Save the UWYO MFA in Creative Writing
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November 16th, 2020
To President Seidel, Provost Alexander, And The Board of Trustees:
Additional comments and stories directed to email@example.com:
We, the students of the MFA in Creative Writing Program, as well as esteemed alumni, colleagues, and friends, are deeply disturbed that the University of Wyoming is considering eliminating the MFA in Creative Writing in the next fiscal year. We write urging them to reconsider. Wyoming’s MFA program, though small, epitomizes the priorities and goals that the University of Wyoming presents for its future as an institution. Moreover, cutting the program would be a gross undervaluing of the arts and the immeasurable value they provide, from the University and Laramie communities to a national and international scale. It seems unlikely that the current students' funding or ability to graduate would be affected, but the current insecurity reverberates throughout the writing community as we worry for the positions of our beloved faculty and lost opportunities for a future community of writers.
The success of the MFA program and its graduates is undeniable. Consistently ranked in the Top 50 programs in the country, the University of Wyoming MFA in Creative Writing attracts, on average, 200 applicants every year. This is the highest application rate for a graduation program at UW. The four to ten exceptional candidates selected for each cohort are high-performing students and graduate assistants, often earning UWYO’s Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award and the Ellbogen Outstanding Graduate Assistant Teaching Award. They reliably graduate to become successful writers and influential professionals.
Just this year, Kali Fajardo-Anstine (‘13)’s Sabrina & Corina won a 2020 American Book Award and was a 2019 Book Award Finalist, among a slew of other awards. Jenny Tinghui Zhang (’19) recently had her debut novel, Five Chinese Hanged in Idaho, preempted by Flatiron Books. The project is already slated to be translated into nearly a dozen languages. Both projects began as theses in the University of Wyoming MFA in Creative Writing Program. Students and alumni from the program are also published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, HuffPost, Mother Jones, ELLE.com and The New York Times, addressing the most pressing issues of our day.
Additionally, graduates have secured tenure-track teaching positions across the country. Because creative writing is a highly transferable skill, the MFA program prepares students for careers in grant writing, education and outreach, editing, public information, organization management, and more. Many graduates have remained in Wyoming and continue to serve the university and surrounding creative communities as teachers, community organizers, and producers at Wyoming Public Radio. Still others have cultivated partnerships with STEM researchers who recognize the value of trained communicators in amplifying the impact of their work. The diversity of careers pursued by UWYO graduates is, in part, a result of the freedom and flexibility afforded by the fully-funded nature of the program.
The MFA program’s esteemed reputation and ability to foster the successful professional communicators mentioned above is a direct result of the program’s knowledgeable faculty. Dr. Andrew Fitch, Alyson Hagy, and Kate Northrop are not only instrumental to the success of the program, they are its architects. Each of our program leaders has accumulated numerous and varied successes, including awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, and the New York Times Book Review, in addition to impressive publication records. Within the program, through classes, workshops, and advising, they demonstrate exceptional abilities to communicate creative writing in a way that is constructive, professional, and applicable to other disciplines outside of the humanities. Each year, they dedicate themselves to assembling diverse MFA cohorts, groups of writers who are not only strong artists in their own right, but who are also connected to each other throughout their time in Laramie, forming a genuine family in their new homes on the plains.
Once part of the program, students pursue projects of local and international interest, frequently receiving prestigious grants such as the Cheney Study Abroad Scholarship Fund and the Sheila Langlois Memorial Fellowship, as well as Fellowships through the Wyoming Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. This year alone, six MFA candidates were named Dean’s Graduate Scholars by the College of Arts and Sciences for their work on topics like the social and emotional effects of tourism economies, the role of architecture in human psychology, and the environmental impacts of natural disasters, to name a few. These awards are not only a testament to the academic drive and diversity of thought fostered by the MFA program, but a demonstration of the key role MFA students play in addressing real-world challenges. The uniquely creative eye that MFA students apply to critical problems enlivens old debates with new perspectives and deepens understanding of issues that are relevant across disciplines.
Without MFA students, the university would lose valuable teaching labor in Creative Writing, the Haub School, and the English Department. In fact, MFA students contribute about half of the teaching labor for English 1010–the University's mandatory first-year writing course– which directly facilitates the learning of 400 undergraduates annually. Dr. Nancy Small, the English department's Director of First Year Writing, observes that "MFA students are equal and excellent contributors to our COM1 program, and they bring an important complementary perspective to their teaching, as they are highly concerned with the art and craft of writing." Dr. Small believes that the MFA students are crucial to the success of English 1010 and by extension, undergraduate learning at the University of Wyoming.
Art is a powerful tool, a vital facet of our culture that has been neglected time and again by those who do not take the time to understand its impact on society. By applying their unique expertise to communicate and explore nationally important economic, cultural and environmental issues, MFA students and faculty engage with the world in a way that is not only creative, but forceful and uniquely productive. In a year of crisis, it’s clear that budget cuts must be made. However, the MFA program is essential to the University’s future as an innovative and competitive institution. In light of these factors, we urge leadership to abandon its recommendation to eliminate the MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Wyoming.
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