This post is dedicated to anyone who is in the process of filling out MFA applications and might wish to consider adding one more program. It’s also for anyone thinking about attending an MFA in the future. I was of on the fence about doing a post about the program I currently attend, thinking it might come across as biased, but then I decided: why not? You love the program and would say these things after graduation as well. It’s a program I believe is truly unique and amazing. It also has an application deadline of January 5th, so there’s still time to apply! I’ve previously talked about some of the details of the program for The MFA Years. But here I’ll go a little more in-depth.
So, onward and upward, I currently attend Iowa State University’s MFA in Creative Writing & Environment. Now, I think a lot of people hesitate when hearing the “& Environment” portion. However, the environmental aspect is broadly interpreted in the program. What professors look for is that a writer has some defining idea of “environment.” This can be tackling environmental causes in your work (Two of our illustrious alumni, Stefanie Trout [graduated] and Taylor Brorby [current student] are eagerly awaiting the release of an anthology they edited about fracking in America). It can also mean being a nature writer. However, it can also mean thinking about human interactions with the spaces around them: be these natural spaces or cultural/ societal ones. It can be having writing with a sense of place or history. For an example, of my own, I often write science-fiction and horror. So the environments might be manufactured, advanced, or not even on this planet. My thesis is a multi-genre work that focuses on folklore and its effects on human interaction and lives.
Speaking of multi-genre, one of the best and most innovative aspects of this program is its focus on multi-genre. Everyone in the program writes in more than one genre (and four are offered: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and play/scriptwriting). You are not only encouraged to explore other genres, but also can play around even within the boundaries of those genres. The wonderful Tegan Swanson, a graduate of the program, has recently won publication and an award for her thesis: a series of “false documents.”
And, maybe most importantly, this is a program that supports its writers fully and amazingly. Not only is the program one based on support instead of competition (as Professor KL Cook puts it: “We intentionally strive to make our MFA culture nurturing rather than cutthroat. We believe that the competition is in the library, not in the classroom. We strive to make this an authentic gift community–intellectually rigorous and emotionally supportive.”) It also supports all admitted writers fully for three whole years with one of the best funding packages around (details here!). It not only includes a full tuition waiver and healthcare, but also is an extremely generous stipend (which with the low cost of living in Ames=actual savings during grad school which is a small miracle).
And, if you don’t want to solely rely on the words of Dear Pints, than here are the words of my fellow third-year, the lovely Erin Schmiel: “Iowa State University has been a whirlwind of experiences, and yes, that’s not just because of the Cyclone paraphernalia. There have been so many opportunities to meet great authors like forager Ava Chin, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert, and poets Natalie Diaz and Ned Balbo. I have been inspired by their visits and work. Another great thing about our program is the Emerging Writer’s series that allows us the opportunity to read and get practice being in front of a crowd of peers. While there are ups and downs of a small program, I appreciate our tight-knit community as well as our tucked away location of Ames, Iowa. There is support, camaraderie and comfort here.”
If you have questions about the program, let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, @PintsNCupcakes
For more info on the lovely Erin: Erin Schmiel is a third year MFA Candidate in Creative Writing and the Environment focusing on a creative non-fiction thesis. She has enjoyed being a part of the Everett Casey Nature Reserve as a student coordinator and getting a chance to see the wild places of Iowa, because they do exist!
Or any of our other talented current students, check out this link!