Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Poetry Contest at Folio...deadline 2/15

Folio (the literary journal I, ahem, co-founded back in my grad school days) is sponsoring a poetry contest, which will be judged by the acclaimed poet and translator Martha Collins.

Martha Collins is the author of five collections of poems, the most recent of which is White Papers (Pitt Poetry Series, 2012). In a review in the New York Times, Dana Goodyear, poetry editor at The New Yorker, writes of her collection Blue Front, "Her discursive, breathless, self-contradicting, breaking-off-and-circling-back technique makes the book feel like the testimony of a traumatized witness."

The postmark deadline is February 15, 2013, for all entries.  Reading fee is $15, which includes a one-year subscription. The winner of our contest will receive $500 and publication in the Spring 2013 issue of Folio. Our judge, Martha Collins, will also select a first runner-up and an honorable mention, which will each receive $150. All cover sheets must include name, address, phone number, email address, and titles of poems. Entrant's name should appear ONLY on the cover sheet. You may submit up to four poems of any style or length. Multiple entries are acceptable, if a separate reading fee is included with each entry. Folio will not consider work from anyone currently or recently affiliated with American University.

To submit an entry, please use our Online Submission Manager,
http://foliolitjournal.submittable.com/submit. If you have questions, we can be reached at folio.editors@gmail.com.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Do Writers Need an MFA?

While busy with something else, I ended up re-reading this post I wrote in January 2011, about whether a writer needs an MFA. It seemed surprisingly smart to me and still relevant, so I'm reposting it:

I'm often asked, do you need an MFA to be a writer? Of course you don’t; to be a writer, you need to write. That’s misleadingly simple. I like to answer the question with a list (naturally) that also includes some questions to ponder and some unsolicited advice. So, here goes:

What to think about when you think about a graduate program in writing:
--I had some amazing teachers that saved me a lot of time by showing me a path through the thicket of writing. Not all of those teachers were in my MFA workshops, so there are excellent teachers everywhere. But, yes, teachers really can teach you quite a bit!

--While many graduate programs have “famous” writers you revere and admire on the faculty, being a “famous” writer doesn’t automatically make one a good teacher. So when you’re considering plunking down the $$ to go to a graduate program, do your homework and check out the faculty.

--Doing your homework means:
A) Reading the work by the core faculty. If everyone on the faculty is writing in a traditional style and your writing is more experimental, it probably isn’t a good match.
B) Speaking to students who are in the program or who recently graduated. This is how you can find out about the teaching. Facebook can be a good resource for finding students, or you can ask the program director for some students to chat with.
C) Show up, if you can. Go to a reading sponsored by the program and get a feel for the place: is the atmosphere friendly and welcoming? Do the faculty attend the reading? Are the questions in the Q&A lively? Or, if you’re at a conference, talk to the writers who teach and ask them about their schools.

--Don’t expect that you’ll automatically get a teaching job after you graduate. If you want to teach—and be sure that you really do want to; it’s not a requirement to being a writer, and may even be a detriment!—you will need a graduate degree. But, to teach creative writing, you will most likely also need a published book (or some amazing, New Yorker-like publications). The degree is no guarantee, and don’t make a mistake imagining that it is. (If you want to teach, try to get some experience while you’re in school. And expect that you’ll be teaching mostly comp while a TA and probably after you graduate and perhaps even for the rest of your life.)

--Think about money. Will attending graduate school put you in debt for the rest of your life? Are you okay with that? There's value to the idea of devoting time/energy/resources to learning to be a better writer--good teachers can help you leapfrog ahead of yourself in terms of writing progress. Will knowing that you’re spending all this money (and time and making the other sacrifices needed) make you take your writing more seriously? There is always going to be a higher standard for critique and study in a graduate program—not to mention the more rigorous reading requirements. Do you want/need someone else to impose those standards upon you; at what price?

--Perhaps the greatest benefit of a graduate writing program is the community, during and after. Maybe you will meet people who will be friends for life, or who will read and comment on your work for life, or who will become high-powered editors/writers who can help you. Maybe. At the least, you’ll be surrounded by a group of people who care deeply about writing/literature and who want to follow the same path of artful pursuit you do.

--Probably this should be a whole separate discussion because I won’t do it justice here, but think about what you want to write. If all you want to write is science fiction (or romance) or some other genre, you WILL learn to be a better writer in a graduate writing program. But your path may be rougher and more challenging than if your interests were more literary. Again, do your homework: How does the program feel about less “literary” writing?

Unsolicited advice I have for all MFA students:
--Read the books your teachers have written. Ask your teachers questions about their work: how did you handle dialogue? Why did you decide to give the main character 6 brothers? Etc. Talk!

--Make the most of every opportunity. If your teacher offers individual meetings/office hours, go. If your teacher/peers hang out after class for booze or coffee, and it’s within your realm to attend, go. If your teachers/peers are reading their work, go. If the “famous” visiting writer needs a ride somewhere and you can offer one, go. In short, just go-go-GO!

--Write things down. If your teacher mentions a book/journal/article that was influential to him/her, write it down. Look it up. Think seriously about reading it, if not immediately, at some point. Teachers don’t say these things for no reason, you know!

--Be organized and timely. Get your work done. Try not to be a problem.

--Don’t suck up. Instead, be a nice, interested, interesting person, and you won’t need to suck up. Ask questions instead, and don’t talk only about yourself and your own projects. Be involved in the larger world.

--Be the person in your program who organizes, whether it’s a potluck or a new online literary journal or a fun night bowling. It takes effort to keep your community connected, so pull an oar.

--Thank your teachers at the end of the semester, even the teachers you didn’t like. You probably learned more from them than you think you did.

--Don’t race your way through the program. This is probably the only time in your life where you have all these smart people devoted to you and your writing…take your time and enjoy it.

What about the Low-Res MFA?
Unique advantages to the low-res:
--You don’t need to move and/or uproot your life to go to school.
--There’s a nice mix between workshop interaction and individual, devoted attention to your work.
--Speaking as a fiction teacher, I think it's easier to work on the novel form since you have one mentor for a solid chunk of time who can read a good amount of your work in a sustained way.
--The residency location can be a plus: i.e. if you like the mountains, choose a low-res program located in/near the mountains!
--The reading list can be self-directed so you're reading materials that resonate with you.

Disadvantages to the low-res:
--That word above, "self-directed": this type of program would be a disaster for a certain type of person, who's a totally disorganized procrastinator. In the low-res, you really have to make yourself do the work.
--Things are changing, but typically there are fewer fellowship and funding opportunities available at low-res programs, so the onus of finding a way to pay for the program comes from the student: savings, student loans
--There may be limited TA opportunities.

Disclosure: I teach at the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program and at the more traditional Johns Hopkins Master of Arts in Writing Program.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Forging Ahead with the NEA Application!

My NEA application journey continues... (See previous posts to read about the beginning of this odyssey.)

--I have the four pdfs.

--The four pdfs must have special names.

--The specially-named pdfs must be attached in a certain order.

--There are fifteen different places one can attach the pdfs, but I am instructed to only use the correct four places.

--I view the four specially-named pdfs to make sure they are attached in the proper order, but I don’t view them too closely because I don’t want to see a typo or realize I absolutely must change the word “said” to “asked” in my writing sample.

--I push the button that tests the form for errors.

--No bombs explode.  It seems there are no errors.

--I press “save and submit.”

--Frightening question:  Do I wish to replace the file?

--Um, yes?

--Grants.gov demands my password which I did not write down and which I suddenly can’t remember.

--I sweat profusely then remember it.

--Nothing happens.

--Nothing happens.

--Nothing happens.

--I press “save and submit” again and replace my file again and type in my password again.

--Grants.gov springs to life, telling me that maybe I submitted something to somewhere but no one will know for sure for up to two days and I should watch my email for two notifications that may come but may not and if they don’t, I am welcome to email or call grants.gov them at a phone number that looks like it will ring busy for hours on end.


If I can do it, so can you.  Deadline:  February 28.  Get going!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Endless NEA App, Part 2

The endless NEA application form, started yesterday, continues today:

--I got access to the form!

--The form is really only a small part of the whole thing…it’s really all about the attachments.

--There are four attachments.

--One attachment involves including the addresses and phone numbers of various literary journals in which my work has been published.

--Most literary journals don’t want people like me to have their phone numbers, otherwise we would call them up all the time to yell about how they shouldn’t reject our brilliant work.

--I consider typing in “1-800-BITE-ME.”

--I reconsider and type in, “No phone # listed.”

--Another attachment is my writing sample which must be between 20 and 25 pages.

--Every writing sample I had considered using is 18 pages.

--Every other writing sample I considered using is 30 pages.

--Each page of the writing sample must have a header and a page number.

--I only know how to do a header OR a page number, not both on the same page.

--All attachments must be in a pdf.

--I’m too cheap to buy the real Adobe, so I’m relying on free pdf conversion sites—which are a great thing to exist, and I’m very grateful.

--I’m less grateful that I must wait 30 minutes between each conversion on the site I like.

--Four separate attachments = four separate conversions = two hours.

--On the other hand, this waiting period allows me to type up this blog entry.

--And rest up for the next big push: another encounter with grants.gov when I send my completed application off for rejection.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NEA Application Time: Why Must We Suffer So?

Oh, sigh…it’s NEA grant application time for fiction/creative nonfiction.  Gird your loins.  I haven’t even seen an actual application form yet, but already I have had to:

--Register with the scary and bureaucratic-sounding grants.gov

--Use a different email address than I would like to because my preferred email address is already registered to the site from my last application.  God knows what that password might be or how to find out, so it seems easier to give a whole new email address. (Perhaps I can also invent a new publication record to go with this new person?)

--Try to download the application form.

--Be informed that I have the wrong version of Adobe Reader.

--Curse mildly.

--Look at the list of acceptable versions of Adobe, which is very, very long and contains every version of Adobe, except, apparently mine.

--Download another free version of Adobe to replace my current free version of Adobe.

--Be asked my operating system, which I know is XP, but which I don’t know if it’s XP 32bit, 64bit, or XP3.

--Guess that I have the worst one.

--Guess that 32bit is worse than 64bit.

--Guess correctly!

--Download my new version of Adobe Reader!  Yay!

--Or not.  I’m told a second time that I don’t have the correct version of Adobe Reader.

--Curse louder with naughtier words.

--Read on the NEA site that if I have the correct version of Adobe Reader and I still can’t download the program then perhaps I should use a different browser.

--So this is all my fault?

--Perhaps the grants.gov might hire better computer programmers?  Just a thought!  God knows I love the NEA!  J  But no one else ever asks me to try different browsers, and I apply for lots of things!  And doesn’t Google rule the world anyway? Is Internet Explorer really going to do a better job?

--Do I really want something that Google Chrome can’t handle?

--Actually, yes:  it’s $25K.

--OMG.  Reread at the list of acceptable Adobe Reader versions…my version is TOO NEW. 

--Look again.  Yes, TOO NEW.  (This is the version given to me without choice by the Adobe people.)

--9.5 vs. 9.4.  I’m off by .1. 

--Very colorful and lengthy cursing, complete with metaphor and simile and many, many action verbs.

--Buy lottery ticket for equal chance to win $25,000 and commence drinking.

The deadline is listed as February 28—but, actually, the site says to submit applications 10 days before this date, which might make it seem as though the deadline is really February 18.  Perhaps Adobe Reader will come up with another version by then.


(Holy crap...Internet Explorer seems to work.  You go, Bill Gates!)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Get $500 from AWP to Attend a Conference/Residency

Want to get away to write and/or to surround yourself with writers?  Check out the WC&C Scholarship Competition:

AWP offers two annual scholarships of $500 each to emerging writers who wish to attend a writers’ conference, center, retreat, festival, or residency. The scholarships are applied to fees for winners who attend one of the member programs in AWP’s Directory of Conferences & Centers. Winners and four finalists also receive a one-year individual membership in AWP.

Submissions must be postmarked by March 30.   More information can be found here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Class at Politics & Prose

There are still some spaces available in my upcoming class at Politics & Prose bookstore in DC:

Right Brain Writing: Guided Prompts

Explore your creative side at this afternoon of guided writing exercises designed to get your subconscious flowing. No writing experience necessary! This is a great class for beginners and also for those fiction writers and/or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current projects, looking for a jolt of inspiration. The goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer. We will be using as our inspiration work from Speed Enforced by Aircraft, a book of poetry by local author Richard Peabody. It will be helpful if you bring a copy to class

Date:  Monday, January 28, 1-3:30 p.m.
Price: $45 ($40 members)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Converse Residency Wrap-Up

January 2013, highlights, in random order

--The fabulous fiction workshop that Marlin “Bart” Barton and I taught together: 8 smart and devoted students, all adhering to a compassionate approach to helping everyone improve their manuscripts.  This doesn’t mean we weren’t rigorous, as anyone who was there can attest.  Bart and I are also known for running the “Homework Workshop” because we assign exercises to be read out loud and handed in on the last day, which is actually another highlight…

--Hearing the fabulous fiction workshop read out loud their homework assignments on the last day of class.  We all get to witness AMAZING progress in just nine days, and I almost tear up from being so inspired.  It’s the perfect note to leave on. 

--The visiting writers were stellar.  The inimitable Albert Goldbarth gave a wonderful, and wonderfully funny reading of a food-oriented essay; poet Bruce Covey blew open our minds with a craft lecture about cognitive theory and poetry; fiction writer Ed Falco offered practical suggestions about how to create characters that the fabulous fiction workshop quoted for the rest of the session; together, Bruce and Ed teamed up for one of those funny, perfectly-coordinated readings that results in a immediate rush at the book sales table; Dorianne Laux set the tone with her warm and welcoming reading—including a poem about Cher!—on the first night.

--Our visiting editor—Jeff Shotts from Graywolf—offered an honest take on the publishing biz without totally terrifying and discouraging us.

--The secret treat of residencies and conferences, getting to hear work-in-progress from faculty…just you wait, Bart Barton and Robert Olmstead are on to something good with their novels in progress.  Susan Tekulve read from her gorgeous, forthcoming book, In the Garden of Stone. 

--Richard Tillinghast's craft lecture made us all want to immediately run out and buy Philip Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay.

--I found a BBQ place on the way that I hadn’t noticed before, Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge.  (Don’t you want to go there just by name alone?!)

--As usual, many of the best revelations and insights occurred while sitting on a barstool or in front of the inn’s fireplace with a drink in hand.  I scribbled down my biggest revelation for my own work on the back of an inn drink coupon, and it’s sitting right here on my desk, patiently waiting for my attention.

--There was a ghost who visited several of us and, of course, many ghost stories that followed.  Apparently the ghost doesn’t care for iPads, and also it hates when the lights are on all night long.

--Some good food at the Pine Crest Inn:  Meatloaf!  Potato-cabbage gratin!  Fried kale chips! 

--Watching sweet writers morph into raging maniacs over “close” college football games.  Roll Tide, and Go Ducks! 

--For endless days, being immersed in talk about books and writing and writing and books…being reminded that what we do matters deeply, and that learning to do it better is a most excellent way to spend one’s life.

I know I’m forgetting a thousand things.  You’ll have to see it for yourself:  Applications for the Converse low-res MFA program are due February 15.  For more information, go here and here.  See you in June!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.