Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Archive for May, 2012

Author Interview: Jewell Parker Rhodes

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 31 - 2012

Ninth Ward 000 409x600 Author Interview: Jewell Parker RhodesLast year I trekked to the Brooklyn with Sona Charaipotra to the Brooklyn Book Festival and got a great big hug from author Jewell Parker Rhodes after hearing her read. She was wonderfully bubbly and reminded me of my own mother. And then, we discovered she is the mother of one of the students in The New School Writing for Children program in the Class of 2013 — Kelly McWilliams (an author herself). We caught up with her despite her busy schedule.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (bio) and how you became a writer?

When I was a little girl, I was a voracious reader. My family used to call me the “little professor.” The librarians could not give me books fast enough. Partly, I think I was escaping some tough times in Pittsburgh. I never had an easy childhood. I got into college (Carnegie-Mellon) on a dance scholarship, which saved my life. One day I went to the library I found a book written by a black man. A black man! No one ever told me that black people could write. I’d never even considered the option. I quit dancing and started in the English program. They didn’t want to admit me, because of my low SAT scores, but a lovely woman, who because my mentor ever after, saw my potential.

I worked hard in school. I was under-educated by the Pittsburgh system, despite my extensive reading. I had no idea what a “foil” was, or “foreshadowing,” or any literary devices whatsoever. It was like my classmates were speaking a different language. I was in the library every day trying desperately to catch up. And then, when it came to writing, I was absolutely the WORST writer in my program. They came in with lots of education, years of practice, and talent, but only one of them is still writing today. I was the one that persevered.

2. What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full-time now?

I love stories. I love to read. My grandmother used to tell me stories on the porch. There is so much power in sharing your own stories with others. As a black woman, I was called to that power, and it gives me strength, purpose, and peace of mind. I do not write full-time now, but I am involved with writing in some way, all the time. I teach at the Arizona State University MFA program in fiction; this semester, I taught an undergraduate literature course in the short story, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I am also chair of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, with which I manage a lot of global outreach. Some of my work has included traveling to China and Singapore, countries, which historically have not had many creative programs, to help set up programs in creative writing. I get to travel a lot, which I love!

3. How did you come up with your story for NINTH WARD? Was the hurricane your primary influence?

I have always written about New Orleans. My first novel, Voodoo Dreams, was about Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen. I have also set a mystery series in New Orleans. When the hurricane hit, I was glued to my television, and as I watched the horrible drama unfold, I kept thinking, what about the children? You caught glimpses of them now and again. Glimpses of terrified faces. But no one focused on them. That’s when I heard Lanesha’s voice – the voice of a little girl, caught up in the hurricane. I was called to write that book, no doubt about it.

 Author Interview: Jewell Parker Rhodes3. What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where does your inspiration come from?

Oh, dear. I’m ashamed to say I have no typical writing day. My advice to you young writers is to write every day, but I never follow my own advice. I write in fits and bursts, sometimes taking as much as six weeks off! I write according to deadline, these days – I   doubt I’ve met a single one – but when that deadline comes around, I like to head to a nice hotel (with my husband and my terrier, of course) and do nothing but write and order room service and have the linens changed for me. My husband is crucial to the process. He’s a wonderful help as an editor, a first reader, and a steady hand with plot. I don’t know what I would do without him.

4. What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

My first novel was rejected seven times. That’s right. It was awful. But that book, over twenty years old now, is still in print and still on the shelves. What I learned about the publishing process is this: you might get a lot of “no.” But you only need one “yes.”

5. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Best advice I’ve ever gotten? I’ve gotten so much good advice from so many places and people, I simply can’t choose! I’d say, seek out authors, seek out artists of all kinds, and get as much advice as you can. Ask questions. Find mentors. Read books, and not just fiction, either. Read theory, so that you learn more about the nature of what it is that you are doing.

6. What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I treasured Anne of Green Gables when I was a girl. Right now, I am reading ON STORIES: And Other Essays on Literature by C.S. Lewis. Also, anything and everything by Walter Dean Myers, my hero.

 Author Interview: Jewell Parker Rhodes7. What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I’m currently revising a new book for middle-graders, called Sugar, about a girl growing up on a sugarcane plantation.

8. Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you? Or trusted readers?

My husband and daughter are my readers now. I also love going to the SCBWI conferences in New York and Los Angeles! However, I am craving a “bloc” of writers, as you put it, but this technological era is way ahead of me. I’m just starting a blog on children’s literature now. You can find it at laneshasays.com. I would love any comments from the wonderful students of the New School. Writing for Children is brand new to me! And so is blogging!

9. Your work is imbued with a sense of African-American spiritualism, did you grow up with this surrounding you?

My grandmother was a very spiritual person. She was the most loving, stable adult in my life, and I am happy to say that she passed a little of her magic on to me.

 

Photo Credit: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Picador

Sona’s Take On Whether the New School MFA Was Worth It

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On May - 28 - 2012

 

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A few weeks ago, on my personal site, I wrote a post about this article published in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that pretty much laid bare the facts: the majority of writing MFA graduates will never even work on anything related to writing, let alone publish a book in the traditional manner.

According to the article, the odds are pretty bleak: University of Iowa — the reputed cream of the crop — sees only about three-quarters of their MFA grads published. Other schools place the figure at as low as ten percent up to maybe 50 percent. Geez, doesn’t make a girl feel great about paying off all that apparently crippling student loan debt.

So having just incurred said mountains of debt to complete an MFA — and yet still not having a completed novel to show for myself — I could dismiss this here and now and say, ‘Nah, the New School MFA program is not worth the money.’

But I can’t actually say that, because, like many of my peers here on TeenWritersBloc.com, I don’t believe that’s true. Sure, I wouldn’t necessarily do this program again if I could. (Although, as my sister frequently points out, I have an astounding liking for being in school, at least when it’s for something I love studying.) That’s because you couldn’t come close to guaranteeing me a class as ambitious, as intelligent or as diverse and as driven as the one I lucked into.

Others have said it here before, but there’s just something about the mix we got — the chemistry between us all — that clicked from week one. It didn’t happen with the class that came before us, and dare I say it, it doesn’t seem to be repeating itself in the class that came after. That makes me think that maybe we just got really lucky, that maybe this chemistry was once in a lifetime. (Or perhaps — the class that may have captured something similar was the one that inspired this blog — the one that yielded the Longstockings.)

I didn’t nearly reach my lofty goals for my time at the New School. I didn’t finish a single novel. I didn’t land a book deal, nor an agent. But here’s the thing: I’m confident I will do all those things. As of this writing, nearly half of my class will have books on the shelves by the end of next year. I’m expecting that number to rise significantly in the coming year, as we all continue to write and push through. Because we’ve built such a strong community, a safety net in these frequently treacherous waters, and to belabor this metaphor a bit further, we’re helping each other navigate here. We’re anchors, so to speak. Okay, enough of that metaphor. What I’m trying to say is, really, we were the loudest cheering section at the student readings, even though we’re outnumbered by a hundred fiction students and bigger non-fiction and poetry classes, too.

We’ve learned loads during our two years at the New School. Some of these have been hard lessons. The whole picture book debacle, for starters. Professors who may not have published in quite a while. And diversity in the publishing world is still a gaping hole, and it’s up to us to step and make that change happen. We had to do that even here, insisting that the powers-that-be let us plan a diversity in teen lit workshop and recruiting the awesome Andrea Davis Pinkney to teach it. But there’s still not a member of the faculty that reflects that range in the literature — and alum Coe Booth teaches at Vermont.

But I wouldn’t trade the community we’ve built here for anything. Moving forward, we’re sticking together, continuing with our crit groups, showing up at book parties and other events, hanging out on holidays. For as much as the MFA may still be called a worthless degree, to me it was worth a hell of a lot. And I’m not even talking about money. (Yet.)

Photo courtesy NSD Photography

Alyson’s Predictions For The Future

Posted by Alyson Gerber On May - 23 - 2012

astrology signs.27120022 std 300x296 Alysons Predictions For The FutureLike the middle school girls I write, I am really into horoscopes. I love Susan Miller’s monthly forecasts on Astrology Zone. I read The Astro Twins on Elle.com for daily and weekly updates, and when that isn’t enough for me, I look at Frisky Scopes and Yahoo Shine.

I realize there are horoscope haters out there, and I get it. But even still, I want to know what’s written in the stars. I want to know the future. Don’t we all? At least a little? Especially when it comes to our careers as writers and our trajectory in publishing. With so many ups and downs, it helps sometimes to believe that it’s not completely in our control, and that even our greatest failures and our biggest mistakes happen for a reason — to teach us something, to push us further, to help us become better writers.

So, with The New School MFA program officially over and our diplomas in the mail (hopefully with squishy, faux-leather covers), I have been thinking a lot about the future and about fate — the opportunities we are given by chance and those we create for ourselves. When I think back on my own journey to this program and my experience over the past two years, there are so many things I would have done differently had I only known better — mistakes I could have avoided with a little more foresight. Mostly I feel lucky to have ended up in Writing for Children at The New School with such smart, talented, and motivated writers. I am hopeful for all of us, and I have no doubt we will continue to support each other. While I may not be an astrologer, I predict there is going to be an exciting journey up ahead and straight into the future.

 

Steven Reflects on the One Year Mark

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On May - 22 - 2012

One year mark Steven Reflects on the One Year MarkI can’t believe it’s been a year. It feels like yesterday that I was at the Super Scary Student Reading, doing my best not to pass out in front of all of my professors and peers while reading one of the more emotional chunks of my novel. I kept singing Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” in my head and somewhat convincing myself that this would make or break my career as a writer. Yes, I had delusions of grandeur. Yes, I was convinced that the raw power of my words would move an agent or editor in the audience to approach me and sign me on the spot. Instant Contract: Just Add Steven.

I was approached by countless people – fellow peers, professors, randoms I’ll never see again – and complimented on my reading and saying how “powerful” it was. But no agents. No editors. At least none that I know of. (And no, my thesis adviser doesn’t count.)

As Regina George once said in Mean Girls, “Whatever. I’m getting cheese fries.” Translation: NEXT.

I didn’t even go to my own graduation. I went out to dinner instead.

I didn’t really get proper closure. And now that I’m employed at a college as an adjunct professor in writing, I feel as if I haven’t actually left school. Technically speaking, I haven’t. The only difference is that now I’m not doing the writing.

I think that’s been the biggest obstacle-slash-difference. Not writing has hindered my emotional spirit and well-being. I miss the days of deadlines, of being pushed to achieve my best, of thriving to outdo myself each week, with each workshop. I don’t answer to a professor; I am the professor now.

They say, “Those who can’t do, teach.” For me it’s more, “Those who teach have no time to do.”

In April, I had a reunion in New York City with my old college roommates. It’s been nearly four years since we all had been together, but it seemed as though no time had passed at all. All of our old inside jokes still held strong, all of our crazed college stories still rang true, and we picked up right where we left off, all fitting together and filling the void that has been gaping wide open since May of 2008.

It’s kind of like that now, one year after graduating from The New School with my MFA. Only, it’s not like that at all. Yes, it feels like no time has passed at all, but the only void is the one left open from not writing every week.

No, I can’t believe it’s been a year, but I really can’t believe that I’ve lost my dutiful writing schedule.

Here’s hoping I get that back.

Photo Credit: Roberto Mangosi

Dhonielle Wonders, Is an MFA at The New School Worth It?

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 21 - 2012

sayonara Dhonielle Wonders, Is an MFA at The New School Worth It?If someone asked me whether or not I’d do the MFA in Writing for Children at The New School again, I’d say YES and NO!

YES, only if I could get the same class of talented writers — Corey Haydu, Caela Carter, Sona Charaipotra, Amy Ewing, Amber Hyppolite, Jess Verdi, Jane Moon, Alyson Gerber, Mary Thompson, Riddhi Parekh, and Kevin Joinville. I think the Class of 2012 was put together by kismet/fate. On the very first day of class I felt this energy, like “This is IT!”

And since then we’ve hit the ground running — finished projects, developed extra workshops, hunted for agents, attended readings and conferences, landed publishing contracts. I’ve forged deep, life-long relationships with my peers and I know I’ll be an old bitty sitting around with many of them discussing children’s books and hollering for grandkids to sit down somewhere cause they’re being too loud.

I came to New York City and this program full of BIG ideas and a desire to do BIG things. If it wasn’t for my classmates willingness to entertain my crazy antics and ideas and energy (like the creation and maintenance of the Teen Writers Bloc blog, and more things to come…), then the program could’ve been quite dull, in fact.

I would’ve been upset even further with some of the unfavorable aspects of the program. So YES, I’d re-do the program just to have 2 more years of reading my classmates’ manuscripts and having workshops with them and constant deadlines.

Onto the NO portion of this conversation.

I would NOT do this MFA over again due to the unfavorable bits of The New School’s MFA in Writing for Children. Alas! Where do I start?

Firstly, I have to fully confess that I have an MA in Children’s and Young Adult Literature from Hollins University, so I had very HIGH expectations before coming in to The New School’s MFA program. If the Hollins program was located in New York City it would drain The New School of its applicants completely in my opinion (and I know many Hollins Grads would agree).

Just check out this course list: They feature classes like Children and Poetry, The Fantastic in Children’s Literature, Minority Images in Children’s Literature — Reading in Color, Exploring boundaries — Books For and About Boys, Children’s Film, When Childhood Goes to Hollywood, and the Modern Young Adult Novel. This isn’t even half of what’s offered.

Failure #1: Lack of Choice!

The New School Writing for Children MFA lacks choice, and choice is desperately important to me. I am a person that values the opportunity to choose my fate and pick my poison, so to speak. I don’t like being forced into something or to suffer from a lack of options (even with food). When I was a child, my parents learned very quickly that if they wanted me to do something they needed to present me with choices, and orchestrate it so that I’d ultimately pick the one thing they wanted me to do.

In the New School Writing for Children concentration we had NO choices. We were assigned to our workshops and our literature seminars until we had to pick a class outside of our concentration during our third semester. As an aside, I did enjoy the classes they offered us in our concentration — Teen Literature with David Levithan and Middle Grade Fiction with Susan van Metre. Also, I enjoyed the weekend workshops with Sarah Ketchersid and Andrea Pinkney.

no choice Dhonielle Wonders, Is an MFA at The New School Worth It?But the worst part of the NO choice thing was our third semester literature class. This was the most horrible experience during the program. Our concentration is ghettoized into an enclave where we only hang out with each other, and then we were thrown into classes with the other MFA students. The fiction professors don’t put any children’s or teen books on their syllabi and there was a general disdain or dismissal of children’s books. I hated this whole experience and the program requirement. I think it should’ve been an option for those who wanted to diversify and not a requirement. I think I created a class record — speaking one time the entire class )out of maybe 15 people in the course), and the professor didn’t care enough to engage me.

Failure #2: Lack of a picture book class!

The lack of a picture book curriculum was very frustrating at the New School. I believe after leaving this program I have a massive hole in my educational background. We received little to no instruction about picture books. If someone asked me to write a picture book right this instant, I’d be unable to do so. One caveat — our third semester workshop professor Sarah Weeks gave us an awesome picture book lesson. It was a snapshot and I would’ve loved an entire course on it.

I didn’t have to read picture books or study them or even try to write them. I think this is a problem. Some students may not want to have to create picture books, but it’s part of the canon of children’s literature and I feel it should be introduced and/or discussed. Instead of wasting my money and taking a class outside of my concentration, I should’ve been offered a picture book class. Makes sense, right? Teen, Middle Grade, Picture Books — the whole spectrum of children’s books.

Failure #3: Out of touch professors.

Yes, it’s controversial and I said it. I would have loved to have a professor who liked fantasy or genre fiction (or even read fantasy) or who looked like me or who was in touch with the “current” market, etc. I could go on and on here, but I will spare you. Hmm, not to toot my own horn here, but if I was a professor or teaching a writing class, on the first day of class I’d give a homework assignment as such:

“Who’s love-child are you? Find your literary parents in the bookstore! If you were to pitch to an agent or editor who you are in terms of your writing based on two other established authors, who would they be? Fill in the formula: Dhonielle is XX meets XX, with a sprinkle of XX. Her current project is XX, which is a combination of XX and XX.”

Then, because I am an overzealous person, I would try to familiarize myself with the work of the people they listed, so I could be most helpful to them, and really try to grasp what they are trying to do in their writing. I wish a professor would do something like that. Maybe one day I’ll get the pleasure of teaching and be able to do that. To really help students transform into the writers they want to be, while keeping their work firmly placed where they want it to be, not where I want it to be.

All in all, the New School MFA was a hell of a ride. I loved it. Met lifelong friends and started awesome creative relationships. I will miss the program, but Jackson Taylor isn’t rid of me yet. I told him I would be the squeaky wheel and the thorn in his backside until I graduate, and what he doesn’t know is that I am going to continue to do so long after Thursday, May 17th.

Photo Credit: the-one-about.blogspot.com, dryicons.com

Guest Blogger Perla Rodriguez Asks: Latinos, Do You Read?

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On May - 18 - 2012

boy reading book.jpg Guest Blogger Perla Rodriguez Asks: Latinos, Do You Read?Latinos, do you read?

When the brilliant idea of pursuing a career in writing for children occurred to me a few years ago, I embarked on an obsessive-information-gathering- journey (like many of us do when we switch careers, but maybe not so obsessively). I clearly remember the beautiful spring day that I attended a workshop at a prestigious university in the city. The panel of speakers consisted of writers, editors and publishers and I was especially interested in what one particular Latina editor had to say.

During the Q & A session I told this particular Latina editor (and a room of about 100 people) my recent life changing, ego-shattering decision and asked for her opinion and advice.

“I’m sorry to say that there is no market for Latino literature. Latinos simply do not buy books. Maybe you should just stick with teaching,” she said.

Yep, that was her response. I kid you not.

After I proceeded to lift my jaw off from the floor, I simply sat back down — dumbstruck. A few encouraging ladies who sat around me told me not to let what she said derail me.

“There might not be a market for it not now, but maybe sometime in the future,” a Cuban hermana sitting next to me said once the workshop was over.

And with that she and many others rushed to front of the room to network.

Luckily for me I had woken up that morning with an insurmountable amount of confidence and determination. “That lady has some cojones,” my stubborn Dominican self said to my emerging writer self. “Bring it.”

I walked out with my head held high and my sonrisa colgate, ready for this challenge. I even hummed the “Eye of the Tiger” as I walked to my car.

Unfortunately, that was not the only time I heard similar allegations. After starting my degree in Creative Writing at The New School and attending an SCBWI Conference,  I heard from numerous editors how unmarketable Latinos and, in general, most people of color are.

But I kept on pursuing this crazy career. After all, hasn’t every genius encountered some negativity? Were would we be if Einstein or MLK Jr. quit with their first rejection? (Not that I am comparing myself, but you get my point.)

I refused to believe it. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

I am sure you have all heard the cheesy and cliché lines about how literature changes lives. But it really, really did change mine. As a daughter of hard-working immigrants, I wasn’t exposed to the world of literature I now love. I discovered reading in my later years, thanks to great teachers that pushed it upon me. Slowly, my small Bronx world transformed before my eyes. I had an escape. As a pre-teen and teenager, I remember savagely reading every R.L. Stine, Sweet Valley High, and Babysitters Club book I was able to get my hands on. I became an avid reader and the library became my refuge.

However, I also started to find my life inadequate, lacking. I wanted to be naturally blonde and have a twin sister. I wanted to live in the suburbs and date guys named ‘Chad.’ I felt discontented and trivial.

But then I read The Joy Luck Club my first year in college. And that started another obsessive journey into whatever diverse, multicultural piece of literature I was able to get my hands on. Amy Tan, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, Pat Mora, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros –thank you all. And WOW. I couldn’t believe. I seriously did not think it was possible. My experience can be documented out there!  Versions of me do exist in literature. I REALLY can identify with these characters.

And those feelings to search for me, for us, in literature only doubled once I had my babies. I didn’t want them to question their identity, like I did for so long. I wanted them to automatically see their colored faces in the text and feel validated, strong, confident, and happy.

And so I ask my Latinos and fellow people of color out there, is it true? Are we unmarketable? Should we allow them to cast us aside? In this day and age, I think not. Demand literature that represents you! Let’s prove them wrong.  Lets show them that, yes, we are consumers who need to be taken seriously. Let’s add some color and sabor to those bookshelves!

Perla Rodriguez is a NYC teacher and mom of two who recently decided to become a writer and capture some of the awesome, yet rarely told stories that surround her.  She is currently working on her MFA in Writing for Children at The New School and writing a few fictional pieces for young adults and children.
Photo credit: George R. Fischer

Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On May - 18 - 2012

Manuscript 600x450 Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

The Writing for Children MFA experience at The New School — gulp, I can’t believe it’s over — was one of the most enriching educational experiences of my life. Here’s my attempt at capturing it in an ABCDErium with pros, cons and random essentials.

Authors. Meet them, read them, learn from them, learn with them, learn how to be one.

Amazing classmates. I really lucked out with this batch. Cheers class of 2012, you rocked!

ABCDErium. (ABBA-SEE-DA-REE-YUM) An A to Z perspective on a topic that you write after you meditate on it for a while and then just let it free-flow as you unleash your thoughts. An assignment for class I taught was to write an ABCDErium on Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew. See Juggling.

Books. The MFA was a great way to learn things I never knew and needed to know about the business of books. I saw many of my classmates land book deals during the program. I also read more books in the last two years than I ever had—sometimes more than three books a week. At any point of the program my desk was covered in more than 15 books. Bliss!

Craft. Gathered immense respect for the craft of writing and the gazillion things that make it what it is: Thoughts. Plots. Words. Story arc. Character sketches. Voice. First person. Second person. Third person. Sub plots. Themes. Motifs. Summaries. Outlines. Revisions. Chapters. Buttons. Grammar. Edits. Rewrites. Writing is a beautiful complex organic stimulating scientific thing. As Andrea Davis Pinkney says: Writers Write.

Community of writers. Perhaps the best part of the MFA (at least for me) was the opportunity to share and learn with many inspiring and talented writers and build life-long associations with them.

Deadlines. The four scariest words for a writer — “I have a deadline.” And the only ones that get the job done. I doubt I’d be able to churn out my writing without deadlines — a journalism that trait stuck on. But as the MFA progressed, I feel like I coped with managing deadlines better. (I confess, this post was turned in late, but hey, I’m working on getting better at TWB deadlines.)

David Levithan. Taught us a seminar on teen lit in the first semester. Knows the YA and teen lit genre like the back of his hand and teaches a mad inspiring class about it. He is also very funny.

Expensive. Unless you have benefits, be prepared to be over $60K in debt. A part scholarship doesn’t even begin to count.

Focus. A writing degree with a focus on Writing for Children. As of now, few universities around the world  (seven to be precise) offer such a niche master’s creative writing program.

Feed. A dystopian novel by MT Anderson, one of my favorites from the reading list in the first semester. I loved the fact that the books on our syllabus were contemporary and uber cool.

Go For It. If you can afford it and are even thinking about a creative writing MFA, Go For It. It’s a great way to get started on writing projects that you’ve imagined for years but never gotten around to completing. Who knows, you might finally write that winning manuscript—or at least get started on it.

Harry Potter was not on our syllabus. Nor The Hunger Games. A lot of books you’d expect to see on a syllabus for a Writing for Children program weren’t on ours. In fact, the reading list for the Writing for Children concentration, with David Levithan and Susan Van Metre’s class (the only two classes that focus on children’s literature and were both fantastic) put together didn’t go beyond 45 books in the genre. Sure, we studied a LOT of excellent books, and yes, I definitely read tons outside of the syllabus as my own self-study. But I do feel like the program could use a more comprehensive and extensive reading list, and certainly one with more cultural diversity. Besides Sherman Alexie, Coe Booth and Grace Lin, I found the reading list dominated by white American authors. I don’t recall reading anything by a single Indian author. Perhaps the only Indian character I encountered was Bibi, a Bengali nanny from Julie Sternberg’s Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

Immersed. I feel like someone drowned me in a bottomless, delicious tub of kidlit.

Juggling. You could choose to focus solely on your writing, like some of my classmates. Or you could be adventurous and juggle real life (a time-consuming job) and write when no one’s looking, like others. Either way, writing requires some serious juggling skills that an MFA is sure to hone. In the first year I juggled with adjusting to life in a new country, as well as coping with a new system of education. I’d never left home before, so that was all pretty overwhelming, along with learning how to write academic papers, something I hadn’t formally learnt during my schooling in India. In the second year I was offered a Teaching Assistant position with New School’s Riggio Honors Program in Writing & Democracy, which was a fantastic opportunity for personal growth and learning. In Fall 2011 I assisted the amazing Tom Healy with his class The Writer’s Playlist, a close-listening and reading seminar that explores links between music and literature, both of which I’m passionate about. (That’s also where I discovered what an ABCDErium is). In Spring 2012 I joined the editorial team at 12th Street, New School’s award-winning literary journal, where I had the opportunity to work with a dedicated team of student editors and contributors as we assembled the fifth issue of the magazine, from editing to production, publicity and beyond. Both my TA experiences invaluably broadened my reading range and literary network. Word.

Knowledge. It’s the foundation of the MFA, isn’t it?

Kevin Joinville. My buddy and the only boy in our class. The Writing for Children concentration usually has just the token male. This is not a pro or a con, just a mere observation.

Lang Café. Spent a lot of time inside it with peer group. Or by myself in the courtyard next to it staring into trees for inspiration and, yes, eavesdropping on conversations.

Manuscript. What a beautiful word! Say it with me: MAA-NUU-SCRIPT. By the time you graduate with an MFA, you might have one. Or two. Or three! Or you might have the semblance of a manuscript. Whatever the case, it’s a great feeling (I want to say accomplishment) to see a word document grow page by page into a large body of work. I wrote a little over ten pages of a story in the third semester that eventually became the major chunk of my creative thesis. And towards the end of thesis semester, my MAA-NUU-SCRIPT grew wild and unkempt, complete and uncontrollable.

New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made, yo.

New School. I’m proud to call it my writing Alma Mater. I had six other schools to pick from, and the New School was always numero uno on my list. I’m pretty convinced I made the right decision. Too many reasons. New School’s history of writers, which I was totally unaware of until recently, all the people I met during my time there, the fact that New York city is the helm of publishing and watering hole for aspiring writers, my amazing classmates. Let’s just say that the New School was an important and exciting chapter in the life of Riddhi Kamal Parekh.

Overwhelming. See New School.

Others. Writers of other genres. Like them Poets. Or writers of Fiction and NonFiction. Writers completely unlike those who Write for Children. There’s really minimal interaction amongst the WFC people and the other streams. My classmates may disagree, but I wish there was more mingling amongst the genres. Because, I mean, in real life, a writer is a writer is a writer, right? Also, how else would we have met the one and only Lenea Grace?

Peer group. In the fourth and final semester you suddenly find yourself rid of weekly classes and seminars. Instead, you meet with a peer group — a small group of classmates who read your work and give you feedback on it, and you do the same for theirs. My peer group felt balanced, committed and extremely inspiring, making the MFA worth every precious dollar. Amy Ewing, Caela Carter, Jess Verdi, Mary G. Thompson. You girls are my supportive upper lip.

Picture books. A largely ignored aspect of the Writing for Children program at The New School. Because of my interest in the genre, for some reason I had imagined there would be a larger focus on picture books. Perhaps the chance to collaborate with students from Parsons or something. But no such luck. My classmates even raised this issue with the faculty and tried to gain access to Children’s Book Illustration taught by Jacquie Hann, offered by The New School’s Continuing Education Program. This class might have been more beneficial than having to take a class outside of the Writing for children concentration (see Mary’s post for this month on this issue), but due to logistics or something, none of us were offered this class. We did, however, have a series of fantastic weekend workshops towards the end of each semester. One of them was in Picture Books, by the lovely Sarah Ketchersid, and I hope she continues conducting them at The New School. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s weekend workshop in Writing Cross-Culturally was also MUCH needed. Hats off to Dhonielle Clayton for arranging that. Like picture books, Cultural Diversity in Children’s and Teen Literature is another scarce aspect of the program. I’m sure everyone who attended these workshops will agree that they need to be further integrated into the overall curriculum of the Writing for Children program.

Questions. There are many swirling in my mind. Like was the MFA worth it? What happens next with my career? Will I find a job in publishing? Is it the MBA equivalent of Writing? What kind of jobs does one look for after an MFA im Creative Writing? Does it qualify you to teach? Will I ever sell my manuscript? Will I get an agent? Will I be the next JK Rowling? Who knows? Keep checking this blog for updates.

Quiet. There’s nothing as inspiring as a humorous ditty about writing a thesis or some ridiculous Hinglish Bollywood song  to get me recharged and get the words flowing again. But really, I do prefer silence when I’m writing—something I discovered through the course of this program. And yes, most people who are not writers, like roommates or friends who do ‘normal’ banking stuff or members of family may imagine that creative writing is a recreational and enjoyable activity where writers get high and turn on music and snap into the creative zone where writing page after page is just so easy. But really, no. Peace and quiet. Very essential to the process. (Oh bite me, you know Q is hard. But X is the hardest!).

Reading your work aloud. Yes, you have to do it in front of everyone at the end of your thesis semester. A few weeks ago, I read from my work at an MFA Student reading at Lang Center at The New School. It was the last student reading of our graduate program, where selected faculty and first and second year MFAers from all streams — Fiction, Poetry, NonFiction and Writing for Children — read from their work for about 3 to 4 minutes. Newly admitted students of Fall 2012 were invited to come and watch. Standing at the lectern, I zipped down nostalgia express to the first time I was in that very space at Lang Center. I was part of the audience — the sea of writers at the MFA orientation. I can still remember that feeling of being lost, as we called out our concentrations, and felt a little hope when I heard others call out the WFC concentration — although most said poetry or fiction. Back then, I never imagined I’d have anything to read to a room full of people, let alone be proud of it. If you chose to avail it, the monthly student readings at the New School great chance to the develop the confidence to read your work and to hear your peers and were a super supportive environment for me.

Submission. See Deadlines.

TWB. Teen Writers Bloc. This blog is a result of the MFA program class of 2012. And isn’t it the best thing ever? Three cheers to TWB! I’m proud to be a part of it.

Thesis semester. See Manuscript, Peer group.

Urban dictionary. A great resource for writing-related research. No, seriously.

Uneconomical. Can you learn the things you learn in an MFA program outside it? Sure you can. But will you take the time out to commit to your writing? And then will it be worth it? It’s a call every aspiring MFA candidate must to take. See Expensive, Overwhelming.

Voice. Very important when writing for children, teens, young adults and first-person narratives. David Levithan’s reading list introduced us to some fantastic voices. See David Levithan.

Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a low-residency MFA Program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. MT Anderson is part of the faculty. I’d love to hear more about it and compare the two programs. See Focus.

Writing for children. Gah. Pretty much the subject of this ABCDErium, no? See Go For It.

Xenophile. A deadly word I discovered in a desperate attempt to complete this post. Like the remarkable Dhonielle Clayton and myself, a xenophile is an individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures. (Give me a break, you know X is the hardest!) See Quiet.

YA. I wasn’t as aware how extensive this literary genre was before I embarked to this program. Maybe it’s bigger in America? I’m not sure. Either way, YA rocks. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_adult_literature) See David Levithan.

Zipped by. Whooooosh. It really did. I wish it didn’t pause for three months during the summer.

Photo Credit: Riddhi Parekh

As School Ends, Corey Starts Plotting

Posted by Corey Haydu On May - 17 - 2012

6writing As School Ends, Corey Starts PlottingWhat better way to assess my time at The New School than to take a look at what I worked on, and try to determine whether or not I evolved as a writer, based on the work I created.

My first semester, I worked on an ill-fated YA novel told from four different narrators. It was a quiet, literary, plot-less pretty thing. It was exactly what I was used to writing. It had its challenges, sure, but mostly I was comfortable. There was atmosphere! Voice! Research! Complicated relationships!

The only thing missing? Plot.

My nemesis.

Second semester, I worked on a (still unfinished and unformed) middle-grade novel. I wrote in short little vignettes. Again there was a cute, snarky voice. An interesting set of family dysfunctions. Some keen observations.
And again, there was no plot.

While workshopping the middle-grade novel in class, I was also working on another project. A new YA. And though the piece I was writing for workshop wasn’t getting any stronger, my side project was benefiting from the criticism. I realized I needed structure. I needed plot. I needed a clear arc. I needed (god forbid!) a beginning, middle and end.

So although my teachers and classmates (with the exception of my Monday group classmates — Sona, Caela, Dhonielle, and Amy) never saw this new YA novel, it grew stronger from their feedback. I was listening. I was hearing them. I was accepting that it was high time to address the plot issue.

And that novel? That is the novel. The one coming out in Summer 2013.

This semester I’m pushing myself even further. I’m working on my next YA novel, and this time I’m working on a very plot-heavy book. There’s some mystery! There’s rising action! There’s a CLIMAX, guys! A real-live climactic scene. A true beginning, middle, and end. It hasn’t been easy. I have a lot of holes in my plot. I have classmates asking questions I don’t know the answers to. And sometimes I just want to write a nice interior monologue or some disconnected scenes that have no impact on the actual plot. I want some voice-heavy vignettes or to write one scene from eight different points of view for no actual reason.

But I am accountable, now, for the things I’m not so great at. I’m challenging myself to get better, and to accept that just because plotting isn’t my FAVORITE part doesn’t mean I can just never do it.

And maybe I didn’t learn that exact thing in any one class or from any one person, but it’s definitely a lesson learned during my time getting my MFA.

photo credit: http://navywifeadventures.blogspot.com

Jess’s Ode to Student Loans

Posted by Jessica Verdi On May - 16 - 2012

student debt 300x300 Jesss Ode to Student LoansYou can probably already tell that there’s a bit of a consensus among us at TWB about the value of the New School MFA. (In a nutshell, we all had an incredible time and loved our professors but generally credit our overwhelmingly positive experience to our smart, helpful, talented classmates rather than the “curriculum” of the school.)

So instead of being a copycat, I’ll take a different approach to my graduation month TWB post. I call it: Negative Dollars.

Negative Dollars

Dear Sallie Mae,
Wells Fargo,
Student Assistance Foundation,
And Nelnet.
You’re so kind.
You don’t know me,
But you lent me your money anyway,
So I could hang some diplomas on my wall.
I probably should look at those diplomas more, huh?
With the kind of money they cost
I could have gone to see The Book of Mormon
(in the good seats)
Four hundred times.
But it’s alright,
Because now I am educated.
A “master.”
And
(Somehow)
I have a book deal,
An agent,
An editor,
A career,
A community.
So thanks, banks.
I owe you one.

*Disclaimer: As you can probably tell, I didn’t take a single poetry class during my two years at the New School.

Image credit: fewings.ca

Was It All Worth It? Amber Takes A Look Back

Posted by Amber On May - 14 - 2012

pocky1 300x225 Was It All Worth It? Amber Takes A Look Back

Part of me still can’t believe that we’ve made it to the end. I’ll walk away from this program grateful for the friends that I’ve made, the feedback I’ve received, and the incredible stories that I’ve been able to read over the course of the past two years.

But, with that said, one question still remains: Would I do it all again?

This experience, though filled with ups and downs, has been rewarding for me. Mostly because of the people I’ve shared it with. So I would do it over again in a heartbeat, even though I don’t know what the future holds. No matter what, I’m lucky to have met such talented and driven people.

With regard to the program specifically, I appreciated that, for the most part, we could submit whatever we wanted to submit. And because of the literature seminars I was able to read books I never would have picked up previously, such as Nervous Conditions, which I read in Darryl Pinckney’s lit seminar, Fiction as Memoir/Memoir as Fiction, a class that I loved. As well as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Blankets, both of which we read during David’s class in that first semester, which was another class that was really fulfilling and worthwhile. Obtaining feedback from others — twelve sets of eyes analyzing my work — was a unique and helpful experience.

 

That said, while I do feel that the program was worth it, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a suggestion or two for how it could be strengthened.

The main thing that I feel the program needs is a more diverse faculty. Here are a few suggestions just off the top of my head: New School Alums Coe Booth or Jenny Han , or maybe someone like Matt De La Pena. I’m not sure if they’d even be interested, but I can say that the Writing for Children program is missing something crucial by not having a permanent faculty member of color on staff.  Honestly, I think that bringing in someone new to lead workshops or even a lit class could only make the program better than it already is. And beyond that, students in other concentrations have multiple professors to choose from, so WFC students should have the same opportunity.

It’s only fair.

Another suggestion that I have is that workshops should include more craft exercises and lessons. I think most of our workshop professors assumed we knew everything but it would have been helpful for there to have been a reading list or a weekly or biweekly assignment focused on Plotting, Character, Pacing, etc., with an option to apply that assignment to an already existing piece or a new one. It would also be great if there were more TA and GA positions available during the first and second years. But I’m not sure if that will ever change.

There were a few other things that I didn’t like, but I can’t go back in time and make changes to my unpleasant experiences. So, I’m not going to voice them.

But I will say this: Walking to the subway with my classmates after workshop and congratulating them on successful submissions, or sympathizing with them and encouraging them after tough critiques (and vice versa). Eating dinner at Charlie Mom’s after workshop or getting Korean BBQ at Kum Gang San before peer group. Opening email attachments from certain classmates with anticipation of what I knew would be an exciting, compelling and/or humorous continuation of a piece that I admired.  Working on something of my own diligently and feeling good when my classmates liked what I’d created and then motivated when there were things I desperately needed to fix.

I’m going to miss all of those things. And all of those things are what made this worth it.

Photo Credits: Top Shelf Productions & Craig Thompson

Jane and I shopping at a Korean Supermarket on 32nd St. (Her hands, my picture)

pixel Was It All Worth It? Amber Takes A Look Back
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