Monday, July 25, 2011

MFA Q&A: Interacting in a Low-Residency Program

Further in my MFA Mondays series on the benefits and practicalities of getting an MFA in Creative Writing, today’s installment covers the practicalities of my low residency MFA program.

Q (Alison): I know you attended the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte.  Were you part of the low-residency program?  How did that work in terms of interacting with your instructors and your peers? How have you stayed in touch with your fellow students after the program?  Do you have online critique groups or in-person get-togethers?

A: Yes, I was part of the low-residency program. Aside from the one-week residencies in Charlotte, communication with instructors and the students in any given semester’s workshop happened via email. I feel that the MFA in Creative Writing is probably one of the programs that lends itself best to being taught online. After all, you’re writing, and you give feedback in writing. Even if you receive a harsh critique, it is easier to digest, I found, when you receive it in writing, rather than face-to-face in a group setting. You can step away from it, come back, read it again when you can stomach it. You can go back to it many years later. Of course we also had in-person workshops during the residencies and those were intense but I also never had a negative experience.

During the program we students also had a forum on zoetrope, to which every student got invited. A fellow grad also runs an office on zoetrope focused on publishing and many of us alumni still congregate there. We also keep in touch via an alumni group on Facebook that’s quite active. Another benefit of the Queens MFA program is the alumni conferences that happen every 1.5 to 2 years. I’ve been able to attend two and each time it was a wonderfully inspiring experience, not only in connecting with old friends and making new friends but also in being able to workshop with editors and agents in the publishing world.

In addition to all of that, I regularly see fellow alumni at conferences like AWP or NonfictioNow, and I am part of a loosely-knit critique group that exchanges manuscripts on an almost monthly basis.

All of this is to say that the aspect of becoming part of a community of equally dedicated writers has been a tremendous benefit of getting my MFA at Queens.


  1. Hi Annette. Glad to see in your experience that the MFA connections for the low-res program were strong for you. While I know no one needs an MFA to be a writer, I've recently looked at that kind of program as a way to build a community of nonfiction writers. I've just not had the luck at locating people, even at regional conferences, doing what I want to do or working at my level (beginner, but with some skill, who seriously wants to publish and could use some advice).

    I jumped to the AWP website you linked since I hadn't been there in awhile. I see the next one is in Chicago. Just a quick car ride for me. Do they do a good job providing something for us nonfiction people?

  2. Julie - AWP definitely offers lots of panels on nonfiction, and attending the conference is stimulating, albeit somewhat overwhelming. Let me know if you come next year, then we can meet up.