Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Howdy/ On Choosing Cornell

About a week ago I officially accepted a position in the MFA program at Cornell. I had been pretty torn between Cornell and U Michigan. I also briefly considered NYU (who gave me shit for funding) and Virginia Commonwealth (which is less well ranked, but has an outstanding faculty and Blackbird).

What sold me on Cornell:
  • I am mildly obsessed with Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's poetry-- when I think about where I am trying to go with my writing, I think she is very close to the poetry I want to write. There are certainly writers at U Michigan (ie A. Van Jordan) who I am also pretty obsessed with. 
  • I greatly enjoyed sitting in on an MFA workshop with Alice Fulton when I visited there. I really appreciated the advice she gave on student work. I also was really impressed and intrigued by the work of the current students there. 
  • I am excited about the chance to work on another journal next year, especially one as renowned as Epoch. I also am excited to not have to teach until my second year. U Michigan didn't want me to teach my first year, but I was going to have to be a grader for one semester, which sounds like getting stuck with all the worst parts of teaching. 
  • I am very excited about the flexibility Cornell allows in its teaching assignments the second year. I sat in on one of he "Freshmen Writing Seminars," and I was really impressed by the discussions and caliber or writing from the undergrads. I sat in on a FWS on "Crime Literature," where they were discussing a Flannery O'Connor story and workshopped one student's critical essay. 
  • Additionally, during the 2 years of post-grad fellowship, MFAs get to design their own courses and teach creative writing. My head can't stop spinning with ideas for courses I'd like to design and poems I want to assign. 
  • Also, did I mention there's a 2 year post grad fellowship and they provide one of the best yearly MFA stipends I've heard of-- with guaranteed summer funding, it's bout $27k a year. I can actually live and occasionally buy new shoes on that. Also, I know I'm going to get paid to write poetry for the next 4 years of my life. As someone who's been working more than full time since undergrad, I definitely appreciate the privilege of time to write. I should note that U Mich sounds like they are now guaranteeing a 1 year post-grad fellowship, but Cornell's funding package still sounds better and Ithaca is actually cheaper to live in than Ann Arbor. 
  • It's beautiful in Ithaca. I think I will have phenomenal legs after living there and navigating those hills. Also, I have an awesome opportunity to title a chapbook Gorge. Come on-- that is an awesome title.
  • I have never lived on the east coast and I've spent the majority of my life in Michigan (I'm in Chicago now). Although, it would be convenient to live close to old friends, I think it will be good for me to get away from the Midwest for a bit.  
  • Because Cornell is such a small program in somewhat of an isolated location, it was really important to me that the other MFA students seemed like the kind of people who would help wobble me home drunk from the bar. In all honesty, I think my mind was pretty much made up at a gay bar named Felicia's. They are just good people, and I'm excited to get to spend more time with them. 
I currently have a lease for a gorgeous 1-bedroom in Ithaca that's about a 7 minute walk from the building where most of the English courses take place. Also, Nabakov used to live there (in another unit in the building). For some reason that's really cool to me. I'm going to have lots of windows and 2 walk-in closets and room for a queen-sized bed-- all on a grad student salary. It's making my gang-tagged front door and cupboard-sized bedroom and the constant light and rattle of train tracks and 1 1/2 hour commute to work look a little less remarkable. 


  1. Congrats on deciding on Cornell--Ithaca is a wonderful place. Though, I imagine after you've lived there for four years and seen hundreds upon hundreds of "Ithaca is Gorges" bumperstickers/t-shirts/hoodies, you'll probably not want to title a chapbook Gorge. Having grown up there, I almost cringe when I see the word now. Still--you can't help but be overwhelmed by them. Make sure to check out Autumn Leaves, the most-excellent used bookstore on the Commons. Congrats, again!

  2. Congrats, Stevie. It sounds like you have an amazing four years coming up. I am v. jealous that you are basically going to be neighbors with the ghost of Nabokov.

  3. where the ghost of Nabakov resides: http://www.ithaca-apartments-belleayre-dewitt.com/

  4. Actually-- according to "Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years" he lived in unit 30, which I believe is the unit next to mine. I don't really believe in ghosts, but I still think it's neat.

  5. Ithaca is beautiful! I grew up a couple hours from there, on Keuka Lake, and it's one of my favorite places in central New York. Congratulations on your decision!


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