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“With so many programs to choose from, you can select a residency that’s close to home for convenience or far away in a dreamy location that’s been on your travel bucket list.” May tells students to embrace the experience of being a student.“You’re likely to enter a program with an eye on completing a book-length manuscript,” she says.And be open, because it may change.” She urges people over 50 to get comfortable with their age.
“There’s just so much about writing in that genre that informs and improves prose.” Her favorite part of each residency was the student readings, held in the mirrored dining room of the inn in which the MFA classes took place.
“If you were the reader,” she explains, “it was the best audience anywhere. She advises potential MFA students to be very clear about what they want out of a particular program.
“That should be your focus, but you’ll also have plenty of other opportunities pop up that will enrich your experience.” May describes Bill, a student in his 80s, at King’s College in Halifax who embraced everything the MFA program had to offer, including narrow beds in tiny dorm rooms.
“Bill could have booked a cozy hotel down the road full of amenities, but he opted to stay in the campus dorms like everyone else,” she says.
She completed two classes a semester while still working part time as a nurse and wrote while commuting by ferry to her workplace.
“I always marveled at my classmates who still had young children at home or were working full time.“It’s very different to go from a newsroom to a classroom,” he says. Rather than being in a constant, frantic deadline, you have to really close down on your writing.” He’s devoting his time in the MFA program to working on a book-length piece of narrative nonfiction about a story he’d come across decades before – a drama involving shifting roles and power dynamics in a Southern family.“It’s a remarkable story, like something in Flannery O’Connor’s territory,” he says.I was a beginner again in a lot of ways.” Graville hoped to earn her degree by the time she turned 60.Theoretically, the program took two years, but most students found themselves completing it in three.This may not seem like news; after all, thousands of students graduate with an advanced degree in the subject every year. The ages of students span decades – sometimes five or six decades. She also teaches in the creative nonfiction program at the University of King’s College-Halifax.As adults consider mid-career changes and continue working long past what used to be considered retirement age, MA and MFA programs receive enrollment applications from parents with grown children and from grandparents, as well. She explains that the low-residency model – which requires travel to campus for about 10 days twice a year – offers students the ability to stay in their current city and in their current job – perfect for those who need an independent academic schedule.She’d been living on nearby Lopez Island for almost two decades and didn’t want to relocate.“It was affordable and reasonable to be a ferry ride away for the 10-day residency twice a year,” she says. She already had one master’s degree and a 40-year career in nursing.“He was in the MFA to heighten his writing skills, but there wasn’t a social gathering Bill missed.” She tells MFA students to attend all public readings and get to know classmates at social events. “The low-res MFA, no matter your age, is what you make of it.So get out there and mingle with agents and editors, grab a drink with mentors and peers, and enjoy the immersive experience.” Iris Graville immersed herself in memoir and in building lifelong friendships with classmates during her years in the low-residency MFA program in creative writing through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (NILA) on Whidbey Island, Washington.