The MFA Blog is featuring Salon‘s 2011 interview with Lan Samantha Chang, the director of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, and it’s a great idea! Get insight into this prestigious program here! (And if you haven’t yet, read her acclaimed Hunger: A Novella and Stories. It’s absolutely wonderful.)
Advice and insight from Lan Samantha Chang:
Well, I would say turn in your best work. That’s the only advice. It doesn’t matter what your letters of recommendation say; it doesn’t matter what kind of grades you got. We just don’t look at that. We look at the work. We’ve done that always, and it’s still true.
. . .
Ultimately what happens is that I choose 50 or 60 finalists, and then the permanent faculty and the visiting faculty read all of the finalists and have a vote. And every year, I’d say there are probably 25 or 30 people admitted to the program in fiction, and every year there are 80 people who deserve to be in the program. So, as you can imagine, we vote down a lot of wonderful people. What’s interesting to me is the number of extraordinary writers who are good enough to get in but who don’t get in because we don’t have enough spots.
. . .
A really promising writer in their early 20s who has just graduated from college and applies to the MFA, like straight out of college, stands a lower chance of getting into our program than someone who has been out for a few years and has had a chance to have some experience, and grow, and season, and write some more, and test their writing, and develop a larger body of work. That undergraduate who gets rejected from our program when they’re 22 could easily get in when they’re 26.