Program Profile: West Virginia Wesleyan MFA

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Jessie van Eerden is the Director of WV Wesleyan’s low-residency MFA program. With twice yearly meetings at a campus nestled in central Appalachia (or a substitute low-residency available in Ireland) the program ” welcomes and fosters writing that explores place and identity.” It is an intimate program and one that mimics a real writer’s life. Check out this very special MFA opportunity.

Can you describe the curriculum and goals of the program?

Our program is intimate and highly student-centered. The low-residency model is designed for serious, motivated writers. The model enables students to work toward a degree while balancing their work and outside community life at their places of residence. Students are expected to dedicate 25 hours per week to the semester project they design with their faculty advisors. The low-residency rhythm of community and solitude, as well as its requirements of self-discipline and commitment, echoes the rhythm of the writing life. Wesleyan’s MFA is for writers who care deeply about writing and want to get better at it in the company of dedicated peers.

Can you describe the benefits of a low-residency program?

The low-residency model offers the chance for MFA study to writers who cannot relocate for a traditional on-campus program; it’s a great model for mature writers who have family, community or work commitments.  It’s also a wonderful model for writers who work well in apprenticeship — our students have four different mentors during their tenure in the program, and our faculty-student ratio is only 1:4, so each student receives close attention to their work.

In what way does the Appalachian environment affect the program?

“Place” is important to many of our students, many of whom come from the Appalachian region. Located as we are in central Appalachia, the program welcomes and fosters writing that explores place and identity. Irene McKinney, the program’s founding director and WV’s former Poet Laureate, said that many of Wesleyan’s MFA students “seem to feel very strongly that they are regional writers with a national audience.” In keeping with this investigation of place, students may substitute one campus residency with a Wesleyan-supervised field seminar in Ireland.

How would you describe the creative and educational community?

Averaging 25 students — in creative nonfiction, fiction, or poetry — each residency brings students together in a warm and supportive environment with core and visiting faculty who participate fully in the intellectual and creative rigor of the 10-day session.  We work really hard; we have a lot of fun; we all walk away winded and inspired.

What would you say are the qualities that WV Wesleyan looks for in applicants?

A serious desire to grow as writers.  A serious desire to delve into the literary life, which involves an eagerness to read which equals their eagerness to write.  We do offer some panel discussions on publishing and teaching, but our primary focus is on the word, the sentence, the book to be made.

What advice would you give a prospective MFA student?

Read the work of the faculty; see what they’re up to; make sure they offer aesthetic variety.  Visit a residency if you can to get a feel for how it all works.

Thank you, WV Wesleyan

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