“A dark horse among dark horses”
I’ve wanted to write this post for days now, but I’ve been too swamped with other work to even think about it. I’m still not caught up, but I just finished a truckload and dammit, I’m going to blog before I start on the next one.
The title of this post comes from Seth Abramson’s list of 25 most underrated MFA programs (which I talked a little about here). It’s his description of the program at Florida Atlantic University, which is where I work (tho not on the MFA faculty), and the response from most people, so far as I can tell, was one of quizzical bemusement, as in “what the hell does that even mean?”
Amy, my partner, suggested that Seth probably just didn’t know anything about the program but saw that we fund nearly everyone who gets in, and that’s important in his ranking system. It’s important in my ranking system as well, as I think any MFA program that doesn’t fund its students is a sucker’s game.
But allow me to spin the program a bit, or at least talk it up some. Here’s some of what FAU has to offer in terms of its MFA.
Location: FAU is in Boca Raton Florida, which probably doesn’t strike you as an exciting place to live. That’s because it isn’t. It’s expensive and the people are largely old and grumpy. But the cities that surround Boca have an underrated cool. If you go north, you can live in Delray, which has a cool little arts scene and some good bars. Same if you go south. Pompano Beach is cheap and has one of the best beer gardens anywhere, and if you come all the way south to Fort Lauderdale (only 20 minutes away from campus) you get another arts scene. Plus you’re close to beaches no matter how far west you go, because the Everglades pretty much limit you. Winter is (usually) the three weeks it gets down to fifty and everyone pulls their jackets out of storage.
Department: This is a great place to work and teach, and it’s getting better. I’ve been here five years, and the quality of student has only gone up. It’s a combination of rising standards and freezes on growth at the flagship universities in the state thanks to the shaky economy. But what’s bad for them has been good for us, at least in terms of the kinds of students we’ve gotten.
And our students all come from a wide range of backgrounds. You want a diverse group of students? You’ll get them here, whether you’re talking about gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, you name it.
The program has undergone a bit of expansion of late as well. New hires in Creative Nonfiction and Translation have added to the diversity of a program that already has solid faculty members in both Poetry and Fiction. Here’s one of those faculty members.
So what does it all add up to? I like it here, even if I’m not among the MFA faculty. There’s potential here, which is why I agree with the dark horse moniker. (Amy suggested t-shirts with eyeballs on the front and the words “dark horse” on the back for the members of the program. My only problem is that I’d want one too.) And there’s good stuff to be had outside the program, which I think is important. One of the things I regret a little about my time in my MFA is that I didn’t explore the surrounding world enough. I went on a few hikes and a couple of canoe trips, but I didn’t do enough to really enjoy northwest Arkansas. Here, there’s all sorts of cool stuff waiting for you.
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