Mitch Wieland holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama, where he was fiction editor of The Black Warrior Review. A full professor of English, he teaches fiction, form and theory of fiction, and publishing/editing courses in the MFA Program, as well as undergraduate fiction writing at Boise State University. Wieland also serves as founding editor of the award-winning literary journal The Idaho Review.
Robin Tung: What does the committee look for in a candidate?
Mitch Wieland: We tend to put most of our focus on the writing sample. We are looking to find both passion and finesse on the page, that magic blend of craft and artistic vision. The committee turns next to the letters of recommendation, where we hope to read comments about the writer’s dedication and commitment. We certainly want to find students who are prepared for the challenges of graduate school. While we all have that wild bohemian artist inside of us, a successful graduate student additionally needs to bring a level of professionalism to the classroom and the department as a whole. We want students who can represent the MFA program at the university with poise and dignity.
RT: Does the program lean toward any particular style?
MW: Not at all. Our current students are quite eclectic and represent a range of styles and sensibilities.
RT: How closely do faculty work with students, and will any faculty be incoming or leaving in the next year?
MW: Ours is a small program of roughly ten students per genre. Workshops average six to eight students each semester. I would say the students work very closely with the faculty, especially during thesis hours in their third year. The students are also actively involved in putting together The Idaho Review each year, as well as helping with our highly regarded poetry press, Ahsahta. In both of these endeavors, students work side by side with the faculty during the entire manuscript review and production process.
For the next incoming class in Fall 2014, all the faculty will be teaching full time. Brady Udall is returning from a sabbatical leave this fall, and Janet Holmes is currently on a Fulbright scholarship in Europe.
RT: What do you think sets Boise’s MFA program apart from others?
MW: Our focus on publishing and editing is certainly one of our strengths. From its first dozen issues, The Idaho Review has had ten stories reprinted in the top prize anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Awards, plus another twenty stories short-listed by these national anthologies. The journal has published Ann Beattie, Richard Bausch, Joy Williams, Rick Bass, Pam Houston, and Edith Pearlman, to name only a few. Founded in 1974, Ahsahta Press has won numerous awards, and often has its books receive starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly. Having the MFA students work directly on these publications gives them a fantastic experience and skill set to take back into the literary world.
In recent years, our program has fully funded each new student with a Teaching Assistantship. We also allow our second- and third-year students to teach undergraduate sections of fiction and poetry. Most of our students teach at least two creative writing classes during their time here.
Lastly, the city of Boise is a strong attraction to students. It is an incredibly beautiful place to live and write.
RT: How are alumni faring post-graduation?
MW: Recent graduates have won an NEA fellowship, a National Magazine Award, a Whiting Award, and have been publishing consistently in both fiction and poetry. We have dozens of graduates currently in teaching positions, both full and part-time.