By the Book
By Nancy Jensen, Associate Professor, Bluegrass Writers Studio
If you’ve started your research into MFA programs—whether low-residency or full-residency—you know that they all share one common feature: a book-length creative work submitted in the final semester as the thesis.
What you may not realize is that if your goal is to write a novel, a memoir, or even a cohesive collection of short stories or creative nonfiction, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a program of any variety that provides opportunities for your book-length work to be developed and considered as a whole. Hard-pressed, that is, unless you come to the Bluegrass Writers Studio.
The Bluegrass Writers Studio is unique among MFA programs for the faculty’s commitment to leading workshops focused on developing book-length works. For the last four years, Program Director Derek Nikitas has offered a two-semester course in novel-writing, and presently, Julie Hensley is teaching a two-semester course in writing linked short stories. This past semester, Fall 2013, I launched a one-semester Full Manuscript Workshop.
Writers who join the Full Manuscript Workshop may submit any book-length work of prose of up to 100,000 words—including novels, short story collections, memoirs, essay collections, or even mixed-genre collections like my first book, Window: Stories and Essays. During the semester, a full three-hour workshop is devoted to each student’s manuscript. Everyone in the class reads all the books, analyzing their success as complete works—breaking each one down for discussion into the broad but manageable categories of Subject, Structure, Style, and Substance. As a group, we consider how all the elements of craft coordinate, always with the goal of helping our fellow writers create a balanced whole.
You’ll discover such a variety of writers at the Bluegrass Writers Studio that courses like the Full Manuscript Workshop will also challenge your flexibility as a reader. This semester alone, we considered a novel about an American expatriate in Kenya shaken by an unexpected and unwanted new love, another about a high school sex scandal in a small town, as well as a speculative novel about scientific advances enabling the dead to assist in solving their own murders. We read two young adult novels: one about an outcast young gnome who must find his place in a strange new world, and another about a teenager swept up in the rituals of a corrupt theocracy. Readers in the class were further challenged by two collections of short works—one, a series of stories about characters of different worlds in a universe out of balance, and the other about the toughness and tenderness needed to survive in contemporary, economically-stressed Appalachia.
So, tell us—what’s the book you want to write? Here at the Bluegrass Writers Studio, we all deeply love and admire the short form in all its variations, and we believe in the value of studying writing piece by piece. But we also recognize that many of our students will learn most when working by the book.
Published on December 21, 2013