Fall Update: Hurricane Relief, Facebook Live Event, and MFA Instagram Goes New York

If you notice the blog has been quiet lately that’s only because we have been busy in the MFA office reading applications and getting reading for the swiftly approaching January residency.  (No really, it’ll be here so fast.)  But quiet on the blog does NOT mean quiet everywhere, and we’ve got lots of exciting things to tell you about.

First and foremost, we are grateful that our students and alumni that were in the path of Harvey and Irma are safe.  But that doesn’t mean that they (and many others) don’t still need our help.  That’s why we will be holding a special hurricane relief reading/fundraiser in conjunction with Ciclops Cyderi and Brewery’s Pints and Poets reading series.  So come have a drink, listen to some great readings, and support a cause that’s close to all our hearts. All donations will given to CAN’d Aid Foundation by Oskar Blues, an organization that provides clean drinking water for those affected by the hurricanes.  The event is free, but donations are appreciated.
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And just in case you don’t follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and you didn’t know about our Facebook Live event, I’d like to report it was a great success.  As of today, we’ve had over 300 views of our information session that was held as a live streaming event here in the MFA office.  If you missed it, don’t worry because you can still view it on our Facebook page any time you want.  Many thanks to our fearless leader, Rick Mulkey, for coming in during his sabbatical to help field questions and talk about the program. Also much gratitude to alumnus, Travis Burnham, for making time for us on a Saturday morning to help with the event.  Of course, I’m not surprised by his willingness to jump in and lend a hand as, apparently, it’s just what our alumni do.  We had current students and alumni both, answering questions posted in the comments section faster that Rick, Travis, or I could get to them.  We are grateful for our MFA family, and we’d love to have you join our tight-knit community.  The application deadline for the January residency is October 1, 2017.

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Have you checked out our Instagram account yet?  So far we’ve featured everything from faculty to craft books, campus pics to bookish art.  And we’re always looking for new things to feature, so be sure to send us your pics of your semester reading or your new favorite craft book or your pick for the Man Booker prize.  In the meantime, the Converse MFA Instagram is going to be taking a brief trip to the Big Apple at the beginning of October, so be on the lookout for all things bookish in NYC.  (You know there’ll be a trip to the Strand in there.)

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Until next time, keep writing!

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Guest Blogger: A Poet (and Alumna) Bares Her Soul

Once again, one of our own, alumna, Gabrielle Brant Freeman, has graciously shared with our blog.  I have to say that I’ve yet to be turned down by a student or alum.  The Converse MFA family is strong.  Now sit back and read this beautiful piece by Gabby, and then get your application in by October 1, 2017, so you can change your life as well.

Baring your soul, changing your life, and other consequences of the MFA

by Gabrielle Brant Freeman

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Almost exactly seven years ago, I was sitting in my office at the university where I teach freshman composition trying to decide between applying for PhD programs or applying for MFA programs. My office mate kept trying to steer me towards an MFA. She had recently completed hers in YA literature, and she had only glowing reviews of her program. “Gabrielle, it will literally change your life,” she said. I thought she had to be exaggerating, but ultimately the low-residency model worked best for me. I applied to Converse and got in.

Flash forward seven years. My life is, quite literally, completely changed.

After my first workshop resulted in me throwing away every poem in my packet, I realized that I had been writing, what little writing I actually did, without purpose. I had been writing because I liked the idea of writing, not because I had to write. I realized I had been holding back.

For this blog post, Sarah asked me to write about how I mix visual art, poetry, prose, and music. To address that, I have to say that seven years ago, I had painted, but I didn’t paint. I had written, but I didn’t write. I wasn’t yet brave enough to put my whole self on the page or the canvas. Giving other people a window into your soul is a scary thing. Even if the poem or story isn’t about you, it comes from you. It’s a part of you. It belongs to you. Until it doesn’t. Until you put it out into the world to be judged.

I decided that first semester that I was going to stop worrying about that judgment. I was going to take risks. I wrote a poem about women and sexuality called “Whore” that I, admittedly, wasn’t ready to read out loud until last summer. I wrote a poem about a lesbian version of the Orpheus myth incorporating opera which I sing at readings. I created and participated in public writing and art challenges for myself using social media not only to get drafts down on the page, but also to keep my sense of vulnerability open. Writing or painting or singing for an audience, no matter how real or perceived, makes me accountable. Someone at Converse once said that an audience chooses to spend some of their limited time listening to you, reading your words. Don’t waste their time.

Right now, in part because of the events of the past year, both public and private, I am writing about women in America and the restrictions and constraints we live with every day. These poems are difficult for me to write, my brain keeps saying you really shouldn’t write that, and that lets me know that I am taking necessary risks. I have done some photography and painting on this subject, but it is mostly coming out as writing right now. And that is possibly the biggest change I have made. I trust my instincts, and I act on them.

If something comes into my mind as an image, I paint, draw, or take pictures. If it comes as a line, idea, or concept, I generally take to the page. I resist the voice in my head that says you can’t do this. You shouldn’t do this. And when it’s done, I send it out.

In the past seven years, I have rediscovered my creativity and my passion. I have given myself permission to be creative, to be passionate. To be my authentic self. And, oh yes, I have changed. Baring your soul will do that.

b&wsmileheadshotGabrielle Brant Freeman’s poetry has been published in many journals, most recently in Barrelhouse, Cider Press Review, Grist, One, Rappahannock Review, storySouth, and Waxwing. She was nominated twice for the Best of the Net, and she was a 2014 finalist. Gabrielle won the 2015 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition. Press 53 published her first book, When She Was Bad, in 2016. Gabrielle earned her MFA through Converse College. Read her poems and more at http://gabriellebrantfreeman.squarespace.com/.

Facebook Live Info Session/AMA!

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Every day we get questions: How does the low-residency program work?  Where will I stay?  Do I have to be published? Am I too old?  Plus LOTS more question besides.  Well, on Saturday, September 16, at 11 am, you can have all these questions answered and more during our very first Facebook Live Info Session.  If you have already “liked” our FB page, a notification should pop up on your smartphone when we go live.  If you haven’t liked our FB page, then what are you waiting for?  Go to http://www.facebook.com/ConverseMFA and click on the “Like” button.  If for some reason you can’t watch us live (and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t immediately clear your schedule for this 😉 ), no worries because the entire video will remain up on the FB page for later viewing, and you can always private message us your questions on FB, or you can email me at sarah.gray@converse.edu, or call 864-596-9550.

While we have had information sessions in the past on campus, this time we wanted to broaden our reach, make it so that people who don’t live close enough to drive here for an hour-long session can have the same experience as locals.  I am an alumna of the program, a member of the very first graduating class, in fact.  That meant that when I was accepted into the MFA program here, I didn’t fully know how things would work and what a residency would look like even as I signed on the dotted line.  So I’m very happy to be able to talk about the program and answer all the questions just generally have a good time chatting with you all.  I hope to see you there!

Sarah Gray, Associate Director