When an MA Isn't Enough
By Eliot Parker, Bluegrass Writers Studio alumnus
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. However, I did not begin writing creative work until I was in college, when I needed a break from the rigors of academic writing. After I graduated with my Master's Degree in English from Marshall University and began teaching full-time at Mountwest Community and Technical College in 2007, my creative writing was stifled by the requirements of class preparation, grading papers, office hours, and committee work. Yet, I renewed my passion for writing during summer breaks.
I had read about MFA programs in several writing magazines and even consulted with former classmates who had gone on to pursue their MFAs at universities throughout the country. For a while, I felt like I had been out of school for too long and wondered if I could balance the responsibilities of work and being a student. In the Fall of 2010, I decided to apply to the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University http://creativewriting.eku.edu. I was thrilled when my portfolio of work was reviewed and I was offered a chance to attend.
As a student in the program, I prepared academically as well as artistically for the field of fiction writing. I studied and analyzed materials written by other writers in addition to polishing my own craft. Moreover, the winter and summer residency opportunities in Lexington, Kentucky, and Edinburgh, Scotland, gave me a chance to immerse myself in my writing and focus on craft. In addition to becoming familiar with two wonderful cities, I was able to workshop my writing with classmates, visiting writers, and faculty. I was mentored by award-winning authors including Jim Grimsley, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Kristin Iversen.
The low-residency program format at Bluegrass Writers Studio allowed me to maintain my full-time job and complete the degree. The experience helped me further realize my strengths as well as routing out my weaknesses as a writer. My classmates and professors created a classroom culture of openness and acceptance which allowed me the confidence to experiment with my writing, and not be afraid of subjects and themes that had long been percolating in my subconscious. Many of my fellow classmates are also my best friends today.
The guidance and coaching I received during my two years at Bluegrass Writers Studio have been invaluable to me as a writer. I still maintain relationships with those writers who mentored me, and the faculty at EKU make themselves available anytime I want to talk about writing or seek advice. I left the program a more confident and capable writer, reader, and learner. I was able to successfully balance teaching full-time with the rigors of the program which made me even stronger in areas of time management.
A low-residency MFA program might be a good fit for anyone with family obligations, full-time employment, or geographical limitations. I’m glad that I set aside my doubts and concerns and applied in 2010. Completing my MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) was one of the best experiences of my life.
Published on February 10, 2014