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More on MFA Programs, from Director of Iowa Writers’ Workshop

By Harriet Staff

Over at Salon,Lan Samantha Chang took part in this interview, which focused on her own writing before transitioning to the omnipresent topic of THE MFA.

Let’s jump right to that, shall we?

Now that you are the director, can you explain how your time is divided? People probably imagine the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop reads nonstop. What is the breakdown of how you spend your time, day-to-day, month-to-month, etc.?

I do read a lot of wonderful fiction, but a lot of it is student fiction. And it’s true that a lot of the fiction that I read ends up being published, in somewhat different form, or in the exact same form as it was when I read it. But I have to make a concerted effort to read. My time is seasonal. The worst time of the year is in January, because that’s when the admissions applications come in. With the recession, the number of applications we’ve received at our program has jumped. In 2010 it jumped by 50 percent.

Wait, how many applications in 2010?

In fiction, it was over 1,200. I think it was more like 1,300.

What was it in poetry?

Gosh, close to 500. I’m not responsible for reading the poetry manuscripts, thank goodness.

Am I right in thinking that of the 1,300 applicants in fiction, 25 were accepted, and of the 500 in poetry, 25 were accepted?

That particular year I think I accepted 29 people because there were so many good people I just couldn’t resist. The poets accept around 25.

Those numbers are terrifying. For someone applying in fiction, if there are a maximum of 30 spots, and 1,200 people are applying — let’s say you met someone on an airplane who desperately wanted to go to the Workshop. What advice would you give that person?

Well, I would say turn in your best work. That’s the only advice. It doesn’t matter what your letters of recommendation say; it doesn’t matter what kind of grades you got. We just don’t look at that. We look at the work. We’ve done that always, and it’s still true.

Can you describe a little bit about how the admissions process works?

There’s more. Make the jump if you dare.


Posted in Poetry News on Monday, October 24th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.