How do I decide if an MFA is right for me?
The smart thing to do is to talk with MFA students and/or alumni, and we're happy to facilitate a conversation! Many people who get their MFA do so because they need the discipline a program provides and they want to push themselves into becoming the best writers they can be. Working in isolation is a challenge all writers face; at Solstice, students (and graduates) find themselves part of a community of like-minded fellow artists, and their work flourishes under the guidance of our dedicated faculty members. The MFA is also the terminal degree for writers who want to teach at the college level.
*How do full residency MFA programs compare with low-residency programs?
Low-residency programs don’t require you to live near the program’s campus, and enable students to balance work and family life while earning their degree. Thus, the low-residency format more closely resembles the life of a writer; we generally work in solitude, and have to find ways to make time for our reading and writing while also paying the bills and being attentive to family, friends, and general well being. Writers who graduate from low-residency programs have figured out how to maintain this balance, and can carry the habits and discipline developed during the MFA forward.
Does the program offer financial support for writers?
Yes. Solstice is one of the few low-residency programs to offer both fellowships and need-based scholarships. Applicants are invited to apply for one of our four genre-based scholarships: the Michael Steinberg Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction, the Dennis Lehane Fellowship for Fiction, the Jacqueline Woodson Fellowship for a Young People’s Writer of African or Caribbean Descent, and the Sharon Olds Fellowship for Poetry. These Fellowships provide $1000 toward first-semester tuition for four students who begin the program during the winter residency/spring semester. We also offer the Lee Hope Fellowship for Diverse Voices each summer, and, through our sister publication, Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, the Kurt Brown Fellowship for Writers. Up to twenty percent of our students receive need-based scholarships through our Writers Helping Writers Fund, which is a joint effort of the MFA office and the Solstice Alumni Association.
How big is the student body? How about workshop groups?
Our student body is fewer than 50 students; workshop groups are never more than 12 students.
What are the benefits of a small program?
At Solstice, each student is treated as an individual, and receives the kind of focused, one-to-one mentoring during the semester that will help his or her work blossom. But during our 10-day residencies, the intimacy of the group allows people to form stronger bonds, and the emphasis on cross-genre work allows for a broad range of perspectives that many find inspirational.
(From student Amanda LaFantasie): “Take a look at the faculty: http://www.pmc.edu/mfa-faculty--staff, and notice the criss-cross of fiction and nonfiction, nonfiction and poetry, etc. The same kind of creative “cross pollination” exists in the student body, at least in my experience; the poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and YA students feed off each other’s creativity and energy. We all operate under the blanket notion that we are writers first and foremost; in this respect the community is extremely positive and excellent for networking.”
What is the atmosphere like? Competitive? Cooperative?
The Solstice MFA Program offers a supportive, non-competitive environment in which students celebrate each other’s successes and everyone—students, faculty, and staff—share a respect for the individual and his or her art. Students, faculty members, and staff often share meals together, and enjoy an informal, non-hierarchical atmosphere both in and outside of the classroom.
How will I meet new people outside my workshop group or genre at the residency?
Students are able to take craft classes in subjects outside their concentration; students from all genres also eat together, and mingle at receptions, barbeques, movie nights, and readings.
What's the average age of students?
The age range of our students is 24 to 70-something, with the average age falling around 40.
Can I talk with my mentor about career options and ask for his or her guidance?
Certainly. You can ask the director and assistant director, too—they’re also published writers with lots of experience in the literary world. You’ll also find that alumni can be helpful in this regard. The Solstice Program offers elective sessions that often provide models and ideas for what we as writers can do in our communities/careers—ways to approach the publishing process, access to agents and editors, opportunities for teachers, and more. Students are also able to opt for an Applied Track Internship in the third semester, which will allow them to gain valuable job skills and contacts within their field of interest.
What is the process for mentor selection?
During each residency, students complete a faculty preference form indicating their choices in mentors. Students more advanced within the program are more likely to get their first choices than first-semester students, but the selection of faculty members is very rich—there are no “bad” choices! On day 7th day of the residency, students learn who they will be working with for the coming semester. Almost immediately, they start talking with that person about their semester plan.
What if I want to switch to another genre?
If they wish, students are able to explore another genre in their second semester. They need to decide by the end of that semester if they’d like to stay there (switch their focus) or go back to the genre in which they were working in semester one. And note that no matter what your genre concentration, you will be able to take craft classes in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and writing for children & young adults.
I want to write for children and young adults. Most programs separate this genre from “traditional” concentrations in fiction, poetry and nonfiction – what is the benefit of studying alongside writers in other genres?
The answer to this question is multi-faceted. Children’s and YA literature already spans genres, meaning it embraces fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Even if you’re most interested in one of these sub-genres, it’s smart to have a working knowledge of all of them and not “pigeon-hole” oneself into just one. For example, many fiction writers—including our own Consulting Writer Jacqueline Woodson—have surprised themselves by writing novels in verse at some point in their careers; others have found a new interest in writing nonfiction for young people after spending time writing fiction or poetry. At the same time, we urge our students—whether they write for adults, young adults, or children—to take craft classes in all genres; we all have something to teach each other. And last but not least, the publishing world of children’s and YA literature has long been separated from the “rest” of the publishing world (and, sadly, not viewed with the same level of esteem). Why perpetuate this separation in the writing world? We view children’s and YA literature with the same amount of respect as literature for adults, and so our community is all-inclusive.
Read an interview with Program Director Meg Kearney by YA/Childrens Author Cynthia Leitich Smith re: writing for children and young adults, or an article by graduate (and YA writer) Kimberly Mitchell about her experience in the program.
I really need to practice reading my work in front of an audience. Will there be opportunities to read my work publicly during the residencies?
Yes! There are informal, student-run readings at each residency—one can’t ask for a more receptive and supportive audience—and the program offers a class on reading in public every-other residency.
I wasn’t an English major. Does the program provide assistance when it comes to learning how to write critically?
Many of our students weren’t English majors—and many who were find their critical writing skills are a bit rusty by the time they enroll in the MFA Program. With that in mind, first-semester students are required to take a class in critical writing during their first residency, and faculty mentors are ready to guide them through the process once the semester begins. Our Student & Faculty Handbook has a section devoted to an in-depth explication of how to write a craft analyses; it also provides examples.
Why do students have to complete a critical thesis? I am not interested in academic writing, or pursuing a career in the academy.
The critical essay is an essential part of MFA students’ development into mature writers. This work builds on the critical writing and thinking skills students have developed in their first and second semesters, during which they applied close reading, analytical, and interpretive skills to the drafting of short craft analyses on single texts. MFA students must demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental aspects of literary craft and form in their chosen genre. The critical thesis challenges writers to create and build a sustained argument surrounding a single aspect (or a few aspects/elements) of literature and/or literature’s role(s) in the world. Students are expected to choose subjects with some personal appeal; ideally, the thesis topic should have application to the student’s own creative work.
By integrating research, original thinking, and — possibly— experience drawn from an internship in their critical essays, students heighten and deepen their ability to draw insights and models from their reading. These models will help to illuminate and shape students’ approaches to their own creative work.
Students who successfully complete this major critical essay engage as practitioners in a conversation with the literary community.
Does the program guide you on ways to publish your work?
Yes, the Program offers elective sessions and panel discussions on this very topic. Our alumni are having great success in getting their work published.
Are there opportunities to meet literary agents and/or publishers?
Yes, there are regular sessions with agents, publishers, and editors at the residencies; often faculty members share their publishing experiences as well.
Does the Solstice Program have an in-house publication/literary journal featuring Solstice students' work?
Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices is a “sister” publication of the Program. This quarterly online literary journal has published the work of our students, alumni, and faculty, and offers internship opportunities to MFA students.
What will my MFA qualify me to do after I complete it?
The MFA is the terminal degree for creative writers, essential if one is interested in teaching at the college level. Solstice also offers additional training for those students who want to teach through its Applied Track in Pedagogy. The MFA degree also fulfills the requirement for many public school teachers to earn a master’s degree, and can confer continuing education and salary increase benefits for K-12 teachers through their individual school districts. But most of our students want to enter our MFA Program because of the discipline such an experience offers and because they are eager to learn how to become the best writers they can be.
Tell me more about the Applied Pedagogy Track.
The Applied Track in Pedagogy is designed to give students the training they need to teach at the college level. Students who wish to undertake it commit to a related internship in semester three and—over the course of the two-year program—participate in four class units that address the essentials of classroom practice: Current approaches to teaching composition; Course Design; Assessment; and Classroom Management.
These units—scheduled as three-hour CC&T courses—are structured around college composition, as teaching this course is the position most likely to be offered to MFA graduates by colleges and universities. The units are offered on a rotating basis, one per residency; they may be taken in any order. Each unit requires advance reading and writing, and follow-up readings are assigned for the semester. Students in the Pedagogy Track are also expected to respond to a series of short readings (no more than three per semester) designed to enhance and extend the material covered in the units. This is in addition to the creative work and craft analyses that comprise the usual MFA workload.
Over the course of their four semesters, Pedagogy Track students also analyze and annotate (in their annotated bibliographies) a minimum of two composition textbooks.
Will the program continue to support you as an alumnus?
As a graduate of the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College, you will find that both program staff and the community of writers you discovered and helped to nurture as a student will remain supportive and communicative. In addition to promoting publications and professional achievements by Solstice graduates through our monthly e-newsletter and press releases, we invite graduates to audit classes and participate in programming geared toward alumni concerns at our biannual residencies. We also host gatherings at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference, and at our summer residencies.
Alumni of the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program are invited to apply for Graduate Assistantships twice a year. One position for a Graduate Assistant is available at each of our biannual MFA Residencies, held in December/January and June/July on the Pine Manor College campus.
And finally, for the many Solstice alumni have an interest in continuing to work one-on-one with our faculty members following graduation (usually to put the finishing touches on the book-length manuscripts that comprised their creative theses) a Post-Graduate Study Option is available.