My graduate school experience officially started a couple weeks ago. On Dec 30th I rolled up to the Pine Crest Inn located in Tryon, North Carolina to begin my first semester of the low-residency MFA program offered by Converse College. Students are required to spend nine days on site with the faculty before returning home to complete the semester’s work on their own. Assigned work is then mailed to the professors every three weeks thereafter.
I had no idea what to expect, but I arrived excited. When I had decided to enter this program I had committed to leaving my life for a week to think of nothing else but my studies, specifically my writing. My teenage self would have laughed at how I approached this week in school as a vacation. Because Converse College shuts the campus down over the winter break they arranged for our residency to be held at a quaint mountain retreat. A collection of rustic cottages armed with fire places and rocking chairs were connected by stone walkways. Covered gazebos and the porch that wrapped itself around the main house seemed to repel any sound that did not originate from the wind or nature. The students in the program (maybe 30) footed the bill for these accommodations which after tuition payments did sting. But I reminded myself, I was on vacation.
The eight days to follow were surreal. The faculty, a collection of talented writers, lectured on craft, read from their own published and unpublished works, and made themselves available to the students for conversation over meals and cocktails. I felt myself being infected by the creatively that hung like mist in the air.
The most significant part of residency was my Workshop. Every day from 1pm-4:30pm I sat with nine fellow writers and two professors to discuss our work. The group critiqued four chapters of one of my novels that I had submitted weeks before. I walked away from the praise, the honest questions, and criticism a new writer, armed with fundamentals and techniques that will hopefully transform my future compositions.
Before the residency ended, I was required to create, with help from the faculty, my semester plan. I have a healthy reading list (which I will post at the end of this blog) to get through over the next 15 weeks. A critical essay is required for each book. I am also required to send 100 pages of original fiction to my assigned mentor during this time. I will not be watching much TV. I may not know what is going on in the news (which isn’t so bad sometimes). And I know I will miss a few trades and signings as the Major League baseball season cranks up. However, I will take one definitive step closer to my goal of becoming a better writer. And in June if I can borrow a little more money, residency number two begins, or as I like to think of it, Fantasy Camp for Writers.
Henry James, Turn of the Screw
Raymond Carver, Cathedral
Richard Ford, Independence Day
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Paul Harding, Tinkers
Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlett
Flannery O’Connor, Selected Stories
Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Best American Short Stories (2011)