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MFA Fiction Programs - Questions & Concerns
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MattElz
Matt Elzweig
e-mail user

Jan 9, 2005, 11:35 PM

Post #1 of 344 (21255 views)
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MFA Fiction Programs - Questions & Concerns Can't Post

Hi,

Can anyone suggest an MFA program that isn't fluffy and isn't focused on the Identity (of being a Writer: )?

The creative writing faculty at my undergraduate university was well, pretentious - lots of talk about this person winning this prize and similar preciousness. Our teacher would invited us to a reading by an author she knew and then pretend not to know us when we got there. The teachers tended to prattle on about who won what prize and why that was Important or why they were Briiiiillllliant!

By "down-to-earth" I mean a faculty composed of genuine, straightforward, otherwise ordinary people who happen to be very talented writers (and teachers).

Thanks.


(This post was edited by motet on Feb 18, 2006, 3:02 PM)


WittyName32


Mar 3, 2005, 12:23 AM

Post #2 of 344 (21152 views)
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Re: [MattElz] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

UC Davis is down to earth, led by the director, Pam Houston, a very generous person who doesn't put on airs. It's an MA program, so that means you take three lit classes over six quarters.


MattElz
Matt Elzweig
e-mail user

Mar 3, 2005, 12:36 AM

Post #3 of 344 (21148 views)
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Re: [WittyName32] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks. I'll check it out. Are you in it? I'm sure this is addressed on the site, but does an "MA" rather than an MFA mean that you can get an MA in English literature and Creative Writing simultaneously? How does the degree read?

Matt


Kelsie


Mar 3, 2005, 1:40 AM

Post #4 of 344 (21144 views)
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Re: [MattElz] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

I've spent a good deal of time with Pam Houston--both in person and with her work. She is brilliant and so easy to talk to.

Check out her book "Cowboys Are My Weakness" for a taste of her short fiction style.


wiswriter
Bob S.
e-mail user

Mar 3, 2005, 7:25 AM

Post #5 of 344 (21135 views)
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Re: [MattElz] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Matt: Yes, you'll see this discussed elsewhere back in the archives, but basically, an MA is more of an "academic" degree and an MFA is more of an "arts" degree. The MFA is considered terminal (it's definitely killing me), while the MA is often a component on the way to a PhD. MAs in creative writing are usually English degrees with a creative writing emphasis. In the MA programs you'll take more literature courses and do more academic writing than in an MFA program, which is focused more heavily on the creative work. The MA is often but not always shorter, in some cases a single academic year. People who are interested not only in writing but also in the academic study of literature and potentially a PhD and a full-time teaching career should consider an MA. You can do an MFA and a PhD but it usually takes longer. Probably the best known MA in creative writing is the one-year program at Boston University. Johns Hopkins has had a renowned one-year MA program but I heard recently that they're changing it to an MFA - maybe someone here can confirm that.


rooblue


Mar 3, 2005, 12:26 PM

Post #6 of 344 (21107 views)
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Re: [wiswriter] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Wiswriter, I don't think Johns Hopkins abandoned their MA program. They just added an MFA program -- very competitive -- I heard they take six, that's right six, students a year, and that most of them are from the MA program, which as you know is itself highly competitive. I have never seen a post here about the Johns Hopkins MA program. I know someone who finished there last year. Last I heard she was thinking about applying to Warren Wilson for a low-res MFA. She is a person who likes school, suffice it to say.


WittyName32


Mar 3, 2005, 6:44 PM

Post #7 of 344 (21068 views)
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Re: [MattElz] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

An MA in English-Creative Writing is more versatile than an MFA, I'd say. With one, you can teach literature and creative writing classes at the junior college level. Also, if you're not tired of school and you want more time to write, you can go for an MFA and it doesn't look as weird as if you already have an MFA. And if you're STILL not tired of the Academy, you can get a Ph.D, and then field questions from people who'd like to know why you didn't just go to medical school, if you planned on hitting the books for so many years.


hapworth


Mar 4, 2005, 5:23 PM

Post #8 of 344 (21012 views)
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Re: [MattElz] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm not sure what you mean by non-fluffy. This fluffiness you describe (being obsessed with the identity or being obsessed with credentials) probably depends on the people in the individual deparatments.

If you mean non-fluffy to mean rigorous, the program at Alabama is challenging. I left after the first year (later did an MA in creative writing) because i simply wasn't ready for grad school, but the MFA there lasted four years. You could do it in three if you killed yourself. Students took comprehensive exams and, like most programs, finished with a novel or book-length volume of stories/poems. The lit/theory requirements were also steep, so students graduate with a very strong lit background.

Hapworth


jwoodcanyon

e-mail user

Mar 4, 2005, 9:45 PM

Post #9 of 344 (20983 views)
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Re: [MattElz] Non-Fluffy MFA fiction programs [In reply to] Can't Post

Matt,

There has been good answers to your questions about rigor, but don't for a moment think that most MFA or PhD programs won't place some focus on who is winning what prize, who is getting funding (and who is not), where students are getting published. In fact, some of the most serious programs are ones where a good portion of the faculty AND students will pay some to much attention to these things. And, sometimes, it can be done in the way you complained about in your initial post. But this is much more an issue of individual personalities, and regardless of your art or trade or where you'll go (school and otherwise), you'll need to find ways to deal with it.

Joseph


sibyline


Feb 17, 2006, 11:05 AM

Post #10 of 344 (20944 views)
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Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

I have no idea why, but I'm having a late freakout about grad school, which is odd because I just got accepted to Cornell and am really happy about that. Maybe it's just that I now have this resource and am eager to ask all those burning questions that have been bottled up throughout the application process.

Acceptance rates? Are these published anywhere? I've heard that Iowa is actually less selective in a sense because of the number of students they admit, but what are we talking about? 1%? 3%?

It would be great to have published statistics. Hard facts. But if anyone has any idea about Iowa, Hopkins, Brown, Michigan, Michener Center, or Cornell, which were the programs I applied to, you can help relieve me of my delayed anxiety. Thanks much.


sibyline


Feb 17, 2006, 11:22 AM

Post #11 of 344 (20936 views)
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Re: [demerith] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

ok. i'm answering my own question. michener says on their web site that their acceptance rate is less than 2%. eep. it's good that i'm not super-enthusiastic about texas, otherwise i'd be wringing my hands right now.


pongo
Buy this book!

e-mail user

Feb 17, 2006, 11:31 AM

Post #12 of 344 (20930 views)
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Re: [demerith] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't know whether this applies to writing programs, but my experience with posted acceptance rate statistics is that they are made up by people who want the school to look more selective.

dmh


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HopperFu


Feb 17, 2006, 12:10 PM

Post #13 of 344 (20908 views)
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Re: [demerith] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Iowa has had for the last two years, about 750 applicants. They admit, I believe, around 25 students a year, and according to the website, 2/3rds get financial aid. Only a few get a two-year fellowship.
Not sure about the rest, but I think it's pretty much hard to get in anywhere that offers funding. I've never heard of a school that is easy to get in AND offers money.


sarandipidy


Feb 17, 2006, 1:38 PM

Post #14 of 344 (20873 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

What do you think about this:

Oregon says they get about 400 apps each year, and pick 6 or 7 students for each genre. Do you think it's evenly split, 200 and 200, or do you think it's more fiction that poetry (or vice versa)?

This is so unhealthy.


sibyline


Feb 17, 2006, 1:55 PM

Post #15 of 344 (20863 views)
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Re: [sarandipidy] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

oh, i say we can indulge our anxieties for a bit.... from what i hear, there tend to be more fiction than poetry applicants (which makes sense). how much more i'm not sure about.


mingram
Mike Ingram

Feb 17, 2006, 2:42 PM

Post #16 of 344 (20839 views)
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Re: [demerith] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Iowa gets between 700 and 800 applications each year in fiction; 25 people get in, though sometimes it's maybe 24 or 26 or 27. The funding thing on the web site is a little misleading; the truth is, everyone gets some kind of funding, whether teaching, fellowship, or research assistantship -- the dollar amounts vary, but in all those cases it should be enough to cover tuition and at least some of your expenses (if you're teaching, you can cover tuition and live -- though by no means lushly -- without any loans or additional income). In your second year, financial aid is re-upped and generally everyone gets the chance to teach at least a section or two of creative writing if they want it. I get the impression the new director (Sam Chang) wants to make the aid thing less complicated and more even -- the challenge to that, I imagine, is coming up with the funds. But she does seem committed to working at it.

I have no idea how many apps Iowa gets each year in poetry, though I know the number is lower. There are 25 spots available there as well.


HopperFu


Feb 17, 2006, 2:44 PM

Post #17 of 344 (20836 views)
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Re: [demerith] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

it's more healthy than heavy drinking, which is the alternative. though slightly less addictive.


rapunzel1983
Marisa Lee

Mar 22, 2006, 9:19 PM

Post #18 of 344 (20584 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

What do MFA graduates do? Do they work for magazines or publishing companies or get teaching jobs.... or just go back to doing whatever they did before getting the MFA? Like being a legal assistant, for instance. Or something like that--unrelated to writing. Does anybody have an idea what the statistics look like?

What are good jobs for writers, anyway? I think John Gardner wrote that he considers a good job for a writer to be like... being a waitress, so you can write between lunch and dinner.... or being a newspaper delivery person.... or a night watch person... or a taxicab driver so you can talk to a spectrum of people.... or selling flowers in a nightclub....

Personally I think it would be a little hard to survive with an income like that. Not hard, but I would rather just move back in with my parents and not pay any rent. I mean, do you know how many flowers you have to sell to make a monthly rent of like $400? And that's not even expensive rent. I've never understood why it's considered so bad to live with your parents. I think it's an excellent way to save money. If you just get a job in your hometown and pay nothing for rent or food, you pocket everything. It shouldn't be socially taboo. Working for the sake of working, 9-5ing to pay for your lifestyle in which most of what you do is work, is kind of useless, unless you're building your credentials and gaining valuable life experience. it's like running in a hamster wheel.

Anyway, so what are your chances, if you graduate from a top MFA program, of getting a nice job (not lucrative of course) but one that builds your credentials and helps you out with your writing career?


theapplepicker


Mar 22, 2006, 9:35 PM

Post #19 of 344 (20576 views)
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Re: [rapunzel1983] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

I live with my parents. I pay rent. For most of my life I lived here for free, and now that I have some income, I feel that it's important for me to contribute financially. They have certain costs here, and I do have a place to keep my stuff and Internet access. I benefit from those things so I pay a little bit for that benefit.

But I do agree that there shouldn't be this stigma, that it should be perfectly fine to live with one's parents (provided, of course, that they don't mind you staying with them!).


mingram
Mike Ingram

Mar 23, 2006, 1:26 AM

Post #20 of 344 (20522 views)
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Re: [theapplepicker] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Actually, you can make a lot of money as a waiter, depending on the city and the restaurant.

And living with your parents is okay, I guess, as long as it doesn't drive you crazy. I love my parents, but I have no desire to live with them again.

As for what MFA grads do after graduation -- all kinds of things. Some people have had work experience beforehand that they use to find jobs again. Since I had experience, for instance, as a journalist, editor, business/technical writer, I may try to string together some part-time freelance work and maybe adjunct somewhere. Or maybe I'll be a waiter again or get a job at the local market. I really have no idea.

Some people do get full-time teaching jobs right after graduation, but it's fairly rare, I think. You really need a book and an MFA. Some people have agents or even book contracts by the time they graduate, but that's not a majority either, I don't think.

So, I guess that's not much of an answer. But that's because I don't think there are one or two or even twenty things that people do -- it's really all over the place.


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 23, 2006, 1:42 AM

Post #21 of 344 (20516 views)
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Re: [sibyline] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

The top MFA programs (such as those you applied to) admit between 1 and 4% of applicants based on what I can tell.

Iowa, for example, admits about 3.33% (25/750)


Dr. Bathybius


Mar 23, 2006, 12:24 PM

Post #22 of 344 (20450 views)
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In Reply To
...between 1 and 4% of applicants...Iowa, for example, admits about 3.33% (25/750)


I wonder, though, out of the 750 who apply, how many can be considered decent writers, even for the college level. I've met plenty of people--young people, especially--who think just because they're smart or coddled by the right Ivy league school or like to drink beer and wear a beard like Hemingway, they're somehow Writers (in the capitalized, romantic sense) and should apply. Then you read their work, and the magic (and sometimes the grammar) is just not there. Is there a reasonable guess as to how many viable applications are actually floating around? The 3% number seems kind of hokey; also, perhaps it scares away neurotic folk who really have a shot, compared to the brash I'm A Writer types who'll jump right in?


Clench Million
Charles

Mar 23, 2006, 1:02 PM

Post #23 of 344 (20413 views)
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Re: [Dr. Bathybius] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

Well, certainly in my experience most of the people who think they can write can't. I wouldn't be surprised if a fair number of Iowa students aren't very good.

As anyone who has worked for a national lit mag (by which I just mean non-student work) knows that most of the writing sent out is atrocious. The majority of it is so unbelievably bland or bad you can't imagine how anyone could imagine it was publishable. I would not be surprised if a lot of these people who are willing to submit their writing all over the place and trying to get into MFA programs as well.

Recently the Mid-American Review had a 25 year anniversary issue where they published only unpublished writers. I remember reading through the bio section and seeing an amazing amount of writers who had recieved MFAs years ago. If a fair number of MFA graduates can't get published for years, we can probably assume a good number of the applicants are even less publishable...


viviandarkbloom


Mar 24, 2006, 12:13 AM

Post #24 of 344 (20356 views)
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Re: [Clench Million] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post

What's it like for people who go to MFA programs to workshop novels, chapter by chapter? It seems that they are sort of limited, since a chapter is always tethered to the rest of the novel. They can't turn it on its head the way you can when rewriting (and completely rethinking) a short story. Has anyone here tried to workshop a novel start to finish?


aeval415


Mar 24, 2006, 1:26 AM

Post #25 of 344 (20341 views)
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Re: [viviandarkbloom] Fiction Acceptance Rates? [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
What's it like for people who go to MFA programs to workshop novels, chapter by chapter? It seems that they are sort of limited, since a chapter is always tethered to the rest of the novel. They can't turn it on its head the way you can when rewriting (and completely rethinking) a short story. Has anyone here tried to workshop a novel start to finish?

I don't generally post but I thought I'd answer this one. I'm getting my MFA and we've done both in workshops..as in read novels chapter by chapter and read entire novels. It's very dependent on how the prof looks at it and the class size. My larger workshop (12 people) has read some novel chapters now and for the most part it's hard to comment without seeing the entirety of the piece. In that workshop we don't do rewrites we just keep producing more raw material so we can polish it in the summer. In my other workshop we just read two novels. The workshop only has 5 people so it was doable. We mostly talked about where the novels lost focus for us as readers rather than sentence level things. The writers are going to begin revisions starting at this point and working on sections of their novels until they get to the end. I didn't submit a novel but I feel like this is the wiser path to take even though it was a lot more work for the rest in the class.

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