Notes: My letter was more or less the same to all the schools, but of course I tailored each according to their specifications. Below is the letter I sent to Vanderbilt, just shy of 500 words, which I believe is pretty standard.
I've also included a link to an earlier draft that includes edits and feedback from a consultant at Driftless House, which I found enormously helpful.
Finally, I have links to my teaching statement for Indy (also used for LSU and Syracuse), and my pair of letters to Michigan, which required a more academically-oriented "Statement of Purpose" in addition to the personal statement. Please bear in mind that I did not get accepted to Michigan or Indiana U., so those letters aren't "proven." And the teaching statement is reflective of someone who has no formal teaching experience to date.
- Early draft of Personal Statement with edits
- Teaching Statement (Indiana)
- Personal Statement and Academic Statement (Michigan)
Personal Statement, Final version
November 30, 2010
411 Kirkland Hall
Nashville, TN 37240
Dear Selection Committee,
Once upon a Grade One writing test I composed "Chicky and Eggy," a nine-sentence saga that follows a hatchling and pre-hatchling as they explore the world outside their nest, flirt with danger, and discover the power of friendship and forgiveness.
More recently, I am making final revisions to a manuscript I have worked on for the past six years, an underground fantasy inspired by the humor of Richard Russo, the tenderness of Charles Baxter, the imagination of Chuck Palahniuk and the talents of so many other authors who move me. The journey has been nothing short of a gift, but even so, getting lost in the wilderness of one project for so many years has made me hungry for new terrain. Scraping together even ten hours per week to write is challenging when one works full time and tries to maintain a balanced lifestyle. It makes for slow progress, no matter if you measure by total words written or refinement of craft.
I long for sophisticated criticism from professionals and fellow aspirants, and for the emotional support of an impassioned community. In that spirit I am currently auditing a workshop at Harvard taught by Amy Hempel, and the perspective and inspiration I’ve found there has convinced me I am ready to be immersed in creative writing full time. If enrolled in your MFA program I would pursue short story projects to explore my written voice, as well as various character and plot ideas, with a long eye toward my next novel.
In my current position at the Harvard Kennedy School, I edit a weekly column on public management for the online magazine Governing.com, as well as a biweekly e-newsletter highlighting government innovations, reaching ~10,000 and ~8,500 readers, respectively. This work has honed my attention to syntactic detail and improved my ability to clarify complex ideas. Most significantly, it has taught me how best to make my criticism constructive and respectful.
My professional interests are eclectic and ever-changing. After switching majors twice, I graduated with a degree in psychology and for three years worked on a research project focused on preventing depression in children. I then came to the Kennedy School where, in addition to my editing roles, I produce web conferences for government professionals on topics ranging from land conservation to combating human trafficking. I have also been a nightclub bartender and a day camp counselor, built water collection systems in Africa, mentored children, tutored prisoners, and conducted supervised psychotherapy sessions with the developmentally disabled.
Throughout all of this, I have crafted stories. Writing remains my most enduring passion and defines sense of purpose. I have proven to myself that my commitment to the craft merits a higher level of instruction. I hope I have the opportunity to prove the same to you, and thank you for your consideration.