Alyson Hagy is an award-winning writer whose books include Boleto, Ghosts of Wyoming, and Keeneland. Hagy’s work shows the influence of a rural childhood, reflecting her fascination with challenging environments and harsh climes, and individuals’ relationships with and within them. She currently teaches and serves as interim co-director of University of Wyoming‘s MFA program.
Robin Tung: What does Wyoming’s admission committee look for in a prospective student?
Alyson Hagy: I think the letter from our program director Beth Loffreda that can be found on our website says it best. We look for students who are willing to ask “why” and “what for” as well as “how.” We are attracted to stamina and seriousness, and we pride ourselves on the sense of community we’ve been able to build in Laramie. We recruit the most diverse class we can, and diversity for us includes aesthetics as well as cultural and geographic identity. Our program is small, flexible, and allows for exploration across genres and in the sciences and fine arts. We are also a home for those who crave deep study in the genre of their choice. We seek students whose curiosity will allow them to thrive in a rich, expectant environment.
RT: In the last few years, what writers and texts have been taught in classes? Does the program lean toward particular types of writing?
AH: That question is almost impossible to answer succinctly. It might be more helpful to note that our students have participated in “traditional” workshops in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. They have also had the opportunity to take less traditional workshops in Digital Poetics, Narrative & Lyric, Publication, and Book Art. Our Eminent Writers in Residence have designed extended projects like the interdisciplinary Gem City Atlas (Rebecca Solnit), explorations in Navajo Poetics (Sherwin Bitsui), and community-based writing (Writing in Wyoming led by Mark Nowak).
Our students have access to literature classes, a cutting-edge curriculum in environment/natural resources, and faculty in other departments and colleges who are very pleased to work with writers. They are exposed to both the old and the new – in lots of realms. Most importantly, we work very hard to help students deepen existing skills (in journalism, for instance) while also exposing them to new possibilities (printmaking, ecology) or both. Students have a lot of opportunity to develop their own curricular goals at UW, and they do.
RT: How closely do faculty work with students?
AH: Very. We’re told we have the lowest student/faculty ratio in the country, and that may be true. Our workshops are small (4-10 students), and our faculty is committed to an engaged thesis process that features a great deal of consultation during a student’s second year (and usually before). Joy Williams, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Danielle Pafunda, and Mark Jenkins serve on thesis committees and do regular manuscript consultations while H.L. Hix, Kate Northrop, David Romtvedt, Beth Loffreda, Andy Fitch, Jeff Lockwood, Brad Watson, and Alyson Hagy teach a regular rotation of workshops, interdisciplinary classes, and serve on thesis committees. The faculty is diverse, and there are plenty of us to go around.
H.L. Hix will be in South Korea on a Fulbright in the fall of 2013. Alyson Hagy is scheduled to be on sabbatical in 2014-15. Those are the only variations we know of right now. Sherwin Bitsui (Fall 2013) and Dinaw Mengestu (Spring 2014) will be in residence during the next academic year. We haven’t selected our Eminent Writers in Residence for 2014-15 yet, but they will surely supplement our already strong faculty in interesting ways.
RT: What have alumni from UW’s MFA gone on to do?
AH: We’re still a young program. We just graduated our 6th class. Right now, it looks as though our eclectic former students are doing eclectic things. Teaching. Working for non-profit organizations and NGOs. Building careers in journalism (print and radio). Starting small businesses. They’ve won a range of national prizes (Iron Horse, Intro), published in great venues (New Yorker, Granta, Orion), and seen their first books head toward publication (Dial, Logan House). We’re proud of every success, and we identify with every struggle. Great writing takes time.