Thursday, October 29, 2009

Visiting Writers

by Jonterri Gadson

In the last week or so a lot of the poets in the MFA program have been stressing about putting together 10-18 page manuscripts to submit for our visiting writer, Tony Hoagland. As an applicant, I never fully understood how visiting writers worked when they came to programs. Here, at UVA, we had to submit packets of our writing this week so that Hoagland can review them before he comes to the university the first week of December. We each signed up to meet with him for an hour during the few days that he will be here. So in this time he is going to discuss his thoughts on our work. He will also give a public reading on campus while he's here. I'm pretty excited to have his eyes on my work.

On the fiction side, they've got Claire Messud coming. Same deal: submit their work, individual conferences, and then a reading. She'll be here mid-November. I'm definitely going to check out the reading.

So, what's the deal? Do you guys have visiting writers? Who are they? How does your program handle them?


  1. It's interesting how our program does it. Every year one visiting writer comes to OSU and runs a masterclass that I guess(?) we sign up for. It runs Monday through Friday, and is an hour (or maybe two hours) long. This year it's Harryette Mullen, which is pretty awesome! In fact, she taught at UCLA and was the only poet there I didn't take a workshop with. Through providence, I will now get a second chance! That is not until the spring though.

    We're also hosting Linda Bierds on November 19th, and she is going to be sitting in on our workshop before the reading, which should be interesting. Since Kathy Fagan runs The Journal, she kind of knows everybody, and we're benefiting from her friendships with various important poets.

    It seems like UVA is way more intense about their visiting writers. It is cool that Hoagland will be somewhat familiar with your work before he arrives (although I don't really care for his work at all); I wonder if we'll get any similar treatment.

    Yay visiting writers!

  2. We don't have any visiting writers on staff right now, unfortunately. (But from what I hear, UNCG is hiring another poet, so that's fun!) In my undergrad, we hosted a visiting writer every spring for a six-week period. I really wish we had the chance to submit a packet of work to the visitor beforehand. That might have been really useful for a very short visit. We had Kelly Cherry, Chris Offutt (of "True Blood" fame, now!), Mark Jarman (Vanderbilt MFA), and Margaret Gibson to name a few. How a small, private school could afford these visitors, I will never know.

  3. We didn't have visiting writers, per se, in my low-res program but there were writers that were not regular staff members so it was always a treat to take a seminar with someone you didn't normally see.

    I don't really recall many visiting writers during my undergrad experience, even though it was at UNCG, which as Whitney knows!, has an MFA program. Hmm...maybe I wasn't as writerly involved then?

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  5. Not in an MFA program (applying now), but we have a reading/visiting writers series called the Brockport Writer's Forum. Every semester we have five writers come (since I've been here, we've had Amy Bloom, Ted Kooser, David Kirby, Susan Orlean, Ian Frazier, and Denise Duhamel, among others, and next week we're having John Edgar Wiedman). There's a class associated with it, which reads one book by each visiting writer and writes papers about the craft, then the writer does a Q&A with the class and then a public reading/Q&A with whoever shows up. There's not usually a one-on-one portion of it, though a few of us have had pretty great conversations with the visiting writers before.

  6. 10-18 pages sounds intense. I wonder if you'll get explicit critique on each poem, or simply an overview. Let us know!

  7. hey jonterri!
    tony hoagland is coming to IU next week. i'm signed up for a master's class with him. so far, we haven't been asked to put together a manuscript like yours, though.

    i'm really excited to work with him, esp. having just read What Narcissism Means to Me.

  8. Wow, that's cool that we have the same writer at our programs! So what exactly does the master's class entail?

  9. Its pretty neat to read about the different ways that programs handle visiting writers.

    At McNeese, we do things similarly to UVA, though perhaps a bit less intensely. Poets and Fictioneers submit their manuscripts a month or so in advance and schedule a 30 minute mini-shop with the writer at some point during his/her visit. I'm not positive, but I think poets submit 3-5 fiction, we submit a single story, probably around 20 pages.

    The visiting writers are typically weekend events for us; we usually have either a party on Friday and a reading on Saturday or vice-versa. The parties are usually hosted by either a student or faculty member, and provide a nice atmosphere for informal conversation. Since I've been here, we've had visitors such as Ron Carlson, ZZ Packer, Jean Leiby (editor of the Southern Review), and Michael Knight (Director of the MFA at Tennessee), which sort of surprised me because the program is pretty small.

    This is the first semester we haven't had a visiting fiction writer, but I think we're getting two next semester, one being Robert Olen Butler.

    I'm glad I ran across this blog...keep up the good work!

  10. Jonathan, I am pleased that you call fiction people in your program fictioneers. I do it too.

    That does sound like a lot of big names for a small program! Perhaps someone on the faculty has connections?

  11. Wow, go McNeese! I'll trade you a Hoagland for a Packer LOL. I kid, I kid...

  12. Glad to know that the "fictioneers" terminology is alive and well up north!

    Hoagland might not be for everyone, but I like him quite a bit.

    Butler used to run this program back in the day, so that's a connection...I don't know about the rest, maybe the cajun food? haha

  13. Our program brings lots of visiting writers. Last night was our last one of the fall. Here's the schedule:

    While we don't share our writing with them, there are LOTS of opportunities to spend time with the writers--Q&A sessions, dinners, even trips to Andalusia (Flannery O'Connor's home--which I still haven't visited yet, acks!). Our program makes sure to provide the opportunities to socialize with REAL writers in person, and how we choose to use that opportunity is up to us.


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