Why did you decide to get your first M.F.A.? And then what prompted the second?
Well, my first go-around was never actually completed. I ended up with only a “Masters” – no of the “Fine Arts” attached. Really, I guess after finishing my Bachelor’s in journalism I decided I wanted to be a “real writer.” In fact, I remember telling friends that exact thing – like being a journalist was some sort of joke. I was obsessed with Hunter Thompson, and understanding that living life was the real substance that made good writing great, I wanted to embark on some strange adventure. It ended up being San Francisco – a now defunct hippy college called “New College of California” that was started by a Jesuit Priest in his living room in the seventies. It was a nightmare – jail, married and divorced, but I did end up with a great dog named Joe, a degree and a passion for writing that kept me going. Continue reading
In case you missed it, Ali Shapiro weighed in at the Rumpus with a brilliant cartoon on selling your poet-skills to hiring managers. And “being into day jobs is really trendy right now,” at least for the set that used to scorn them (James Bond?). According to Amy Gutman, quitting dramatically so you can go home and write = out, figuring out how to balance your job with your creative pursuits = in.
In other news, CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: if you’re a writer with an MFA who has recently completed a job search, or is in the middle of one, I’m interested in your story. Send me a summary of what you’d like to write about or a completed piece (about 700 words max) and a little bit about who you are.
A confession: I’m about to move halfway across the country and I don’t yet have a job offer in my new state. This is something I promised myself I would never do: I was lucky enough, for the three years between college and graduate school, never to be un- (or under-) employed. If I moved somewhere new after my M.F.A., I vowed, I would do it because exciting work, an invigorating office culture, and health insurance wooed me there.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been the kind of person who hates to procrastinate—I never pulled an all-nighter in high school or college, and I start thinking about work assignments weeks ahead of time. But despite my early efforts to ward off the unemployment reaper, I’m still pressing “send” on application after application.
And yet. I’m not freaking out. Partly because, I’m happy to say, my paranoia has encouraged me to keep a shadow resume current during my time in grad school. Over at Slate, Adam Kotsko writes about the benefits of the shadow (I’ll stick you on with soap!) resume for Ph.D. students—in a job market where it’s tougher than ever to land an academic job, and applying for a position with an unrelated advanced degree can be a liability, it’s essential to keep track of the work you’ve done outside the academy (or even work that counts in both courts). This can feel like living a double life, but we already know what that feels like, right?
When my summer writing students asked me a couple weeks ago “which was more useful, majoring in English or Creative Writing,” I sighed and wished there were a “the liberal arts are essential to living a good and curious life, but you might want to learn how to code, too” pill I could give each of them. Why can’t we have both? Superman had a secret, less airborne life as Clark Kent—you, too, can be an Excel expert by day and keep your long, flash-fiction-filled nights a secret from hiring managers everywhere.
When did you begin to identify as an activist?
In the late 1960s, I left the rather sheltered world of the Midwest, where I’d grown up and was attending graduate school, to teach at the urban campus of the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Unlike my Iowa life (which was extremely white and middle class), U.Mass-Boston had a very diverse student population, in terms of race, class, and age. A commuter school, it attracted many first-generation students; the average age, at some point, was something like 27 or 28, and the majority of the students worked, many of them full-time.
Almost immediately, teaching those students began to expand my social consciousness. How could I not be concerned about social conditions in my country when students with limited finances were struggling to balance school, work, and family? How could I not think about racial prejudice, some of which became particularly nasty during the Boston school bussing crisis of the early 1970s?