June Events/Readings

June has been a busy month for me in terms of readings and literary events. This month is also important because Wilkes University is celebrating its 10-year anniversary of the M.A./M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program. I can’t say enough positive things about that program and the community it fosters among writers from across the country. Because of the program, there are reading series happening in various pockets of the country, started by current students and alumni of the program. Next week, alumni will return to campus to read.  The readings are free and open to the public. I’m sharing the schedule below, as well as an event happening tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 17 7:30 p.m. Wild Mischief: A Reading Series & Literary Gathering, Washington Square Park, Philadelphia

I’ll be reading with Carrie Reilly, Kate Budris, Die Dragonetti, and Dawn Leas. Admission is free, and there will be a short open mic after.

As promised, here is the list of the readings happening on Wilkes University’s campus all next week.

FRIDAY, JUNE 19:

7:30-9:30: Opening reading, Maslow Salon Reading Series, Theater, Dorothy Dickson Darte Center

Special opening night—faculty w/new books and opening celebration of program alums:

(poetry, fiction, nonfiction)

Lori A. May, Cecilia Galante, Gregory Fletcher, Kevin Oderman, Dawn Leas, Lauren Stahl, Bill Landauer, Stanton Hancock, Phil Brady

SUNDAY, JUNE 21:

7:00-9:00: Maslow Foundation Salon Reading Series at Dorothy Dickson Darte Center

(poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction)

Donna Talarico-Beerman, Chris Bullard, Monique Lewis, Jim Scheers, Jen Bokal, Tara Caimi, Barbara Taylor, Nisha Sharma, Laura Moran

MONDAY, JUNE 22:

7:00-9:00: Maslow Foundation Evening Reading Series, Dorothy Dickson Darte Center/bookfair:

Celebration of alums (film night):

Jonathan Rocks, Christina Aponte-Smith (Phoenix Ash), Kevin Conner, Autumn Stapleton-Laskey, Shawn Hatten, Heather Davis, L. Elizabeth Powers

TUESDAY, JUNE 23:

7:00-9:00 Maslow Foundation Salon Reading series, Dorothy Dickson Darte Center/bookfair:

 Celebration of alums (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction):

 Lori Myers, James Craig, Amye Archer, Ginger Marcinkowski, Gale Martin, John Koloski, Laurie Loewenstein, Brian Fanelli, Sandee Gertz

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24:

7:00-9:00 Maslow Foundation Salon Reading Series, Dorothy Dickson Darte Center/bookfair

Celebration of alums (playwrights night):

Matthew Hinton, Dania Ramos, Rachel Strayer, Adrienne Pender, Dane Rooney, Kait Burrier, Cindy Dlugolecki

THURSDAY, JUNE 25:

7:00-9:00: Maslow Foundation Salon Reading Series, Dorothy Dickson Darte Center

(poetry, fiction, and nonfiction)

Celebration of alums and special thanks to Kaylie Jones:

 Jim Warner, Joshua Penzone, Salena Vertalomo-Fehnel, Heather Harlen, Richard Fellinger, Taylor Polites, Morowa Yejide, Kaylie Jones

 

 

Recap of Conversations and Connections Conference

This weekend, I spent my time in Washington, DC for the Conversations and Connections Conference, held at John Hopkins University and sponsored by Barrelhouse Magazine and The Potomac Review.

The conference has several benefits. For one, the price of registration is only $70, and you get a lot of free stuff, including a book and  subscription to a literary journal, among other items. Beyond the cool free stuff, Conversations and Connections is less daunting than some of the larger conferences, such as AWP, especially since it’s only one day long. Furthermore, the event organizers do a fine job ensuring fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction are well represented on the panels. The conference does a good job too of balancing craft talk with practical advice on writing, such as how to write an engaging cover letter for a journal or whether or not to enroll in an M.F.A. program.

I was part of a poetry publishing panel late in the day, and the audience was attentive and had a lot of questions. Because Conversations and Connections isn’t so massive, there’s a chance to chat more with the panelists throughout the day and during the after parties. It’s a great way to meet other writers and editors, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

 

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Our panel on working with small poetry presses.

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My book All That Remains at the conference.

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My friend/fellow poet Dawn Leas on a panel about M.F.A. programs. The panel was moderated by another friend, Shelia Squillante, an associate editor for PANK and associate director of Chatham University’s low-res M.F.A. program.

What Should M.F.A. Programs Be Teaching?

Lately, I have been doing some research into M.F.A. programs, other than the one I attended, and what these various programs offer. I am doing this because more and more students I had or currently have in creative writing classes are asking me about the value of an M.F.A. and what such a degree will offer. I do think a lot of the low-residency programs are cash cows that will accept almost anyone and don’t have to worry about paying faculty full-time. But I also believe there are strong M.F.A. programs with faculty that care about the students and generally want to help them enhance their writing skills and expand their knowledge of literature. I got a lot out of the M.F.A. program I attended at Wilkes University. It certainly widened my scope of literature, and it improved my writing.

That said, I think M.F.A. programs need to consider what they are promising students. A lot of students come out of the programs hoping to immediately land full-time jobs in academia, and for the final few semesters, certain M.F.A. programs only offer a teaching track. But full-time positions at the college-level are scarce, and they’re becoming even rarer due to budget cuts across several states. It also seems like most openings now require a Ph.D. So perhaps M.F.A. programs should offer alternatives, other career choices, such as publishing, or even freelance work. There are several freelance jobs out there that can earn a writer income. Another aspect of the writing process M.F.A. programs should consider teaching more is the business of publishing and signing a contract. It is true most M.F.A. students generally want to strengthen their writing skills and learn about influential movements in their genre of study, but they also want to publish. They want to see their name in print and get a book out there.

As I was doing research, I came across a blog post that argues M.F.A. programs do not do enough to teach young writers the business aspect of publishing, especially the issue of contracts, cover letters, agent letters, etc. Because of that, sometimes young writers get swindled and sign a poor contract.

Here is a link to the blog post. The post was published in November 2010, after a story about defamed author James Frey, who was visiting Columbia and other universities and basically getting M.F.A. students to sign contracts to help him with a book packaging/marketing project. The article points out that before these students interacted with Frey, who became famous after lying about incidents in his memoir, they should have had classes on understanding publishing contracts.

The blog post serves as a reminder that a lot of M.F.A. programs should broaden their course material and give students access to information about the nature of the publishing business, especially if some students are more interested in publishing than teaching.