Anna Lee-Popham is an MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University and University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education Creative Writing Certificate, where she received the Janice Colbert Poetry Award. Anna co-hosts the Emerging Writers Reading Series.
Which Creative Writing Program and Why?: One Writer’s Perspective on MFAs, Continuing Education Certificates, and Private Workshops
By Anna Lee-Popham
Have you ever wondered about the difference between creative writing programs? You’re in the right place! I recently presented at the Brockton Writers Series about MFAs, continuing education certificate programs, and private workshops – and I’ve outlined what I shared in that presentation here.
To start, there are many different ways to approach learning creative writing. Many writers don’t engage in organized courses or programs and focus instead on a self-directed approach. I’m certainly of the belief that whatever gets you writing is the approach to take. In this very insightful conversation between Dionne Brand and Harryette Mullen, they were asked what advice they would give to aspiring poets and writers in the context of protest and rebellion. Dionne Brand said:
“Write, write. And read, read the tradition you are in. Read everything and just write it. It’s important and it’s urgent. … Write till four in the morning, until six in the morning. … Do whatever kind of work you need to do so you do that work. We need that work. We need this production of our life.”
Harryette Mullen replied:
“I would add: You don’t need permission. You give yourself permission…. Your voice has value.”
So most importantly: follow their advice.
If you do decide to engage in a formal education program geared to creative writing, think about why you want to do so, what your goals are, and so which program might best suit you. It might be helpful to glance at this table outlining three different approaches:
There are many other reasons you might want to get involved in a creative writing program. Think about what your reasons are and which program best aligns with your goals. Also, while the MFA is the only option that will get you a degree, not all university institutions require a degree to teach creative writing.
I decided to pursue an MFA because I felt it would assist me in the work I wanted to do, the community I wanted to build, and the confidence I wanted to develop. In regard to work: I am interested in teaching creative writing and it would give me the opportunity to learn from teachers I respected and whose writerly and pedagogical approaches I was interested in. This would also help me in my role as an editor, as I could watch writers in the role of teaching others about writing. I was also interested in working with writers I respect in terms of what they think writing is doing politically. In regard to community, you certainly don’t need to do an MFA to develop a writing community – at all! I was interested in the opportunity to write actively with a cohort of writers over a multi-year period. The MFA did that – and gave me access to writers approaching the written word in many different ways. Doing the MFA also prompted me to take my writing seriously. But again there are many, many, many other ways to do that.
The University of Guelph MFA program is a two-year program that allows students to focus on a number of different genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, or drama. In addition to the workshops, students take two plenary (reading-based) courses called Writers on Writing and Writers in the World. There is a 3-month mentorship which matches students with a professional writer. The thesis writing period occurs from January-June of the final year and students defend their written work in the summer of their final year. The deadline for applications December 5, 2022. Interested in more information? Check out the links below:
• General info on the program: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa
• Want to apply?: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/apply
• Info about funding and awards: https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/cwmfa/financial/funding/
• Tuition fees: https://www.uoguelph.ca/registrar/studentfinance/fees/guelph_gr
A few general suggestions
When you are looking at a program – whether it’s an MFA, continuing education certification program or individual workshops – try to think about which program will best help you work towards your goals, in a format that works for you. You might also want to consider if you’ll get access to instructors whose work you appreciate, are interested in, and find challenges you and your writing in some way.
If you decide to apply to the University of Guelph MFA program: this program is mostly interested in your writing sample, so I’d suggest you think through what you are doing with the writing that you submit, why are you submitting it, and what it is doing with language.
Lastly, if you are an emerging writer looking for a place to read your writing, the Emerging Writers Reading Series (where I am a cohost) has an upcoming call for submissions: https://linktr.ee/ewreadingseries