Interview with J. Kasteley of Houston University

j kasteley, houstonJ. Kastely, Director of The Program in Creative Writing at Houston University, is a nationally recognized expert in the history and theory of rhetoric. His essays have appeared in PMLA, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Mosaic, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism among others. At the University of Houston, he was named Graduate Student Teacher of the Year in 1999, and he won 2002 Teaching Excellence Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

Robin Tung: What sets Houston’s program apart from other programs?

J. Kastely: Houston emphasizes the study of literature as an important part of the education of a creative writer.  Students at UH pursue a rigorous graduate study of literature that is designed to make them not only skilled practitioners of their literary craft but people of letters.

RT: What do you look for in a candidate?

JK: Someone who is a good writer, who still has things to learn, and who will be a good member of a workshop.

RT: Are there stylistic or form leanings in UH’s program?

JK: We are open to all literary styles and forms.

RT: What is funding like at Houston?

JK: MFA students receive a teaching assistantship worth $15,000/year, tuition and fees ($7,000), and a fellowship from Inprint for $5,000-$10,000.  There are a few additional fellowships that can also be awarded.  The package for 3 years is worth between $74,700 and $78,700.

RT: How many writers applied last year, and how many were accepted in each genre?

JK: We admit between 3% and 7% of those who apply.  Last year we had 350+ applications and admitted 8 in fiction, 8 in poetry, and 1 in nonfiction.

RT: What advice would you offer applicants during the application process?

JK: Focus on the writing sample and statement of intent. The writing sample should be able to stand alone and it should be free of all  errors.  It should represent what you consider to be your best work.  The statement of intent is an act of self-identification—let the program know what you have been reading, why you are seeking an MFA, and what are your goals for the future.

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

JK: These are not really blunders.  But it is a mistake to think that you can craft an application to fit the character of a particular program.  Rather you should represent yourself at your strongest.  If a certain program does not the develop an interest in you, take that as good evidence that that program might not have been the right program for you.

RT: What’s the best advice you have for new writers?

JK: Read a lot and pay attention to the resistances in your own writing—those are the places that are offering you the possibility of being original.


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