Like Michael Oatman UNO MFA faculty member pictured here, we should all reach for the sky

Michael Oatman

Michael Oatman

Why start an MFA program?

Why start anything? A love affair, cooking school, martial arts, mountain climbing, spelunking, photography, why start making love, the world might end and you might not get to finish, or you might find that you’re not as good at it as you hoped you’d be. Or you find that there are others getting famous while you’re still cave diving in a thoroughly amateurish manner for months, maybe years.  We start writing programs because it’s a journey we want to take.  Because we want to start walking down a road, learning an activity that we might take years to get good at.

Among the many courses I took in college were: French, Spanish, horseback riding (seriously) dance (four years) theatre, astronomy (I was in love with Carl Sagan).  Of all of those, the most useful has been the Spanish.  But I’ve never regretted any of those.  I still ride horses, speak French, dance, (not as well as Amy Hassinger) love plays, and when I get out of the city, and I look  up at the stars, I can name them like old friends staring down on me just as they did when I grew up in the woods of New Hampshire and I could see the whole Milky Way and I used to say to myself, I am going to do something amazing in this galaxy not having a single clue how small I was.

When I started to take writing courses, I sucked and I continued to suck long after I graduated with a Master’s in writing, I continued to write a lot of really bad stuff, and I enjoyed the heck out of it.  I enjoyed getting my writing muscles going, swimming around in language and getting to read some big writers.  When I started, I was reading mostly science fiction.  My teachers said no to science fiction.  They told me to read Hemingway who I liked very much and I even went hiking in the woods and tried to imagine myself as a Nicola Adams, I liked reading all of it, even the big white male writers stomping around in the world.  I was so excited to be part of it.  I didn’t learn to be a writer in graduate school, I didn’t learn till later, but I was given the tools that would carry me forward into my future writing life.  When I graduated, that life stretched before me like blue hills to the horizon.  That’s why you start an MFA, to begin a journey, like learning to enter the caves of the imagination.  At first, it’s wet and dark and cold down there, and that’s all you notice and then your eyes adjust and you see that you’re inside a big story.

Read Bhanu Kapil’s response to MFA programs, you’ll like what she has to say as well.

*****

Kate Gale

This post originally appeared on Kate Gale: A Mind Never Dormant.

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