MFA in Creative Writing - Student Reflections

mfa_chesbro09"A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can't pretend to know what it is like to have the eyes of a professional writer, to have stared down the blinking cursor and developed an idea into a perfect bound paperback book. But I imagine line-editing novice writers, over the years, might become tiresome. I like to end my cover letters for each packet I prepare for my mentor by writing, "Thank you for your time." The mentor returns the packet and writes on the cover letter, "Don't be silly. It's my job, and a pleasure." Of course it is the mentor's job, and I am paying tuition. But I cannot buy a mentor's careful, sharp and authentic attention. It is a gift.

Sometimes when I'm shaving in the morning, I avoid making eye contact with myself in the mirror. I avoid the writer within. I have avoided him for so long. He has become overeager and impatient. He is demanding. He wants bylines immediately. I tell him I'm trying. I tell him that writing is rewriting, that the pieces must be rough before they ever have a chance to be smooth. The law of progress? I start to tell him, but he doesn't want to hear it. So after a month of writing, I say to my mentor, "Thank you for your time," because her encouraging suggestions help me accept the blinking cursor again, and pursue that gleam of light.

- James Chesbro

My entire life revolved around soccer from the time I started to run, through high school, through college, up until I stopped playing semi-pro ball in the fall of 2012. I used to be ashamed of my love of books, of my academic pursuits, of my desire to write. In high school and college alike, I was ridiculed for reading before practice, after practice, or doing crosswords on the team buses. I remember traveling to away games with Fordham and Southern CT State, waiting until my teammates went to sleep to pull out a book and read, using pillows to shield myself. My fellow athletes never made it easy on me, having passions outside of the game. I was an athlete with a secret. When I decided that I wanted to write a novel, I had to keep that a secret as well. That is, until I found out about Fairfield University's MFA in Creative Writing program. Before I even got into the program, I met alumni who welcomed me with open arms. "Oh! An athlete who writes? You have to apply to the program!" It was the first time in years that I was accepted as I was, for who I was, with no reservations. I am heading into my third semester in the FUMFA program, and I can honestly say that it has been one of my proudest decisions. Fairfield University's MFA in Creative Writing program is a place where you are accepted as you are, and where everyone wants to help you become the best writer you can possibly be. Not only are they extremely accommodating on an interpersonal level, but there have been more than ten students in the past year or so accepted for publication. FUMFA is an up-and-coming MFA program, and will be among the elite programs nationally in the near future. Our MFA program is a place people can call home.

- Daniel Hajducky

How could any serious student not thrive while living on an 11-acre island with 100-ish fellow students and faculty all dedicated to creative writing? Residency is the best use of my time away from my job all year, and it's extremely fun. The days are packed, but I take breaks riding through the salt air on my motorcycle during the summer. Even in the winter I join my classmates dipping into the Long Island Sound on New Year's morning from the snow-covered sand of "Polar Bear Beach."

Each day begins at 7:30 a.m. with the first of 3 meals - both buffet style as well as plated entrees. Special dietary considerations are always taken into account and it's easy to leave needing a new belt buckle hole - beware. The mornings are filled with graduating student seminars followed by intense workshopping of each other's writing samples. Emphasis is made on producing publishable work, and I leave every residency recharged with several stories that are ready for detailed re-writing. Lunch divides the day and then we have a choice of several faculty seminars, usually one for each genre - fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and sometimes drama - with cross-genre attendance encouraged. Student readings and then dinner round out the daylight hours. Next up are faculty and guest speaker readings that extend into the evenings with everyone in attendance inside the large chapel, home of the artifact St. Edmund's Arm, until 9 p.m. - followed by book signings. I always drag my rollaboard bag home laden with new hard covers and paperbacks.

Between residencies we are a tight community on Facebook. Digication is expanding our online presence, where we can even build our own web pages to showcase our writing. My fellow students range in age and life experience from a few who are straight out of their undergrad schooling to older folks like myself starting second careers. I'm a full-time airline pilot developing my writing skills and a career beyond retirement. Since starting my MFA at Fairfield, my thesis has generated published stories in 5 publications, and I've become a regular contributor for Airways Magazine with chapters from my memoir. I also enjoyed being part of the original editorial team that launched the MFA program's literary journal Mason's Road. I started as a reader and have moved up to creative non-fiction co-editor; it has been an amazing, hands-on experience.

I love everything about this program, from the camaraderie of the students to the caliber of the faculty, who are all well published. We live, study, and socialize together for 11 days, twice a year, and become like family. My first two faculty mentors, Josip Novakovic and Leila Philip, were great and helped me complete my memoir. And I've worked and bonded with Lary Bloom and Da Chen so much during my residencies they feel like additional mentors. I'm excited now to be working with Kim Dana Kupperman; her editing skills challenged me as I prepared my memoir, Aluminum Parachute, for the Fairfield Book Prize competition.

This degree program has become a part of me and I will miss it when I graduate at the end of the year, although I feel I'll be well prepared to continue my writing with the same intensity that the program provides.

- Mark L Berry

We sat in a sacred circle of creative light, feeling the warm Atlantic wind, illuminated by the summer sun, inhaling the inspiration of the island. It was my first workshop at my first residency on Enders Island, and I was dumbstruck by my good fortune - being at this lovely retreat, communing with these kindred people. I'd finally found them, my tribe! What an amazement to be appreciated for my own unique gifts. Each student and faculty member that I met was exceptional, each his or her own type of writer, together creating a collective vibe of, "Come as you are. Be who you are."

For 20 years or so, before Fairfield University accepted me into the MFA program, I made a decent living as a non-fiction writer. And yet, I never felt as authentic as a writer, or as accepted by my peers as I did during my time at Enders. I had the exquisite sensation of being in the right place, with the right people. Each day of our residency I woke up energized, eager for the workshops, seminars, and readings to come. Each night I fell into a deep sleep, knowing that I had made the most of that day's possibilities.

In just a short few months, my writing has already improved so much. With the ongoing support of the outstanding faculty and students, I know I will continue to grow as a writer. It's my first semester, but I am already mourning the end of this program, which I know will come much too soon.

- Sarah Sleeper


mfa_hattawayArriving on Enders Island I have to admit, as an introvert among recluses I was skeptical about what the next ten days would hold. I found myself walking around discovering the iconography of the island all beautiful and different from my experience, while bumping into first and second semester students. Back in February, I'd requested a meeting with Michael White who said the residency was the most important part of the program because students would make relationships with other writers, some published and others more experienced, that would last for forty or more years.

I quickly found that my experience on the island allows me to further one of my goals in life - to be a published author. To accomplish my goal, I'd decided to get an MFA in Creative Writing. The interaction with Michael and the students and faculty, though hard for me, quickly turned into mutual interest. The outcome has been, so far, relationships formed as people with common interests coming together to learn, help, encourage, and grow. Already, I am discovering that Michael was right.

- John Hattaway

A year and a half ago, I realized that writers don't get over things. Their craft is one that spawns from a deep need to reconcile with memory. To examine, to express, to exorcise. To understand and be understood.

I first decided to pursue a creative writing M.F.A. when I was driving alone across Iowa in the autumn of 2007. Just me, my car, the road, and the corn. I stopped for the night in Clive, a suburb of Des Moines. I threw my laptop on the bed in the hotel room, disgusted with the novel I'd struggled with for two years. I thought about giving up on it as I went to an Applebee's to get some dinner. The girl who waited on me was tall, with high cheekbones and blonde hair. The restaurant was packed, yet she still found time to talk to me, perhaps because I was sitting in a booth all by myself. Feeling something like love for this woman I'd never met before and in all likelihood would never see again, I thought a bittersweet feeling like that was too precious to just be forgotten. It had to be written, and I decided then to take my writing seriously.

Ours is a sometimes lonely art, and at Enders I feel that we all found a place where we could belong, a place we will never want to get over. We each continue down our own roads, yet we know there will always be a place where we may stop to drink and eat with friends. Our growing Fairfield community is one that understands the truth that we all feel: writers are those who always remember, and our readers are those who want or need to be reminded. Keep writing, and see you in July.

- Justin Scace

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