Caitlin Neely, the founder of The MFA Years, talked to us about The MFA Years and her goals for the site.
- Why did you start The MFA Years? I wanted to create a space for creative writing students to share their experiences and advice. As I was researching programs last year, it was hard to find articles and books about the actual MFA experience. I think that’s something that’s important to make available. When I saw that The MFA Chronicles had not been updated in a few years, I knew I wanted to help fill some of that gap.
- On your website, you say that you started The MFA Years after being inspired by The MFA Chronicles, a now-defunct blog. What was it about The MFA Chronicles that inspired you? I started reading The MFA Chronicles much later in the season, after I’d already been accepted into a couple of programs. The blog got me excited about being able to actually study poetry at the graduate level. I was able to read about the ups and downs of studying at an MFA program, and the entire process I’d just put myself through suddenly felt a lot more real and tangible. I think that “excitement” is what initially inspired me to create the website.
- How do you find students to interview for The MFA Years? I’ve posted on a couple of MFA Draft groups and one other creative writing group on Facebook. I’ll probably be contacting a few people I know directly, but we rely mostly on students finding our website, perusing the submissions section, and contacting us themselves.
- So how does The MFA Years work? You find students who are interested in submitting blog posts about their workshops, classes, and submission information The MFA Years is broken up into two sections: the original idea for the blog was to follow 12 creative writing students through their first year of grad. school, so that’s our main focus. The second section came a little later on and that includes all of the guest submissions and interviews. As I said above, most people have reached out to us on their own, and I’ve also asked some people I know to write guest posts.
- Are you currently attending an MFA program? If so, what was the best advice that you received about applying? I’m a first year poetry candidate at the University of Virginia.The best advice I received from multiple people is to send in your strongest work. At one point I was considering adding a couple of form poems and long poems to my sample because I kept reading about how showing “range” is important. But I dumped them at the last second after my undergraduate mentor told me it made more sense to send in the poems I felt were the best. All of the poems in my sample ended up being very short (that’s mostly what I write) and pretty similar thematically and aesthetically. I got into some awesome programs and I don’t for a second regret sending in the work I was most confident with.
- What are your post-MFA plans? I’m not sure. I know I’ll end up applying to post-grad fellowships. Applying to PhD programs in either rhetoric and composition or creative writing will be on the table too. The only thing I know for sure is I want to move back to Cincinnati at some point.
- What are some MFA programs that you’re crushing on right now. (Can you crush on an MFA program? Is that a thing?) You can definitely have a crush on an MFA program. Right now I’m in love with a lot of the programs I applied to this past application season. Of course, UVA is a the top of my crush list. I had great experiences with: UIUC (specifically Michael Madonick), Miami University in Ohio (Cathy Wagner is awesome) and Saint Mary’s in California (Brenda Hillman and Matthew Zapruder are great). I love West Virginia University because they have Mary Ann Samyn. I really like UW-Madison, though, I wasn’t able to apply there. As you can see, I have a lot of crushes.
- If you had to give one piece of advice to a student who is just starting their MFA program, what would you say? Well, I haven’t technically started my MFA program yet so I don’t have too much advice at the moment. But right now I’d say—arrive with an open mind. You get to focus most of your energy for the next however many years on your writing. Have fun, experiment, take risks, write bad poems and/or stories. You never know where those risks and experiments will take you. And hopefully you’ll learn something from them!