Posted in Interviews

Interview with Lauren Grodstein of Rutgers University

laura grodsteinLauren Grodstein is the author of five novels, including the New York Times bestseller A Friend of the Family and the Washington Post Book of the Year The Explanation for Everything.  Her most recent novel, Our Short History, published in 2017, has been listed in Oprah’s Top 20 Books and Flavorwire’s Book of the Month. She directs the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and dog. Continue reading “Interview with Lauren Grodstein of Rutgers University”

Posted in Interviews

Interview with Danielle Dutton of Washington University at St. Louis

Photo credit Sarah Shatz

Danielle Dutton’s fiction has appeared in magazines such as Harper’sBOMBFence, and Noon. She is the author of Attempts at a Life,  SPRAW L, and the novel Margaret the First. In 2010, she founded the small press Dorothy, a publishing project. She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis


Continue reading “Interview with Danielle Dutton of Washington University at St. Louis”

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Interview with Andrew Feld of University of Washington

andrew feld, university of washington seattleAndrew 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.

Posted in Interviews

Interview with Jennifer Davis of Louisiana State University

jennifer davis, lsuJennifer S. Davis is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University specializing in short fiction. She has published two collections of short stories, Her Kind of Want, winner of the Iowa Award for Short Fiction, and Our Former Lives in Art, which was published by Random House and chosen as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her short stories have been published in such journals as TheParis Review, The Georgia Review, One Story, The Oxford American, Epoch, and The American Scholar, and in the anthology This Is Not Chick Lit. She is the recipient of the Reynold’s Price Short Fiction Award, the Julia Peterkin Award, a Washington Arts Council Fellowship, and a Djerassi Residency. Her novel-in-progress was recently selected as runner-up in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship competition.

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

Jennifer S. Davis: LSU’s program is small and intimate. We admit about seven students per yer. The small size affords students greater access to opportunities in leadership roles. Students run the Delta Mouth Literary Festival, edit the New Delta Review, serve as interns on the Southern Review, assist in curating our reading and lecture series, Readers & Writers, run their own reading series, The Underpass, and hold a variety of other meaningful positions in the department and program.

With such a small program, students really have a chance to shape their graduate experience. We have faculty in playwriting, screenwriting, digital film (Jason Buch taught a phenomenal graduate workshop in video game writing and design this spring), prose, poetry, and starting next year, creative non-fiction with the addition of the amazing Joshua Wheeler.

All of our students are funded for three years, and graduate teaching assistants are required to teach only one class per semester. Almost all students get the chance to teach in their genre. We not only allow cross-genre and hybrid work, we actively encourage it; students take workshops outside of their genre. And finally, Louisiana has a unique and fascinating culture. It’s a fabulous place for a writer to explore.

RT: Are there stylistic or form leanings (traditional vs experimental, certain writers or texts taught each year)?

JSD: Certainly, we all have our stylistic preferences, but our students are diverse in aesthetic and style. I think applicants sometimes sell themselves short by assuming a professor who writes a certain way wouldn’t like work that does something different. I admire work radically different from my own. I enjoy stretching myself as a teacher by engaging prose that challenges me. The students, from my experience, are encouraging and supportive of their peers, and I don’t see aesthetic-based cliques or artificial hierarchies of style/form in our program.

RT: What texts and authors did you teach this year?

Me (selected): Paul Yoon, Denis Johnson, Percival Everett, Edwidge Danticat, Jasmyn Ward, George Saunders, Lauren Groff, ZZ Packer, Scott Snyder, NoViolet Bulawayo, Denis Lehane, Hari Kunzru, Karen Russell, Josh Russell, Kevin Wilson, Mona Simpson, Cristina Henriquez, Tobias Wolff, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jennifer Egan, Danielle Evans, Ron Rash

Laura Mullen: Arlette Farge, The Allure of the Archives; Araki Yasusada, Doubled Flowering; Natasha Trethaway: Belloq’s Ophelia;Brenda Coultas, A Handmade Museum: Poems; M. NourbeSe Philip,Zong!; Sophie Calle: The Address Book; Forrest Gander: “A Life of Johnson Upside Your Head” from Lynchburg; Achille Mbembe, “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits” from Refiguring the Archive; Ian Baucom, “Liverpool: A Capital of the Long Twentieth Century” fromSpectres of the Atlantic; Ulrich Baer, “Deep in the Archive”; Michel-Rolph Trouillot, “Three Faces of Sans Souci” from Silencing the Past

RT: What do you look for in a candidate?

JSD: Personally, I look for someone who shows a delight for the work and a willingness to be part of the community. Sincerity, generosity, humor, and enthusiasm go a long way. As for the writing, that is harder to pin down. I admire work that surprises and unsettles me, has a clear sense of what it is trying to do, and a distinct voice.

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

JSD: Start early. Be extremely organized. Cast a wide net. Don’t fixate on rankings. Look for a well-funded program with a variety of professionalization opportunities, invested faculty, and a community that suits you. Many amazing programs are not as recognized as they should be. Don’t delve too deeply into the online MFA application discussion forums. They can make you crazy. Don’t take it personally if you don’t get accepted into a program the first try. There just aren’t enough slots for all the fine writers who apply. I know we are always stunned by how many excellent and accomplished writers apply each year.

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

JSD: I like to get to know a candidate’s life and personality in the letter of intent, but I would recommend against being too confessional. Sometimes the extremely intimate personal narratives overshadow the work. Mainly, make sure you have submitted the entirety of your application on time, make certain the work reflects who you are as a writer and not who you think we want you to be, and proofread your work carefully.

RT: What is funding like at LSU currently?

JSD: LSU supports every student admitted into the M.F.A. program.  Stipends for those entering with an M.A. or another M.F.A. are $17,000; for those entering with a B.A. or B.A., it is $16,500.

RT: What are your admissions rates: how many applied last year, and how many were accepted into each genre?

JSD: 159 fiction applications; 3 admitted = 1.89%. 66 poetry applications; 3 admitted = 4.55%.

RT: What are you working on now?

JSD: A sampling: I just finished a manuscript of linked short stories. I am working on a historical novel.

Mari Kornhauser is currently writing an untitled independent feature, researching a new TV series, and shopping an untitled TV series. (All have producers attached.)  She is also exploring short form narrative storytelling for mobile platforms.

Laura Mullen is proofing the galleys for her forthcoming book of prose: Complicated Grief. This is a hybrid text (nonfiction, fiction and prose poems) looking at love and the way that love is shaped by the stories and ideas about stories we inherit and inhabit. Solid Objects will publish the book in fall 2015. Mullen is also working on a collection of lyric poems and an essay on teaching Gertrude Stein. In late October she’ll be at Notre Dame to see the performance of her collaboration with composer Nathan Davis (a piece for chorus and percussion): a Sound uttered, a Silence crossed.

Femi Euba will be directing DISGRACED in the fall for the Swine Palace production company.

Jim Wilcox is working on a novel that juxtaposes different places and time periods in the same chapter. The lack of more normal narrative transitions will reveal, he hopes, a more intricate pattern of association and memory. The time periods stretch back to the 1960s and the places include Louisiana, New Haven, and New York.

Zachary Godshall is making a short documentary that will be part of a series of films that each address the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Zach’s film is about an 88-year old boat builder, his wife of 71 years, the huge oyster boat he’s been building for more than three decades, and how they have survived multiple hurricanes and floods in the marshes southeast of New Orleans.

RT: What advice do you have for new writers?

JSD: I’m going to steal from Faulkner here: “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” I don’t buy into the apprentice/master relationship. We are all life-long apprentices, and I am always learning from students. But the gist of the advice is pretty spot on: read and read voraciously.

Posted in Interviews

Interview with Allison Hammond of University of Arkansas

Allison Hammond is Assistant Director of the Creative Writing and Translation Program at the University of Arkansas. A bio and photo were requested to left off this interview. Hammond wrote, “We’d much prefer that the focus be on the program and not one individual.”

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

Allison Hammond: Poets & Writers consistently ranks the University of Arkansas Program in Creative Writing and Translation in the top forty MFA programs in the nation, and The Atlantic Monthly named Arkansas among the “Top Five Most Innovative Creative Writing Programs.” Our graduates have published hundreds of books and won prestigious prizes, including the National Book Award, Guggenheim Fellowships, Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships, NEA grants, and the BBC International Short Story Award.

Ours is among the oldest MFA programs in the nation, founded in 1966. From the start, our MFA was designed to be a true terminal degree. The 60-hour curriculum enhances the typical workshop experience with coursework in craft and literary studies and provides students with four years to focus on their work. Graduates leave our program fully prepared for all aspects of the writing life—as writers, readers, teachers, and participants in literary culture.

Among the most distinctive features of our program is the degree track in literary translation, which focuses on the translation of literary works from other languages into English. This field of study treats the work of literary translation as an act of creative writing in and of itself.

Want more? There’s no fee to apply. Only students admitted to our MFA program end up paying a small fee. That means the bulk of our 200+ applicants have nothing to lose.

RT: What does the committee look for in a candidate?

AH: Talent.

RT: Are there stylistic or form leanings (traditional vs experimental, certain writers or texts taught each year)?

AH: Our program aims to offer students a strong foundation in the fundamental techniques of good poetry, fiction, and translation. Our most talented students use that foundation as a jumping-off point for creative expression. Our poetry alumni practice all forms of verse, from formal to experimental. And though our fiction program tends toward the literary, with a strong focus on character depth and development, graduates have gone on to publish everything from traditional novels to flash fiction and non-realist narratives.

RT: How closely do faculty work with students?

AH: Our program has 8 full-time faculty members and approximately 40 students at any given time. Class sizes vary between 5-15 students, and faculty are readily available for individual conferences and feedback. Students have two opportunities to work one-on-one with faculty members during their studies: through individualized readings courses and through the thesis advising process that takes place in the final year. Readings, receptions, and social opportunities for faculty and students abound.

RT: What is funding like for this or next year?

AH: Teaching assistantships form the main source of funding for our students, and admitted students receive TAs almost without exception. Each TA comes with a full tuition waiver and a steep discount on student health insurance. TAs teach two courses per semester for the first three years and one course per semester in their final year. Students who matriculate with a bachelor’s degree receive a TA stipend of $11,000 for the first two years, rising to $11,500 in the third and fourth years. Those who enter our program with a master’s degree receive $11,500 from the get-go.

A number of fellowships and awards are available to current students, including the Walton Fellowships, which offer $11,000 and a year free from teaching. Our program has a limited number of awards available to incoming students. There is no special application process for first-year fellowships. Eligible candidates are selected from the applicant pool.

RT: What are your admissions rates?

AH: We receive more than 200 applications each year and generally admit 5 poets, 5 fiction writers, and 3-5 literary translators.

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

AH: 1) Follow the instructions on our admissions page, and do your best to provide exactly what we ask for. 2) Feel free to cruise through the online application before you submit it and familiarize yourself with the format and requirements. 3) Send your very best creative work—work that has been workshopped, work that you’ve revised, work that shimmers with voice, tension, momentum, and grace. Knock our socks off, please. 4) Be patient. We have a small review committee, and it takes a long time to give 200 manuscripts the attention that each deserves.

RT: What is the admissions process like, and should writers avoid doing anything in particular in their applications?

AH: We experience a lot of confusion about admissions. Our application process is really three-fold. First, we determine whether we want to admit an applicant to our MFA program. That determination is based solely on the creative manuscript. Once admission has been decided, we use the other materials to determine whether the admitted applicant will receive a teaching assistantship. Finally, students who commit to join our MFA program are given instructions to apply to the University of Arkansas Graduate School, which is largely a formality. MFA hopefuls should not apply to the Graduate School before applying directly to our program.

Common blunders include:

  • Sending a critical writing sample that doesn’t meet the 10-page requirement… or that doesn’t make use of citations… or that still has the low grade and negative feedback of the original instructor written across it.
  • Submitting a teaching statement that doesn’t directly address the teaching of composition (academic writing) and instead focuses solely on the teaching of creative writing.
  • Harassing our staff about your admissions status: occasional, polite inquiries or messages expressing enthusiasm for our program are welcome; persistent badgering is not.

RT: What advice do you have for new writers?

AH: Seek community. Writing in isolation only allows you to progress so far. Find people who will read and comment on your work. Beyond that, your job is this: read widely, write daily.

Posted in Interviews

Interview with Karl Kircheway of Boston University

Karl Kirchwey boston Karl Kirchwey is the author of six books of poems, most recently At the Palace of Jove (2002), The Happiness of This World: Poetry and Prose (2007) and Mount Lebanon (2011), and his poems have appeared in Agni, The Atlantic, The Hudson Review, The New Criterion, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker among others. He has translated poems from French, German, Italian and Spanish and received grants from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently serves as a Professor and Director of Creative Writing at Boston University.

Robin Tung: What sets Boston University’s MFA program apart from other programs?

Karl Kircheway: The BU MFA Program in poetry and fiction is characterized not only by its excellent faculty, its emphasis both on creative writing and on literary study, and its Global Fellowship (allowing all students the chance to live, write and travel anywhere outside the United States) but also by its intensity and rigor, resulting from the fact that it is completed in one academic year, usually including summer study.

RT: What is funding like for this or next year?

KK: Accepted MFA students in poetry and fiction each receive full coverage of tuition and fees, basic health insurance, a stipend of $12,800 (usually requiring teaching), and a Global Fellowship of approximately $5000.

RT: How many students applied last year, and how many were accepted into each genre?

KK: For the 2015-16 class, 346 fiction writers applied for ten places; 129 poets applied for eight places, for a total of eighteen students out of 475 applications.

RT: What do you look for in a candidate?

KK: We look for writing talent first, but also the potential for growth, the desire to improve and learn, and the desire to contribute to the growth of others.

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

KK: Think carefully about what you submit as your writing sample. Fiction faculty advises applicants to “write simply, directly, feelingly, and show us you can do it more than once.” Poetry students should present their strongest work, suggesting not only formal and stylistic range, but a genuine sensitivity to language. The personal statement is also very important, and allows faculty to get an idea of how the applicant will function in a small cohort committed to a demanding program.

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

KK: Ignoring the length limit for the writing sample is not a good idea: less is often more. Proofreading is important, as is being sure that the addresses and references in the application actually pertain to Boston University and not to another MFA program to which the candidate is applying.

RT: Are there stylistic or form leanings (traditional vs experimental, certain writers or texts taught each year)?

KK: We try to accommodate students working in a range of styles and voices, though there is no particular emphasis on the experimental.

RT: What texts and authors did you teach this year?

KK: In my fall MFA poetry workshop, I used a prosody anthology I have assembled over twenty years; in my spring workshop, students read and discussed single volumes of poetry by Sarah Arvio, Frank Bidart, David Ferry, Louise Gluck, Robert Hass, Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky and Mark Strand.

RT: What are you working on now?

KK: I have completed a seventh book, consisting of poems about Rome, where I lived from 2010-2013.

RT: What advice do you have for new writers?

KK: New writers must find a way to derive satisfaction from the hard labor of writing that is sufficient to compensate them for a great deal of isolation and rejection. Our hope is that the year spent at BU in the company of other poets and fiction writers will provide a supportive community as new writers continue this search.

Posted in Interviews

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.