Life After the MFA: Four authors discuss life after the MFA and cover topics such as agents, teaching, the PhD, a Fulbright, and writing residencies.
Here’s the skinny on what I’ll be covering.
Why a residency or fellowship?
- In grad school I learned the definition of revision but only after grad school did I really learn what revision felt like, and during each residency I got eyeball deep in revision so I know what it smells and tastes like and what it means to be swimming in it. It takes years of uncertainty. Years of reading great works and years of learning how to read your own so that the project can tell you what it needs.
- Residencies allow yourself to quiet the mind, settle the body, roll up the sleeves and be immersed in the world of the work.
Background & History of MacDowell
- MacDowell is the oldest in the nation, 1901, a composer I met there called it the cultural and artistic matrix of not just US but international artists and creators
- There are approximately thirty fellows in residency in any given time, including video artists, sculptors, writers, playwrights, etc. Some of the recent notable fellows ach room has a set of boards, called headstones, where past fellows inscribe their name and the date of their stay, some of the greatest, though by no means not all include: ZZ Packer, Michael Chabon, Tillie Olsen, Richard Yates, R. Zamora Linmark (two fellowships at Mansfield!) Jean Valentine, Tayari Jones, Mary Jo Salter, Susan Steinberg, Lysley Tenorio, and Julie Orringer.
- Each fellow gets a cabin with a fireplace, about a five to fifteen minute walk from the dormitories where most writers stay and you share a bathroom in the dorm.
- Fellows eat together for breakfast and dinner in the main lodge. Lunch baskets are delivered to each cabin and the food is obscenely good.
- Fellows share their work every other night after dinner.
- There’s always a library and generally limited phone and internet access.
- January in New Hampshire was like Moscow.
Hawthornden Background & History
- International Retreat for Writers started by Drue Heinz of the condiment empire, before that the castle was owned by poet and historian Sir John Drummond who was friend’s with Samuel Johnson and even had Dorothy and William Wordsworth stay there.
- 45 minutes outside of Edinburgh in a very rural and beautiful corner of southern Scotland.
- Working castle, rooms are varied, shared bathroom, spiral staircase, freezing even in June, runs from September to June one month, six writers, meet for breakfast and dinner with a personal chef who made baked ham and sticky toffee pudding that had us in tears of joy.
- Library and castle grounds to walk.
- All sorts of magical animal encounters- kestrels, peregrines, badgers feeding on the lawn at dusk along with bats. Evening sightings of stags, and fawn. A bat flew into the drawing room, where met every evening for pre-cordial, sherry, all the poets wrote about their bat and stag encounters, and the fiction writers were generally chained to the universe of the project, could barely take time out to write about the landscape and experience because you’re taking time out. Had never been so jealous of poets
- One of the many traditions practiced at the Colony is for fellows to give presentations of their work, whether it be a reading or an open studio, you’re encouraged to share your artistic endeavors. The idea wasn’t that appealing, really, until a fellow explained that its best to present earlier rather than later during residency so that other fellows will have much needed context in terms of why you’re here and what you’re doing. This context cements a substantive foundation to conversations at dinner, breakfast, random encounters on the hallway or on the way to the studio. The whole purpose of the colony is not just for individual, solitary work but to be a part of the community, and being a part of a community means sharing.
- Maintain contact with professors from graduate school since they are the community who will support you through this creative journey, and be sure to make the recommendation letter process as easy as possible by giving at least two months advance notice with all the supplies already stamped and addressed, ready to post. Keep a short sample, CV, and statement handy if they request it to refresh their memory about you and your work.
- Keep refining both your artist statement/letter of intent and the writing sample. These are the two legs you’ll stand on when you face the faceless committee. Keep a list of questions and journal freewrites in response to keep the artist statement/letter of intent urgent and relevant. It should change as you evolve as a writer. I love this little gem of a book 344 Questions?: The Creative Person’s Do-It Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Finding Artistic Fulfillment which I crack open every now and again just to exercise and play with portrayals of self. These musings come handy when piecing together and updating the artist statement.
- Literature Summary Description (MacDowell Colony)
In two to five words, please describe the work you are proposing to do at the Colony. You will have an opportunity to describe the project in greater detail in the next step of the application. Examples: memoir, historical novel, short fiction, prose poetry.
In the space below, please provide a detailed description of the project you intend to work on at the Colony. If you have already begun the project, tell us where you are in the work process and what you hope to accomplish with your residency. The text field is limited to 2,500 characters including spaces.
- Intended Project (MacDowell Colony)
Please provide a brief synopsis of the creative work you propose to write if offered a Residential Fellowship at Hawthornden. This may be work already in progress or work still in its infancy. You should be sure to mention any necessary research that you may need to undertake while in residence. Please limit your description to this sheet only.
What to Bring
What to Bring
- SPACE- All your favorite creature comforts: chai tea, scented candles, warm socks, an eye mask, if you have trouble sleeping in strange places, blank pads of paper and post-its, permanent markers, push pins, chocolate, nice stationary and stamps to write to loved ones, a wall calendar to keep on task, a hard drive to back up regularly, a pocketknife, and gin, lots of gin or your personal choice of poison because you deserve it after a long day’s worth of reading and writing.
- Renewing vows to writing.
- Relearning what it means to read.