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Inside Look

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)?

The Time-Keeper’s Ax: Prose Writers, Beware

By Nancy Jensen, Associate Professor, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     Every prose writer who has worked up the courage to agree to participate in a public reading has faced the same gleaming ax: the time limit.  Poet-envy sets in immediately, because even if readers are limited to a slender five minutes each, every poet in the crowd can read one complete poem—sometimes as many as four complete poems—and still have thirty seconds to spare.  But for the non-poets among us, the time-limit always carries the implied message: Abandon all hope, ye Prose Writers, who enter here.

     It doesn’t matter, either, if the time limit is more generous.  Whether it’s eight minutes, fifteen or twenty-five, as a prose writer, you will never find a single, complete piece that fits perfectly.

Pass the Poe... er, the Morrison

By Doug Brewer, Bluegrass Writers Studio

            I chose the Bluegrass Writers Studio in no small part because of its low-residency, rather than residency, format. Like most writers, I suspect, I am most comfortable when sitting in my office alone with my computer or a pad and pen. Nobody cares if I haven’t had a shower in a couple days, and there’s very little of that whole eye contact thing.

            On the other hand, what really makes the program tick for me is the annual Winter Residency in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s a magical thing, taking thirty or forty socially awkward people who would rather be flying solo with their words, and throwing them all together in a Hilton without anyone exploding.

Bluegrass Writers Studio MFA Residency: Winter Welcome

By Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

The Bluegrass Writers Studio low-residency MFA Winter Residency 2014 in Lexington, Kentucky has reached its end. We had a fantastic roster of writers.

I thought a nice way to celebrate would be to post some of the opening remarks I delivered at the start of the residency. I like to think it captures the spirit of our program:

Welcome, everyone, to the sixth annual Bluegrass Writers Studio Winter Residency. To those of you who’ve spent a chilly first chunk of January with us before in the Lexington Downtown Hilton, veteran workshoppers, student reading survivors, witnesses to the mysterious brassiere incident of 2013, we welcome you back.

Zack Wagman: Sucker-Punched

By Zack Wagman, Senior Editor at Crown Publishing and Bluegrass Writers Studio Guest

     In NY book publishing, when editors are talking about novels at editorial meetings, at business lunches, or anywhere really, we often fall back on cliché to convey our excitement: "I missed my subway stop" or "I was up all night."  For me, when I first read Save Yourself, I could not fall back on those clichés.  I was in a drab corporate flat, 5000 miles away from my editorial meeting, my colleagues, and my publisher. 

Blank Slate

By Kristen Thompson, Associate Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     Bluegrass Writers Studio's Winter Residency 2014 begins today! As participants check in, they'll be given a name tag, a schedule, and a restaurant guide to top off the stacks of papers that started with their writing. Sandwiched in the middle will be the manuscripts of their workshop-mates.

For Absolute Beginners

By Rebecca DeSensi Sivori, Alumna, Bluegrass Writers Studio '12

Unlike many of my BGWS peers, I did not begin the MFA program with any previous workshop experience. My undergrad work was in broadcast journalism, my first masters degree was in counseling and student affairs. One day I picked up a yellow lined notebook and a pen and started writing. Several notebooks later I decided to apply to an MFA program, wondering if they’d take me. I was told to submit a short story prior to my first residency. A what? I was told to critique the work of my peers prior to the residency. Like, how? I did not feel I was in the position to ask questions or admit that I had no clue what I was doing. I did not want them to regret their decision to accept me.

Editing by Unfamiliarity

By Todd King, Alumnus, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     Before I was a student in the creative writing program I adhered to the maxim to write for yourself--that what I wrote only mattered if it pleased me. Even after finishing my MFA, I think the maxim is absolutely true. As I continue writing, however, I’m finding that its essence goes deeper: I write for myself, not just as a writer, but for myself as a reader.

     There is a sense of discovery when it seems you’ve matched abstract concepts of your imagination into words--you see the images and feel the emotions. There is a sense of accomplishment in seeing it all animated by text alone. You’ve pleased yourself as a writer. But then someone reads it and they don’t get it. It didn’t move the reader as it moved the writer.

Paint it Noir

By Dr. Derek Nikitas, Director, Bluegrass Writers Studio

I met Kelly Braffet a couple years ago when we were both guest “thriller” authors at the Southern Kentucky Book Festival. We were almost seated together, if not for the incongruous wedge of a perfectly pleasant “inspirational” writer. I don’t remember that author’s name, but she’d churned out about ten books in a couple years.

Ms. Inspiration asked me, “What do you write?”

“Noir,” I said, and she asked, “What’s that?”

“Sort of the opposite of yours,” I quipped.

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. 

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