Recently, I had the pleasure of going to Sarah Lawrence College to attend their MFA Creative Writing open house. Located in the beautifully wooded town of Bronxeville, the event rekindled my writing spirit.The open house reception took place in Slonim House, a cozy cabin which like other buildings on campus is made in the Tudor architectural style. Ms. Paige Ackerson welcomed attendees personally while we waited for the event to start. It wasn’t long before the affable Director Brian Morton took his place in front of the podium. He welcomed us all and drew us in with a story about catching sight of Allen Ginsberg across the subway platform, ironically smoking a cigarette (Ginsberg is famous for his poem Don’t Smoke).
It was a thoroughly entertaining speaking point, but there was one thing he said that really resonated with me. Later in his speech, he said that it takes a lot of courage to commit to an MFA in writing because it’s a declaration of your seriousness as a writer. I’d never thought of the act of attending an MFA program in such a way. And as I’m prone to do, I sat there, apart from the other attendees, awkwardly and silently introspecting. For once in my life, I felt at home—yet, I questioned whether I had the courage to pursue a writer’s life.
The Open House
With a fog of confusion in my mind, I went through the event with heavy questions in my mind, thoughts that clamped down on any instinct to connect with others. There were a few students from some rather prestigious schools, like Bard and Vassar. There were also two Hunter College alumni there, an older woman who teaches at Hunter and a young woman who just recently graduated. They were having a happy chat amongst themselves and I ended up not connecting with them. It wasn’t long before the attendees broke off into separate groups.
Guiding the prospective students who were interested in the fiction track was a lanky fellow named Patrick, a second-year student. We went off to meet a current instructor named Carolyn Ferrell. In room 104 of the Andrews building, Ms Ferrell facilitated a conversation among the group. There were a number of people who were interested in speculative fiction—also known as science fiction. There were a few young women from prestigious colleges and who seemed rather well-educated as well as a few middle-aged men, one of whom was the sort of seemingly easy-going man who wore long hair and a white silk shirt with a rose print. Quiet as I was, I felt comfortable to be amongst like-minded people with similar interests, and it reminded me of the satisfaction that I felt when I was back at Hunter College in Susan Daitch’s class. I was drawn in by a strange feeling of tribal familiarity, and it was one of the finest and rarest pleasures that I had in recent times.
The sample class concluded and we all returned to Slonim House for lunch, after which there was a campus tour. I loved the campus which, being that it was a Saturday, was quiet and quaint. The Tudor architecture, the woods, and the fresh air were everything that I imagined for myself as a writer. It was the very environment that brought out the pensiveness that I feel that I need in order to create.
I loved the campus, and I loved the nurturing spirit of the program. With biweekly one-on-one conferences with your instructor and their willingness to be accessible to students, I felt that Sarah Lawrence College was a good fit for my needs. I’ve sensed for a while now that I’m the type of person who suffers from a deep handicap—that I won’t reach my potential unless I can secure the help of some mentors.
Sadly, the core issue that has always plagued me is still at play. What do you do with an MFA after you get it? How do you build a career as a writer, one that pays reasonably well enough to pay off your student debt? If money were no object, there would be no doubt in my mind that I would be pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. But of course, in the real world we do need to earn a living.
Ultimately, life revolves around money, and that is my main concern. My brother joked that there was a good reason that the attendees were young women and middle-aged men—the young women didn’t have to worry about money because of their well-off families and the fact that they can afford to get married to a breadwinner, and the middle-aged men have accumulated enough money to attend an MFA. Sadly, it’s probably true. As much as I’d love to delve into the deep end and pursue a writing MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, I have to take care of my income situation first. I have no doubt that Sarah Lawrence College would be where I’d like to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing though. The only question is when I’ll apply.