Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Visiting The Red Earth MFA at OKCU

I’m finally caught up just enough that I can take a few moments to share my experience in visiting one of the newest – and hottest – low-residency MFA programs. When I met Danita Berg at the 2010 AWP Conference and Bookfair in Denver CO, it was evident how excited the then soon-to-be Director was about the launch of Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA. We immediately clicked and kept in contact since that fateful meeting and I was ecstatic when Danita invited me as a guest speaker and workshop presenter for the inaugural residency. 

Let me tell you, visiting Oklahoma City in the middle of July is a hot, hot experience. Temperatures averaged in the 105-107 range and yet the environment couldn’t have been more inviting. This was my first time visiting the city and I was sure to take advantage of all it has to offer—great food, significant landmarks, and a gorgeous scenic Route 66 drive were all a part of my trip. Of course, the purpose of my visit was centered on the campus and what a lovely campus it was. There is a beautiful juxtaposition of old meets new and I enjoyed having a tour of some of the more unique components of this campus. Let’s just say if you’re a writer interested in furthering your education and you just happen to also be a former beauty pageant winner, we need to talk. I think I may have found a financially beneficial program for you!

Now, more about the residency…. This was the program’s first residency and I was truly impressed with the welcoming and energetic faculty. No one seemed anxious about getting things right; it already felt like each and every person had made themselves at home and that a community had been long ago established. Really, it was just a few days into the program when I arrived so it was quite the sight to see that students and faculty had already bonded so closely in so little a time. I had the pleasure of speaking throughout a day dedicated to visiting writers, including myself and novelist Matthew Quick. We had the run of the afternoon and evening and it was great to spend so much quality time with the students. 

Matthew read from The Silver Linings Playbook and then presented a workshop on using first person narration; then I took over to read poetry from stains and discuss the ins and outs of working within multiple genres, prior to presenting a workshop on social media and online networking for writers. We both spoke to how we came to the writing life, but the meat of that discussion was reserved for the public event in the evening, “Literary Living: Developing a Creative Career.” Matthew and I shared the stage of The Kerr McGhee Auditorium where not just students and faculty, but general members of the public – and a surprise visit from Telemundo! – filled the seats. We read; we gave a brief history of how we each became and continue to sustain ourselves as writers; then we opened up the floor to a wealth of inquisitive and insightful questions. 

All in all, the visit was a success. As authors, we were welcomed and treated as valued guests. As visitors to a new program, we saw a lovely community in the making. The students seemed to feel that they had made a strong choice for their writing paths and were receptive to the sessions presented to them. The faculty I had the pleasure of getting to know – like Kerry Cohen and Jeanetta Calhoun Mish – only cemented for me the idea that this program is one that will grow with its dedicated foundation team. It’s certainly a program to watch and Director Berg should be proud of this strong launch.

The Red Earth MFA is a two-year program that includes five residencies. Students have the option of working within fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, or any other sub or cross genre that speaks to them and, through the course of the program, students will complete a manuscript length project for which they will receive continual feedback and support. What’s more, The Red Earth MFA provides two optional concentration strands for students: pedagogy and professional writing. For those interested in the professional strand, students will work on developing their skills in communications and editing; for the pedagogy strand, students are guided in the skills of teaching writing. Each strand provides students with an opportunity for individual study as well, and for those who prefer to focus solely on their creative work this is also an option. So, it seems to me, The Red Earth MFA provides a number of customizable options, making this a truly personalized experience based on what the student’s needs and goals may be. For more info on the program, visit this link

All in all, I had a wonderful time visiting Oklahoma City University and feel honored to have been a part of this inaugural residency. The Red Earth MFA is a newcomer to the scene of low-res programs and you can learn a bit about its development in The Low-Residency MFA Handbook, but keep an eye on it. I know you’ll continue to hear more as the months and years progress. I can already see how this program is going to flourish with its unique approach to providing real-world opportunities for students. I’m just so pleased and honored to have been witness to part of its successful kick-start.

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