Friday, June 13, 2008

Low-Residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts

Wow, that's a long title!  I said last time that I would describe the program to you, so here it is.  I am describing the program at Vermont College, but there are many wonderful programs (though I think VC is the best) that are run in a similar way.  Here are the main points:
It's a 2 year program-with a 10-day residency in January, and another in July.
So you go to the school for 10 days twice a year for 2 years and go to lectures and seminars given by active, published authors.   You also have your writing workshopped while there (I'll talk about that more in a minute.)
You are matched up with a faculty member advisor for that semester.  After the residency you are expected to send in a packet of work once a month (the number of new pages and revised pages is pre-determined with your advisor).  This is the best part, to me.  In many writing classes, you are given assignments.  Here you get to work on your own chosen writing.  And, you're encouraged to explore different styles and genres in a safe environment with an advisor who won't hesitate to tell you something stinks (in the nicest possible way).

Back to the workshop.  About 2 months prior to the residency you send 20 pages of your work to the school.  They group the students in heterogenous groups-newbies and graduating students and everything in between, as well as picture books and middle grade and young adult pieces.  The school binds the pages together and sends them to each student a few weeks before the residency.  Each student reads and critiques the works in their binder (there are about 12 people in each group, plus 2 faculty members-you only have to read the pages from your group).  Then at the residency your work is the focus of a one-hour workshop, with feedback from the other 11 students + the faculty in your group.  Sounds awesome, right?

So that's where I'm at right now.  I've received and begun to read my workshop binder, making notes on each page.  I'm feeling a little nervous at this point about everyone else reading my story.  I mean, I love my book, but I don't know if anyone else will!  And the other work in the binder is soooooo good!  

I'm really excited to get started with this, because I know I have so much to learn.  Hopefully my honest insights on other people's work will be helpful too.

I leave mid-day on July 7th.  I CAN'T WAIT!!! 


PJ Hoover said...

And 20 pages is great! I know you are judged within the first two pages, but getting feedback on up to twenty pages can be critical. Even if it's "scrap the first 17 and start at page 18".

david elzey said...

About the workshops: you get an entire hour where everyone in the group critiques your work... but you aren't allowed to speak! It sounds daunting, but people are only allowed to offer feedback and at the end of the hour you are permitted to explain things that may have been confusing or that folks just got plain wrong. If you have specific questions you would like the group to discuss ahead of time you can present them.

Last semester someone in my group ad a digital recorder and she recorded the critiques for everyone who wanted to upload them on their computer to play back at a future date. This turns out to be a good thing because at the time it might be hard to really "hear" things that you can digest and go back to later when you don't feel so on the spot.

Wait until you see the residency schedule (if you haven't already!): there's a lot packed into those ten days!

Sheri said...

So you only need to live away from home for 20 days total over the two years? All the rest of the work is done at home? And home can be say, Utah... as long as you go to VC for those two ten day periods??

Sounds interesting. It is very pricey?

Dawn Buthorn said...

Actually, Sheri, there are people coming to VC from all over the world as well as all over the US. I saw at least one from France, I know of 2 from China, a few from Canada, and I think at least one from Australia. That's why the low residency format is becoming so popular. Who can take off 2 years from their lives to go to classes to complete a Masters degree? You have to incorporate travel time into the 10 day scenario, so it ends up being more like 12 for most people I think. Still, the rest of the year you work at home. It takes a good bit of self-determination, I think, to make yourself do the work each day (when there's no class to go to)-they say you should be putting at least 25 hours a week into your work (which includes your creative writing, your critical essays, and your bibliography of books you've read).

As far as pricey, all grad schools are pricey. Low rez is generally about $7,000 per semester at most schools. And financial aid is possible.

Let me know if there's any other questions you have, and I'll try my best to answer them. You can follow the whole low-rez process here on my blog to see what it's really like.

Sheri said...

Sounds really great - especially for mothers or fathers - writers who have other lives. I will definitely be following your journey through this program.