(From the top of Greyrock Trail, a wonderful hike a few folks from the MFA and English MA did to kick off the summer. This is a bit of a cheat, since it’s in Colorado, but its a great hike just an hour south of Laramie.)
In a two-year MFA program, the summer in between the first and second years is incredibly important. While the checks for being graduate assistants also take summer vacation, the program provides a summer stipend and many other departments offer additional grants, depending on the subject matter of your work. Some people write like fiends and finish the first draft of their thesis, others research for their projects all over the world, and some (hopefully all) take the time to catch up on life stuff, like getting married—congratulations, Heather!
Over the course of this summer, I’ll be following folks on their work and their adventures, posting updates from the road, and sharing advice from some of our recent grads on how best to take advantage of the summer in your writing. Today, we’ll hear from some of the first years (including yours truly) on what’s in store for the next few months, and what they hope to achieve.
Bryce is a non-fiction writer and wanderer. True to form, he blew out of town almost as soon as classes were finished, and sent in this update from Greece: “My plans are to spend time in Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine doing primary research into the physical and imaginary borders being created and recreated in the past couple years to the east, as a way into thinking about nationalism and neoliberalism. I got some cash from Dick and Lynne Cheney, and that, with my summer stipend and some money from selling a car is gonna get me there and back.” He’s planning on keeping a diary of his travels, writing as he goes, rather than waiting till the end of the trip and reflecting back from a distance.
Sarah came into the program as a poet, but has also done a tremendous amount of academic work and organizing in Laramie. She’s constantly balancing her work and advocacy on so many fronts, it’s not surprising that she’s working on a number of projects this summer. First on the list is a chapbook dealing with queer isolation and communities, something that’s been on her mind a great deal having moved from New York City to Laramie. With funding from American Studies, English, and the Social Justice Research Center, she’s also headed to Ireland to study the impact of Irish immigration to the U.S. on the concept of whiteness here. Her research is heavily influenced by the critical race theory work of David Roediger and Noel Ignatiev, as well as others. She noted that, over the last year, she’s been “surprised by how interested in hybrid genres and creative non-fiction [she] became.” I may not be as surprised as Sarah, given the diversity of her interests and passions, but I’m grateful for the chance to read her work in so many forms!
As for me, in two weeks I’ll be loading up the Subaru (I’m nothing if stereotypical) and heading north to old mining towns in Canada and Alaska. My current thesis plan is to do a collection of short stories about women’s lives in these remote areas. Thanks to a generous Cheney grant for international studies, I’ll be able to spend lots of time interviewing folks in the backcountry, wandering about on glaciers and trying to get a better sense of the past as well as the future out there. I’ve worked up in Alaska the last four summers, so I know some of the area quite well, but this is a great chance to see it from some entirely different perspectives.
Next week, we’ll hear from some more first years about their plans, and then pretty soon we’ll be getting in dispatches from the road as more and more people embark on their summer adventures.
(Jake, majestic trail dog.)