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Genre-Friendly, Low-Residency MFA

Genre-Friendly, Low-Residency MFA

By Dr. Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

When a writer considers low-residency MFA programs, the question of “fit” is major. We all want to join a nurturing creative writing community that will help us sharpen our tools, but we also hope our writing will be respected for its heart. Like with a healthy romance, we don’t want to be turned into something we’re not.

Most MFA programs embrace traditionalists, experimentalists, formalists, magical realists, realists, and writers who don’t fit any “-ists.” But what about writers of genre fiction? Or writers who like to play with genre conventions? That’s a trickier question.

First off, what do I mean by “genre?” Let’s keep it artificially simple and say fiction that might get shelved in a certain category at the bookstore: horror, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, mystery, etc. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a genre writer, but you do enjoy setting your stories in space, or you like to blur the lines between reality and dreams, or you can’t seem to keep guns from going off in the second act.

Here at the Bluegrass Writers Studio, we probably have even more than fifty-two flavors. Above all, we value passionate and original writing with depth of effect—whether poetry or nonfiction or fiction, or some all-of-the-above hybrid. If we admitted to sharing any dislikes, we’d probably mutter some complaints about cheap effects, stereotyped characters, or paint-by-numbers plotting.

But the last thing we’d want to do is equate genre with formula. Maybe this has always been true, but lately it seems the walls between what’s “literary” and what’s “genre” are getting blasted down and rebuilt into some magnificent works of art. 

Karen Russell can write about werewolves and ghosts and win a MacArthur Genius Award. Cormac McCarthy and Michael Chabon win Pulitzer Prizes while penning post-apoc nightmares and alternate-history mystery, respectively. And Gillian Flynn and George R.R. Martin top bestseller lists writing novels as rich in character and structure as any you’re likely to read.

These are only the most obvious mainstream names. Wait till you see what else we have for you to read.

The willingness to juggle storytelling conventions, to know when to hold ‘em and fold ‘em and tear ‘em to shreds—we think that’s a quality to be prized. That’s why I’m delighted to say that alongside workshops in linked short stories and nature writing and memoir, the Bluegrass Writers Studio also offers courses like genre fiction writing with our Spring Visiting Professor, Maureen McHugh, an award-winning sci-fi writer. It’s why I’m excited to teach a Spring course in which we’ll read a western by Philip Meyer, Gone Girl, and Game of Thrones, among others.

It’s why our upcoming Winter Residency will bring a new revelation every night. Not just wildly accomplished poets, nonfiction writers and explorers of the inner spirit, but also tension-torqueing thriller writers like Tom Franklin and Kelly Braffet, and of course Maureen McHugh herself.

Here at the Bluegrass Writers Studio, we challenge our low-residency MFA students to refine their artistry and exceed their own goals, whether your dream is to record the turmoil and triumph of your childhood, chart the far-flung associations of a single solid image, find meaning in your year of Ethiopian volunteering, bring life to a horrifying and majestic secondary world, explore Europa circa 2094, or whatever else you can imagine and/or remember.

Just no sparkly vampires, please.

To learn more about the Bluegrass Writers Studio, please drop us a line here:

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Kristen Thompson

Published on December 17, 2013

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