[Update: After my 2009 experience applying to Michener and other top MFA programs, and coping with my subsequent acceptance to none, I am geared up to make a second go of it. Wish me luck!]
And if I do publish my novel, I may go for the MFA anyway, because even though I'm not finished I'm absolutely ready for something new --- a new project, a new location, new learning experiences, new people. And there will be much to gain by increasing the amount of feedback I get from other serious writers.
At the very least, it would be nice if the second phase of my writing career weren't quite so solitary.
What I know of MFA programs I've garnered from two sources. The first is Tom Kealy's The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, which as far as I can tell is the most focused and comprehensive source out there (especially in conjunction with his blog). Second is this more digestible list from the Atlantic Monthly*.
After poring over these I found myself gravitating most toward the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin. Inevitably I came to idealize it, which is inconvenient since, ya know, these programs are pretty hard to get into. Practicality aside though, the Michener Center is highly reputed, which is the most obvious reason to put it near the top of my list. But there are three additional factors that make the Michener Center my favorite:
1) It's the best-funded program out there. Many MFA programs pay full tuition for students, and some even pay a stipend with no or minimal teaching requirements. The Michener Center pays a 25,000 dollar per year stipend for three years, no teaching requirement, and allows you to apply for an additional 2,000 dollars for "professional development." You get paid living wages to write and to learn to write. Am I dreaming?
2) I like its multi-genre emphasis, such that students must choose a primary and a secondary focus among the four areas of fiction, poetry, playwriting and screenwriting.
3) I've yet to hear a bad word uttered about Austin, Texas. All reports I get from those who lived there are that Austin is fun, young, cultured... I hear it's even warm.
Since deciding the Michener Center is my top choice, I've lately found a fourth reason to go there, which is that James A. Michener, reputed author and founder of the program, is my new nemesis. If I'm to complete the prophecy, bring balance to the force, and prove that I am the chosen one, I must descend upon this writers' Mecca to challenge and defeat his legacy. The prophets have spoken. I shall journey to Austin and face my destiny.
If I feel like it, that is.
*I also recommend this associated article. It contains provocative thoughts from BU's MFA program director Leslie Epstein, like his theory that a novelist must have a semi-concrete notion of an ending in mind (which I agree with) and his scorn for the ellipsis (which I think is a little harsh).
The Savior Complex
1 month ago