Author: Katharine Monger

Writer, Queer

This morning, I woke up in time—before I had to start rushing for work, before the heat turned us both into puddles—to actually take my dog on a decent walk. Titus, a corgi, loves gallivanting through his territory, a little Napoleon up against the big dogs who roll over in his presence. He loves people, especially if they have food, and he loves finding their leftovers in the grass, often gulping them down before I can stop him. As a kid, the only family dog I remember well enough to have had a bond with was a mutt named Tristan—with the colorings of a German Shepherd and the floppy ears of a Golden Retriever, plus the curly tail of a Shiba Inu, he had the attention span of a third-grader on Koolaid. While Titus’ favorite activity on walks is sucking up anything remotely edible like a vacuum sucking up Cheerios under a toddler’s high-chair, my childhood dog Tristan lived to chase cute little woodland creatures. He’d run from window to window in our house, slobbering …

Achievement Unlocked: An MFA Year in Review

I’ve struggled with how to approach what should be a fairly straightforward overview post of my first year in an MFA program. I considered starting with an anecdote that would be both amusing and slightly self-deprecating, because if writers are good at anything other than, well, writing, it’s self-deprecation. I considered starting completely off-topic—say, my love for biscuits—and turning the whole post into a convoluted but apt metaphor for writing. Neither approach felt quite right. I started over from scratch so many times, each attempt more frustrating than the last, until I began to realize that my inability to hold the arc of my first-year narrative in my writer’s eye was a symptom of an issue I have dealt with all year (for many years, actually): my battle with plot, organization, and continuity. Though “plot” is usually relegated to fiction writers, nonfiction writers—especially narrative nonfiction writers—have to work with it as well to some extent. The difference is, of course, that we essayists avail ourselves to a different set of key words, so to speak. …

REJECTED: The Five Stages of Post-Application Season Grief

Photo credit: Caro Wallis You did your research (or didn’t). You perfected your sample (or didn’t). You sought out recommenders that knew your work well (or didn’t). Okay, you get the idea. Whether you feel like you gave this MFA application season your all or felt like you shortchanged yourself, if you didn’t end up getting into a program you wanted (or a program at all), you may be feeling pretty down right now. For those of you who may have a fuzzy, nonexistent back-up plan, I crowd-sourced a few of our favorite MFA Years bloggers for their own advice re: moving on during the gap year(s). The following is what I call The Five Stages of Post-Application Season Grief, a combination of my own and others’ thoughts on this dark, dark period. I’m sure many of you have more or fewer stages than I list here, completely different stages altogether, or no stages at all (cue meme with little cartoon dog on fire). TL:DR? You’re going to be okay. Stage One: “I suck and …

What Now? A Prospective Student Guide

As applicants receive long-awaited decisions from schools, some may suddenly find themselves in the enviable yet excruciating position of having to decide between two or more programs. I remember the days of making pro/con lists, justifications to best friends, logical deductions that flew out the window once another factor (money, location, teaching load) added itself to the mix. In 2013, I didn’t have that luxury; I had only been admitted to one graduate program in another discipline and been waitlisted at three MFA programs. I waited out those waitlists as long as I could, even visiting my current program because I was next in line. Although I was upset at the time that I didn’t get off any lists, the final decision was made for me if I wanted to go to graduate school that year. 2015 was a different story. I applied to only two of my favorite programs and subsequently forgot about them a bit (probably a coping mechanism from my first go-round), focusing hardcore on getting a job. When I got the …

MFA Application Q&A: Washington University in St. Louis (Nonfiction)

Photo Credit: Cassandra Leigh Gotto   I remember very well the stress of applying for MFA programs, both in 2012-2013 and last application season. The first time around, I stressed over factors like rankings, funding, etc. — info fairly easily gleaned from national charts and faculty pages. I ended up applying to something like ten or twelve schools. The second time around, I was more focused on applying for full-time jobs and only ended up applying to the two schools that seemed to “fit” me best, schools with small cohorts, generous support, and in locations where I’d either know someone or large enough that I could easily find a supportive community. If I didn’t get in, oh well. I didn’t have the money to apply to so many programs all over again (and really, I didn’t have it in 2012, either), and to be honest, the feeling of being rejected so many times in one season was too much. I found myself saying, “Oh, I didn’t want to go there anyway,” to make myself feel better. If I didn’t want to go …

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Meeting Alison Bechdel, WUSTL’s Visiting Hurst Professor in Nonfiction

Photo Credit: David Blank   Something that really excited me about WUSTL’s MFA program was its impressive rotation of visiting writers. In nonfiction this semester alone we hosted readings from Dinty W. Moore, who also visited one of our graduate classes; and Meghan Daum, who led a small discussion workshop prior to her talk. Hurst Visiting Professors spend even more time with us: we invite one writer per genre per semester to present a craft talk and/or reading, read student manuscripts, and meet with students one-on-one. This semester, our poets met with Claudia Rankine, and our fiction students met with Joy Williams. Being the inaugural year of nonfiction, I didn’t know who WUSTL would be able to bring in. When I found out that our Hurst was Alison Bechdel, I felt pretty embarrassed that I didn’t know who she was. As my partner put it to me, “How do you not know who Alison Bechdel is?” I blame a few things: my somewhat isolated and closeted life growing up in a little bitty farm town …

Beyond the Workshop

Image: Cranes by Laitche “One day, the Doctor’s Wife comes home to find stickers on each phone that read, ‘No.’ ‘What are these for?’ she asks the Doctor. ‘I want you to learn to say no to people.’ The Doctor’s Wife doesn’t think her husband has any idea how things work.” “No,” from The Doctor’s Wife by Luis Jaramillo (2012) Multitasking is a habit I haven’t been able to shake. When I started college, I told myself that I would take it easy, that I would not get too involved in too many activities. Not surprisingly, my pledge didn’t last long, and by the time I was a senior my CV looked like the efforts of four different people rather than one ridiculously overextended human being. I have always been involved in many different projects and activities. Even as a child, I would be reading multiple books at once (well, not literally at once, because I’m not Dr. Reid a la Criminal Minds) while also working on a jigsaw puzzle, teaching myself to read music, writing …