The Summer Highs of Our Low-Residency MFA
By Dr. Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio
Nothing like winter chill to make you dream of summer. Over at the Bluegrass Writers Studio office, we’re bustling like Santa’s elves getting ready for this year’s Winter Residency. But June, and our Summer Residency in Lisbon, Portugal, is also calling out to us. The international experience has been a hallmark of our program since we started in 2008, especially since last year, when we started an exciting partnership with the Disquiet International program.
Portugal can seem an odd destination for Americans. You might even need to look at a map to remind yourself where it is, exactly. But that’s part of its appeal. Lisbon has every bit of the charm and magic of the most tourist-crammed European cities, but without the crowd or cost.
I still relish the experiences of my first visit there. Wandering the steep medieval streets of Alfama. Strolling along the fantasy sea-cost of Cascias (pictured!—seriously, that’s a real place). Enjoying some of the most delectable seafood I’ve tasted in my life. Absorbing the deeply intimate and soulful music of the Fado clubs. Pausing at any random outdoor café for wine or coffee and a panoramic view of one of Europe’s most majestic cities.
In this program we’re committed to the belief that deep and immersive international experiences are key to expanding the writer’s sense of self and his/her relationship to the world. It’s an element of “soul” that leads to artistic breakthroughs more profound than what you can learn from craft books or from workshop feedback alone.
It amplifies your own sense of identity, and those insights translate to the written page in remarkable ways. This effect is especially true when you’re given ample opportunity to share it among fellow artists. With the support network of our faculty and participants, not to mention the camaraderie of the Disquiet Program itself, we come back changed.
Disquiet is a marvel among cultural programs. It offers unparalleled access to the cultural and artistic life of Portugal, bringing some of the country’s most prized contemporary literary figures to you. This coming year, they’ve got an amazing lineup of workshop leaders and guest writers like Denis Johnson, David Lehman, Josip Novakovich, Padgett Powell, and Alissa Nutting (we’ll be seeing a lot of Ms. Nutting this year, as she’s also one of our Winter Residency guests).
In a new environment, there is always some, well—disquiet. But we are artists, and such feelings should never prevent us from taking journeys that will transform how we approach our work. In fact, those moments of “the uncanny,” when we turn a corner and lose ourselves in a scene we never knew possible, are the very reasons we should step out of our comfort zones (albeit with the safety harness of our program intact).
Although our Summer Residency is optional, we’d hesitate to say that your MFA experience could be full without an international experience—and we offer our Summer Residency as one of the best possible sets of conditions for that experience.
Published on December 19, 2013