Monday, February 18, 2013

Guest Blogger, Jennifer Morales: In Favor of the MFA


Today's guest blogger, Jennifer Morales, shares her thoughts on the benefits of an MFA program. Read on...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of my MFA in Creative Writing. I entered the Antioch University - Los Angeles low-residency program in 2009 already a good enough writer. I made my living in part as an editor and was a devoted student of spoken word and performance art. I was immersed daily in the practice of words. So why did I enroll?

Searching for some document the other day, I stumbled across my personal admissions statement, part of my application packet for the two low-residency MFA programs to which I applied. The yearning for validation as a writer and for community are themes throughout the essay. Beyond developing my writing skills and the status the credential gives me in the teaching world, I wanted to know I was a real writer and I wanted to know I wasn’t alone.
Today, guest blogger Jennifer Morales shares her thoughts on the benefit she received from an MFA program. Read on...

The program at Antioch gave me both validation and community in spades. I’m sure there are a thousand pithy quotes out there on the internet about how one must decide one’s writer identity for oneself, that the only true validation comes from inside, and you become a writer the day you put pen to paper and say you are, and yadda yadda. Blah, blah, blah. Did I really need to go into perpetual student load debt to find that out? Apparently I did.

It isn’t about the letters after my name. That’s not validation except in the most sterile, external, resume-reading sort of way. What truly validates me as a writer turns out to be the other thing I said I was seeking in that admissions essay: community. Spending 50 days, 10 days at a crack, with a hundred-some other students, at what we jokingly termed “writers’ camp,” was transformative. For someone who’s felt a bit of a freak all her life for geeking out on the sound of words or spinning out stories about every old lady at a bus stop, suddenly having a cohort of fellow word- freaks felt like an unexpected gift. 

Even after graduation, my cohort keeps in touch, through visits, conferences, phone calls, letters, and social media. In my ongoing MFA community, I get to hear the struggles and terrors and joys of other writers I know and trust. I understand when they speak of their characters as if they were old friends, sometimes because their characters have become my friends as well. We champion each other and talk each other’s work up all over the country. We lust after words in a way that only devotees of Scrabble would understand. We read each other’s manuscripts and go to the oceans to throw angry rocks when we’re near each other’s oceans and need to throw rocks, because some editor or agent or contest judge or publisher just doesn’t get what we’re trying to say. But we get it. We get each other.

My extended deferment on my student loans is going to end in July. I’m not looking forward to writing that check each month, but I will do so knowing that I got something priceless for my tuition fee. 

Jennifer Morales is a multi-genre writer, editor, and performance artist inMilwaukee. Her poem “Pillow / Book” is forthcoming in pixel and sound at KenningJournal.com. Earlier poetry has been published in Between the Heart and the Land/Entre el coraz√≥n y la tierra: Latina Poets in the Midwest and at Poetic Milwaukee. "Cross Reference," her poem about the bombing ofHiroshima, won an honorable mention in the 2010 national War Poetry Contest. She serves as a board member for the Council for Wisconsin Writers. Visit her blog at http://www.moraleswrites.com/blog.php

7 comments:

Sig. said...

I couldn't possibly agree more. Getting an MFA isn't about learning to write; you wouldn't get in if you didn't have the talent. It's about finding a support system and giving yourself permission to prioritize your writing over whatever it is that you do for a paycheck.

I have been paying off my MFA for 5 years, and I have about 20 to go. It never feels like wasted money when I write my monthly check. It feels, even all these years later, like the best gift I could have ever given myself.

Lisa said...

Wow, you guys are making me want to go and get an MFA...

Sig. said...

You could do it, Lisa. I did a residency program, which made sense for where I was at in my life, but a low residency program would work really well for you. I know of a good one up in Alaska...although California might be more your style. :)

Jaly Can said...

love this type of urban art ...can't wait to see your papers

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