In The Writing Life Annie Dillard states: “When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a wood carver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow.” On Sunday, May 12, at 5:00 PM, students graduating from the MFA in Creative Writing program at American University (AU) will read original prose and poetry at Politics & Prose on Connecticut Ave. These students have picked, and gouged, and probed and their writing is exemplary of this exhaustive, but hopefully rewarding process. Sunday’s reading is a celebration of their work, and an opportunity for friends, family, and the public to hear the rich diversity of their voices.
Cafe Americain reached out to several of those graduating, to hear about how their MFA experience at AU has shaped the trajectory of their writing life/career.
“The MFA program at AU forced me to take myself and my writing seriously. Out there in the real world, it’s hard to seriously consider yourself a writer amongst the sidelong glances and outright confusion when telling people you’re a poet – but at AU, I found a group of brilliant, neurotic, weird and hilarious people who actually seemed interested when I talked about the process of how steel is made or how black holes give off trace amounts of heat for periods of time too long for polite conversation. Lidia Yuknavitch talks about how writers need to find their tribe, and I found mine here.
Between the indescribable amount of love and support I’ve gotten from my friends in this program and the strong-arm of putting my poems into form (which I can now reluctantly agree made them better), I can honestly say that I would not be the writer or the person I am today without this program.”
– Poet, Jenna Ogilvie
“Washington DC is a weird, wonderful city full of weird, wonderful people. It may be simply happenstance that so many found their way to AU (and in the MFA program), but it is in my estimation certainly a happy accident.”
– Prose writer, Lowell Fitzgerald
“At MFA Orientation, I spilled coffee all over myself while Stephanie Grant explained to us that the next three years would be an opportunity to work writing into our day-to-day lives. This sounded exciting to me then and now, focusing on my writing most if not every day, still thrills me. Since then I’ve worked hard to learn the million little things that you have to get right in fiction, as Richard McCann says. Through an overwhelming amount of criticism, but also support and through hearing what works and what doesn’t work about my writing and the writing of my classmates, I improved. A lot. Now I have this one hundred page thing known affectionately as my ‘the-sauce’. I’m excited (and terrified) to push my short stories out of the nest to see if at least one of them can fly into a literary journal. But more importantly, I’m capable of making my writing better. For example, I used way too many adverbs in this paragraph. So I deleted them because we hate adverbs.”
– Prose writer, Allison Sparks
“When I showed up here, I was fresh out of undergrad, I didn’t know what grad school would be like; that American University would be nothing like University of Richmond. I was in for a lot of rude awakenings. My favorite dose of rudeness: even though some people were only a handful of years older than me, it seemed like their poetry was decades beyond mine. The strength of their craft intimidated me as I felt like I arrived at workshop with crappy poem after crappy poem. My classmates were god-like in their command of language and imagery. It made me wonder why I was in the program, why they had chosen this young (inexperienced) poet to join the ranks.
At the end of this journey, I’m happy to say that I emerged from the fog. I realized what should have been obvious in the beginning; the program is designed to help me grow as a writer. As a young adult coming of age in DC and a young poet coming into my own, I am grateful for the journey my professors and fellow poets have taken me on as I’ve faced my rude awakenings head-on.”
– Poet, Chet’la Sebree