From time to time I find I need to mention the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I mention it because, though I no longer teach there, the program is very dear to my heart and because I’m convinced it’s the best of its kind in the country. Well, in the world if we want to cast that wide a net.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll add that I was one of the founding faculty and the first Faculty Chair as well as a longtime teacher at VCFA, so I’m not exactly unbiased.
Not everyone can commit to the rigor and expense of graduate work, and I don’t want to hold an MFA degree up as the only way in. It isn’t. Most of the faculty who teach at VCFA arrived at their publishing careers without any academic training in writing whatsoever. We simply learned by doing. But it is, for many of the participants, the best possible short-cut to writing success.
And it is something else. Apart from teaching writers how to produce truly professional work, VCFA connects writers with other writers.
Most students leave the program with lifelong bonds in place, bonds with people who share the same language, the same vision, the same world, and that is probably as valuable as the two intensive years of working with mentors. To reinforce those bonds, VCFA students each summer set up a mini rez, a brief residency on campus while the regular residency is in session, where they can hear inspiring talks from other writers, meet with editors and agents, and most important of all, reestablish their bonds with one another.
I am including here a response to my last blog about my own experience of reconnecting with my fellow writers. This by Jane LeGrow, a graduate of VCFA’s low residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. It says it all:
Your post is timely; I just returned from the Alumni Mini Residency at VCFA.
Although I look forward to reconnecting with my VCFA friends each year, I was feeling ambivalent about going in the days before the trip. I’d been trying for months to finish my current YA novel in advance of the Mini Rez, but my work life has recently exploded and gotten in the way of my writing. It’s a temporary situation (I hope) but very frustrating and stressful. I began to think, “what’s the point of going? Everyone’s going to ask what I’m working on and I’m tired of trying to explain why I’m not done yet.” I didn’t have a finished manuscript, I didn’t have a pitch prepared for the agents and editors, I didn’t even have a reading prepared.
But I gave myself a pass to just go and listen. And my writer friends surprised and delighted me yet again with their sympathy and encouragement and almost magical ability to rejuvenate my shriveled little soul. These are my people and they reminded me that I’m not alone and that what I’m trying to do is not only possible, but vitally important.
We talked about our writing dilemmas; they took seriously my concerns about how to make the sentient squirrels in my story ‘work.’ And I wound up participating much more than I expected and even connecting with a bunch of new writer friends.
By Sunday I found myself wishing I didn’t have to go home. On the drive home a verse from Mike O’Connor’s wonderful translation of Chia Tao kept running through my head: “When I find you again it will be in mountains/ this morning I lose you once more to farewell.”
I’ll see you next year, my beloved writer tribe.
And I’ll conclude by saying, may every writer out there have such a tribe.