Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cross genre work + helpful tips for Hollins applicants

by Denis Yurchikov

Part I:

How many of you are planning to do some cross-genre work at your respective programs? One reason I chose to go to Hollins was that the program is focused on letting its students do pretty much whatever they want. I'm not sure if it will be exactly like that in practice, but in theory, even though I applied in nonfiction, I'll be free to choose whichever genre I wish to study. I'm one of those people who wants to do everything. I started my writing career (if I may unapologetically call it that) writing poetry, took one poetry workshop class at Berkeley, then took 3 consecutive nonfiction workshops, and decided to apply to MFA programs in nonfiction. While taking nonfiction workshops, I also started writing short stories and have been thinking about an idea for a novel, which I want to work on while I'm at Hollins. I’m pretty sure I have something in the order of 100 poems sitting in a folder on my desktop, and I’d like to start working on those again.

I think cross-genre programs are a really good idea because, potentially, they reduce competition. If you're at a program like the Iowa NWP, you and your classmates will primarily be writing nonfiction, and most likely submitting the pieces you write to the same publications. I think that’s slightly counter-productive.

In a cross-genre program, there will still be some competition, but I believe that over all, there will be fewer people submitting in the same genre to the same publications, leading to a higher chance of publishing success, and less possible anger/jealousy.

I realize that this argument is completely unsubstantiated, but I still feel that in addition to reducing competition, cross-genre programs encourage creativity and the idea that being a writer shouldn’t mean being a writer in just one genre.

I haven't seen many cross-genre programs out there that I can specifically name. Can anyone suggest some besides Hollins?

Part II:

As many of us who applied last year know, finding information on programs can be really tough. Compounded with the number of programs applicants have to research, the whole process can be pretty time consuming. I wanted to share something that I didn’t find for a while last year, which will be useful for any new Hollins applicants this year.

If you go to the Hollins MFA website, you get a pretty good idea of what the program is about. I have to say that this is definitely one of the better MFA websites out there (just try navigating Emerson’s website). Still, there are a couple of things you should look at right away.

First, go to “The Writer’s Life at Hollins” to find information on the first and second-year students and the FAQ (or, Things that People Ask Us a Lot (TtPAUaL)). I think the FAQ is the most important part of the website, as it specifies what Hollins looks for in a writer. As far as I can recall, Hollins was the only school I looked at that had such specific details about the kinds of people the program values.

Back on the main MFA page, you can find a pretty good rundown of what’s required to apply (GRE scores optional), and the actual application, which I loved. The application was so easy.

So yeah, if you found the FAQ, you’re in good shape. If not, now you will be. Perhaps other people can share interesting tips/tricks or information that’s not widely available on their schools’ websites.

PS. Hollins took 15 students this year.


  1. Good post! I misread info on funding on UVAs website and almost didn't choose to attend. I wish I could say the wording was confusing but I think my eyes were strained from reading so many MFA websites! lol Hollins has a great website, I just read the entire FAQ page simply because it was a good read. The passion for writers/writing is evident. I gained the best feel for UVA by talking to students of the program. The most interesting thing about my program is how much writing time the course schedule allows: 1 workshop & 1 elective course per semester.

  2. I also really like the idea of cross-genre work, and I agree that it does encourage creativity. I didn't really research cross-genre programs, but I remember reading on many program websites that students are permitted and/or encouraged to take workshops outside their chosen genre. I know that is the case at Penn State, and I'm definitely looking forward to doing a nonfiction class in addition to my poetry classes.

  3. Your post made me very much interested in the MFa program at your school. So much so that I considered applying, until I remembered that I don't have any letter of recommendations off hand.

    BTW, this blog is under review for TOS violations, for some reason.

  4. I'm also interested in dabbling in other genres (short fiction and creative nonfiction). At IU, there is a special fiction class designed for poets and a poetry class for fiction writers. I'm hoping to take a CNF class this fall.

    At Arkansas, we were required to take workshops in other genres; I took a Form and Theory of Fiction course on Nobel-Prize winning authors last semester, and several of my friends were in a course on the Comic Novel. There is a also an MFA in translation at Arkansas, and a few of my friends were in translation workshops.

  5. OSU also offers and encourages cross genre work! In our program, the cross genre workshops are lovingly referred to as "baby" fiction/poetry/cnf workshops.

    In fact, when I went for a visit I sat in on Kathy Fagan's "baby" poetry workshop, which was comprised of fiction and cnf students. We are also encouraged to take forms classes outside our genres too.

  6. Strange, possibly irrelevant fact: I put together that FAQ page and maintained the Writer's Life site as one of my stipendiary duties while I was at Hollins. Glad to hear it's being read. But just an example of the odd jobs you may be asked to do for the first year stipend (no one teaches until the second-year there, and then, they teach a CW workshop). Onward!


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