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Interview with Lauren Grodstein of Rutgers University

laura grodsteinLauren Grodstein is the author of five novels, including the New York Times bestseller A Friend of the Family and the Washington Post Book of the Year The Explanation for Everything.  Her most recent novel, Our Short History, published in 2017, has been listed in Oprah’s Top 20 Books and Flavorwire’s Book of the Month. She directs the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and dog.

Robin Tung: What sets Rutger’s program apart from other MFAs?

Laura Grodstein: Well, since we’re decidedly multi-genre, we encourage students to experiment with other forms. Even students who think they’re only poets, or only fiction writers, have to at least try one workshop in a different genre, because we believe that poetry has something to teach prose writers, and that the skills of, say, nonfiction are quite applicable to other kinds of writing.

We also have a remarkable community: friendly, connected, driven but not competitive. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it feels almost miraculous how closely knit our community remains, year after year. Our students form these incredibly tight bonds – long after graduation I’ll see them on social media celebrating each other’s birthdays or visiting each other across the country and, of course, sharing writing with one another.

RT: What can writers expected to get out of the program at Rutgers?

LG: Students get so much: a lifelong community of writers and friends, an immersive experience in reading and writing, the opportunity to teach, the possibility of engaging the broader Camden community, the chance to meet the nationally recognized writers and publishing professionals who visit our campus regularly. They get a devoted, well-established faculty: we have three Guggenheim Fellows, a Pulitzer winner, and a New York Times bestseller on faculty. Students also get to live in or around Philadelphia, one of the most vibrant– and affordable!– cities on the East Coast.

RT: What courses do you teach?

LG: I myself teach fiction workshops and craft classes: Plot, mostly, but also Writing the Woman and Humor Writing. But we also offer classes as diverse as Point of View, Publishing and Editing, Music Writing, and The History of the Short Story.

RT: Are there stylistic or form leanings (traditional vs experimental, certain writers or texts taught at the program each year)?

LG: Not really. We’re a pretty diverse faculty, and we all share our separate reading and writing interests with our students. I know J.T. Barbarese, for instance, tilts toward classic American and European novels, while I tend to teach and admire contemporary American short stories. My college Patrick Rosal teaches an incredibly diverse roster of poetry and always has an eye out for writers who aren’t typically celebrated by the academy (at least not yet). We encourage students to find what they love, and to develop their own styles and evolve from there.

RT: How closely do faculty work with students?

LG: We work very closely indeed with our students, in workshops, in independent studies, and in advising them one-on-one as they write their theses.

RT: What are Rutger’s admissions rates: how many applied last year, and how many were accepted into each genre?

LG: We had, I believe, close to 300 applicants, and accepted 13 (with a robust waitlist): 5 poets, 5 fiction writers, and 3 CNF.

RT: What do you look for in a candidate when you’re reading through applications?

LG: We look for talent, potential for growth, seriousness, strong references, and a general sense that the candidate would fit in with our community. We also interview everyone we accept to see if they’d make good teachers, since all our students teach.

RT: What advice would you offer applicants?

LG: Work hard on that writing portfolio! Spend time on it, put it in a drawer, take it out, read it again. The portfolio is the thing we look at first, and it’s what we keep coming back to as we make our decisions, so please read it and read it again, and share it with the good editors in your life so that you can consider their input. Don’t just race through something last minute!

RT: Have you come across any application blunders–or what not to do in an application?

LG: The most common blunder is the unedited manuscript, but we’ve also gotten people who’ve sent in academic work or work aimed at children, neither of which we consider. But most people applying to MFA programs seem to know the deal: send in your best stuff, get references from people who know you well, and take the whole thing seriously.

RT: What is funding like for this or next year?

LG: We are happily fully-funded; all students receive tuition remission and either a teaching assistantship that pays around $26,000 and comes with a 2-1 composition teaching load, or an Interdisciplinary Fellowship that comes with a combined stipend and paycheck of approximately $22,000. This Interdisciplinary Fellowship matches students with professors across all the fields in the College to allow them to pursue their research interests as they write. Interdisciplinary Fellows also teach composition on a 1-1 load.

RT: What’s one piece of advice you’d offer an emerging writer?

LG: Get a day job. Seriously. It’s hard to write if you’re worried about paying the rent, and a day job forces you to create a schedule to write around. I never would have written my first novel if I hadn’t had a job that covered my expenses, and if I hadn’t learned the trick I still rely on: write first thing in the morning, while the coffee’s hot and your imagination is fresh.

 

RT: What are you working on now?

LGMostly essays. I published a new novel last month and have been in a sort of reflective, essay-writing mood.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

New School Added: University of South Florida (Tampa)

The University of South Florida (Tampa) joins our growing list of fully funded programs. “All University of South Florida MFA students receive three years of full funding (tuition remission, stipend of $13,084, and health insurance) and are eligible for university travel grants,” says Rita Ciresi, Director of Creative Writing.

Stay tuned for an interview with Rita Ciresi and find out what advice she has for applicants!

Posted in Program Info

New School Added: Rutgers Camden

Hi All, Rutgers University at Camden is now part of the official list of fully funded MFA programs. For the first time this fall, Rutgers will be offering full funding for all students along with tuition remittance and healthcare. This is great news– the more fully funded programs, the better!

I’m in correspondence with a few additional schools to verify funding. More fully funded programs coming soon to Affording the MFA!

Posted in Program Info

Program Stipends

Thanks to all of you for your input on the stipend ranking. I’ve updated the list to include the average rental pricing for a 1BR in the city as well as a link to a more comprehensive cost of living website for each city. My intention is to give you a quick glance at how viable a stipend may be. And so I’ve also changed the ranking to better reflect how far the money goes. However, right below the updated version, you’ll find the list ordered from greatest to least stipend just in case you’d like to see it.

How the ranking works: The yearly cost of the apartment rental is deducted from the total annual stipend amount. In the case where there are differences in stipend amounts due to the degree held or work type assigned, the lower amount is used, and in the case where stipends differ between the first and second years, the first year stipend is used. But you’re welcome to calculate this better with more realistic numbers as they apply to you.

The last column in the stipend titled “Leftover Stipend” shows you how much you’d have after paying rent for the year. You might use this to help calculate how much more income you’d need or savings you’d use while in the program. In a perfect world, you’d be able to rely on the stipend completely…

A note on housing: It’s possible that the rental portion of your cost of living may be drastically lower if you rent a studio, share a place with a roommate, or choose to live outside the city center in a surrounding neighborhood. In the links, the 1BR rentals just outside the city center decrease by $50-450 per month. And it’s also possible that your cost of living will be higher if you need a larger space and/or are relocating a partner or child.

As a last word, if you find this stipend list or any part of the blog helpful, donate today and keep it running! It’s run on good will and love.

Updated ranking

Program Stipend City (click to see detailed cost of living) Average rental price of 1BR in the city center Leftover Stipend
Johns Hopkins University $30,000 Baltimore, MD $1,313 $14,244
WUSTL $22,220 Saint Louis, MO $912 $11,276
Cornell $25,000 (Data from 2013) Ithaca, NY $1,258 $9,904
Purdue $17,000 West Lafayette, IN $630 $9,440
UT Austin $27,500 Austin, TX $1,517 $9,296
U of WI $22,000 Madison, WI $1,073 $9,124
U of OR $18,000 Eugene, OR $812 $8,256
UVA $20,000 Charlottesville, VA $1,036 $7,568
Vanderbilt $24,000 Nashville, TN $1,391 $7,308
LSU $17,500 Baton Rouge, LA $877 $6,976
Univ of WY $14078 / $12078 (Funding dependent on teaching or research position and work load) Laramie, WY $600 $6,878
IU $15,750 Bloomington, IN $751 $6,738
U of AZ $14,808 Tucson, AZ $674 $6,720
U of MI $22,000 / $18,600 (Second year carries lower stipend) Ann Arbor $1,292 $6,496
U of FL $15,800 Gainesville, FL $788 $6,344
UNM $14,792 (Data from 2014) Albuquerque, NM $753 $5,756
Syracuse $14,535-19,916 (Funding dependent on teaching or research position and work load) Syracuse, NY $768 $5,319
Notre Dame $12,500 Notre Dame, IN $633 $4,904
U of AL $13,500 Tuscaloosa, AL $728 $4,764
VA Tech $16,000 Blacksburg, VA $950 $4,600
U of AR $11,400 or $12,000 (Higher stipend given to candidates with MA) Fayetteville, AR $600 $4,200
ASU $15,000 Tempe, AZ $904 $4,152
UI at Urbana-Champaign $13,086 / $21,493 (Second year carries higher stipend) Champaign, IL $767 $3,882
OSU $16,000 or $21,800 (Teaching fellows receive larger stipdend) Columbus, OH $1,013 $3,844
Bowling Green $10,500 Bowling Green, OH $588 $3,444
U of MN $17,500 Minneapolis, MN $1,303 $1,864
U of MS $11,500 Oxford, MS $813 $1,744
Boise State $10,450 Boise, ID $820 $610
Oregon State $10,555 Corvallis, OR $850 $355
U of Houston $15,000 Houston, TX $1,291 -$492
U of IA $9,262-18,816 (Funding dependent on teaching or research position and work load) Iowa City, IA $870 -$1,178
UCI $20,050 Irvine, CA $1,829 -$1,898
Brown $11,850 / $23,700 (Additional $2K available for students in good standing for summer funding between first and second year) Providence, RI $1,253 -$3,186
U of Miami $15,965 Miami, FL $1,787 -$5,479
U of WA $15,000 Seattle, WA $1,806 -$6,672
Boston U $12,800 Boston, MA $2,423 -$16,276

 

 

Ranking from largest amount to smallest

Program Stipend
Johns Hopkins University $30,000
WUSTL $22,220
Cornell $25,000 (Data from 2013)
Purdue $17,000
UT Austin $27,500
U of WI $22,000
U of OR $18,000
UVA $20,000
Vanderbilt $24,000
LSU $17,500
Univ of WY $14078 / $12078 (Funding dependent on teaching or research position and work load)
IU $15,750
U of AZ $14,808
U of MI $22,000 / $18,600 (Second year carries lower stipend)
U of FL $15,800
UNM $14,792 (Data from 2014)
Syracuse $14,535-19,916 (Funding dependent on teaching or research position and work load)
Notre Dame $12,500
U of AL $13,500
VA Tech $16,000
U of AR $11,400 or $12,000 (Higher stipend given to candidates with MA)
ASU $15,000
UI at Urbana-Champaign $13,086 / $21,493 (Second year carries higher stipend)
OSU $16,000 or $21,800 (Teaching fellows receive larger stipdend)
Bowling Green $10,500
U of MN $17,500
U of MS $11,500
Boise State $10,450
Oregon State $10,555
U of Houston $15,000
U of IA $9,262-18,816 (Funding dependent on teaching or research position and work load)
UCI $20,050
Brown $11,850 / $23,700 (Additional $2K available for students in good standing for summer funding between first and second year)
U of Miami $15,965
U of WA $15,000
Boston U $12,800

 

Posted in Program Info, You & Me

A New Minimum Standard?

This month, I was interviewed by The Writer Mag about Affording the MFA and its offerings for its May/June issue. But it got me thinking about the minimum stipend, which was set at $9K in 2012 to include a broader listing of schools. Since 2012, more programs have cropped up, and stipends have increased, even if only slightly. This meager $9K stipend no longer seems livable by the average standard of living. What do you think the minimum stipend should be in order to be listed on Affording the MFA? Or should our list simply set a low stipend ($10K, which all the schools on the list now meet) so that a broader list can be accessed?

(This post originally included a table of stipends listed from greatest to least. The stipend has been revised with additional information.)