February 29, 2008

Anancy @ Lemon City Library

Grandpa Sydney's Anancy StoriesThe children at the Lemon City Library were fantastic! I was privileged to be a part of the Black History Month celebration hosted by the Miami Dade Public Library System and I read from Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories on February 26, 2008.

The children asked questions about Jamaica, the books I had published, and my reasons for writing Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories. They also asked me about the mountains in Jamaica, and why at the end of the first chapter Grandpa Sydney was sad. I explained to them that like Grandpa Sydney, I missed the mountains of Jamaica where I grew up.

Give thanks to the Miami Dade Public Library System and the Lemon City Branch for inviting me to be a part of this year’s celebration. It really was a pleasure.

For more photos of this event, please follow this link: Anancy @ Lemon City Library-Flickr


BTW, Happy Leap Day!

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February 27, 2008

Uncle Obadiah and the Alien: Back on the Block

Geoffrey PhilpPeepal Tree Press, my publisher, received a rather large order from Trinidad, of which Uncle Obadiah and the Alien was a part--hence the new look for the cover. Uncle Obadiah was my first book of short stories and as the publisher notes, "Philp's Uncle Obadiah and the Alien very consciously takes a wide variety of short story forms (sci-fi, the Jamaican tall-tale, and the social realist story) and moods (comic, protesting, erotic, tragic) and mixes the whole like the diverse track list of a Peter Tosh album."

Here's what some others have had to say:

Robert Antoni : "If Dickens were reincarnated as a Jamaican Rastaman, he would write stories as hilarious and humane as these." Uncle Obadiah" and the other stories collected here announce Geoffrey Philp as a direct descendent of Bob Marley: poet, philosophizer, spokesperson for our next new world."

John Dufresne: "Geoffrey Philp is a literary shaman, an enchanter, a weaver of spells that reveal unexpected and marvelous things about life, that carry the news of island culture to the mainland. From the first word of the first story in this comic and touching collection, Philp lifts me out of my world and drops me into the world of his charming, beleaguered and compelling characters. Uncle Obadiah and the Alien is one of those rare treasures, a book you can't put down and won't ever forget."

Norval Edwards : "Geoffrey Philp's writing combines a poetic sensibility with finely honed narrative skills that draw on a multitude of resources: literary and oral traditions, rasta and ragamuffin flavours, science fiction and Jamaican tall tales. Philp blends them all with humour, wisdom and craft."

Preston Allen: "We have always known that Mr. Philp is in a class by himself as a poet, but now he has taken on the mantle of short story writer as well. This collection is not to be missed. The great stories in this book are important because they take us into rarely traversed ground: the experience of the Jamaican immigrant back home on the island and in the new Babylon of America. As a Caribbean immigrant myself, I have often longed for a book that is our version of The Grapes Of Wrath or The Joy Luck Club, one that tells our story with wit, intelligence, and without apology. Uncle Obadiah is it. You will be transported."

After eleven years since its first publication, I'm happy that Uncle Obadiah is still out there and being appreciated.

Give thanks, my Trini sistren and brethren.


February 26, 2008

BlackHistoryDaily.com Promotes Black History 366 Days of the Year

Black History MonthAmericans have recognized Black History annually since 1926, first as “Negro History Week” and later as “Black History Month.” “We felt that our history was much too important to be celebrated not only for one month, but the shortest month of the year” explained Brad Hemmings, founder of the website BlackHistoryDaily.com

Hemmings and his associates created BlackHistoryDaily.com to promote African-American achievement throughout the year. “There are interesting facts for each day of the year, all 365 of them; 366 of them this year; did you know that there are at least four prominent African Americans born on February 29th?” Hemmings asked. The site’s mission is to support recognition of Black History beyond the month of February by providing information on a day-to-day basis.

Visitors to BlackHistoryDaily.com are encouraged to subscribe to a newsletter that provides a fact and quote of the day. While browsing the site, visitors may research historical facts on famous and lesser known African American figures while participating in discussions with others with common interests.

The site’s contributors worked for several months carefully researching and verifying data. “Our main goal is to inspire the leaders of tomorrow,” explained Bernard Rouzeau, the site’s creative director. Hemmings added, “We are engaging our community to realize that history is not a thing of the past, we are making history right now; our actions today will be the history of tomorrow.” Presidential hopeful Barack Obama is the topic of the most recent entry in the BlackHistoryDaily.com database; January 3rd, 2008 notes that the Democratic candidate made history as “the first African American to win a US presidential primary/caucus.”

The site states that it will be a perpetual work in progress as African Americans are continuing to make history. “Let’s see what happens in November!” Hemmings added with a teasing smile.

For more information visit BlackHistoryDaily.com or contact Mr. Asa Sealy.


Mr. Asa P. Sealy, Media Contact


Telephone: 305.690.0160 / Fax: 305.675.5802


February 25, 2008

Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories: Review in the Gleaner.

Geoffrey PhilpGrandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories received a very good review in The Daily Gleaner (Sunday, February 17, 2008). The reviewer, Siobhan Morrison, praised the book’s “literary richness,” and the realism of the main characters: “The reality of the struggle most Jamaicans face trying to eke out a life in America and the important role the extended family plays in raising children come out in the book.”

I was especially pleased that the reviewer discerned one the main themes of the book: “Rather than resorting to a physical confrontation and unwilling to be seen as a 'tattletale', Jimmy turns to the cunning sheer ingenuity found in the Anancy stories, which his Grandpa Sydney reads to him every night.”

But I really liked this part:

There is richness to Philp's writing, and a literary mastery that allows him to fluidly interweave three stories within the confines of this rather thin book. In addition to the central story of Jimmy and the bully, Philp inserts the story of Anancy, Snake, and Tiger, which takes up all of chapter five. The character of Anancy is a key figure in Jamaican folklore and culture that can be traced back to our West African roots. The stories are usually passed on orally from generation to generation, very much in the same way Grandpa Sydney tells Jimmy the stories just as he had done with Jimmy's father. Known as a trickster, Anancy is not always a good character who does the right thing for children to emulate. However, in this case '... he did and that's what matters'. Children who read this book will be as entertained by Anancy as they are by Jimmy.

To read the entire review, please follow this link: Full of Lessons and Laughs


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February 22, 2008

"Boat People" by Felix Morisseau-Leroy

Felix Morisseau-LeroyI learned many things from Felix Morisseau-Leroy and one of the most important was his commitment to the Haitian Creole language.
A person’s or a people's language is breath and to denigrate a language is to deny life. Devalue and then decimate has always been the practice of conquerors. Morisseau-Leroy sought to reverse centuries of devaluation and upheld the dignity of Haitians even when they were peppered with epithets such as “boat people.”

Boat People

We are all in a drowning boat
Happened before at St. Domingue
We are the ones called boat people
We all died long ago
What else can frighten us
Let them call us boat people
We fight a long time with poverty
On our islands, the sea, everywhere
We never say we are not boat people
In Africa they chase us with dogs
Chained our feet, embark us
Who then called us boat people?
Half the cargo perished
The rest sold at Bossal Market
It’s them who call us boat people
We stamp our feet down, the earth shakes
Up to Louisiana, down to Venezuela
Who would come and call us boat people?
A bad season in our country
The hungry dog eats thorns
They didn’t call us boat people yet
We looked for jobs and freedom
And they piled us on again: Cargo—Direct to Miami
They start to call us boat people
We run from the rain at Fort Dimanche
But land in the river at Krome
It’s them who call us boat people
Miami heat eats away our hearts
Chicago cold explodes our stomach
Boat people boat people boat people
Except for the Indians—
All Americans are immigrants
But it’s us they call boat people
We don’t bring drugs in our bags
But courage and strength to work
Boat people—Yes, that’s all right, boat people
We don’t come to make trouble
We come with all respect
It’s them who call us boat people
We have no need to yell or scream
But all boat people are equal, the same
All boat people are boat people
One day we’ll stand up, put down our feet
As we did at St. Domingue
They’ll know who are boat people
That day, be it Christopher Columbus
Or Henry Kissinger—They will know
Whom we ourselves call people


Felix Morisseau-Leroy"Boat People" from Haitiad & Oddities by Félix Morisseau-Leroy. Copyright © 1991 by Félix Morisseau-Leroy.

Felix Morisseau-Leroy was born in Grand-Gosier, Haiti and had degrees from the University of Haiti, Columbia, New York City College, and the New School of Social Research. He was exiled in 1959 and lived in Africa and the United States.

In Ghana, he served as national organizer of drama and literature at the Arts Council and in Senegal, as Technical Adviser of the Senegalese Federation of People’s Theater.
He wrote numerous books of poetry, novels, and plays including “Ravinodyab,” “Plenitudes,” “Recolte,” “Diacoute,” and “Antigone in Creole” which was performed at the Theater of the Nations in Paris. His works have been translated into French, English, Spanish, German, Russian, Fanti, Twi, and Wolof, and his plays have been performed around the world.

Although he was multilingual, Felix Morisseau-Leroy preferred to write in Creole, because he wished “to express the deepest feelings, emotions, and aspirations of the people for whom he claimed to be a mere “scribe.”


February 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mervyn Morris (2008)

Mervyn MorrisMervyn Morris was born in Jamaica in 1937 and studied at the University College of the West Indies and St Edmund Hall, Oxford. In 1992 he was a UK Arts Council Visiting Writer-in-Residence at the South Bank Centre. His previous collections include The Pond, Shadowboxing, Examination Centre and On Holy Week; he also edited The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories and published 'Is English We Speaking' and Other Essays. He lives in Kingston, Jamaica, where he is Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing & West Indian Literature.

The Lovers (after Rene Magritte)

The lovers kissing

do not see

each other, do not feel

unmediated hair and skin.

Each hooded

in an opaque swirl,

neither seems aware

of something strange.

Do not disturb.

They are in love.

Each feels a kinship

with the other’s mask.

From Caribbean Writing Today.


February 20, 2008

Barack Obama and the American Story

Barack ObamaNo, this isn’t an endorsement for Barack Obama—this is a literary blog after all. Rather, it’s a examination of the text of a speech that Obama gave in Wisconsin on February 16, 2008.

What surprised me more than anything else was his ability to combine the two main narratives of American culture that heretofore ran parallel: The American Love Story and The Great March to Freedom into a single story with himself and his campaign as the protagonists battling the hydra-headed monster, Holdfast (McCain and Clinton, et al).

What is also interesting is that Obama unlike other Black leaders such as Malcolm X (“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us!”) begins the American story of hope at Plymouth Rock and traces it through the Declaration of Independence to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. (What's also ironic is that in the true American Spirit he's "stolen" a few lines of his speech from fellow politician.)

By combining these two narratives, Obama has done what many previous Black leaders such as James Baldwin, (“There are times that make you wonder. that if this country to which you have pledged your allegiance, has pledged its allegiance to you”) have been unable or unwilling to do: claim their American birthright.

By his actions, Obama has expanded the imaginative possibilities of African-Americans and Americans of European descent. But most importantly, he is expanding the imagination of young, black men who haven’t seen a brother like this in public life for a very long time, and whose ideas about the epitome of African American manhood and self-image seem to be restricted to Snoop Dogg or Trick Daddy.

Whether or not the African American body politic moves with his to embrace and integrate these two great stories is another issue. But Obama’s speech shows that he has a cognitive and imaginative grasp of the symbols of America, and as is the birthright of every African American, he has claimed it as his own.


February 19, 2008

Writing After Zora @ Miami Dade Public Library

Edwidge DanticatA public conversation with award-winning author Edwidge Danticat and Carla Kaplan, author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, on how the newest generation of African-American writers relate to, nurture, respect and cultivate Zora Neale Hurston’s contribution to the discussion of African-American identity. Moderated by Janell Walden Agyeman.

Set in Florida, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie Mae Crawford, who tries to break free from the roles assigned to the women of her generation and prove her worth. Considered the first African-American feminist novel, it set the tone for a new generation of women writers in search of their black identity in the 1960s.

Friday, February 22nd at 5 p.m.

Miami Dade Public Library Auditorium

101 W. Flagler St., Downtown Miami

Free and open to the public.

Students with proper ID will receive a free audio CD with excerpts from Their Eyes Were Watching God and literary comments on Hurston’s work.


February 18, 2008

New Text on "Caribbean Cyberculture"

The Politics of Caribbean Cyberculture covers significant new ground, examining the impact and imprint of new leading technology on a range of popular expressions. This technology includes the Internet, the computer, the cell phone, television, and radio, among others. Some of the specific expressions and phenomena treated include: tourism, big budget films, sports, video games, entertainment culture, religious and gospel culture, mobile culture, popular music, writing and technology, and porn.

The work shows acute awareness of the wider global contexts--social, cultural, political, and spiritual--that form the backdrop for Caribbean cultural reconfiguration. Curwen Best argues that Caribbean culture has gone wireless, virtual, and simulated in the age of the machines.

The Politics of Caribbean Cyberculture by Curwen Best
From Palgrave Macmillan
Pub date: Jan 2008
260 pages
ISBN: 0-230-60376-9


February 15, 2008

Showcase of African American Authors at MDC

Sam GrantOne of the little known secrets of Miami Dade College (MDC) is the wealth of literary talent that we have. For the past thirty years, MDC has hired many writers to work in English departments or has been an incubator of talent through the Florida Center for Literary Arts and the Miami Book Fair International.

On Monday, February 6, 2008, I was privileged to introduce Joseph McNair, Sam Grant, and Preston Allen, during our Showcase of African American Authors at MDC. The Black History Month Committee had planned to highlight many more of our authors, but many of them had conflicts with their teaching schedules. (Did I also mention many are committed teachers?)

The standing room only event was held at the Carrie P. Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center, named after one of the great heroes of Miami life and politics, Carrie P. Meek, who was also present at our ceremony honoring another Miami legend, Garth C.Reeves, publisher of the Miami Times.

The truly inspirational evening of stories about rebirth and transformation, as Professor Joseph McNair rightly noted, began with a reading from Ose Sango. But before he commenced, Professor McNair gave an introduction to African cosmogony and the work of scholars such as Cheikh Anta Diop and Ivan van Sertima. Professor McNair then gave a brief history of his novel which began as a series of short stories about the way that Africans look at the world. The students listened intently as Joe read from his coming-of-age novel about a young man who wakes up one day to discover that he is a reincarnation of the Orisha Sango.

Next, Sam Grant took the podium and the students were fascinated with his story about his graphic novel as well as the novel itself. “I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. This was my notebook,” he explained. But what began a minor project in 1987 that he shared with five friends began growing when he posted it on his website from 5,000, 9000, 12,000, 15,000 to 37,000 hits per day on July 17, 2005. After dealing with problems with his server and bandwidth issues, Sam finally published his graphic novel, The Opposite Sex.

It’s always a pleasure to hear Preston Allen read, and Monday night was no different. Preston read from his latest novel, All or Nothing, about P., the degenerate but loveable gambler. The students were intrigued by the twists in the plot and the mastery of scene and voice that he displayed in what I like to call the “lucky son” section.

When it came time for the Q&A, the students and teachers were ready. Many in the audience wanted to know how these professors balanced work with writing, and it was Professor McNair who gave the most cogent answer: “You keep on writing. They turn off your light. You keep on writing. They turn off your water. You keep on writing. They take away your car. You keep on writing.” The audience nodded in silent assent, and came up later to congratulate these authors on their accomplishments.

To view photos of the event, please follow this link: Showcase of African American Authors at MDC.


February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day 2008

Valentine's Day

¿Como se dice eso?

(for Nadia)

¿Como se dice eso? How do I

say this? The hollow feel of the pillows

against the headboard as familiar as the green

of St. Ann, el calor del mar de Progreso, the cold

pews of Sacre Coeur, lost as the light

in these photographs, like the taste

of the small hairs under your navel?

¿Como se dice eso? How do I say

this? I will never go back

to those canefields that share

the mockingbird's trill with my grandfather’s

voice that has become one with the fog

rising over the fishing boats before the moon

covers herself behind mountains

as far away as your body from mine.

¿Como se dice eso? How do I say this?

That I have lied to you, lied to myself,

and I've learned this awful truth--

that heaven is everywhere,

For I have known these places:

the way the light gilds the altar of Sacre

Coeur, the way guava trees in St Ann hold

the morning dew on the backs of their leaves

the way dolphins at Progreso swam with us

into the ocean; the way I have loved your body.


February 13, 2008

“So Jah Seh”: Telling I-Story Inna Babylon

So Jah SehOne of Bob Marley’s greatest strengths as a songwriter was his abilty to transform the folk wisdom of Jamaica with his thorough knowledge of the Bible and Rastafari into memorable lyrics grounded in a circular bass line. Nowhere is this more evident than in “So Jah Seh,” which begins with Bob’s assertion, “Not one of my seed shall sit on the sidewalk, and beg your bread,” then, shifts to the question, “'Cause puss and dog they get together/What's wrong with loving one another? / Puss and dog they get together: /What's wrong with you my brother?” and ends with his statement of faith, “But InI a-hang on in there/And InI, I naw leggo. / But InI a-hang on in there/ And InI, I naw leggo/- So Jah seh.”

Between the first and second stanza, a mere eleven lines, Bob using a contemporary, urban setting draws on verses from Psalm 37:25 ; Isaiah 41:17 ; John 5:24 ; John 6:47; John 8:51; John 8:58; John 13:35; John 15:12 ; 1 John 3:11 and 1 John 4:12 (Biblical Quotes: Words of Wisdom) and converts them into an exhortation that is the essence of Rastafari theology: “I-nite oneself and love I-manity.”

By using the words “I-nite” and “I-manity” Bob cleverly lures the listener out of the ordinary, commonplace world into a deeper reflection about the meaning of Rastafari, which was predicated on the ideas of peace and love. The message of Rastafari, which in 1933 began under the leadership of Leonard Howell, had three main aims: restoring selfhood, awakening the populace to the divinity of Haile Selassie I, and freeing the hearts, minds, and bodies of the “lost Ethiopians.” Or as Bob stated in "Redemption Song" where he used the words of the first prophet of Rastafari, Marcus “Mosiah’ Garvey: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/ none but ourselves can free our minds.”

By transforming a speech of Garvey, who had been reported to have said, “Look to Africa for your king,” into song, Bob was following a practice he had first started with "War” which used the address of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I whose coronation in 1930 began for Rastafari the apotheosis of Ras Tafari Mekonnen.

In the poetic imagination of Rastafari, which delights in wordplay and misreading signs, the very name of Haile Selassie I was changed into a symbol of infinity. So, what would have been read ordinarily as Haile Selassie the First, became Haile Selassie “I.” And if Haile Selassie’s full title was “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia and Elect of God" and as Ethiopian tradition claimed, Selassie was a descendant of Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, and King Solomon of ancient Israel, then Selassie could only be the returned Christ who had returned to “judge the nations of the earth.”

By making Selassie I a localized point of universal consciousness (“I”) regarded as the only power in the universe (omnipotent), and by positing that this consciousness was equally present (omnipresent) in all creation (“I-ration”), then the elegant equation of InI was born: Man and God, God and Man became equals and shared in the divinity of “I.” With this act of renaming, Rastafari created its own vocabulary and by relying on Old Testament narratives, changed the way that many of its adherents viewed history-- I-story. Rastafari puts “I” at the center of all experience. Therefore, if “I” am experiencing an uncomfortable or challenging situation, my discomfort has nothing to do with anyone else. It is up to “I” to change or remove the obstacle because “I” and no one else has the power.

Also as the original man, Rastafari claims through the power of word-sound to restore every thing to its rightful place and rightful name. Even more importantly, the normal way of thinking clouded by Babylonian slavery and captivity had to be reversed. Thus, mankind (I-man) becomes the focus, the subject, and never the object. I-man is never subservient to anything, and whereas, the rest on the world understands, Rastafari over-stands.

“I” becomes the liberating force of Rastafari and against the power of Babylon mentioned in the Book of Revelation 17:5:And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH,” or as Bob sings in “So Much Things to Say” in an echo of Ephesians 6:12, “Hey, but InI - InI nuh come to fight flesh and blood,/But spiritual wickedness in 'igh and low places. /So while, so while, so while they fight you down, /Stand firm and give Jah thanks and praises.”

And Bob as an adherent of Rastafari took the message of Isaiah 61: 1-2: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,” or as Bob chanted in “Revelation”: "So, my friend, I wish that you could see, /Like a bird in the tree, the prisoners must be free, yeah! (free)”

But how would this freedom be gained? A cursory glance at the many titles of Marley’s discography reveals the answer: “Lively up yourself” “Wake Up and Live!” “Get up, Stand up,” and as he declared in "Trench Town," “We free the people with music (sweet music); / Can we free the people with music (sweet music)? /Can we free our people with music? - With music, /With music, oh music!”

The ultimate goal of this war against Babylon, “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned/Everywhere is war, me say war”("War') is freedom, and this battle is ongoing and perhaps generational as Marley implies in “Chant Down Babylon” Come we go burn down Babylon one more time/ (Come we go burn down Babylon one more time); /Come we go chant down Babylon one more time/ (Come we go chant down Babylon); / For them soft! Yes, them soft! (ah-yoy!) /Them soft! Yes, them soft! (ah-yoy!).

And yet one should ask, how does this message of war reconcile with the stated goal of Rastafari, in the utopian message of “One Love, One heart, let’s together and feel all right.” The war as Marley said in an interview that seemed to suggest that Rastafari was the opposite of physical violence:

I wanna tell ya: if them want to win the revolution, them have to win it with Rasta.' Cause if you win another way, you have to go fight again. When you're Rasta and you win, there's no more war.

The war, to return to “Redemption Song” begins and ends in our minds: “Emancipate yourselves form mental slavery/ none but ourselves can free our minds.” If and when that day comes, then truly as one of Marley’s successor Buju Banton asserted in “Hills and Valley”:
Rasta free the people
Over hills and valleys too
Don't let them fool you
Don't believe one minute that they are with you
Jah free the people
Over hills and valleys too
Don't let them fool you
Don't believe for a minute that they are with you

Text from a lecture at Miami Dade College, North Campus on Wednesday, February 13, 2008.


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February 11, 2008

How to Choose an MFA in Creative Writing

How to choose an MFAHere is another question from a reader:

I've decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing, hopefully within the next 2 years, once I've taken the GRE. I haven't seen any available dates for this year, but will still be preparing for it in the interim. I've been checking out a few universities, but would appreciate any advice from you regarding universities that you know of, which have an excellent, or even good, programme in that field of study.

Dear Reader,


Except for the famous ones like Iowa, I don't know much about MFA programs, so this is why I've asked some of my online friends for their advice. In Miami, we have two great (albeit relatively young) programs at the University of Miami and Florida International University. I'm a graduate of the University of Miami.

Over the years, I've had more dealings with FIU, so I can safely say that not only do they have many talented writers, but that these writers are also great teachers. If a program is as good as its alumni, then take a look at a few of their alumni. I'm sure you'll recognize quite a few who have appeared on this blog. I took a writing class with Lynne Barrett and learned a lot about setting a scene.

And that's what you need really, a great teacher. Someone who may not be a famous writer, but who understands the craft of poetry or fiction. Someone who will break down the threshold concepts such as metaphor and rhythm in poetry or scene, plot, and narrative in fiction. Someone who doesn't want to turn you into a disciple and will honor your voice.

The teacher should also have enough humility and compassion to realize that s/he doesn't have all the answers, but should also be able to give you a straight answer based on his/her aesthetic stance why s/he thinks a poem, short story, or novel needs some work or warn you against adding another line or sentence.

Finally, I would say think about cost. The poet, Al Young, once said that the secret to his creative longevity was "low overhead." Don't get into a program that will leave you burdened with thousands of dollars of student loan debt and will have you balancing whether you should finish the novel or eat. I know you'll finish the novel, but between the sale of the novel, advance and royalties, you better have a great support system.

I hope this helps.




I got my MFA at the University of Miami. Overall, it was a good experience. The program was undergoing a great deal of change at the time, and I imagine it's better for that transition now -- hopefully professors are settled into their positions more and there would be less ruffling of feathers/academic infighting. But my advice to anyone considering the degree is, you get out what you put in. If you take it seriously and push yourself to do the best work you can, you can get wonderful results from the experience. I am considering the PhD for my future studies, but for now I am focusing on publishing my work before I commit to any program in particular. I still dream of teaching creative writing, and I am steadily working towards making that a reality.

Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik




Tobias Buckell

If you are writing popular fiction, Seton Hill University offers a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction that is a long distance program, where I teach. It has a staff of Romance, Historical, Mystery, Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction authors who all mentor students through the process of writing a novel for the degree. It also offers two week residencies where the authors host workshops about the craft and business of writing.

Blogging at:






Kwame Dawes

What genre?

My advice is always quite simple. Write a list of all the writers (especially American) that you admire and would love to work with. Your list should be about twenty people.

Write down what you hope to do with your MFA after you are through. Teach? Write harder for publication? Work in publishing? Continue to live in your mother's basement?

Write down how long you have to do this program and how much time you have to spend on it in a given year. Do you have to work while you take the program? Do you have money independently to pay for the program?

Write down the parts of the country you just KNOW you could never live in. Do you have aversion to cold? Do you aversions to the South? Do you hate rural settings? Do you need to be near a major urban center? Do you need to have an international airport within half an hour from where you will study?

Quite easily, you can start eliminating programs using some of the information you have laid out. Geographic considerations will help to narrow the pool. Length of program will help to narrow the pool. Cost of program and the financial support available will help to narrow the pool.

Using the list, do a Google search on each author to find out if he or she is teaching in a program. If you find matches, start to list those schools where they are teaching.

Some things to be mindful of:

Small programs can be difficult especially if they are three year programs. You may be stuck with the same professor/author for your entire time. If they like you and you like them great. If not. This could be hellish. It is important to have a strong program with some diversity of permanent staff.

Some programs are designed around the idea of the conservatory—a focused, writing heavy program that does not really engage much conventional academic scholarship. Some programs can be heavily academic. Some programs try to strike a balance, but demand some academic work. You know yourself, and know what you need. Deciding what you want and can stand is critical in deciding about this particular matter.

The basic curriculum, faculty listing, and course listing may be the more critical matters to think about, but pay close attention to the less obvious things. What other programs exist in a school that could be helpful to a writing student--opportunities: working with a journal, working with a team that does workshops in the community, working with a statewide organization that nurtures writing, interaction with other programs and writers from other contexts, etc.

Sometimes these opportunities are far more valuable to the writer than the actual program. Prestige is nothing to sniff at. A program may teach you nothing, but may be packed with stellar writers with big names and fancy Rolodexes. A program may also have a big reputation. While the "pedigree" of one's program won’t dictate long term success as a writer, it often dictates short term success--i.e. the publication of the first book. What you do after that is up to you. But having an MFA from Iowa, NYU, Columbia, or Boston is often attractive to agents. Having an MFA from a less "prestigious" school will mean that a lot more effort will have to go into securing agents, getting publishers to take your work seriously, and so on. But it is not impossible. There is no guarantee that the instruction at the better known schools will be better than the instruction at the lesser known schools. In fact, the truth is that instruction may be better at lesser known schools. But the hit rate of Iowa graduates is higher regardless of the relative quality of their work. and so one may want to think about such issues.

If you are a minority, you may want to be in a program that graduates minorities and hires minorities on staff. I have heard enough horror stories about how debilitating and destructive all-white programs have been for minority students, because the faculty have no appreciation of, or knowledge of the aesthetics that may shape the minority student's work. Aesthetics that are long established and credible.

Gender issues are also important. Most programs tend to have a good balance in terms of gender representation, but it is worth examining those factors before entering a program.

For the hardcore and ambitious writers who have a professionalized attitude to this quest for an MFA, then checking out the publication record of graduates from a given program is absolutely critically. It might shock you to know how few published authors emerge from so many graduate MFA programs in the country that have been offering these programs for years. This may not be a fault of the program, but one can safely say that if publication is the aim, then find out who is producing published authors. Chances are that they are doing something in their programs to help authors to be published.

I could come up with many other considerations, but those are a few to work with.

One love


Finally, I would say that one must ask why one is doing this.

Kwame Dawes

Distinguished Poet In Residence

Louise Fry Scudder Professor of Liberal Arts

Director of the SC Poetry Initiative

Director of USC Arts Institute

Department of English

University of South Carolina

Columbia, SC 29208


See also this article at About.com