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Coral Gables Catalog

The city beautiful. The coconut tree is gone. There are fresh tree stumps everywhere. The thick glass panel of my porch door cracked during Irma. I listened to the wind pressing against it, spreading the shatter out in thick lines. With my remaining phone battery, I took photos of 3 spread tarot readings and PMed them to my friends. This is how I learned to do tarot, siphoning the small amount of electricity out of my hand.

What does it mean to be in the present moment? Do you love the humidity, the way the air weighs hot and heavy? I haven’t been back to the beach yet. I live in Coral Gables, walk everywhere, past post-deco houses with backyards that open to an ocean channel.

Who wouldn’t love to visit the Vizcaya Gardens, with its made-up name, its stone mermaid colossus where the ship would dock, deposit James Deering, the agricultural millionaire, its owner.

The royal poinciana growing in my neighbor’s yard was stripped of its orange leaves and I don’t know if they’ll come back. The trees laid dead in the street for months. When the storm came, we were all buried in trees, ancient banyans tipped over and blocking entire streets.

I’m sorry we killed the mangrove tree. I’m sorry for all of it. I went for a walk in the lightning storm, contemplating the probability I’d be struck. The street flooded with bright pink and yellow flower petals. They swam into my shoes and around my shins. I don’t remember what I was doing out there.

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Long Distance Writing Workshops

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Seton Hill University’s MFA program is low-residency. For most of the year, my work-shopping occurs via email with my critique partners and my mentor. There are pro’s and cons to this method. In this post, I’ll review both:

The Pro’s of Long Distance Work-shopping

  1. More time to critique. During in-person workshops, the critiques are given verbally, on-the-spot. Writing a critique beforehand gives me time to think about giving a thorough, constructive edit.
  2. Ability to give a manuscript different layers of edits. As a low residency grad student with a busy life, I can chunk down my critiques and address a manuscript at the macro- and micro- level.
  3. Did I mention time? The reason I chose a low-residency program was because of the time it would give me. I am not saddled with attending classes. As a mother, this means I don’t have to arrange for and pay for childcare in order to attend school. (Yeah, that’s not directly related to critiquing, but it matters to me.)

The Cons of Long Distance Work-shopping

  1. Inability to read first reactions to critiques.  Once I hit “send” on my critique, it’s done. I’m unable to read their reaction, and if they share their opinions of my critique, it may be watered down.
  2. The meaning/intent behind critiques becoming “lost in electronic translation” Work-shopping material via long distance means that I’m very careful about how I deliver my critiques. I give a thorough critique, yet I’m careful not to sound harmful in my delivery. Spats can occur, and I wouldn’t be able to discern disagreement unless my critique partner expressed it.
  3.  I have to wait until the next residency to see my critique partner. For me, part of the fun of working with other writers is the bond it creates. It can be tough forming those bonds via computer.

Overall, I prefer work-shopping material in this manner despite the downsides. As I said earlier, it affords me time which I wouldn’t be able to give in a full residency program. For this reason, I’m sticking with it.

Choosing an Emerging MFA Program

Or, What I Learned from the Waitlist

Image via Pinterest


When I was applying to fully funded MFA programs for the second time, my strategy was simple: to ignore the rankings as much as possible, & to apply where I felt I would be happy. Since I was looking for programs with an interest in queer poetics, I ended up applying to many small or obscure MFA programs, ultimately getting accepted at one of my top choice schools, the University of Miami.

However, a few days after April 15th, one of my dream schools called me, offering me a last minute acceptance off of the waitlist. Getting into a program I’d fantasized about attending since I was an undergraduate was an incredible feeling. But at that point, I had already accepted the University of Miami’s offer. The program suggested that, despite this, I withdraw my acceptance from UM in order to come to their school. With not much time to make a decision, I had to go with my gut.



A Season in Purgatory

By the time UMiami accepted me in March, I had been waitlisted at 5 programs. The lukewarm affirmations were agonizing, & made me wonder why I kept coming so close but not making the cut.

Being on a waitlist can be a simultaneously charming & awkward experience. Some schools that waitlisted me were warm, welcoming, & helpful during the process. One school had each faculty member call me & have a lovely chat with me about the program. One program notified me I was a waitlister via the professor’s personal gmail account, because a state budget crisis prevented them from giving more formal notice. A few programs did not respond to my (sometimes multiple) emails about my position on the waitlist, which was confusing, to say the least.

 

Finding My People

While deciding whether or not to accept Miami’s offer, I visited the waitlist prospects that were close by. Although I had many great conversations with faculty members I adore as writers & would have loved to work with, sitting in on classes tended to be a good indication of whether or not I should attend a program. Often interactions with students were the most revealing about a program’s culture, so when I couldn’t visit a program in person, I sought out current students. Gratefully, I was usually able to track down someone willing to talk to me through the MFA Draft facebook group.

Private conversations with peers who could empathize with my position as an applicant were the most important ones I had during my entire application process. In fact, I still have conversations with MFA students at other programs as often as possible. Finding your people is crucial, & thanks to the internet, it’s something you can get out of the application process, no matter where you end up (if you end up anywhere at all).

I wasn’t able to visit the University of Miami, so instead, I emailed & talked on the phone with current students & professors. Miami was the only school that connected me with fellow queer & women-identifying writers. Through these interactions, I felt that Miami would be a place where I could flourish as a writer. Ultimately, I decided a program with these qualities would help me to be successful more than any amount of prestige. I traded off a potentially better shot on the job market for the school where I thought I’d do the most meaningful work.  

 

And Now It’s Year Two

Luckily, I am extremely happy in my MFA program. I have found the faculty here to be mentors, especially in achieving my desire of applying queer poetics. The people in my cohort are true friends & excruciatingly talented writers who have often brought me to tears with the power of their work.

Sometimes, in the midst of our applications, we get so caught up on the competition of MFA programs–of being admitted anywhere, of being admitted to the best program possible–we forget that what makes a “best” program is often subjective, dependent on our intersecting identities & outside forces we can’t control.

If nothing else, the MFA application process can be one that helps you hone your intuition. Sometimes, that means ending up at a program that’s growing with you, that’s willing to put skin in the game to help you launch your career. Most of the time, it means multiple application cycles, & waiting out a lot of purgatorial lists. Not everyone wants the same MFA experience as me, but everyone deserves to find a community where they feel supported. If nothing else, we have to revise our application experiences into strategies for survival. 

 

An Inside Look With Dantiel Moniz, University of Wisconsin-Madison ’18

Image: Richard Hurd

What is it like living in Madison? How far does your stipend go there living wise?

Before moving here, I never really thought about Wisconsin at all, had vague ideas about beer and cheese. But Madison itself is a small, cute town (little gingerbread houses and flowerbeds) with some big city aspects and lots of arts and music coming through. Easily doable without a car (though I have one) and there’s something to do all seasons.

I find the cost of living here only slightly higher than my hometown in FL. We receive a $22,000/year stipend, distributed monthly, with larger lump sums three times a year at the beginning of each semester and at the end of the year (basically summer money). I think the stipend and the cost of living are manageable, though I do receive an extra 100/week in support from my husband so that I can afford my one bedroom without roommates.

How does the program equip you for and support you during your teaching assistantship?

For the first semester, every member of the incoming cohort takes Pedagogy with one of the professors, a once a week class, where we learn how to craft a syllabus from the ground up (using resources from previous cohorts), and how to run our own workshops. We also prepare mock presentations for each other in the class and have an opportunity to both observe our peers in the classroom setting and be observed ourselves by a member of faculty, where we are given thorough reports on what we’re doing well, and what can be improved. As first years, we all taught intro to fiction and poetry workshop.

Since we were a fiction class, we received extra support in training to teach poetics. In the second year, members of the cohort teach Composition, which I believe there is also orientation and training for, though I was exempt from teaching Comp this year. At any time, all faculty is available to meet and discuss teaching tactics, or honestly almost any other thing. I went into my first year doubtful of my abilities as a teacher, and came out realizing that it’s something that I not only enjoy, but am good at. I’ve been thankful of all the program does to ensure its students success in readiness in the professionalization of writing.

What is the workshop environment like?

When I was deciding between MFA programs, I remember a discussion about class size, and whether or not a small class would be an impediment to growth in the workshop setting. In the case of UW-Madison, a cohort consists of six individuals, on the smaller side of things. One argument against small cohorts was that the same six people would be looking at your work over and over, and thus an applicant might be limiting their chances for outside perspectives. For my own experience, I haven’t found this factor to be limiting at all. These six people are the people who have come up with me from the very beginning of my time in the MFA. They’ve seen the growth of my work in the last year and a half, and can tell me where I’ve improved, and what ticks I’m still struggling through. That kind of intimacy in the work has been just as helpful to me as new perspective.

It’s also an illusion that this program is only six people. Each year UW-Madison also has five incoming post-MFA Fellows, and in my time at the program, we have all gotten together to host salons, which has allowed me to develop relationships with writers outside of my cohort and expand my community. Not to mention the faculty are more-often-than-not happy to take a look at something. I have had no shortage of perspective here in addition to the intimacy I didn’t know I would receive.

Generally, we’ve all workshopped three stories per workshop, and in one of them, even a novella-length project for NanoWrimo.

What is your MFA experience like outside of the classroom?

I’ve worked on our program’s literary magazine as a Fiction Editor, which was invaluable in illuminating how that process works for my own submissions. The program hosts a number of contemporary writers and the Madison Public library has a visiting reader series that has brought us luminaries such as Kristen Valdez Quade, Margaret Attwood, Danez Smith, Ada Limon, Ricky Laurentis, and even screenwriter and director Lena Waithe. Our program also tries to make sure we have some one-on-one time with some of the visiting writers, such as a gathering with Viet Thanh Nguyen and the opportunity to have our work critiqued by Kristen Valdez Quade. I’ve also had ample opportunity to read my own work in conjunction with series such as Monsters of Poetry, plus teach workshops to high school students at the UW-Whitewater Creative Writing Festival. Keeping writing at the center of a writer’s life is important to the program, and there’s no shortage of events to attend.

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Author 2 Edit (small) (1)

Dantiel W. Moniz is a homegrown Floridian and MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House,Apogee JournalPloughshares, Pleiades and elsewhere. She has received scholarships and residencies from Hedgebrook and the Elizabeth George Foundation, and was selected as the winner of the 2018 Cecelia Joyce Johnson emerging writer award by the Key West Literary Seminars.

If you’re a current student or a recent graduate of a creative writing program and are interested in being interviewed, visit our submissions page.

AWP Madness Ensues: Tips and Tricks for Success

[Photo credit: Jamie Brown, 2011]

With over 12,000 attendees, the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is the largest literary conference in North America. In total, there are over 2,000 presenters (one of which, this year, is me!) offering more than 550 panels, readings, and presentations. It can all be a bit overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you out:

Before You Travel—

  1. Vet the Schedule: My big “discovery” this year is the AWP app. You can search the schedule by type of event, person, or day which is extremely useful once you see how thick the conference schedule book is. The app works offline in airplane mode (if you pre-load before disconnecting) so if you’re short on time, you can schedule browse on your flight. If it’s your first AWP, choose your events based on areas of interest—themes, genres, concerns you have about writing. This way, you’ll be drawn to people who are writing similarly to you. Once you start building a broader knowledge, considering choosing events based on people you’re interested in learning more about or meeting.
  1. Reach Out to Your Writing Communities: Think back to all the writers you’ve interacted with over the years. Any one of these people could be at AWP! As a quick story, last year, I stared at a man at the Jacqueline Woodson reading that looked too familiar, even from behind. Afterward, I walked up and realized it was a writing friend, Aatif, whom I met in LA and hadn’t seen in over a year. Reach out to undergrad writing professors, previous classes you’ve taken, listservs you subscribe to, or organizations you’ve worked for to let them know you’ll be in town. If you’re speaking on a panel (like me), share your information with them (listed below!).
  1. Transition Outfits: Don’t be stressed about your clothing choices unless that stress brings you a little bit of pleasure. Here’s what I didn’t know when I was packing last year— More than likely, you won’t have time to go back to your lodging to change so pick outfits that transition well from day to evening dinners. Since you’ll be moving about all day, carefully consider your shoe choice. On any given day, you may end up walking a mile to attend a reading or grab a drink. Overall, people were less dressy than I imagined they would be. Think dressy casual with artistic flair. The one caveat to these rules was Saturday night. The conference hosts a dance party and people were more excited about dressing up then.

While You’re There—

  1. Making New Friends: Don’t be freaked out by the dreaded word: “Networking.” Think of it as an opportunity to make new writing friends. These people will be your peers and champions moving forward, because they care about words as much as you do! I suggest keeping a page in your notebook to ask for people’s email addresses. This is great because it gives you the power to follow up with the contacts after the conference. If you’re really jiving with someone though, consider asking directly to connect with them via cell or Facebook. If that makes you uncomfortable, offer them your contact information so that the choice is up to them to reach out to you. Generally, people are there to meet other writers so don’t let yourself get too anxious about trying to stay in touch. If you’re speaking on a panel, make a flyer to hand out to people that seem like they’d be interested.
  1. Carry a Drawstring Day Bag: Since you’ll be gone all day, carry all the vitals with you: notebook, pens, any books you need (I’m hoping for Danticat’s signature on my copy of Create Dangerously), wallet, scarf (protects in rain, warms in a cold conference rooms, doubles as a pillow if you need a nap), a packed lunch if you’re on a budget, meds, and anything you need for the whole day.
  1. Food: Last year, I was definitely on a tight budget. Hit up a grocery store in your hometown and pack food in your bag before you go (but don’t make my mistakes, no peanut butter on the airplane). The editor of Indiana Review, Tessa Yang, taught me that microwavable mac-n-cheese bowls make a great late-night snack. Staying in an AirBnB will let you make breakfast before you go. If that’s not an option, ask if your hotel room has a communal microwave. Dinner is the one meal you’ll probably have to buy while you’re out, but take your leftovers to reheat for breakfast the next day.
  1. Wind Down if Needed: AWP can be an overwhelming experience, especially for people who don’t enjoy large crowds. Take your rest when you need it. For me, that meant finding an empty corner and napping on the floor for thirty minutes with a scarf under my head. Choose the events that are right for you and remember that it’s ok to call it a day to rest.

Well, those are all my hard-earned tips from my last AWP trip. Check back in late March for a blog about organizing a panel and applying for funding to attend next year in Portland, Oregon!

Safe travels and I hope to meet you at my event (details listed below).

 

MFA vs POC: A Discussion on Surviving and Thriving in Predominantly White Institutions

Saturday, March 10 from 10:45 – 11:45 am in Florida Salon 5, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor

Panelists: Elizabeth Upshur, Anudradha Bhowmik, Cameron Moreno, William Palomo, Gionni Ponce

A diverse panel of current MFA students will focus on the experience of entering a creative writing program at a predominantly white institute as a person of color. Panelists will discuss both the challenges and the opportunities they have faced in their programs including confronting stereotypes in workshop, finding and working with mentors, and maintaining cultural identity. This is an opportunity for students and faculty to get honest feedback and discuss solutions.

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Christy Lorio

Image: Jeffery James Pacres

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year.

What did you do to get through the post application period?

It sounds cheesy but I told myself that I would get into the school I was meant to attend. I gave myself ample time to get my writing samples, SOP and letters of recommendation in before my deadlines so I felt confident I would get into at least one of the three schools I applied to on the first try. In the interim, I kept up with MFA Draft on Facebook for the community aspect and looked at Grad Café’s previous application year to estimate when acceptance letters would come out. This helped me resist checking my email twenty times a day (okay, maybe I still did that).

What’s the best piece of advice you received about applying?

Can I give two? Trust your gut instinct and don’t go into substantial debt for an MFA. I did trust my gut and it paid off. I got into my first pick school and I got a GA position that provides a tuition waiver and stipend. Applying without funding was a risky move for me since GA positions are hard to come so I really lucked out.

Biggest high? Biggest low?

Biggest high was getting into two of the three schools I applied to. I didn’t have any big lows but there was an administrative glitch at my first pick school. Parts of my application didn’t completely upload so I had to resubmit my application after the deadline. When I realized what happened I immediately called the school. They could see that I submitted before the deadline but they couldn’t access the files so I wasn’t penalized. I wouldn’t have caught this error if I hadn’t checked on my application after I sent it in.

What would you do differently if you could apply all over again?

I honestly don’t think I would have changed a thing. I got into two schools with two solid writing samples and I felt that my SOP represented me well.

The Interdisciplinary Thing

Image: Whitney H

Hello! Apologies for the long break since my last post — my laptop did that fun thing where it wouldn’t turn on and I had to send it off to Apple for a couple of weeks, and then the next couple of weeks were spent catching up on all the homework and writing I’d failed to do while laptop-less.

I’m now a semester and a half into my MFA, and one of the things I’m finding incredibly (and surprisingly, in my specific case) rewarding about being at Michener is the interdisciplinary focus. Our program requires everyone to declare a primary and secondary genre, but on top of that, we also take a multi-discipline first year seminar together with our entire cohort of fiction writers, poets, playwrights and screenwriters, and we’re allowed to take classes in disciplines that are neither our primary nor secondary genre.

I hadn’t thought much about this when I applied to Michener. I know for some people this is a big draw, because they already write some combination of fiction / poetry / plays / screenplays. But I was very much a fiction person. I’d never read much poetry outside of literature classes in high school, let alone written a single poem. I loved going to plays but would never think to try writing one. And I certainly don’t watch as much film as I would like (I find it kind of stressful — TV and movies give me overly vivid dreams, it’s a long story…). So while the interdisciplinary nature of Michener’s program sounded like a lot of fun — who wouldn’t want to learn to write new things! — it wasn’t something I had given a ton of consideration to both when applying and when making my choice to come here. I guess this post is for those of you who might feel the same way right now. Perhaps you’re a steadfast fiction reader and writer as I was, or you only do poetry or plays or screenplays. Perhaps you’re nervous about working in a different discipline (as I was) or you’re worried it will take time away from your primary discipline (it will, but it’s worth it!).

In our first year seminar, we read and workshopped across disciplines. Some of the benefits are obvious: having a poet focus their attention on the cadence of your sentences or the effectiveness of a convoluted mixed metaphor, having playwright point out when a narrative isn’t progressing quite as logically as it could or when action is stalled, having a screenwriter critique your dialogue. Workshopping with classmates who are not fiction writers has been incredibly helpful for my craft. But I am also inspired by the ways in which they think about their own craft and process — for example, poets who start writing poems with a fragment of an image in mind, screenwriters who write extensive outlines complete with act breaks and cliffhangers before diving into a draft, playwrights who begin with odd situations or concepts that they find stuck in their minds. Of course all of this applies within disciplines as well, and fiction writers themselves work in many different ways. But I have found that when I am feeling stuck, trying to approach my writing like one of my poet / playwright / screenwriter classmates can often help me come unstuck. For me personally, this has been most apparent when it comes to plot and story, something I’ve always struggled with. Making a narrative advance has often felt like drawing blood from a stone, and watching the ease with which playwrights and screenwriters bandy around alternative plot lines, potential twists, character motivation has helped me develop a better instinct for these things as well. I can’t say exactly how it happens — it’s that weird osmosis-like process of learning that takes place through being around people who are passionate about what they do and are eager to share that with you.

Of course, writing and reading in other disciplines has taken time away from my fiction. At times I’m frustrated because I’m not making as much progress with my novel or new stories as I feel like I should be. I’m in a TV writing class this semester, and it’s a lot of work plus because I’m new at writing scripts, I think it’s taking me extra long. I’m also in a poetry-heavy seminar, and I find that I (strangely?) can’t read poetry as quickly as I do novels. But I remind myself that as much as MFAs are about producing tangible work, it’s also about expanding the boundaries of our craft in whatever way possible, opening up new possibilities and stepping out of our comfort zones. And hopefully it all feeds the work in some invisible way.

 

 

 

So You’re Waiting to Hear Back from MFA Programs: Post Application Advice With Rachel Heng

Image: Jeroen François

For the next two months we’ll be asking some of our first year contributors to talk about the post application period and how they dealt with it last year.

What did you do to get through the post application period?

In the period that I was applying to MFA programs, a couple of beta readers were reading an early draft of my novel. It just so happened that I finished my applications around the same time that they finished reading and gave me feedback, so I threw myself into rewriting the novel. It was the perfect distraction because while I didn’t feel up for generating new work at the time, I felt like rewriting was something I could actually do. So I spent most of December and January wrestling with edits. And then, having decided that MFA application anxiety was, y’know, not quite crippling enough, I decided to query agents as well. Querying agents was a whole different level of anxiety and I definitely don’t recommend this. On hindsight, my social media / email addiction really started around this period of time, when I was constantly checking draft for MFA news, stalking agents on Twitter and obsessively refreshing my email. So I wouldn’t say to do what I did, but maybe some version of this. E.g. if you don’t feel up to writing new work, find some existing piece of writing that you can throw yourself into and wrestle with. Or if you have another project (new filing system, redecorating your room, exercising, adopting a cat), that can be helpful to take your mind off the wait.

What’s the best piece of advice you received about applying?

Aim high, aim for your dream schools — even if you don’t get in, you can always apply again next year. Don’t rule out schools because you think you won’t get in. It’s so hard to know where we ‘stand’ as writers, if that even makes sense as a concept. I’d been writing about 3 years when I applied to MFAs and was convinced I would get rejected everywhere; after all, my journal acceptance rate was dismal (around 0.5%, maybe less) at the time. Surely MFA programs would be more difficult to get into than the lit journals that they house (I now know this is not true for a variety of reasons, one of them being I am still getting rejected by lit journals housed in programs that accepted me). I ended up getting into several programs which I hadn’t expected at all, but if I hadn’t, I would’ve applied again next year, and the next. So I guess the same advice applies to MFA applications as to writing in general: persist.

Biggest high? Biggest low?

I’ll start with biggest low, because that came first. Syracuse was the first of my choices to start notifying. It was also my top choice and dream school, so when the acceptance notifications started to come out on Draft and I hadn’t heard anything, I was crushed. Then I got a rejection email (which as some of you know is a form letter that starts with “Dear Applicant”, lol), followed by computer-generated rejections from Cornell and UVA. Then followed several days of silence while other people celebrated acceptances on Draft and I was convinced my fears of not being accepted anywhere were true. I’d been preparing myself for it but still, to be faced with the possibility that I wouldn’t be going to an MFA program that year was a stab in the heart.
The biggest high came after that stretch of silence, when I got a phone call from a New York number at work one day. It was Deborah Landau, offering me a place at NYU and their Writers in Public Schools fellowship, which would cover tuition and offer a $27k annual stipend. I went into a meeting room to cry after that phone call (no one at work knew I was applying to grad school). But it wasn’t over — that same day, I was waitlisted by Michigan and accepted by Indiana. After the rejections of the past week and becoming convinced I wouldn’t get in anywhere, it was a high like no other. I ended up getting other acceptances, acceptances from schools I would never, ever have imagined getting into and that stunned me and also made me cry (I did a lot of crying in February / March 2017), but that first acceptance was golden.

What would you do differently if you could apply all over again?

I would try to be kinder to myself. Often I felt like it was life or death when I was applying, while on hindsight, the MFA application process and the MFA itself are just steps in what is (hopefully) a long journey as a writer. I would try to remember that regardless of the application outcome, I had managed to write fiction on my own for years. Even if I didn’t get into an MFA, I would just keep chipping away. I would still be a writer, and no rejection could take that from me.