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.
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