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405Latinidad – 3/12: Low-Residency MFA Programs

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  • desi
    Mar 6, 2012
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      Latinidad – 3/12: Low-Residency MFA Programs

      1. Saludos
      2. Q&A: Lori A. May
      3. Workshops: Unicorn Writers' Conference
      4. Resources: Fellowship for New Parents

      "Undeniably, she is gifted with broad vision, acute attention to detail, vast
      knowledge of the publishing industry, innate ability to communicate clearly
      and precisely, delightful patience, and a charming personality. She
      provided insightful guidance, valuable recommendations, and a
      step-by-step road map designed to secure my success. Retaining her
      services is the best investment any serious writer can make. I plan to
      retain her services again when I complete the items she provided in the
      `to do' checklist. Finally, I have a plan! Thank you, Marcela."
      --Mariel Masque

      Ready to work with a professional editor? Visit
      1. Saludos

      Think you can't get an MFA because you have a day job? Think again.
      Low residency MFA programs are designed for writers with mortgages
      and kids. An MFA won't guarantee publication, but it will provide the kind
      of structure and support that—if used wisely—can result in publication. To
      learn more, read this month's Q&A with Lori A. May, author of the terrific
      guide The Low-Residency MFA Handbook.

      Helping Latinos get published,
      Marcela Landres

      2. Q&A

      Lori A. May is the author of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide
      for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum Books, 2011), stains:
      early poems (Bohemian Steel Press, 2009), and two novels. She has
      contributed to magazines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, and
      American Road, and her poetry and literary nonfiction has appeared in
      publications such as Phoebe, Caper Literary Journal, Steel Toe Review,
      and qarrtsiluni. A Canadian native, Lori now resides in Michigan. Visit her
      online at http://www.loriamay.com/.

      Q: The advantages of a low-residency program are students don't have to
      quit their jobs or move to attend. Would you share some other advantages?

      A: One of the best perks of studying in a low-residency program is learning
      to work and live as a writer and all that entails. It's not just about keeping
      the 'day-job,' it's about getting accustomed to writing within a schedule
      outside of the day-job. So often, we writers complain of how little time we
      have to write; the fact is, if we want to write, we need to make time for it.
      Pursuing a low-residency MFA best emulates the normal writing life-meeting
      deadlines, coming up with ideas, and sticking to our daily page requirements
      while also managing the day-job, family, friends, and other responsibilities in
      life. That's not to say students in full-residency programs needn't manage
      their time (they do!), but there's something about keeping your 'normal'
      schedule and committing to completing a book-length manuscript without
      the benefit of checking in with a classroom every day. You're on your own.
      You either learn what works for you right away or you find the way to make
      it work, but a low-res program is like working with training wheels for what
      the rest of your writing life will be like, messy schedule and all.

      Some would say that is indeed a disadvantage, that the ever-present
      instructor and classmate camaraderie is necessary for the completion of a
      writing project. If that's the case, that student might be better suited with a
      full-residency where there is more daily interaction. In a low-res program,
      you have this wonderful community available to you, but much of your success
      is on you and whether you can get it done when no one is hovering over you,
      reminding you. Help is there if you need it, but ultimately the writing is up to you.

      Q: What are the most common mistakes prospective students make when
      choosing a program?

      A: I don't know that it's a mistake, since challenge is a great way to open
      doors to opportunity, but it's important to be ready for a master's program.
      What does that mean? I don't know. It's different for everyone. For one person
      that may mean being mentally prepared for the time commitment it will
      require every day, every week, for several years. Someone else may be ready
      time wise, but not artistically--meaning, the MFA should not be where you
      figure out if you want to be a writer. You should already consider yourself a
      writer at heart, just someone who wants to spend an intense period of study
      honing skills and pursuing something more than what he or she can do solo.
      It's key to know a) you can write reasonably well, b) what genre(s) speak to
      you, and c) that you can complete what you set out to do. If you have only
      ever written in your personal notebook, it's time to start polishing your
      work and getting your hands dirty: submitting, being rejected, being
      published, and gathering outside opinions of your work. I do know some
      folks who never wrote anything before the mandatory writing sample that
      accompanies the application. But, we're talking about a pretty serious
      commitment, time wise and financially. Make the investment wisely. Select
      a program that has a sensibility that works for you, whether that means
      heavy on theory or maybe heavy on experimentation. Find the program
      that has a stable of faculty that appeals to you, but don't rely exclusively
      on that since faculty can change frequently. Look for a program that
      includes what you want and a little bit more, so that you feel challenged
      and introduced to things outside your comfort zone. Most important, find
      a program that works for you regardless of where it ranks with others,
      what city or rural area it may be in, or how new or seasoned it is. It's
      your program, your time, your money. Put you and your writing needs
      first and you won't go wrong.

      Q: If applicants have the opportunity to speak with alumnae and/or faculty,
      what questions should they ask?

      A: Speaking with faculty is a great way to find out whom you mesh well with,
      individually and program wide. Ask what the instructor likes to read for fun,
      who her favorite authors are, and why she chose to be a writer. Ask her what
      literary publications she enjoys reading, so you get an idea of her taste. Ask
      her what she's working on now and what's coming up in her publication
      schedule. Talk to grads and see how they felt in their first year, second year,
      and so on. Ask what they liked best, least, and what they wish there was more
      or less of, so you can test out the full experience. One of my favorite
      questions is, "If you knew then what you know now, what would you do
      differently?" Some wouldn't change a thing. Others will have a whole list of
      retrospective insight.

      Q: Getting an MFA does not guarantee that writers will be published. Having
      said that, how might the process of obtaining a low-residency MFA indirectly
      improve their chances of publication?

      A: Any time a writer has an intense peer and mentor review of his or her work
      is a great opportunity for picking up ways to improve. Not only will a student
      gain that editorial eye from faculty mentors, but fellow students can provide
      some valuable insight into a piece that helps make it that much more fluid,
      that much more interesting. Feedback from start to finish means more
      attention to detail and that kind of intensity can lead to more publishable work.

      In addition to the editorial feedback, many programs have agents and editors
      as faculty, guest speakers, or guests for mixers. Having the opportunity to
      meet and mingle with potential recipients of your queries is wonderful. You
      get to ask questions, see what editors are looking for in submissions, and
      make the ever-important first point of contact that can move your work up
      in the slush pile. A program will not hold your hand and an MFA won't seal
      the deal, but it can help make connections and help you improve your work

      Q: Aside from your terrific book, which resources would you recommend to
      writers who want to learn more about low-residency MFA programs?

      A: Thank you for the kind words! You'll know from my book that I believe
      people are the best resource: directors, faculty, current students, and alumni.
      For any given program, these are the best resources available to prospective
      students. No one should ever feel shy about calling a program and asking
      questions. They want to talk to you. They want to show off their
      accomplishments and see if what they can offer appeals to you. It might, it
      might not, but the only way to know is to talk to folks in each of those
      categories. Ask for references for alumni, current students, and faculty. Seek
      them out on your own via social media sites. Find a handful of programs that
      speak to you and meet (in person, via email or phone, etc) as many people as
      possible to get a well-rounded idea if a program works for you.

      Simply by visiting a program website you should be able to see a healthy list
      of recent publications from faculty, alumni, and current students. Read their
      work. Google those folks and email them. Ask them questions. Read each
      program website top to bottom. Read it well. If you have lingering questions,
      ask. Programs are pretty good about getting all the important info online, but
      the contact info is right there for you to use. Use it!

      AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) also has some great
      resources for future, current, and past students. For prospective students,
      there is the annual conference and book fair where programs are on site to
      chat and answer questions. There are numerous articles available to read for
      free on the AWP website (http://www.awpwriter.org/) where a potential
      applicant can read up on low-res programs in general, investigate trends,
      and seek out new programs or newly offered genres at more established
      programs. I really do think, though, that first hand info is the best kind there
      is, so don't be shy about reaching out to others via Facebook or e-mail.
      Grads are usually quite happy to share their past experiences and help you
      determine if their program might be your best fit.

      Q: Do you have upcoming projects that my readers should have on their radar?

      A: Right now I am knee-deep in a creative nonfiction project, a book-length
      collection of personal essays that combines the writing life, memoir, travel,
      and some quirky tales. I'm also tinkering with a project that deals with the
      relationships between writers and how our involvement with one another can
      provide inspiration and creativity when we need it most. In between book
      projects, I'm still writing articles for magazines and working on poems,
      individually and with a book-length collection. So, there's always something in
      the works. I love the variety!

      3. Workshops

      Unicorn Writers' Conference, 4/28


      Before You Send It Out Workshop

      Agents and editors don't have time to read entire manuscripts. So how do they
      choose which writers they want to work with? Proposals. Regardless of whether
      you have a book for adults or children, in fiction or nonfiction, you need a
      strong proposal. But while many writers invest a significant amount of time,
      energy, and money in crafting their manuscripts, few know how to compose
      a proper proposal. In this class, you will learn:

      • Why 90% of submissions are rejected based on the cover letter alone
      • The single most reliable—and free!—resource for finding a good agent
      • Three common, yet easily avoidable, mistakes writers make
      • A proposal's true purpose (hint: it's not to demonstrate talent)

      One-on-One Manuscript Review Sessions

      Marcela Landres will read (but not edit) a sample of your work, then meet
      with you for a one-on-one, 30-minute session. Please note Marcela does
      not edit poetry, children's books (specifically, anything for the middle grade
      or younger reader), works in Spanish, science fiction, and fantasy.


      Before You Send It Out Workshop - 4/28, 10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.

      One-on-One Manuscript Review Sessions - 4/28, by appointment

      WHERE: Saint Clements Castle, 1931 Portland-Cobalt Rd., Portland, CT 06480

      REGISTER: Visit http://tinyurl.com/6phy2r2

      List of upcoming workshops:

      4. Resources
      "I read How Editors Think in one sitting and was engaged from beginning to
      end. It is well written, highly informative, and humorous—I found myself
      laughing out-loud in a few spots! Thanks for sharing the secrets of the trade."
      —Mayra Lazara Dole, author of Down to the Bone

      Inspired by my experience as a former Simon & Schuster editor, How Editors
      Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You reveals what it really takes to get
      published. For more information, visit:
      Scholarship application deadline: March 17
      Dates: July 8-15
      Features workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as
      seminars, readings, and meetings with agents and editors. Participating
      writers include Steve Almond, Aimee Bender, and Antonya Nelson. For more
      information, visit http://www.tinhouse.com/writers-workshop/
      Deadline: March 29
      The Writer's Center offers fellowships to poets, fiction writers, and creative
      nonfiction writers to give readings in Bethesda, MD. They welcome
      submissions from writers of all genres, backgrounds, and experiences in
      the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. For more information, visit http://www.writer.org/page.aspx?pid=928
      Deadline: March 31
      Beltway Poetry Quarterly seeks poems for a special Poets in Federal
      Government Issue. Any poet who is a current or past employee of the
      Federal Government of the United States is eligible. Poems may address:
      colleagues, commuting, conflicts of interest, cubicles, or other related
      topics. For more information, visit
      One-on-One Consultations Deadline: April 4
      Registration deadline: April 27
      Dates: May 5-6
      The conference, for fiction and creative nonfiction writers, features
      craft classes, panel discussions, and meetings with agents and editors.
      Keynote speaker is Julia Alvarez. For more information, visit
      Deadline: April 15
      Passager, a biannual journal published by the University of Baltimore,
      focuses on the passionate imagination of the older writer (those fifty and
      up). Winners receive $500 and publication. Honorable mentions will also be
      published. For more information, visit
      Deadline: April 18
      Pen Parentis offers a prize of $1000 to a fiction writer who is a parent of a
      child under the age of ten years, but there are no style or genre limitations
      on the works of fiction submitted for consideration. Entrants can be at any
      level of their literary careers. For more information, visit
      Deadline: April 20
      Writer's Digest is searching for the best self-published books of the past
      few years. One grand prize winner will be awarded $3000, plus nine
      first-place winners will each win $1000. For more information, visit:
      Deadline: May 15
      Label Me Latina/o Journal seeks scholarly essays focusing on Latino literature,
      as well as creative literary pieces in English, Spanish, or Spanglish. For more
      information, visit http://labelmelatin.com/
      Latina/Chicana Mothering provides a glimpse into the journey of mothering
      within the diverse spectrum of the histories, struggles, and stories of Latinas
      and Chicanas. Here, the Latina/Chicana mothering experience emphasizes
      the need for various conceptualizations of mothering, especially in regard to
      the conditions which shape the lives of Latinas and Chicanas, such as race,
      gender, sexuality, culture, language, social status, religion, kinship,
      location, and migration. The book has four sections: testimonios
      (narratives), links between motherhood and communities, mothering
      challenges, and literary and cultural images of Latina/Chicana mothers. To
      learn more and order copies of this title, please visit
      For media review copies, please contact info@...
      El Gusano de Tequila by Viola Canales is the Spanish translation of the novel
      The Tequila Worm, which won the 2006 Pura Belpré and PEN USA Awards and
      has sold over 50,000 copies: Sofia comes from a family of storytellers. Here
      are her tales of growing up in the barrio, full of the magic and mystery of
      family traditions: making Easter cascarones, celebrating el Día de los
      Muertos, preparing for quinceañera, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento,
      and curing homesickness by eating the tequila worm. When Sofia is singled
      out to receive a scholarship to an elite boarding school, she longs to explore
      life beyond the barrio, even though it means leaving her family to navigate a
      strange world of rich, privileged kids. It's a different mundo, but one where
      Sofia's traditions take on new meaning and illuminate her path. Viola Canales's
      warmhearted novel draws readers into an affectionate and humorous world full
      of memorable characters. For more information, visit
      Please forward Latinidad® widely.
      For more resources, visit http://www.marcelalandres.com/resources.html
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      Visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/marcelalandres/
      "Many published writers don't have an MFA and many don't want one. It's
      okay if you don't want to pursue the degree and it's certainly okay if the
      only reason you do want a creative writing MFA is to fulfill a personal desire
      or lifelong dream. In fact, perhaps the best reason to undertake an MFA is
      exactly that: the desire to dedicate two or three years to improving your
      craft under the guidance of critical—but supportive—voices."
      --Lori A. May, The Low-Residency MFA Handbook

      Latinidad® © 2003 by Marcela Landres

      Marcela Landres
      Author of the e-book "How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You"