Today we’re publishing the second part of our interview with Converse College MFA Director, Rick Mulkey. In this section, Mulkey goes beyond the details our program and talks about the future of writing and the obstacles emerging writers face. And don’t forget if you like what you read, we’d love for you to join us in January 2018 for our next residency. The application deadline is October 1st, so don’t miss out!
Writing, Career, and the Converse Low Residency MFA: A Conversation with the Director Part II
Q: There are a lot of differences for a writer starting out today and a writer starting out 30 or 40 years ago. How do you prepare writers for navigating the professional marketplace and the publishing world?
Mulkey: My first response, and students don’t always want to hear this, is to focus on the
writing, focus on the work. It is more important than anything else one can do. If a student writer works hard at the writing every day, developing craft, reading other writers closely and obsessively, then the career part will not be as hard as most individuals think it is. Having said that, however, the minute any of our faculty discover a student writer doing something exceptional, we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure good people know about this talented writing student. Our faculty want to be mentors who help a writer of talent become known. This, of course, is why it is important to have the kind of faculty we have here, professors who are both good classroom teachers, but also active writers who not only have a relationship with other writers, but with a whole community of people in the writing and publishing world, including editors and agents. Some individuals might think if you come to a college town in South Carolina, you are going to be cut off from that literary world, but because our faculty writers are so active in that national and international writing community, and because our program provides access to editors and agents at each residency session, our students have access to the publishing world in ways many programs simply don’t. Many of our students leave the program having signed with an agent they met with at a program residency session, or with a book deal or other publishing opportunity that started because of the recommendation of a faculty member.
The program also does an outstanding job of connecting those students to the professional, business-oriented worlds of writing and publishing. We work with our students on internship opportunities with magazines and nationally recognized independent presses. Our student/alumni edited national literary journal, South 85 Journal, provides valuable training and opportunities to our graduate students. Plus, as I mentioned previously, we offer a couple of teaching assistantships each year, providing traditional and online classroom teaching experience. And, of course, because we are a low residency MFA program, these are all opportunities that our students have access to while working and writing from their own homes. So our students in the Midwest, New England, and Pacific Northwest have the same opportunities as local and regional students in the Southeast. None of these activities will necessarily make one a great writer, but these opportunities help the students understand something of the professional world they may enter, and often these internships, and editing and teaching opportunities result in jobs after graduation.
Q: What are some of the obstacles that stand in a writer’s way?
Mulkey: Well, most prospective student writers, like so many of us today, certainly don’t read enough. I can’t stress how important it is for them to read regularly and to read widely and critically. No one can be a successful writer without reading actively and obsessively. In this age of technology where tweets replace newspapers and books, it is too easy to overlook the importance of informed, careful reading. Students should know the best contemporary writers, but they should also know that body of literature that precedes them. The best student writers I’ve known have always been some of the best and most avid readers, too. Beyond that, however, the greatest obstacle is lack of perseverance. Desire and energy make up for many shortcomings in terms of natural ability. Yes, it helps to have talent, but willpower and drive are what carries one through those periods of isolation in the second year of work on that novel, or the thirtieth revision of that poem, and through those disappointing rejections that inevitably show up in the mailbox. But real writers persevere through those obstacles. The best advice I can give is if you can’t imagine living a life without writing and reading, then put all your energy and enthusiasm into doing it, and write every day.
To see Part I, click here.