Current Iowa student defends program

Yesterday a current Iowa MFA student emailed me to dispute the forthcoming MFA Handbook’s critical take on the program. I said I would post the response; I was planning to do that; obviously I haven’t yet. This morning the student equated my furtherance of the “misleading and inaccurate” portrayal of the program with the Frey and Leroy scandals and the lies of the Bush administration.

So, without further ado, here is the defense of the program:

just thought I’d refute that guy’s take on Iowa, being that, well, I’m here and know what it’s like.

First, there’s actually a pretty supportive atmosphere among the students. The bad news is that, yes, the program has 50 fiction writers and 50 poets each year (larger than some most – e.g. Brown’s 6 or Cornell’s 8 fiction writers a year) and therefore can’t quite fund every one entirely. The good news: compared to Columbia’s $40+ a year in NYC, Iowa is under $6500 a year in Iowa Freakin’ City. Tuition and living can easily be covered by teaching or research assistantships (that most everyone gets) and federal loans if necessary. No one I know complains about money! Imagine that! (People would like to have more, sure, but people pretty much have enough to survive and then some.) It’s a super inexpensive town and pretty much everyone teaches in their second year, making more money than tuition costs.

There’s a competition for second-year fellowships among all the first-year fiction writers, but there’s not a “competitive” feeling among the students because we know there’s nothing we can really do but submit our best work and hope the professors respond. The “winners” get about five thousand extra dollars on top of their teaching pay. (The “losers” get around $11K [nearly double tuition] for teaching one undergraduate writing class — some teach two classes and make around $16K). The “winners” also read applications for admission, which kills them in January. Winning the fellowship is a mixed blessing really, considering all the manuscripts that must be read and evalauated every day for six weeks of winter! (That’s my life now.) Anyway, just wanted to refute that “competitive” rumor a little. It’s definitely “competitive” to get in but once here I’d say it’s largely supportive with tons of time to write (no real academic requirements) in a town with nothing else to do.


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