Tag Archives: Articles

The Hybrid Writer’s Life (Post-MFA)

I love this article from Paige Sullivan with Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog!

There’s a lot of pressure and uncertainty for writers around the question of whether or not to go for an MFA, and then, what if you do? What if you go for that MFA, graduate, and then…what? Do you get to say, “I’m a writer” when people ask what you do for a living (even if your writing isn’t what pays the bills)? And what if being a writer isn’t your career dream, but you know that writing is an invaluable skill that you want to further hone and develop? Or what if it’s like Rae Pagliarulo says in her terrific follow-up article to Sullivan’s, where you have no intention of shucking off your non-writer job, but you know that pursuing an MFA will feed your soul regardless?

In other words, what does a writer look like, and how can we as writers (whether professional, self-proclaimed, or otherwise) come to grips with this wild identity?

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz headshot.jpg Photo by Chris Marley

By Paige Sullivan

A newly-enrolled MFA student, my job as an assistant editor at my program’s top-tier, in-house literary journal was what you’d expect: reading the slush pile. The journal accepted both paper and online submissions, meaning each week I’d work through a stack of submission packets colorfully paper clipped together in addition to sifting through the online queue.

While the work was sometimes dull, it was crucial to sharpening my reading skills, and it afforded me an invaluable understanding of the spectrum of talent and skill that exists out there. Truly, we got it all: exceptional work, promising work, and strange poems that tried to compare love to meatball marinara.

My favorite part of reading the paper submissions were the more personal touches of the printed and hand-signed cover letters, which were sometimes accompanied by a business card. For me, these submissions became fascinating character…

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Writing through the Holidays: Old School? New School? No School?

Hello again! I certainly hope this blog finds you well.

As the holidays approach, I sometimes wish I could put the research away, silence the keys on my computer, and dry out all the ink in my pens save only for the bit needed to scrawl out a slew of Thank You cards. But most of the time, I just wish I had more time to keep on writing and researching. My mother can sit knitting next to me, my father can work on editing his photographs, my soon to be husband can read another book on theatre history or the latest on hospital management while I sift through a new history of Herman Melville or the NYT archives looking for clues.

Even as I begin the marketing process of my first book, The Trickster in Ginsberg: A Critical Reading, and even as we launch into the holiday season, I find myself now working on two new research projects. The one I’m closest to completing isn’t a book but an academic article on the first United States Congresswoman of color, Rep. Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii. She’s an incredible woman — co-author of Title IX, a major proponent of special and bilingual education, and an early dissenter against the Vietnam War, she witnessed her own father being kidnapped by the U.S. government during WWII for no better reason than his being Japanese; she desegregated the dorms of the University of Nebraska; and was one of the few Congresspersons to oppose the passing of the Patriot Act. I’m currently working on a study of her opposition to the Vietnam War by conducting close readings of several of her speeches through a critical race theory lens.

I am particularly excited about this project because it hits on a number of topics that are near and dear to me while still providing a plethora of opportunities to learn and work with materials I previously knew nothing about.

However, for the latter reason especially, I am encountering a fair amount of resistance from some of my colleagues at the George Washington University. I have come to personally believe that graduate school is not the place for people who want to learn new things but the place for people who want to become hyper-specialized in a topic they are already familiar with. As a student of the inter- and multidisciplinary, I find this frustrating though I can appreciate the value in becoming a hyper-specialist in certain circumstances and areas. Please do not interpret my words here as some sort of indictment  against GW or against graduate schools generally but simply as an observation, as a consideration. I didn’t know until I entered graduate school just how oddly I fit and do not fit into certain academic scenes. Some of my colleagues find it empowering — as I do — to be continuously exploring different areas and times while others of my colleagues find excitement in discovering every detail of the single mountain they’ve dedicated their scholarly lives to. These latter colleagues are also the ones who have suggested I may be wasting time and creating an unmarketable and baffling professional persona/CV/reputation.

I have often heard the old saying, Write What You Know. However, I have never taken this to mean that I shouldn’t write about things that I’m not an absolute expert on. I interpret this phrase to mean — before you write, do your research. And this isn’t a new argument either. It’s not as if specialization is the way of the Old School while interdisciplinary study is the New School — these are old debates and old ways both.

What do you think? I see pros and cons to both sides of this — after all, we can’t all be Noam Chomsky or Philip Kolb. But how should this impact how we teach, mentor, and encourage graduate students as well as professional academics?

My advice? If you or someone you know is an academic writer, give them an extra hug this holiday season.