Saturday, March 20, 2010

Visiting Writers and New Recruits

by Emily May Anderson

This past week, George Saunders was our Writer-in-Residence here at Penn State. He gave a public reading on Thursday night (well-attended, and very entertaining), and met with various classes and groups of students, as well as having individual conferences with all of our fiction MFAs. I’m a poet so I only got to interact with him at the poets breakfast yesterday morning, the general MFA lunch, and the final party that Bill, our program director, hosted last night. In all of those situations, he was friendly, down to earth, and much less cynical than I had expected based on his work. He runs the MFA program at Syracuse, so he was very interested in our feelings about how our program is run, and at breakfast yesterday, we were discussing ways to approach workshop outside the normal format, and ended up generating the idea of multi-program workshops (i.e. either through email or video conferencing, allowing Penn State students and Syracuse students to workshop together). I have no idea if that will ever happen, or what the necessary logistics would be, but it was just so cool to hear another perspective and to see someone else who really wants to think outside the box and find ways of doing things that will give the students good feedback; his attitude toward the whole MFA thing was really really great, and the whole writer-in-residence thing was excellent.

The program also announced a partial list of readings for next year, including Jane Hirshfield, Jonathon Lethem, and the 2011 Writer-in-Residence Susan Orlean. I’m a little disappointed that we won’t have a poet in residence next year either, but it’s just the timing of a two year program with three genres – someone’s going to miss out.

The other interesting thing going on, which overlapped slightly with the Saunders visit, was Recruitment. I think I posted a little bit about my experience as a recruit last year (in a post about how I chose my program) and I posted more about it on my blog last March, but the short version is all the admitted MFA and MA students in English are invited to campus for a sort of group visit. It was so interesting and fun to be on the other side of it this year! The MFA recruits got to come to the party for George Saunders last night, so we all met them there, then we took them to an MFA reading, where all the MA recruits also ended up. They had a breakfast with the graduate director and some other folks this morning, then I don’t know what the MAs did, but the MFA recruits went to lunch with six of us current MFA students, then we gave them a brief campus tour, then they got to go meet with faculty and do other things. They all seem cool, and I’d be happy to have all of them come join us next year (Hello, Denise, and any of the others who read this!!!!) It was a lot of fun to meet them, and it was cool to reflect that a year ago, I was in their shoes - getting shepherded around campus, meeting a ton of people, telling the same introductory story to everyone, answering the same questions (name, genre, where are you from?), till my brain was full of names and faces and there was no amount of coffee that could help me concentrate.

I actually felt that way a bit myself today. Thursday and Friday had both been long, full days, what with my regular schedule plus all the extra stuff, then this morning I had training for my summer teaching assignment before our lunch. But I’ve managed to be pretty productive in the time I’ve had today, and I look forward to an even more productive day tomorrow. Six more weeks of the semester! Yikes!


  1. I'm glad the Saunders visit went well! And I'm fascinated by the idea of multi-program workshopping. If Penn State & Syracuse decide to give it a go, I'd love to hear about it!

    What are you teaching in the summer? It sounds like you have been crazy busy, if you're training AND teaching AND taking classes all right now! Whoa!

    I'm also curious to hear what you think of Jane Hirshfield's work. I've been returning to her book "After" a lot this semester...

  2. Hey Bethany :)

    I'm teaching a six week version of the same freshman comp class over the summer, as part of the LEAP program. LEAP brings newly admitted freshmen to campus in the summer to take two classes - one in a subject area, the other in composition - groups (we call them "prides", as in a pride of lions) of 24 new students live together in a dorm, take two classes together, and have an older student as a mentor. They basically get a head start on the college adjustment, and it's got an amazing track record in terms of increasing retention and student achievement. I'm teaching a section of comp that's paired with a section of photography, so I'll be working cooperatively with a photo instructor to develop assignments and organize the class.

    I'm super excited!

    But yes, I have been crazy busy.

    I like Jane Hirshfield's work a lot, both her poetry, and her essays in Nine Gates. I just find her writing beautiful and thoughtful.

  3. It sounds like you've got an awesome slate of writers coming, even without a visiting poet. Super organized, too.

    I'm intrigued by the multi-program workshop idea. I think it's always good to read different kinds of poetry and get fresh sets of eyes on your work, although I'm cautious about it not being in person. One idea might be to have a winter/summer workshop, maybe just for a week or two, where both (or more) programs meet somewhere else. Maybe in NYC or the countryside somewhere? I know UW sends students to Rome...

    It might be a nice opportunity for producing work and having readings/craft talks in a chill environment.

    Did you see the recent Jason Schneiderman essay in APR about what the workshop is/can be, by the way? It was pretty interesting, and I'm thinking of posting about something similar this week. Would like to know what other people thought of that essay...

  4. Hi Josh, I'll have to take a look at the essay in APR - I haven't seen it yet.

    One idea we did throw around was meeting in NYC (largely because some of us here go crazy in the middle of nowhere for 15 weeks at a time). Doing a week or two in May could be a really fun option, if the Syracuse schedule is like ours.

  5. I think a multi-program workshop at AWP or some other venue would be really interesting! Although with things like Wave and all you guys are pretty much doing some multi-program workshopping right?

    I love the idea of going to the campus before you attend the program. I applied to a special dorm for undergrad and they invited me up to spend the night, to attend a class etc but I lived 5 hours away and had no way to get there. I didn't get in the dorm...not the same situation but just what I was thinking of now and how important it is to go to the schools you are hoping to attend to really get a feel for the actual space you might inhabit.

    It can make all the difference :)

  6. The Saunders and the mixed workshops sound really interesting!

    Susan, that would be cool! Have you seen Adaptation? It's based on her book, The Orchid Thief. Really intriguing stuff!

    Recruitment weekend sounds fun too! New admits here get notified so late that something like that would be impossible to put together lol.

  7. We have newbies coming in on the 2nd, and I have been engaged in a game of cat and also-cat with a few of them for several months. That being said, everyone I have talked to is super cool, and I hope they all end up coming. The visit should be exciting. I feel like I have been engaged in a game of courtship and can't wait to perform my jumping spider love dance for them when they land!


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