Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Barbara Hurd

Barbara HurdBarbara Hurd  is the author of Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains (2008), Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark, a Library Journal Best Natural History Book of the Year (2003), The Singer's Temple (2003), Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001 (2001), and Objects in this Mirror (1994). Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Best American Essays 1999, Best American Essays 2001, The Yale Review, The Georgia Review, Orion, Audubon, and others.  The recipient of an NEA Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction, winner of the Sierra Club’s National Nature Writing Award, three Pushcart Prizes, and four Maryland State Arts Council Awards, she teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Selected Publications:
Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains (University of Georgia Press, 2008)

Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, 2003)

The Singer's Temple (Bright Hill Press, Treadway, NY, 2003)

Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination (Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2001)

How I Teach:

I take as the guiding principle of my teaching philosophy this quote from Vivian Gornick: “What's important is not what happened to the writer. What matters is the larger sense that the writer makes of what happened. And for this an imagination is required.”

My job, then, is to act as the resource who identifies strengths and weaknesses in drafts, suggests revision strategies, points to appropriate readings, urges students toward discoveries and larger concerns, and applauds good writing. I'm especially interested in the essay, especially one that engages the imagination and demonstrates, through linguistic dexterity, the mind at play on the page, working to discover what the writer didn't know he/she knew.

In preparation for the semester work, the student and I will meet during the residency to discuss goals, the semester project, and the schedule for exchange of packets. The bulk of our work together takes place via the packet exchange.

Each packet consists of the following:

  • A 1-2 page cover letter. In this letter, students describe what they were attempting to do in that month's writing, speculate on problems and solutions, ask questions, etc. In the final cover letter, I also ask students to name two or three creative nonfiction writers they are beginning to consider their literary heroes.
  • Critical annotations (4-5 pages) in response to the readings. The first time I work with students, I expect them to choose some works from a reading list I have prepared that includes both historical and contemporary work. I require students to read two full-length books per month, about eight essays, and one creative nonfiction journal. I emphasize critical annotations that reinforce the students' ability to read like a creative writers, to recognize style in writing, and to articulate the works' strengths and weaknesses. I don't grade annotations, but respond briefly in my letter to them, especially if they seem to be inadequately completed.
  • Drafts. In addition to whatever longer pieces students are working on, I require 1st and 2nd semester students to experiment each month with two creative nonfiction “shorts”—each about 500 words. Students should aim to send me a total of about 20 pages of prose each month, all of it double-spaced and meticulously proofread.

In response to each packet, students can expect from me an emailed letter of approximately four typed pages and the snail-mailed annotated drafts. I aim to send both about a week after I receive the packet. I usually address large concerns (focus, style, organization, theme, etc.) in the letter and more specific concerns (word choice, syntax, rhythm, clarity, etc.) on the actual drafts. In addition to giving feedback on the drafts, I respond in my letter to students' questions, suggest issues to address in the next packet, propose readings that might be helpful, etc. Whether or not I assign specific exercises is entirely dependent on the student's needs.