MFA in Creative Writing - Alan Davis
"There is only one thing I can do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along a ways in their dark journey and be handed along, and for good and selfish reasons," Walker Percy writes in his novel The Moviegoer. It's a philosophy that makes good sense both for a writer and a writing teacher. Such a philosophy requires a writer to be alert to language and to character, to event and place and gesture - to the ways that we communicate and to the history, both personal and cultural, embodied in such gestures. It helps us see that each sentence counts. And it requires a writing teacher to be flexible. As a teacher, I try to respond both intuitively and intellectually (based on long experience as a reader, teacher, editor, and writer) by focusing my critiques on writing practice (vision, process, revision), technique (craft issues), and completion and closure (internal consistency, editing, polishing).
The writing teacher, ideally, is sometimes a coach and sometimes a collaborator. As a coach, I applaud (with check marks or marginal praise) good moves and sound craft and offer suggestions (briefly on the manuscript and more elaborately in the critique) when the story doesn't work for me. As a collaborator, I line edit manuscripts, when needed, for stylistic reasons or because a story is too wordy and needs pruning or too skimpy and needs elaboration. My goal as a writing teacher is to help writers develop an "internal listener" so that the writer can hear what's working and what's not. That listener can complement critiques from readers, those who care enough to comment on our work. Developing such an internal sense of what we're doing can help us become better at self-critiques and help us develop an aesthetic that emerges not from theory but from our practice.
As writers, we have complete freedom - until we formulate our first sentence. I'm interested in the process of moving forward from that first sentence through complications and complexity to closure without compromising the reality you began to create in that first sentence. Some stories require economy and lyricism, others elaboration and a long march of chapters. Learning to do either (and the kind of writing that takes your attention has something to do with both inclination and talent) takes a great deal of concentration and hard labor, of course, but it also involves "catching on," as if a veil has been torn from our faces. At such moments, we say, "Yes! Of course. Why didn't I see that before?" If it were that easy - learn it in the mind, see it, do it - it would be too easy to be worth doing. Art is long, and life is short, but the MFA experience - four terms of work, each term building on its predecessor and leading to its successor - structures that process of hard labor and catching on to make it manageable.
My reading habits are eclectic. I like traditional mainstream novels and stories that are literary, experimental writing when it takes storytelling seriously even as it scrambles traditional structures, and genre writing when it has depth and breadth of character and uses language with a literary sensibility. At New Rivers Press, where I'm senior editor, I tell prospective writers that I'm interested in seeing work of every character. I would say the same to each of you and I would end by urging you, if you have any questions, to contact me, either at a residency or by e-mail, email@example.com.