Andrew Feld is the author of Citizen, a 2003 National Poetry Series selection, and editor-in-chief and poetry editor of The Seattle Review. He has received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, the “Discovery,” The Nation Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. He serves as the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Washington.
Robin Tung: How did full funding for students recently come into place for UW?
Andrew Feld: This has been a priority of mine–of ours–for many years, but it’s only recently become possible, due to a number of factors. One important factor has been the arrival of a (small, relative to other programs) bequest which has given us enough money to pay stipends to some students and to increase the Seattle Review editorial position from a one year to a two year fully-funded position.
In addition to this, the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program has generously offered to help fund a fellowship for minority students and students from underrepresented communities. So by utilizing all the opportunities afforded to us we’ve figured out how we can fully fund ten new students each year in our two-year program.
RT: How much will students receive?
AF: The minimum that each MFA student receives is a tuition waver (worth 16k in-state and 24k out of state), health insurance and a stipend of $18,000. The Pollock/GO-MAP Fellow receives a stipend of $20,000 (and a tuition waver and health insurance).
RT: What sets UW apart from other programs?
AF: Our program is not oriented around any one particular aesthetic or philosophical program. If one idea unifies all the professors here, it is the idea that all serious writers are serious readers or, as Berryman states it directly: “all great writers are intellectuals.” As teachers we encourage as wide a range as possible of intellectual and aesthetic interests in our students.
RT: How closely do faculty work with students?
AF: Very closely. We are a small program. Each student works with all of our professors (in each genre) over the course of each academic year. Second year students have a thesis supervisor and a thesis reader with whom they meet with regularly for one-on-one sessions.
RT: What makes a candidate stand out in the application process?
AF: The work. Everything depends on the quality of the creative sample. Everything else is secondary to that. What we’re looking for is the genuine presence of a mind working on the page in language–or a student trying to find a way to make their mind work on the page.
RT: What advice would you offer applicants during the application process?
AF: Don’t strategize. Send in what you consider to be your absolute best work.
RT: How many applied last year and how many were accepted into each genre?
AF: 173 [applied]; 5 [were accepted] in each genre.
RT: What is your own writing process like? What advice do you have for new writers?
AF: I have two pieces of advice for new writers. The first one is the one you’ve probably heard some version of from everyone who answers these questions, which is to read, read, read. “You must know everything,” to quote Isaac Babel. Reading trumps experience. Imitate the writers you love. Find a literary tradition you feel incorporates your experience of the world, and you at least part way on your way.
The second is to not be confined in your interests to only one art–follow modern painting, performance art, contemporary music, dance, architecture, etc. Don’t confine your interests to the written word. As you expand your own sense of the intellectual and creative currents in all the arts, so your own work will become radial and capacious your own creative works
My writing process is, at this point, a continuation of this idea.