An MFA, Again!

| Vermont College of Fine Arts

So, for the past 18 months, I’ve spent my free time earning an MFA in creative nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, also known as VCFA. I officially graduated today, a newly minted (or reminted?) MFA.

I earned my MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2003, and my PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008. In other words, I’ve been out of school for more than a decade. It was wonderful returning to the life of a student, having my own work be the focus of expert teachers’ scrutiny and feedback.

What a privilege it is to be a student. I’m not sure I understood this when I was in my mid-twenties. This time around, I tried to take every advantage of the opportunities given to me, every offer of critique, every bit of individualized attention. I wrote my critical thesis on the pedagogy of teaching the undergraduate, introductory-level nonfiction workshop, a project that I hope at some point I’ll be able to put to good use in the classroom. And I used my creative thesis to focus on a recently completed manuscript, Exhibitions, a collection of essays about art, Jewish identity, genocide, and the ethical issues of representation. I’m not sure that I would have written Taste: A Book in Small Bites (in a mere 11 months), without the help of advisors like Patrick Madden and Bob Vivian. In other words, my time at VCFA was put to very good use.

Perhaps the strangest part of the whole experience was doing my entire degree online. VCFA’s program is a low-residency, which means that the majority of one’s work is done via monthly communications with an advisor. But, twice a year, all the students are supposed to go to Vermont for 10 days on campus. During the pandemic this became impossible, and the summer and winter residencies were largely conducted via Zoom. So, I’ve never been to Montpelier, and I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance to visit the College in person.

In any case, I’m so grateful for my–virtual–time at VCFA. I wish I could be a student forever. As much as I enjoy leading my own classroom and doing the work of a full professor at an R1 university, there’s something really liberating about relinquishing that control and returning to the state of openness, curiosity, and even vulnerability that defines the experience of being a student.