Beth Ann Fennelly is Director of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi where she teaches poetry and nonfiction writing. Fennelly has published three full-length poetry books. Her prizes include The 2001 Kenyon Review Prize and the Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award. She has also published a book of nonfiction, Great with Child, in 2006, with Norton. As a Contributing Editor to The Oxford American, she frequently writes essays on Southern food, music, and books. In 2011, she was named Mississippi Humanities Teacher of the Year and College of Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year.
Robin Tung: What do you think is unique about Mississippi’s MFA program?
Beth Ann Fennelly: First our teacher student ratio approaches three students to one professor. We give lots of individual attention and conferences. We are able to advise students about publications and jobs. We give full funding to all of our students and we only accept as many students as we can mentor with insight, energy and passion.
RT: Will there be any changes in faculty in the next year?
BAF: We have a new assistant professor in poetry coming. Her name is Chiyuma Elliot. Furthermore, we have the distinguished poet Dave Smith coming for three years. Next year, our writer in residence will be Megan Abbott. The following year, our writer in residence will be Mary Miller.
RT: What does the committee look for in a candidate?
BAF: Regarding what we look for in students, excellence is our sole criteria. We have students of all different ages, races, economic backgrounds. The single thing that unites them is that they are all excellent dedicated hard-working writers, and it is a pleasure to work with them.
RT: What are alumni doing post-graduation?
BAF: After graduation, our students go on to teaching and editing jobs as well as writing in many different areas. We have a Stegner this year from among our recent graduates. Several of our recent students have published books.