With a sigh I opened this month's issue of Poets and Writers. Yup, it's the MFA issue. Thousands of bright-eyed 22 year-olds across the country are eagerly examining the contents to determine the best "fit" and wondering if they should apply to the most selective program or the one with the most fellowship placements. Page after page of MFA program advertisements entice the prospective applicant to imagine herself sitting on the beach with her open laptop, taking inspiration from the waves. The Miami Writers Institute and the University of Tampa used the identical beach-laptop photo, prompting the identical thought that I will never attend a program whose biggest perk is the beach because I DON'T DO heat, humidity, hurricanes or bikinis! Emerson College's advertisement oozes charm and I can picture myself sitting by a window looking out on the cobblestone streets, moleskin notebook on my lap and a cup of tea at hand, while glowing streetlights and windows provide a merry atmosphere....Yeah, right. Charm is expensive and I'd probably be living in a cockroach infested basement in a dodgy part of town. Emerson is therefore out of the running.
And then there's Michener. Time, space and money. That's the best advertisement of all. Perhaps next year....
Seth Abramson has been feeding my MFA statistics mania for as long as I've been looking at creative writing programs. Leave it to a former law student to infuse hard-nosed data and analysis into the lives of a bunch of free-spirited, number-avoidant dreamers (if you are not familiar with law students and their rank[ings] obsessions, please visit lawschoolnumbers or the US News & World Report to see what I'm talking about). Personally, the only stats I'm interested in are Funding, GRE--can someone please explain to me why a GRE is necessary? I'm really not going to be admitted because I forgot all of my high school Algebra, really?-- and one that isn't on here, but should be: Literature course requirements, so you can know how much of your precious time is going to be wasted on term papers.
One surprising statistic is that Iowa is #20 in selectivity even though it is #1 in popularity. I would have thought that the two things correlated more closely. Also not sure why it is only #24 in funding when another column says ALL students are fully funded. Perhaps because the money isn't purely in the form of grants, but often requires teaching? The amount offered by Iowa is also less than the $27,000 per year offered by Michener. Suck it, Iowa (but please let me in)!
Each MFA issue is a reminder that another year has passed and I still haven't joined a program. Writing is a lonely hobby. Whereas knitters can join knitting groups and runners can find other runners to pound the pavement with, writing requires space away from others to work, but then needs others to read and critique and encourage. And yes, even to learn. "The Teachable Talent: Why Creative Writing Can Be Taught" by Gregory Spatz was a welcome read in this year's MFA issue. Nobody who believes that writing is purely a God-given talent and not a skill that can be honed, should ever teach in an MFA program.
To all would-be MFAers out there, I wish you luck and success.