I spent my last saturday night glued to the computer, overzealously analyzing low residency MFA programs. I am an organized person, and this was a lovely endeavor for me. Cedar sleeping, Rob and Talya away, and the night stretching out ahead with promise for the future.
Low residency means attendence on campus once or twice a year for a week to workshop, study, engage and discuss various works with other students and staff. It is generally a 2 year program, and allows more integration of actual writing with your current actual life. Nice. This is quite contrary to the traditional campus grad school model- uproot your life and move to an entirely different place to spend three years learning how to teach the work of your chosen path. I do not want to learn to teach writing. I want to write. I also am slightly unable to move back to Ann Arbor to attend the second best creative writing program in the country (shoulda done it while I was there thirteen years ago!)
So, low residency makes a world of sense to a person like me; kids, dog, obligations, responsibility. Due to an ever growing number of creative types in the world, there are an ever growing number of creative programs to help you master your skill.
To sum it all up, and from my humble perspective...
...some MFA programs appear to be snooty and almighty. They know no wrong and do no wrong and pride themselves on producing the next Fitzgerald or Salinger. They offer grand escape residencies to foreign inspirational writing meccas, and expect that your creative juices will flow accordingly. If you ever once shot a sideways glance at a book by Danielle Steel or Mary Higgins Clark your application is rejected, but furthermore they will deny ever having denied you if you do someday come across a chance of possible literary fame elsewhere. I am thinking these sorts of places are not quite up my alley.
...some MFA programs seem a tad more unfettered. They are loud, wild, and pride themselves on sickeningly progressively creative faculty and students. Studying at their establishment would be a party of color and flavor and sound and light. They are searching for people who want to be molded in the ways of the craft and transcend the ordinary norms of words to find Zen amongst the other Buddhas. I may be slightly creative and I do like to meditate, but I am just not sure I'd fit in in those places.
...some MFA programs are square. Simple, bare bones affairs of online directories and assignments. Minimal person to person contact, they churn out the degrees like a printer does the New York Times on election day. It's all business, and you had best be too. Hmm, I do like a well buffed and linear desktop. But, maybe not for me.
...some MFA programs from the outside look small, cozy, warm and welcoming. Like just a place you want to cuddle up to forever. But also like you have to bend over and promise things you really would rather not promise to get in. Once you are in however...bliss, beauty, comraderie, enlightenment.
And these were merely the dozen or so small colleges on the east coast I looked at more deeply. There are gobs of school on the west coast, loads in the midwest, and who can guess how many international schools. I guess writers are a dime a dozen these days. Though it's a bit more than a dime to be able to attend one of these programs. I don't even know that I can or should attend an MFA program, let alone apply, but surfing these websites and perusing the mail I have already received from a few schools was enough to make me consider having another baby just so I could get out of all this potential future work.
Just when I thought I'd be stuck applying to a place that would leave me in the dust should I somehow wrangle a spot in their exclusive program, I found it. IT. A program, a place that made my heart soar, and my mind leap ahead to my Pulitzer. A Pennsylvania school who prides themselves on, dare I say it, being green. Even their website is green. Literally. Their most notable graduate wrote a little book called Silent Spring a few years back, and changed the way we think about our environment. They have taken Rachel Carson's work to heart and built their university on sustainable and thoughtful environmental principles. From what I can see Chatham University is small, to the point, and directed down precisely the path I want to go. Writing about nature and environment, with the possibility of doing all this writing for kids. I cannot imagine a more suitable place for me.
I have no idea how snooty they are, how long it takes to reach nirvana in their program, or how far you have to bend over to get in, but I intend to find out.