Month: April 2015

MFA, What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Last month I enrolled in a literary review course led by Tom Lutz, EIC of the Los Angeles Review of Books. I had never written a literary review, but enrolled in the class because I felt it was a valuable skill to have as a writer. As it turns out, I enjoyed writing reviews. At first I struggled, because my voice tends to have a pop culture slant and I thought I needed to elevate it to write reviews. This created an essay that wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be. A few revisions later, I had a cohesive essay fit for publication on Issa Rae’s new memoir. The next essay I wrote was a multi-book essay and the writing was even stronger. In class one day, my prof had an ARC for Ruby By Cynthia Bond, an Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick. The book was on my to-read and I asked my prof if I could have it. When he said yes I quickly stashed the book in my bag. My classmates teased me a little …

Ready for Summer: Wrapping Up Year One

Goodness, it’s been a long time since I posted! All the way back in February, surrounded by snowstorms, high electric bills, and chocolate hangovers from buying Valentine’s Day candy on sale. (Oh, that was just me? Whoops.) Now it’s the end of April and the end of my first year as an MFA student. As soon as the figurative bell rings tomorrow to let me out of sociology, I’ll be halfway through the program. How strange–I’m still surprised sometimes to see Lexington, KY on my Facebook profile, like “when did that happen?” At the same time, so much has changed over the past two months. I’ve been workshopped three times since my January post, when I last talked about my workshop with Manuel Gonzales, and he is a brilliant workshop leader. (More on that later.) I’ve shoveled lots and lots of snow. I’ve traveled around southeastern Kentucky with my Sociology of Appalachia class as part of participatory research, doing oral histories and hearing some truly wonderful stories in truly beautiful places. I hung out with …

Snow Tires

Last night, my old friend from college sent me a text linking to a Reddit thread entitled, “How to move to Moscow, Idaho.” Ever the jokester, she quickly added a follow-up image of a dude in a cowboy hat and American flag shorts leaning against the wall of a liquor store, two twelve-packs at his feet. “Apparently,” she wrote, “this is Idaho.” I devoured the Reddit thread, much of which revolved around the weather, the necessity of snow tires (“don’t skimp,” warned the locals), and the relative liberality of Moscow as a “blue oasis” in this snowy Northwestern state. As of last week, such research would have felt like tempting fate. But as of Monday morning, I officially accepted an offer of admission from the University of Idaho MFA program in creative nonfiction. In other words, I’d better start shopping for snow tires. ~ The past month has been an interminable slog of waiting, drinking, watching Mad Men reruns, and devouring sea salt chocolate almonds from Trader Joe’s. Now, of course, it’s time to snap …

Where Did You End Up? 2015

Now that April 15th has come and gone, let us know where you’ll be headed in the fall! Or if you’ll be pursuing other opportunities, reapplying again, etc. Also, feel free to leave any questions you have about starting your MFA or reapplying. We’ll do our best to answer them. Don’t forget we’re taking first year contributor applications until May 15th. You must be starting your MFA or creative writing MA in the fall to apply. Image: Lucas

The Workshop – My April Confession

Mid-way through my second semester of my MFA I have to admit that I really don’t enjoy the  process we call “workshop.” I never have and now suspect that I never will. That doesn’t mean I don’t value it, or see that it is worth enduring. And I will not deny that I most certainly learn something each time, but I don’t enjoy it. And after a quick survey of my cohort, it seems nobody else much enjoys it either. If you haven’t yet had the first hand experience of “workshop” in a creative writing setting, basically, this is what happens; a group of other writers read your piece and then give you feedback both verbally, through group discussion, and also as written feedback, noted on a copy of your piece. Some of the feedback is great and very helpful. But some of it is not and that is the part that is frustrating. What it tells me, time after time, is that not everyone is my reader. Some people will hate a passage that …

Eight Thoughts About Teaching College Kids

I teach Writing and Rhetoric II to seventeen art school kids. Pretty much all I do is use extensive metaphors to explain somewhat simple points. The metaphors make things far more complicated, albeit far more memorable. I use a lot of PowerPoints to keep me from embarking on stream-of-consciousness lectures, a la Virginia Woolf. The students know what kind of class it is going to be based on the level of powerpointing that occurs. At the beginning of each session, I ask, “Who can summarize what we did last class?” My favorite response: “We learned that humanity is just a bunch of boats with crab legs.” In that class, I was attempting to portray the concept of “passing as normal”, which involved a cartoon music video and a ship with legs. In the video, there was a moment when a boat grows crab legs and traverses the land—but, towards the end of the clip, the boat goes back into the water, sucking his legs back in, and the audience just looks at him, a normal …

10 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self About Writing, Now That I’m 28.

Oh well, hello little J.R., how are you? You’re not so little, I know, I know, you’re a big girl. You finally had a weird make-out session with the vice president of the Speech and Debate team and everything. You’re practically ready for your AARP card, you’re so wise and old. Okay, now shut up and listen. I get that you’re excited about moving to Chicago and starting up this whole new life where you’re going to be a real writer and learn all of those real writer things. You’re gonna meet real writers, write real stories, and look back on yourself in ten years and think to yourself, “Oh silly little plebian, that stupid ridiculous Philistine! She had no idea what it meant to be a writer!” Well, it’s been ten years. And I’ve collected ten pieces of advice for you, which I hope you will share with your other eighteen-year-old writer friends. I’m sure they’ll find time travel communication very hip. 10. AT THE AGE OF TWELVE, YOU WERE CLOSER TO BEING A …