Mar 6, 2010, 7:11 AM
Post #98 of 145
Today's activities began at a snack meeting with the major MFA faculty: Robin Behn, Wendy Rawlings and Peter Streckfus. Joel Brouwer is on sabbatical, so even though he's been at the social events, he wasn't at today's administrative thing.
Robin gave us an overview of the program. First, about the required classes:
- A pedagogy class during the first year;
- The creative writing class options -- apparently, you have to take 8 of them over the course of your three to four years;
- The "lit" class options -- apparently, you have to take 4 of them over the course of your three to four years -- and they can come from either the English department or from any humanities department. Robin gave us examples of people who took classes in the social sciences and other, more remote, disciplines because they felt that those classes best informed their writing. You can take lit theory classes, if you want to, but they are not required.
Then, about the teaching requirements:
- You have to tutor at the Writing Center during your first year, where you will get additional pedagogical guidance from the head of that program;
- There's a 2/2 teaching load for all years after the first year;
- You start off teaching comp, but there are four types of classes that MFAs can teach (comp, intro to creative writing, a more advanced level of creative writing & literature survey courses), MFAs who want to teach the more advanced types of classes (beyond comp) have to take additional 1-credit-hour pedagogy courses as prep;
- It is possible to do things other than teach -- work on the Black Warrior Review or do arts administration-type coordination for other departmental programs, like the prison education program or the high school programs.
Then, Robin explained what the three- to four-year plan really means:
- The coursework takes about three years -- the first year is a 3/3 class load with no teaching, but 10 hours of work per week at the Writing Center, the second and third years have a 2/2 class load with 2/2 teaching;
- Taking a fourth year is totally up to you, you can submit and defend your thesis at the end of three years or four;
- You are not required to take classes during your fourth year but if you choose to take additional classes (apparently, many people discover passions for other things while in the MFA program and then choose to spend their fourth year taking Book Arts classes or even classes from completely unrelated disciplines), you still have tuition remission and health insurance during the fourth year;
- You still have to teach 2/2 during the fourth year, although, at that point you'll be teaching literature classes or advanced creative writing;
- Generally, you teach two sections of the exact same class during a semester, but from semester-to-semester you can have as much variety in terms of the type of classes you're teaching as you want -- as long as you've taken the 1-credit-hour classes that you need to take in order to qualify you to teach the higher level classes;
- Basically, there's a lot of teaching and a good amount of pedagogical classwork to support those efforts but people who decide to stay for four years -- who want to pursue a career in teaching -- should be able to leave this program with a more robust list of teaching accomplishments than at almost any other MFA program and with, frankly, a higher quantity of classes.
And then Robin answered our questions, although, I was the only chatty d-bag who had any.
Wendy and Peter talked for about 30mins about some of their favorite class offerings -- Peter's "Writing Salon" sounds f*cking rad-ass! In general, the classes sounded as trans-genre and (due to my lack of a better word) as experimental as you would expect from Alabama. Both Wendy and Peter said that they thought their best class ideas came from student proposals about classes that those students would like to take.
Justin, the brilliant kid who was our tour guide/host for the weekend, took us on a tour of the campus. I've never gone to a big, undergrad-heavy institution like this one -- I grew up on the University of Chicago campus and then went to NYC for college at Columbia -- so I've never seen the type of facilities that having 30,000 undergraduates gets you. The rec center (gym) has to be seen to be believed -- there's a f*cking waterslide at the back of the thing! The food commons was as large and had as much menu variety a suburban mall. The campus has a lot of space, and the humanities seem to have their own little campus in the middle of the university, surrounding the main library. I found the main library a bit paltry, but my library standards are pretty high.
We had a group lunch with Dean Francko, the dean of the overall graduate school. He probably says this to every group he meets with, but he told us that the MFA program gets a lot of attention and support from the university because the program brings so much prestige to the university. He said that Alabama's sports and alumni boosterism bring in a lot of money and name recognition, but that the achievements of the MFA grads brings the university a lot of academic recognition, so the graduate school goes out of its way to support the requests of the MFA students and faculty.
Dean Francko said something that really hit home for me. It's kind of basic but he reminded us that, as graduate students, we needed to come into the university focused on building our CVs. To support our efforts, he told us that the university has no limit on the number of conference attendances they would fund -- nationally or internationally -- for graduate students to present papers. Well, d'uh! Still, this hit home for me because, as a creative writer, I think I forget about this part of my CV. Other humanities grads come into their programs already planning to go to Frankfurt or Buenos Aires to present. Francko had a good point with his observation to us: Yes, you need to write your book but it is also in your best interest to get out into the world in order to produce a CV that shows you've gone out there.
The landscape is totally different for us versus the other humanities, so I'm not sure of what the practical opportunities are for creative writers -- I think you have to be more a more established writer than a lowly MFA poet to get the opportunity to read at poetry festivals. But I am going to look into it and I think that, as a group, we MFAers should be more proactive in this area. Also, for those of us who plan to take lit classes, how about trying to use the papers from those classes as an opportunity to present at a conference? This approach may be unrealistic, but I feel like our perspective on literature and the humanities could add a lot of depth to any larger discussion that is happening on the world stage.
- the MFA student population makes up half the English department;
- MFA students at Alabama typically outrepresent their numbers in university awards;
- Some type of international work (a semester abroad) *seems* to be possible for MFAers but the details were not completely clear to me -- I do translation and I write fiction in a second language but I'm not sure if this is enough to get me a funded semester abroad since, presumably, the English department wouldn't send me to Rome to work on my Ungaretti translations.
Well, that's all I've got! I hope this post is helpful, next Fall, for people who are thinking of applying to Alabama. Obviously, this information comes from my notes and observations over the course of only two days -- please take this info with that grain of salt! If anything here interests you or sparks questions, you should totally contact them over at Alabama. All of the admin people we met were super nice and went out of their way to be helpful -- I think they go out of their way, in general, to make a point about Southern Hospitality.