Interview with University of Nevada, Las Vegas Graduate Program

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Author: Joseph Langdon – 3rd Year Fiction MFA

Let’s start by talking about the culture at your program. What’s the location like? What are some local hangouts for writers?

UNLV is centrally located in Las Vegas, one of the most fascinating and unique cities in the world. For those looking to escape the glitz, we are also within driving distance many of the country’s most beautiful national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Arches. The program is small, supportive, and close-knit, and we play a significant role in the cultural life of a major American city. Students are involved in the local art scene, participate in and organize major events, and write for the city’s weeklies and magazines. Many of the students live in a relatively small geographical area, so we frequently hang out at each other’s homes. Occasionally, we head Downtown to the burgeoning arts scene in Freemont East, or venture to the Strip to see a concert or just partake in some of the best people-watching on the planet.

Tell us about your experience in class. What’s the focus of your workshops? What parts of your writing have you put the most focus on?

Workshops are based entirely on improving the students’ writing, not on posturing or tearing other students down. Workshops are intimate, usually around ten students, and students have the opportunity to submit two or three times a semester. Students in fiction workshops often submit one or two stories, though we’ve had students submit large sections or even entire novels. Personally, I’ve focused most on what might be called narrative “form”: the confluence of writing style, plot/story, and ideas. In the words of one of our professors, finding out how to make the story “its own best self.”

What sort of funding opportunities are available? What are you teaching? How easy is it to balance your teaching and writing?

One of the best aspects of our program is that all students are equally and fully funded for three years. Additionally, students occasionally receive grants, as well as funding for international travel. Students teach two sections undergraduate English, usually composition, though students occasionally have the opportunity to teach higher-level sections and even undergraduate writing workshops. The teaching and academic requirements at UNLV are significant, but it’s also a three-year program. Students have time to experiment and develop while learning the time-management and disciple that will be crucial after they graduate.

What’s been your best memory of working with faculty?

My best memory of working with faculty is seeing a faculty member at a social event (which is a frequent occurrence) and having them mention an idea for my novel in progress; it just shows that they are genuinely thinking about your work, not just winging it in workshop.

What’s been your greatest struggle in graduate school thus far? How has this program shaped your view of craft?

The greatest struggle is a familiar one: working frequently and working effectively. Even in an MFA program, the book doesn’t write itself. All of our faculty are both committed teachers as well as working writers and are great examples and mentors in the type of discipline it takes to be successful. This program has taught me that there are a lot of excellent writers out there: a lot of people who can fashion a sentence and spin a metaphor. But there are far fewer people who have the talent, patience, and work ethic to take their story, novel, or poem to the next level.

What’s your next step? What sort of steps does your program take to prepare you for your post-graduate experience?

After I graduate, I will most likely, at some point, pursue a creative or critical PhD. In the short term, I will probably return to journalism. In addition to finishing and selling my novel, of course. This program helps students prepare for sending their work out to journals and agents, but it also provides enough academic rigor to prepare them to pursue a PhD if they so choose.

What tips would you give a prospective student who is considering attending your program?

All prospective-MFA students should choose programs based on funding, location, and requirements. UNLV is fully funded with a generous stipend, is located in a fascinating place, offers three years to write, and provides teaching opportunities that will be valuable for many students’ careers. UNLV also requires all students to travel abroad, and is the only program in the country that allows students to complete part of their program requirements while serving in the Peace Corps.