Celebrating Converse MFA Alumna, Sonja Condit’s 2nd Book Release, The Banshee of Machrae, (Excerpt Included)

bansheeofmachrae1: An Old Man in a Quiet Room
“Come and see,” Jessa said. She took my hand and led me into her great-grandfather’s room.

Jessa Machrae was my best friend. She knew things. She ate candy every day. I followed her everywhere. In the first week of October 2006, when we were seven, Jessa’s great-grandfather had been dying for as long as I’d known her, which was three months and felt like my whole life. He was a-hundred-and-one years old. Mrs. Machrae said, “If you two live to be a hundred and one, you’ll live in three centuries,” because we’d been born in 1999. If he wanted to live in three centuries, Jessa’s brother Kalen would have to live to a hundred and four. He only made it to nineteen.

When we first moved in across Fenchurch Road from the Machraes in July, Jessa came over the road—crossing the road alone, which I was not allowed to do—and introduced herself by saying, “This is my house.”

“It’s ours,” I said, but I wasn’t sure; in my life so far, we’d moved eight times, sometimes unexpectedly in the middle of the night, and my father’s car had been repossessed. I had no way of knowing what was mine, and here was Jessa in the sunlight, with purple lights shimmering in her black hair, staking her claim.

The house was over a century old and had been built in stages, new rooms tacked on to old. There was a window in the brick wall between the kitchen and the dining room, and you couldn’t find a truly flat floor in the whole place. Wherever you set a marble down, it would quiver, then tremble, then wobble, then roll toward one wall or another. If you rolled it back, it would stop as if caughtunder someone’s thumb, and then after a while it would roll back to you; if you squinted, you could almost make out a small body crouched in the swirl of day-shining dust waiting for you to take another turn. Infinite patience in a simple game. My mother took the marble away, Emerson, don’t summon what you don’t understand: anything can happen. My parents had let me choose which of the two smaller bedrooms I wanted, and I chose the one on the corner because it had two windows. Jessa had been born in that room, she said.

“My house,” Jessa said. “Only we’re in the new house now. We can throw you out whenever we want.”

“No you can’t.”

“We can get the sheriff to throw you out and dump your stuff on the side of the road, and anybody who drives by can stop and take whatever they want.”

“No, no, no—”

“Nothing here is yours,” Jessa said. “Show me your toys.” She led me into the house and I followed her, hiccupping at the top of every breath and wiping my tears into my hair, as she prowled from room to room until she found mine. “How many Barbies you got?” she asked.

“My mom doesn’t believe in Barbies.”

“That’s stupid.”

My toys lived in a cedar trunk hand-carved by a friend of my mother’s, an amateur carpenter who never quite mastered the square edge. The whole thing tilted to the left and the lid didn’t close. Jessa dumped everything on the floor—the handmade blocks, the unpainted wooden train, the rag dolls made of actual rags—and stirred the mess with a queenly, contemptuous toe. “Pathetic,” she said. But she’d come this far; she couldn’t leave empty-handed. She took one of the rag dolls and said, “You give me this and I’ll let you keep the rest. You can come and look at my toys, but you aren’t allowed to touch them.”

Three months later, half her Barbies had found their way to my house, and once a week my mother repatriated them, muttering all the while about genital mutilation and footbinding. Jessa’s mother fed me Popsicles and Rice Krispies Treats and hot dogs off the grill. Her great-grandfather said call me Granda and told me all the Machrae stories, as if I were a new Machrae sprung fully formed from the earth.

He told me about Lilly who drowned with her baby at the bridge, and whose ghost would eat any traveler who was so foolish as to stop for her. He told me about his half-brother who worked in the dye house at Roberts Mill and accidentally cut off his own thumb with a hatchet while chopping firewood . . . and how his thumb-bones were dyed blue, and his flesh was purple at the bone. He told me about wild animals that weren’t around much anymore, like panthers and lizardmen and the black owl, which was big enough to carry off a middling dog, and called like a woman wailing in the dark. He showed me the scar on his arm from the time a coyote bit him, and the scar on his ankle from when he stepped into the trap he had set for that very same coyote, which had taken the trap in its teeth and moved it on purpose into Granda’s path.

I never knew my real grandparents. Eldred Machrae was the only old person I’d ever met. He smelled strongly of peppermint with an undertone of eucalyptus, a smell so aggressively clean I was always sniffing for something horrible underneath. His hair was thick, black, and coarse, with only a few white strands around his ears. He could stick out his tongue through the gap in his lower teeth, a trick which never failed to make Jessa shriek with laughter, though it scared and revolted me.

“Come and see,” Jessa said in October, three months after we moved to Roberts Mill. “Mommy left me alone with Granda and I think he’s dead.”

His room was still and dim. The body in the bed seemed to have shriveled. I took a step into the room and the hand of vertigo whirled me up and down and backwards all at once. I caught myself on the doorframe. For a moment, I was my own small self and another self, two feet taller, sixty pounds heavier; it was Granda’s room and someone else’s room (whose, I could not say); emotions blew through me, moving me though they were not my own. Shame, sadness, grief. Then I slammed back into my body, electric in every pore. The blanket was drawn over the face, above the eyebrows, and the wild black hair sprayed over the pillow. I smelled mint and eucalyptus. I smelled, very clearly, that scent I had searched for all those months, living flesh already rotten, human waste, bleach, lemon. One breath and it was gone.

“Touch him,” Jessa said.

“I don’t want to.”

“Go on. He won’t bite.”

I took another step toward the bed. “Let’s tell my mom. She’ll call someone.”
Jessa snorted and I flushed. Hadn’t I learned yet that let’s tell my mom was never the answer? I took another step, and now I could see the band of golden skin between the blanket and the black hair. Death had smoothed the deep lines of Granda’s face. I touched a lock of hair. It felt no different than anyone’s hair. I touched the forehead.

I had just time to think this is a dead body I’m touching a dead body he’s dead when it happened. A hand snaked from the blanket, the body flung the covers aside, and Jessa’s brother Kalen grabbed my shoulders and pulled me toward him. He crossed his eyes and shouted, “Got you now!” and he and Jessa burst out laughing.

This time, I didn’t cry. All the blood in my body turned to light and I hummed with power. It sparkled in myfingertips. “I hope you die,” I said. “I hope you die, I hope you die.” Immediately I was sorry, and I gabbled as quickly as I could, before the power faded, “No, don’t all the way die . . .”

Eldred Machrae died two days after Thanksgiving, but it took ten years for my curse to work its way into the world. I did it. I said those things. It’s my fault: everything.

Sonja-Coppenbarger-300x300Sonja Condit is a graduate of the Converse Low-Residency MFA program.  This is her second novel, the first being, Starter Housepublished by Harper Collins.  Her latest book, The Banshee of Machraeis published by SFK Press.

 

 

Be on the lookout for an upcoming blog post interview with Sonja about her new book and how she made it from MFA student to twice published author.

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MFA Admission Open House Event

MFA Admission Open House

We are so happy to announce our latest MFA Admissions Open House Event!  Please stop by for more information about our exciting and innovative program.  Alumni are welcome to drop in as well to bring along interested friends or just offer a little perspective to our visitors who want to learn more about what it’s like to be in a low-residency program.  Either way, we can’t wait to see you there!

January/Spring 2019 Semester Application Deadline Approaching

63EDF51A-CCA4-4271-A691-031ABDC2D044The Fall semester has begun here at Converse, and everyone is back to work.  The summer-empty parking lot is now at capacity, phones are ringing, keyboards are clicking, and everyone has that shell-shocked What-happened-to-my-summer look.

EXCEPT in the MFA office.

 

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Inquires, applications, and phone calls are rolling in, and we get excited about each and every one.  We can’t wait to meet our next batch of poets and prose writers, memoirists and YA authors.  So if you want to join us in January 2019, be sure to get your application materials sent in by October 1, 2018. I mean, where else can you have a New Year’s Eve reading that includes party hats and noisemakers?

While we’ve mentioned it in a previous blog, it seems appropriate to remind everyone about our new second genre option.  Here’s what our Director, Rick Mulkey, had to say about our exciting addition:

Up until now, if you were pursuing an MFA through our program, you had to choose one genre for your entire course of study.  While you certainly got to dip your toes into other genres during the craft lectures and readings, a poet who likes to write short stories as well, didn’t have an option to workshop those stories.  So, applicants to our program had to pick a direction and stick with it.

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We are now offering a second option.  For those students wishing to pursue a minor in a second genre (fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction), they can now choose to study an additional semester in a second genre.  Here is how it will work:

The second genre option (minor) reflects the MFA program’s continued mission to develop strong writers and highly prepared higher education faculty.  Many college-level creative writing programs and departments today are seeking writing faculty with backgrounds in writing and teaching in multiple genres. The newly approved second genre option provides enrolled Converse MFA students the opportunity to study a second genre in addition to the major genre of study. Students applying for approval to study in a second genre will enroll in an additional semester in the MFA program and complete an additional 12 semester hours.  For students enrolling in the second genre option, the total number of graduate hours would increase from 48 hours to 60 credit hours. This new option gives our students who are interested and equipped for graduate level work in a genre outside of their primary genre of study an opportunity to develop as a more well-rounded author, and will help our graduates excel in an ever more competitive publishing marketplace and in the academic job market.

Second genre students who are admitted will complete a full residency and mentoring semester in one of the three second genre options (fiction, poetry, or nonfiction). During the second-genre residency/semester which will take place in the student’s 3rd semester, students participate in the residency workshop in their second genre of interest (fiction, poetry, or nonfiction); and during the mentoring semester immediately following that residency, students complete creative and critical craft work in that second genre under the guidance of a mentor with a specialty in that genre. Again, this option adds one residency and one semester (a total of 12 credit hours) to a student’s total program of study and earns the student recognition in a second genre in poetry, fiction, or nonfiction which is documented on the final transcript. The second genre emphasis will lengthen the program for those second genre option students from four full semesters to five full semesters (including residency sessions at the beginning of each semester). The five-day, Graduating Residency requirements will not change, but will continue as usual and will follow the student’s final creative thesis semester.

Since it is highly important for students to first establish themselves and make positive progress in the MFA program and in the study of their primary genre before broadening out, enrolled MFA students are eligible for the second genre study option only during their third residency/mentoring semester (in other words, before the Critical Essay semester; both the Critical Essay and the Creative Thesis must be completed in the student’s primary genre in the final two semesters of the program).

Second Semester Converse MFA students intending to enroll in a second genre may apply for admission in a secondary genre residency/semester by one of the following dates: February 15 for students enrolling in their third semester during the summer residency/fall mentoring semester, or October 1 for students enrolling in their third semester during the January residency/spring mentoring semester. To apply for the second genre option, students submit a writing sample in the genre of interest (10 pages of poetry or 15 pages of nonfiction or fiction) along with a brief cover letter indicating the student’s desire to study a specific second genre. This is sent to the MFA director who then consults with relevant faculty. Director and faculty approval is required for this option. Students are expected to write at an appropriate level for graduate study in that second genre.

The MFA faculty are very excited to offer this new opportunity to our students. While not all of our students will be interested or prepared for second genre studies, and many students will recognize that focusing on a single genre will be their best path, we are pleased that this is now an opportunity for our students who have the ability and desire to pursue graduate studies in two genres.

Like I said, it’s an exciting time to apply to the Converse College Low-Residency Program.  So send us your best writing because we can’t wait to read it.

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Summer 2018 Residency Recap (Photos)

With the new school year and application deadline (October 1st, 2018) quickly approaching, now seems the perfect time to share some photos from this summer’s MFA residency.  After all, if you are considering the Converse MFA program for the January/Spring 2019 Residency/Semester, you want to get an idea of what it looks like to work with your peers and mentors for ten days.  So without further ado, enjoy!

First, the craft lectures:

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Featured lecturers in these photos include visiting writer, Randall Kenan, and faculty members, Sheila O’Connor and Leslie Pietrzyk.

Then the readings:

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Featured here: Faculty members, Marlin Barton, Sheila O’Connor,  and Susan Tekulve.  Visiting Writers: Randall Kenan, Juan Morales, and Tessa Fontaine.  Alumni: Cinelle Barnes and Kathleen Nalley.

And of course, we can’t forget the best night of all….the graduation celebration!

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We are so proud of our graduates, L to R: Susanne Parker, Christopher Menezes, Russell Carr, and Joshua Springs.

And this year we added a new feature to our residency, Facebook Live streamings of our readings, which can still be viewed on our Facebook page.  These Facebook LIve events were made possible with the help of alumna and poet, Clara Jane Hallar, who donated our tripod, and student, Aaron Jenson, who provided logistical support.

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It was a tough job, but somebody had to man the camera.

So that’s it for Summer 2018.  If you’re as excited about the January Residency as we are and want to join us, don’t forget applications for all genres (fiction, poetry, YA, and nonfiction) are due October 1, 2018. We want to see you there.

South 85 Flash Fiction Contest and Jan/Spring Application Deadline reminder…aka Summer is almost over

IMG_5345Residency is over, summer is over halfway gone, and the new semester is just around the corner.  Things are quiet in the MFA office right now, but that’s about to change as we gear up for our next round of applications for the January/Spring 2019 Residency/Semester.  If you want to join us in January, our application deadline is October 1, 2018.

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In addition to our upcoming application deadline, we have a flash fiction contest running over at our online literary journal, South 85.  They have revived the Julia Mood Peterkin Award, and submissions are due by August 15.  So hurry and get your flash fiction sent in for a chance to win the $500 prize.

And lest you think our summer residency is already forgotten, fear not.  Look out soon for a blog post featuring pictures from our 10-day June writing extravaganza.  So many terrific craft lectures and readings, and so much fun seeing all our beloved students (and some alumni as well.)  To quote one of my favorite movies, “If I didn’t work here, I’d pay to get in!”

Until then, keep writing.

P.S. South 85 now has an Instagram account.  Be sure to check it out and click follow for some great writing, pictures, and updates about the Flash Fiction contest!

Summer Residency 2018 – FB LIVE Reading Schedule

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Summer Residency 2018 is here!  Beginning Thursday, May 31, we will all be busy with workshops and craft lectures, readings and fellowship.  The best part is that this time, we’re going to share some of the residency excitement with you.  Over the next week, we will be streaming portions of our evening faculty readings on our Facebook page via Facebook Live.  If you wish to be notified when we go live, make sure you head over to our page and click “Like.”  For those of you who can’t watch live, the videos will remain on our Facebook page for viewing at your convenience.  Below is a schedule of readers with approximate times for their live stream. (It may vary slightly, as we have two readers each night.)

Thursday, May 31, 2018 – Leslie Pietrzyk (fiction) 7:30ish-8:30 pm

 

Friday, June 1, 2018 – Susan Tekulve (fiction, nonfiction) and Denise Duhamel (poetry) 7:30-8:30

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Saturday, June 2, 2018 – Rick Mulkey (poetry) 7:30-8:30

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Sunday, June 3, 2018 – Tessa Fontaine (nonfiction) 7:30-8:30

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Monday, June 4, 2018 – Sheila O’Connor (YA) and Juan Morales (poetry) 7:30-8:30

 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018 – Megan Hansen Shepherd (YA) 7:30-8:30)

 

As you can see, we have a great lineup of faculty and visiting faculty readers, so don’t miss this opportunity to hear them read their own work.  And don’t forget, if you miss the live stream, you can always check back later to see these talented writers that make our residencies so great.

 

Students Speak: Susanne Parker (YA)

This week’s featured student is, soon-to-be Young Adult graduate, Susanne Parker.  Susanne is a local student and has had the opportunity to participate in our Teaching Assistantship.  She is a talented writer, but also just a lovely person to be around.  We’re definitely going to miss her smiling face come January, but we can’t wait to see what’s next for Susanne.  Here’s what she has to say about her time in the Converse College MFA Low-Residency Program.

 

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Tell us about your creative work—do you have a preferred genre or aesthetic? Are there forms you want to try?

I came into the program from a playwriting and dramaturgical background, without much experience in writing prose fiction. I knew I wanted to write for young adults, because they’re raw, dynamic, and hungry. Books make such an impact at that age, before lifelong attitudes solidify. But I was also curious to try my hand at writing for adults. Luckily, my first semester mentor’s advice was not to worry about the age of my audience, but to write the stories that spoke to me. I dabbled in short stories that entire first semester, and it strengthened me as a writer to work in this concise form. At the beginning of my second semester, I began a longer project, a short novel with a young protagonist, which has become my creative thesis.

 Why did you decide to pursue your MFA? What did you find most attractive about our low residency program and the low residency format

 I learned about the Converse program from a banner I saw on the college gates as I drove by on my way to work. I’d always enjoyed writing, and mentors said I had a knack for it. I was at a point in my life and career that allowed flexibility to pursue further studies. I believe we need to be good stewards of our gifts, putting work into them so they can develop fully. So applying for me was an act of stewardship.

In what ways do you hope your writing will be further developed by our Converse core faculty, visiting faculty, and students? Do you have any writing goals you hope to accomplish?

This is my last semester, and I plan to milk it for insight and growth. The Converse faculty have helped with this process by recommending great books, sharing their own experiences, providing constructive criticism, and teaching targeted craft lectures during the residencies. Currently, I have the luxury of concentrating on the revision process, which I’m learning is just as intensive and rewarding (if not more so) than the writing itself. I hope to have a solid second draft of my short novel by the time I graduate in June. And of course, my longer-term goal is to get published!

In addition to your work on writing craft, how has the Converse program helped you in terms of navigating the publishing marketplace?

My faculty advisors recommended I focus on honing my craft before worrying about the publishing market, so I haven’t yet taken advantage of Converse’s offerings in this area. But usually each residency features a visiting agent, who gives a talk on the business aspects of writing and meets individually with students for pitches or just for a friendly chat. I’ve also seen classmates get published after learning about opportunities from fellow students. The networking opportunities are a great strength of this program.

Why would you recommend the Converse College Low Residency Program to an MFA applicant? 

There are a lot of great MFA programs out there, and prospective students need to decide for themselves which are best suited to their goals and needs. Converse was the right choice for me because it was local and affordable, with a flexible schedule and supportive faculty. I haven’t regretted my decision; I’ve grown as a writer in ways I couldn’t have grown on my own. The deadlines kept me on track, and I reached a long-time goal of writing a novel. I also had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course, and when I graduate in June, I’ll have credentials for employment at the college level.

 

Thanks, Susanne, for such a lovely description of our program.  We are proud you are a part of our MFA family.

Students Speak: Christopher Menezes (Poetry)

Today we feature one of our poetry students who will be completing his Master’s of Fine Arts this June 2018, Christopher Menezes.  We look forward to his craft lecture and final reading and can’t wait to see what he does next.

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Tell us about your creative work—do you have a preferred genre or aesthetic? Are there forms you want to try?

My main genre is poetry. I have written some fiction and am interested in both non-fiction and fiction. Through my time at Converse, I have learned how non-fiction and poetry share a common aesthetic, as does fiction, just one more step removed, which has peaked my interest in all genres really.

Why did you decide to pursue your MFA? What did you find most attractive about our low residency program and the low residency format? 

It was always a goal of mine to pursue an MFA for a few reasons. I really wanted to become a better writer, and I wanted to produce a book of poetry, but I didn’t know how to. I also wanted to teach writing at a university and knew getting an MFA would be the next step towards that. I was working full-time, running my own business, publishing community magazines in Durham, NC, and I couldn’t just step away from that to become a full-time student. The low-residency format allowed me the flexibility to pursue my dreams without checking out of reality. I am a very self-motivated, driven person, and l knew that I would get out of the program exactly what I put into it. I knew I could do the work on my own, and I loved the idea of working one-on-one with a successful writer/professor. I would get all of their attention and not risk getting lost in a classroom. What attracted me to Converse was how reasonably priced it was and how close it was to where I lived. However, I was very ignorant about the literary world and did not know how amazing the faculty actually was. After having gone through the program, as a fourth-semester student, I am very grateful to have been mentored by such fantastic writers and professors. ChrisMeneses

In what ways do you hope your writing will be further developed by our Converse core faculty, visiting faculty, and students? Do you have any writing goals you hope to accomplish?

I hoped my writing would be further developed by being exposed to an eclectic range of styles and theories from an array of authors. I definitely received that. My writing goals are to continue developing my craft through reading and learning from other writers. I also want to continue to write and put together poetry books. I feel like the low-residency program at Converse has equipped me to do that.

In addition to your work on writing craft, how has the Converse program helped you in terms of navigating the publishing marketplace?

The knowledge that the faculty has shared in regards to the publishing market, and their experience with it, was very enlightening. Also, my experience working with South 85 Literary Journal gave me a sneak peak as to what it’s like to be on the other side of the submission process. I feel very confident in how to proceed with the publishing marketplace from here.

Why would you recommend the Converse College Low Residency Program to an MFA applicant?

It empowers you and teaches you how to incorporate a life of writing into your existing life. You don’t have to sacrifice time away from your career or family to pursue your dreams of writing. You can also make valuable connections, not just with the faculty, but with your peers. The most valuable thing I received from the program was the relationships I made with other writers in my class. We can continue supporting each other, critiquing and workshopping our writing long after the program has ended.

 

Thanks to Chris for sharing his experience with the Converse Low-Residency MFA Program.  You will be greatly missed!

 

Students Speak: Russell Carr (Fiction)

This week’s student is soon-to-be graduate, Russell Carr, from our fiction group.  We are so glad Russ chose our program, and he will be greatly missed as he goes off into the world to write wonderful things.

Thus far in our series, we’ve had first and second semester students, so we thought it was time to hear from somebody who knows the ropes, who’s done the work, and who can speak to what the entire program has to offer.  We couldn’t think of a better example of a graduating fiction student than Russ.

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Tell us about your creative work—do you have a preferred genre or aesthetic? Are there forms you want to try?

So far, I’m writing short stories.  I’ve always enjoyed them, and they are a great way to learn how to shape a story.  They’ve been on various subjects, but mostly related to my experiences in the military and as a physician.  I’ve written some set in the Iraq War, some about a psychiatrist’s experiences in a hospital in America.  A few are not connected to me at all, but explore experiences I’m curious about.  Some of the writers I idolize influence my style:  Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolf, Anton Chekhov.

I’m also interested in creative nonfiction, and have recently been approved to pursue a minor in it at Converse, which is a great opportunity to me.

 

Why did you decide to pursue your MFA? What did you find most attractive about our low residency program and the low residency format? 

I’ve always valued education.  When I finished college in the mid-1990s, I don’t think there were many MFA programs.  At the time, I also mistakenly thought that writers teach themselves to write from reading literature.  I had no idea how important a community is for becoming a good writer.  I think, without the structure of a program back then, it was easier for me to give up and put off writing to pursue something that seemed safer, like medicine.

Then when I started getting serious about writing again three or four years ago, I tried to teach myself but found it frustrating.  There’s so much information out there.  It was hard to determine who knew what they were talking about.  I was also realizing that, like medicine, you have to learn how to do it from experts.  I participated in a few workshops and recognized that I got much better feedback from experienced, published writers.  I wanted more sustained interactions with them to critique my writing and also to guide me toward the best ways to improve.  I read more contemporary writers and realized that almost all of them graduated from an MFA program.  That’s when I started looking into them.

I chose a low residency programs because I’m a physician with a full-time position and a wife and child.  I needed something with flexible hours that would not require me to give up my main source of income or disrupt my family.

 

In what ways do you hope your writing will be further developed by our Converse core faculty, visiting faculty, and students? Do you have any writing goals you hope to accomplish?

I’ve learned from this experience at Converse that I cannot write alone.  I need good feedback.  I hope to continue to get that feedback from faculty and peers through semester writing assignments and residency workshops.  I also hope to develop close friendships so that we can support each other through the difficulties of sustained writing and so that we can form a safe community to share our work after graduation.RussEdited

 

In addition to your work on writing craft, how has the Converse program helped you in terms of navigating the publishing marketplace?

I’ve found that all of the Converse faculty are open to questions about publishing.  They describe pitfalls they’ve experienced and ways that worked well.  The faculty are approachable in informal settings throughout the residencies, such as meals or after readings in the evenings.  Those are great times to ask them what they think works or their opinions about publishing.  It is also nice to watch them promote their own work.

The program also brings an agent each semester to the residency who lectures on publishing tips and interacting with agents.  Students in their second year can meet with her individually to pitch a project or to ask questions.  I met with one to ask questions about the timing of short story publication in relation to seeking an agent for larger works, and she graciously offered her perspective.

Why would you recommend the Converse College Low Residency Program to an MFA applicant?

Everyone at Converse is supportive. No one there is competitive with each other. I’ve made great friends who are also interested in making long-term connections with other writers. All students and faculty are accepted for where they are as writers and everyone wants to help you improve.  The faculty are all very approachable and take their work with you seriously.  I also like that you as the student design your coursework.  With your mentor’s input, you choose what books you will read and what your third semester critical paper will be.  For mine, I wanted to return to my college major in Russian and examine what can be learned about writing craft that doesn’t translate well in Anton Chekhov’s short stories.  My mentor embraced the idea.  I’ve found that the faculty are excellent teachers.  They challenge students to do their best, to pursue what is risky for them.

Students Speak: Christine Schott (YA)

This week’s featured student, is first semester Young Adult (YA) student, Christine Schott.  Already a professor and an expert on medieval studies, Christine joined our YA program in January, and we couldn’t be happier to add her to our MFA family.

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Tell us about your creative work—do you have a preferred genre or aesthetic? Are there forms you want to try?

I’m a bit omnivorous at this point, still trying to find the genre that best suits me.  I like everything from historical fiction to high fantasy, though I would love to find out if I’m capable of doing magical realism, but I haven’t found the right story to tell yet.

Why did you decide to pursue your MFA? What did you find most attractive about our low residency program and the low residency format? 

I teach literature at the college level, and I sort of fell into teaching the creative writing classes as well.  I was surprised to discover that they became some of my favorite courses to teach, so I started looking into MFA programs because I wanted to have the professional qualification to give my students the best education in writing that I’m capable of giving them.  And it had to be low residency because I wanted to keep my job while I was learning how to do it better!  Converse offered the best opportunities for the best value of all the programs I looked at.

In what ways do you hope your writing will be further developed by our Converse core faculty, visiting faculty, and students? Do you have any writing goals you hope to accomplish?

I just want to learn everything!  I love hearing people talk about how they approach their craft–both professionals and fellow students–and I greatly value the feedback I get from workshops and mentoring.  After pursuing writing as a hobby for so long, essentially in a vacuum where my only reader was myself, I can’t express how amazing it is to be surrounded by people who not only love the craft but want to help me improve.

In addition to your work on writing craft, how has the Converse program helped you in terms of navigating the publishing marketplace?

This is only my first semester, so publishing isn’t my primary goal just now, but my own undergraduate students often ask me about publishing, and I’ve never had good answers to offer them.  But even after one residency, I’ve already had conversations about publishing that have dramatically expanded my understanding of the marketing side of writing.

Why would you recommend the Converse College Low Residency Program to an MFA applicant?

I was amazed at my first residency when I met the faculty and my fellow students, who came from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, and who were all eager to give me much-needed advice and encouragement.  It’s an ideal environment for growing as a writer and as a member of the writing community.

Thanks so much, Christine!  We are so excited to have you with us, and we appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions.  Check back next week for another edition of Students Speak, where we will feature a different genre, a different semester, a different student’s perspective.