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.
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 Journal, Ploughshares, 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.
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