The University of Tampa is joining the ranks of institutions offering low-residency MFA creative writing programs. With its first residency just around the corner—January 5-14—I’m pleased to share this Q&A with the director, Jeff Parker.
Jeff, thanks for joining us. Congratulations on your recent appointment to Director of The University of Tampa low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program. Maybe you can start by sharing a bit of your own background and what drew you to the Tampa program.
Sure. I'd been Director of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto, which reserves its second year exclusively for one-on-one mentorships between each student and a mentor. I'd also spent the better part of the last decade organizing parties for writers in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Lisbon, Portugal, in which we bring North Americans together with writers from abroad. In short, I saw in the Tampa program an opportunity to bring these two kinds of things together. So I left my cushy teaching job at UToronto and came down here to do a lot of work and see if we could make something bang-up.
I see the first residency is scheduled for January 5-14; what can incoming students expect during this inaugural residency and those that follow?
Well, for a taste, they can expect a reading and craft talk from George Saunders, and they can expect Francine Prose giving her awesome Chekhov lectures. They can expect a program including trips to Zora Neale Hurston's place in Eatonville and Jack Kerouac's last house in St. Petersburg. They can expect to be part of the first cohort in a very unique program. It will be the smallest group there will ever be. We're expecting 20, so about six or seven each from fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. To be on the ground floor...
For the four terms in between residencies, how will students work from home? Can you tell us a bit more about the one-on-one mentoring and what Tampa has set up as goals for these project semesters?
The main goal we have for the students is that they get better. Students will work with mentors however best suits the two of them. This is what it's really all about, this experience, and it's the heart of the program. We'll spend a lot of time during the residency getting the two together to come up with a plan, knowing in advance that plans and writing don't always will out.
What makes the Tampa program unique? Why should prospective low-res students consider your program?
The most important thing for me is getting faculty who are among the most interesting writers working today and who also have reputations as great teachers. Also, our program will bring in writers from all over the world: Canada, Europe, Russia, Portugal, South America, Africa--you name it. We intend down the line to hold optional residencies abroad as well, but not simply as study abroad components, as part of larger programs that immerse our students in the cultural and literary scene abroad. It's part of a larger emphasis on writers getting up and doing things with their work. We're working on so many aspects of the program right now, and defining as we go.
What are your plans for the upcoming AWP conference? What presence will Tampa have in Chicago?
We're working with the University of Tampa Press on a book about literary mentors, which might sound kind of boring but when you start collecting the little writings and scraps from letters and photos that we've been getting, it's a riot and something like a tribute to what we're trying to do. We'll probably have a reception for the book and hand them out at the booth. Other than that we'll just kind of be there with the UT Press and Tampa Review to talk with anyone about the program if they want to talk about it.
Finally, where might students find more information about the program and what are the application deadlines for the January residency?
Deadline for the first residency in January is Nov. 1. All the info is on the website: http://www.ut.edu/mfacw. Or anyone can email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org.