MFA: Genre, the Final Frontier
By Joseph Nichols, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio
There is something to be said for understanding your place as a writer. With that “something” almost said, I have never been comfortable with harshly drawn lines between genres or mediums.
Wendell Berry once discussed his degree program and the horrid nature of having to pick between writing focuses. As far as the universities were concerned, he had to either be a poet or a nonfiction writer. Most programs force you to pick a focus, such as poetry, and the courses from which you choose are within that focus. In the majority of the MFA programs I found, I would have been forced to make a decision: What do I write (or, more importantly, what will I show future employers/publishers as credentials for what I am trained to read/write)?
When I interviewed prospective MFA programs, this collegiate paradigm became more than a fleeting internal conflict. I wanted to write fiction, but I was, first and foremost, a poet.
So I found Bluegrass Writers Studio: courses in poetry, nonfiction, literary fiction, popular fiction, flash fiction, and the list goes on. And I can take whichever best suits my interest, or is the best current challenge.
Now, a year and a half into a two-year graduate program, I am showing tangible improvement in my poetry, yes, but I have also discovered a serious fascination with lyric/nonfiction essays. Plus I still want to finish that NaNoWriMo (Fantasy? Literary?) novel congealing on my hard drive.
This semester, I will be studying genre fiction. We will be reading and writing genre pieces. We will be gleaning wisdom from a guest instructor, Maureen McHugh, a speculative fiction author who has won countless awards for her past work (Google that name and, yes, be jealous). In the end, the question of whether I am a poet, a fiction writer, or a nonfiction essayist becomes moot. My preconceptions of the words genre and literary intertwine. Now I’m boldly going outside those lines.
The Bluegrass Writers Studio teaches me how, not what, to write. My program is composed, by me, one course at a time. When I finish my MFA later this year, it’ll be my MFA and no one else’s.
Published on January 22, 2014