably happen, but is much more difficult to manage).
Florida State: funding is also an issue; teaching assistantships are limited from what I hear. The faculty is wonderful and includes the under-rated poet Barbara Hamby, whose first book "Delirium" is just fabulous.
Western Michigan: each student is fully funded (to about the same extent as TA's everywhere), but you get to teach creative writing much more quickly. There's also the wonderful Prague Summer Seminars, and the New Issues press (which sometimes publishes very deserving alum from this program). Bill Olson and Nancy Eimers are U.H. alumni, and from what I hear, excellent teachers.
USC: great faculty, incredibly selective. They only take 5 students each year. That's perhaps the most selective in the country, as far as I know. U.H. takes ten students each in poetry and fiction, and may begin admitting students in literary non-fiction soon.
Oh, before I forget: U.H. has started a program much like the Prague Seminars, only students go to Poland for a week of seminars. Poland faculty have included Adam Zagajewski, Ed Hirsch, Anne Carson, Carolyn Forche, Rosanna Warren, Clare Cavanagh (Zagajewski's translator), Czeslaw Milosz, and Wislawa Szymborska. I've not been, but I've heard it's fantastic. Students submit applications every Spring, and the manuscripts are judged by an outside creative writer. It's just for the poets, at this point, and the entire trip is free.
I should say one more note about U.H. and the application process. U.H. is notorious for letting people know REALLY late in the process. The faculty spend a lot of time on the decision process, and it's only faculty who read the applications. (The faculty who teach in the Spring, I should say: in poetry, it will be Tony Hoagland, Nick Flynn, and Adam Zagajewski; in fiction it's usually Antonya Nelson, Bob Phillips, and Dan Stern). I found out in late April that I was wait-listed here at U.H., then two days later got in off the wait-list (I was # 2 on that list). A friend of mine got a call 2 weeks before classes started, and came here.
Another thing: U.H. has recently been really strict about MFA's going on to PhD's here. No special consideration is now given just because an applicant did her or his MFA work here. It really is about the strength of the manuscript.
Okay, I think I've tuckered out this thread. Sorry to chatter on incessantly and make huge skyscrapers in this cybercity.....