Many thanks to Professor Gerri Brightwell from University of Alaska at Fairbanks’ MA/MFA program for taking the time to answer a few questions about what makes their program so special.
How would you describe the curriculum and goals of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks?
Our curriculum is designed to give students a solid grounding in the study of their genre through craft courses, workshops, and working one-on-one with faculty. Our students also take classes in literary theory and literature. Not only do these classes expand their expertise, they make them stronger writers. We want our students to leave UAF with a surer sense of who they are as writers, and with publications already under their belt.
Can you explain the combined MA/MFA program available?
Because our MFA students take classes in critical theory and literature, we created the MFA/MA to offer them the opportunity to further explore their scholarly interests and earn a qualification in both creative writing and literature. Students in the combined program take two sets of comprehensive examinations (as opposed to one for MFA students) and produce both a creative thesis and either a scholarly thesis or scholarly essays.
In what way does the natural environment of Alaska factor into the program?
In Alaska, you can’t avoid the natural environment! If affects how you live — temperatures can drop to as low as -50 in the winter, and you might get into your car only to find a moose blocking your driveway. We’re hundreds of miles from the next biggest city — Anchorage. But our environment is not something to be endured. It’s a source of inspiration for many, and for those that chose, it offers a way to live differently. Some of our students live in apartments in town; others rent cabins in the woods. Here you can ski for six months of the year, you can trap, or hunt, you can fish, you can mountain climb.
What would you say are the qualities that Alaska at Fairbanks looks for in an applicant?
The most important quality, of course, is the writing. The writing sample that applicants submit should be their most polished, most inspired work. We want to be impressed, we want to see the spark of invention and the dedication it takes to get through a three-year program. We also carefully consider applicants’ academic background since we want to be sure that the students we take into the program do well.
If you could give one piece of advice to current or prospective MFA students, what would it be?
For prospective students: be ready for an adventure. Alaska might change you — but isn’t that what you want? Alaska is not what many people expect: in our program we have a close, supportive and tight-knit community, and we bring in visiting writers of a caliber to be proud of. Fairbanks is a friendly, vibrant town. Come — you’ll be pleasantly surprised. For current students my advice is always to keep their focus on their writing. Three years pass very quickly.