Students must apply to Stonecoast in one of four concentrations: Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry, or Popular Fiction. It might be helpful to think of the concentrations as four doors into the program—every Stonecoast graduate holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Admitted students have access to programming across the whole smorgasbord of genres. Nonfiction writers can attend a seminar on speculative fiction and fiction writers will have a chance to learn the foundations of poetic meter. With permission, it’s possible to enroll in workshops outside of your concentration. Should you want to cast an even wider net, the program regularly offers workshops and seminars in playwriting, playwriting, and social justice.
Semester by Semester
All our students are passionate about improving their writing craft. Each semester is designed to foster growth, to present more opportunities for autonomy, and to offer greater challenges. Here is a brief overview of each semester’s goal:
Students develop a common vocabulary in order to communicate clearly with faculty members and their peers. Students generate a body of work in order to discover their voice and to identify the subjects that thrill them. Mentors offer constructive criticism and direct students to texts that will, variously, support or challenge the student’s sense of the possible.
While generating new work remains the primary focus, second semester students will have a better sense of their current project. In some cases this leads the student to a deeper interrogation of a particular area of craft—i.e., Point of view. For other students, now is the time to explore different texts or new forms.
By the third semester, most students will have worked closely with four or more faculty members. They have a clear sense of what interests them and the work they need to do. In addition to writing new drafts and revising older work, students will spend some time working on their Third Semester Learning Project. TSLPs can take the form of experiential learning or an academic paper. To fulfill their TSLP, students have interned at literary magazines, taught in prisons, investigated the origins of the werewolf, and published anthologies. Students have presented their TSLPs at numerous conferences and submitted them as part of PhD applications.
In the final semester, A.K.A. the “Thesis Semester,” students shape a manuscript with their mentor. The thesis serves both as a record of the work the student has done and, like an ars poetica, announces their further ambitions and goals.
Choices, Choices, Choices
There is only one Stonecoast MFA, but every student personalizes their education to best reflect their interests and goals. That begins when you select which workshop to participate in. During the residency you curate your experience by selecting from a slate of more than twenty seminars led by Stonecoast faculty and guests. Would you rather attend a seminar on “The Morality of Violence,” or learn about the voices in Afro-Futurism? Would you rather learn how historical details can help you to create new worlds or be introduced to the concept of the Necropastoral? Are you more interested in strategies for writing about unforgivable characters or a panel discussion on sports writing? There is nothing to stop a poet from investigating the plotting of a thriller. Noveists can familiarize themselves with ekphrastic poetry or listen to a panel discuss writing about trauma.
If what you want to study isn’t offered, you and your peers may propose seminars and workshops for future residencies.
Unlike most writing programs, Stonecoast encourages students to work in different genres and to tackle new forms. The majority of our faculty publish in multiple or hybrid genres. They model ways to engage with the writing process, to find fellowship with other writers, and to build a sustainable career. Taking risks and pushing boundaries is one way to ensure we grow as artists.
We maintain high expectations for all our students. At the start of each semester you and your mentor will co-develop a study plan that establishes the requirements and deadlines for the term. These study plans represent a contract between students and their mentor. Firm deadlines are established right from the beginning, enabling you to schedule your work around other commitments. The deadlines are also a reminder of the expectations that are waiting for you after the program. Your study plan will reinforce the work habits that will sustain you once you’ve completed the program.
First the Program Changes You, Then You Change the Program Let’s imagine a nonfiction student entering the program. At their first residency they take workshops with Rick Bass and Porochista Khakpour. Their first mentor helps them generate a list of foundational texts. Let’s say lyrical essays have become this student’s obsession. For their second residency, they sign up for two workshops: the first is designed for students who are writing about the body; in the second workshop, T. Fleischmann creates a space for people to play with experimental forms. As the second semester begins, our student is paired with a new mentor. Their work is evolving, deepening. The possibilities of erasure have now captured their imagination, which leads them to a study a new group of texts. For their third residency they enroll in an Erasure workshop, a class that they actually proposed less than six months before. They spend the first three packets of their third semester writing a paper that tries to contextualize erasure as a form. Erasure demands inventiveness, which helped sharpen their language. Better tools permit one to tackle greater projects. Our student is now equipped to take their work in exciting new directions, which makes their fourth residency the most rewarding yet. In their fourth semester, the student’s final mentor provides guidance as the student assembles a thesis comprised of revisions of early work as well as polished drafts. n their final residency the graduating student contributes to the community by sharing their learning with their peers as part of a formal presentation. They will also share their work in a public reading. Just before they accept their diploma, a member of the faculty will read an excerpt of their work aloud, the most fitting way to mark the end of one journey and the inception of another.