July 23rd, 2012
Nebraska MFA programs
You go to lectures. You go to readings. You go to student readings and faculty readings. At our program, the students read within their time limit. but the faculty have a tendency to run over. The students seem to choose carefully what to read. I think the faculty members like to stretch the students’ ability to understand poetry and literature to work that they might not immediately understand. I think it’s good to read work that doesn’t immediately leap off the page, but I don’t want to do that. I want the audience to be with me on the stage so I am not alone.
My favorite part of the food here is the snacks. This morning there were all green snacks. Melon balls, celery, green peppers, cucumbers, apples and pears and best of all these little drinks which you would get at a pricey spa; these little drinks had melon and I think a touch of garlic, they were yummy and felt very special. I swam 108 laps, and I was ready for my green stuff.
The food in Nebraska centers on corn, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, brisket (what is brisket?) and buffalo. At the Lied they also have cider which I try to drink at every meal. I like the salads and the cider.
I try not to think much about my childhood in New England at High View Church Farm, but some things stick. Our house has a vegetable garden and chickens and I always miss the orchard and the cider house and here they have both. Cider makes me happy.
One of the first novelists I fell in love with was Cider House Rules and I heard John Irving read in when I was college. It was about an orphanage, and the kids were read stories in their pajamas. The kids loved the stories. The orphanage was in New England. It was in so many ways, my story. And I realized I could enter stories and make them my own and those stories would change me, inform me of whom I was in the world.
Nebraska reminds me of that orchard, that cider. Our cider was made of many kinds of apples—Braeburn, Gold Delicious, Red Delicious and a few Macintosh to sweeten it. Also a few Granny Smith. Sometimes Jonathans. We didn’t have Fuji apples. If you make wine from too many grapes, you sometimes end up with a boring wine, that doesn’t taste like anything interesting, but cider needs variety.
This MFA program is like cider making. The students get a variety of teachers in workshop and over the course of their four semesters, they get four different mentors. Some might push for a lot of cutting, others for a huge rush of writing. Working with a variety of different writer/mentors ideally wakes the writer/students up to a variety of different possibilities.
And that’s what we hope for—that we wake up to new ideas, new possibilities, new doors that we can walk through.