Request - The Low-Residency MFA Program for Creative Writers.

Here's the second question that came by request mail recently...

Why did you decide to get an MFA, what do you think the pros/cons of your MFA experience were, and how did you like the low-residency option?  Also, what factors influenced you to choose a low-res program vs. a traditional, on-site program?

This is a long story, but I'll try to make it concise as possible (and probably will not succeed). 

Here's my MFA story--

I applied to the MFA program at the UW when I was 28 or 29 and was rejected.  

I was truly disappointed.  I hadn't applied to any other programs as I don't think I had even considered moving or going somewhere else and 2), I kind of thought I'd get in.

I had moved out of the city to live a "writer's life" and was, but I really wanted to return to school to continue my learning and studying of other writers.  

I also wanted to have a child.  

At age 30, I became pregnant with my daughter.  

For me, there was no way I could have been a full-time grad student.  I was completely overwhelmed as a new mother and the UW was a 2 hour commute (one way) from my home.  I knew I still wanted to go back to school, but this was not the time for me to start graduate school, at least, not one where I needed to be on campus every day.


When my daughter was 2 or 3, I started looking into over options to get my MFA. There weren't as many low-residency programs as there are today, but there were some good ones.  

Here were my top picks-- Bennington, Warren Wilson, Vermont, and Goddard.  (I still sometimes get that giddy feeling when I see the word Bennington, as for some reason, I was really connected with that school.)  T

Problem was, all of these schools were on the East Coast and I was on the West Coast.  9-11 was still in a knot in my stomach and the idea of leaving on a plane to leave my 2-3 year old for 2 weeks a year seemed awful.

I told my husband -- what I wanted was a low-residency MFA program that I could drive through, with a strong faculty, that was connected with a well-known and well-respected college.  

Within a year or so of saying that, a brand-spankin' new low-res program was created at Pacific Lutheran University that was only about 90 minutes away from my house.  The program lasted 3 years and I would only have to go to the residency once a year for 10 days.   And the faculty?   Awesome!  Marvin Bell, Sharon Bryan, Albert Goldbarth, Peggy Shumaker, David Huddle, Guest poets Linda Bierds, Natasha Trethewey...   

It was perfect for my situation.

I applied, was accepted (my writing had definitely become stronger at 33 than at 28) and I began my first residency, August 2004.  (I cannot believe that was 6 years ago.)  I graduated in 2007.


For me, a low-residency MFA worked because I did not want to be on campus every day and have a 4 hour commute time.  To me, a new mom at the time, it was just too much time away from my  daughter and I wasn't going  to miss out on her early years to get this degree. 

So I found something that worked for my life.  

Honestly, it was probably one of the best things I have ever done.  It ranks up there with getting married, traveling to Europe, adopting a greyhound, kayaking with Orcas, and having a child (not in this order, mind you.)


One of the things I liked about the low-res option was that I thought it would teach me how to write when I wasn't in class all day or a "full-time student."  

I had to find time to do all my work, reading, etc. in the middle of regular life--one that included a daughter just starting preschool, P/T time, a working husband, a home/mortgage, bills, etc--there was no dorm or "taking time off to go back to school."  My life was moving forward and if I wanted to return to school, I had do it as my life was going on with or without me.  I needed to add school to my life, not take myself out of my life to go back to school.    

So I found a low-res program that worked for me and began...

(con't - Tomorrow:  The Pros & Cons)



  1. What a great story! I am glad to know how it all happened!


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