A few days back, I learned that the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program from which I graduated in 2004 was being eliminated. Of course, this saddened me. People often point to defining periods in their lives, and for me, the three years I spent in that program helped shape me in so many ways.
Entering the program, I was, by far, the weakest writer of the bunch. That much was clear to me after the first week. I remember my first workshop class, and I was humbled by the work of my peers–not only those further along in the program but also those who were first-year folks such as I. Nonetheless, my peers and professors offered me what I needed most: honest criticism aimed toward my betterment as a writer. And because the criticism was honest, it was, no doubt, difficult to hear at times. How can I forget, for example, the time that one of my peers, Terry Ruud, spent an hour and a half of his Friday night with me seated at his table as he went through my story with line-by-line edits and comments?
I learned the discipline of writing, I learned the craft of writing, I learned the skills of reading as a writer. And I did this in a close community of professors and peers who took writing seriously, who continually set aside their preferences and tastes, and all with the end goal of improvement. I received so many book recommendations, so many author recommendations. Many of favorite writers (Tim O’Brien, Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, Louise Erdrich, Ron Carlson, Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Mary Karr, Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, etc., etc., etc.) I first discovered via my MFA program.
In magazines and online posts, I’ve read plenty of horror-story articles about bad MFA experiences, and I can only say that my experience was anything but that. It was glorious.
I’ve published several of the poems that I wrote during my time there, and just last month I received an acceptance for another one (nine years after it began in an MFA workshop). A novella that served as the anchor piece of my dissertation (a short-story collection) was originally drafted as a story in another MFA workshop.
Finally, the program may cease, but its impact upon me and the memories I made will not cease.