A few insights from my third residency for my MFA program include:
-Using poetry to teach and inform memoir is a brilliant move – thank you Chip Livingston for the amazing care and approach to our writing and to the improvement of our work. Using the prose sonnet for both my fiction and nonfiction might just be the thing I need to re-enter my material. Thank you to my workshop peers for the community, richness, and connection.
-From Melissa Febos: Writers shouldn’t avoid themselves – we can be afraid and we can still write. We are not merely navel gazing, we’re navel knowing, and there’s power and importance in that knowing, especially when the craft is stellar and the knowing is profound.
-Ernestine Hayes: Told us that she always begins her talks with two truths:
1) Almost every textbook and academic source defines pre-European contact to North America as pre-history, but indigenous people had/have their own history. Before colonialism, indigenous people possessed vigorous legal, health, educational systems that functioned well for thousand of years. Don’t forget this.
2) Even if colonialism hadn’t happened, Indians would be in the 21st century; they’d have roads and airplanes; they would be modern. However, there would significant differences: the populations wouldn’t be so vulnerable to diseases, especially alcoholism; people would speak their own languages; the children would have more opportunities.
-Ramona Ausubel: One of her many excellent revision insights included: Think about the opposing forces in your work beyond the usual tensions of humor and sadness, etc. Make a list of 10-20 elements/things in the work – what’s pulling against it? What’s the opposite pole in the ground? Work with these opposing poles to create deeper tension, so that readers feel the tug. As we engage these forces, they will strike an emotional note on the string on the wire between the two poles.
-Stephen Graham Jones: Hook lines matter, and make sure you have a second hook line somewhere in the first page. If a first line intrigued a potential reader, then the effective second hook line will guarantee that the reader will stay in the story for its entirety. He also proposed, “If you don’t have an axe to grind, how are you going to sharpen your teeth?”
-From Derek Palacio: With these two opposing forces being true: not knowing enough and still being inextricably connected to a cultural and family legacy, we must write toward our fears.
I am deeply grateful for the chance to grow my understanding of craft while in this program, for the many insights available at every turn, but I’m more grateful for the kind of people here: for the ways teachers treat students as equals, as fellow travelers in the country of writing. Thank you, IAIA MFA program.