Interview With Vanderbilt University

Author: Claire Jimenez

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

There’s the Southern Festival of Books coming up and a reading series at the Nashville Public Library called Salon 615. This year they’re bringing Michael Chabon, Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie. The Vanderbilt MFA Program has its own Visiting Writers Series, and we have a lot of great fiction writers and poets coming this year. I’m especially looking forward to hearing Judith Ortiz Coffer, Dan Chaon and Justin Torres. I also teach for an organization called Southern Word, and they had an event last year called Future Break, which was a series of readings and performance by local artists and poets.

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?

We talk a lot about the possibilities of a story and the different directions it might take. In my own writing I think a lot about voice and what it means to have agency. I’m also interested in how the rhythm of the prose can create emotion in the reader.

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

The funding at Vanderbilt is very generous. The program is fully funded. There’s a stipend and health insurance. MFA students work for the writing studio for three semesters and teach Intro to Fiction or Poetry sometime during the second year. I haven’t taught yet, but the students I know who’ve started teaching love it.

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

There’s too many! Lorraine Lopez, Tony Earley and Nancy Reisman are wonderful and incredibly kind. They’ll work with you one and one and are very generous with their time. I’ve also had the opportunity to take a class with Kate Daniels and reading poetry has really helped my writing.

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

Well, you learn so much. You learn all of these ideas about how story works. You read all of these beautiful authors, and you come out with a bunch of new tools. Then during revision you have to sit down and sort through the different voices and figure how it connects to you and your own writing. I think that’s the difficult part.

In terms of understanding craft, I’ve learned to be wary of any ultimate rules about writing. I’m much more interested in learning from all of the different ways that writers accomplish their stories.

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

The program provides you with a lot of support as you’re trying to figure out next steps. They help you look through fellowships and job opportunities.

I’m interested in finding ways to both teach and write at the same time.

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

Work on your writing sample. It’s the only thing that matters.

And if you don’t get in – keep on writing. Don’t ever stop.