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After all the gearing up for Litquake, the literary festival was over before I knew it. This year I made it a point to attend as many events I could, especially to support fellow USF MFA alums who were reading. I am proud of how well our program was represented in Litquake this year.

There were quite a few USF MFA alumni, students and faculty that read or participated in Litquake panels, which is surprising, considering the number of other MFA programs available in the San Francisco Bay Area.

One of the best Litquake events this year was “The Art of Short Fiction” held at Z-Space. The conversation was much more elevated than the previous year due to the excellent questions posed by ZYZZYVA editor, Laura Cogan and the caliber of writers on the panel: Catherine Brady, Thaisa Frank, Kathryn Ma, and Lysley Tenorio. I’d met Kathryn Ma and read her book All That Work and No Boys last year and just started reading Filipino writer, Lysley Tenorio’s new collection, Monstress, which is fast becoming one of my favorite new books this year. Hearing Catherine Brady, my former short fiction professor at USF (and now head of the MFA program at USF), talk so passionately and eloquently about story craft reminded me so much of my classes at USF. By the end of her class, my head would be spinning from all the craft discussion and churning with new ideas for my stories. I highly recommend her book on creative writing, Story Logic and the Craft of Fiction, especially if you are going through or have completed your MFA program. (If you are a new writer or haven’t taken classes on the craft of writing, I recommend starting with Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft instead; I prefer her 6th ed.)

In her book, Kate writes with such intelligence, clarity and accessibility fiction’s craft fundamentals such as plot, characterization, point of view, patterns of imagery, figurative language and style. Like the panel discussion, she elevates the conversation of writing craft. I wish her book had come out while I was still in my MFA program; I remember trying and failing to write up all the thought-provoking points she made in class.

I am always disappointed that USF’s MFA program hasn’t ever made it onto the annual U.S. News & World Report’s listing, and more recently, the MFA issue of Poets & Writers Magazine does not list our “little program” either. I’m hoping that the newly formed USF MFA council I am a member of will help to change that.

Although I have a substantial student loan to pay back, I’m so very glad I went through my often grueling MFA program. An MFA is not something you want to enter into unless you are ready for the time and work commitment. With that said, it is probably the fastest way to advance your writing skills and one of best ways to connect with other writers, and by the time you’re done you’ll have a pretty good sized manuscript from all that writing and possibly a group of fellow writers you can trust to continue workshopping with after the program is over.

Are you going through or thinking about applying for a MFA in Creative Writing? I’d love to hear what was it you were or are looking for in the MFA programs you have explored and what you hope to gain from your experience in a MFA program. Were there any aspects of one MFA program that stood out over the others? And if you are going through your MFA program now or have completed your program, what are aspects that you found met your needs or perhaps, didn’t meet your needs, as a writer? And if you had to do it all again, is there anything you’d do differently in your selection/application process or while you were in the program itself?

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