Creative Writing MFA students pursue passions with alternative courses

We are reposting this piece by Mackenzie Rossero, CAS communications intern, which originally appeared on the Miami English Department website here

Have you ever wanted to take a class on fanfiction? Have you ever wanted to teach that class? Or, introduce kids to creative writing in the outdoors, in a place teeming with inspirational opportunities? Creative Writing MFA students are doing all of this, and will soon be doing more.


As of this fall, the English department has changed its Creative Writing Master of Arts (MA) degree to a Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Creative Writing: Creative Writing and Pedagogy. With an MFA degree, graduates are eligible for more university jobs. The MFA is also a more studio-oriented degree, providing extra emphasis on the student’s individual work.

With these changes in the degree, the English department is offering an option for MFA students to complete a course in another department or propose and pursue a service, research or writing project in place of one of their 600-level literary seminars.

This alternative option is designed for students who are looking to pursue a specific passion — something that cannot normally be found in Miami’s curriculum.

“We think it’s important, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, for students to read a lot and to figure out their place in a literary tradition, and literature seminars help inform their intervention in the tradition,” said Cathy Wagner, Director of the Creative Writing Program. “That’s incredibly important to us… And we also wanted to open up possibilities for students to pursue other options that could feed into their creative practice or support their teaching of creative writing.”


Second-year graduate student, Elizabeth Weeks, developed a community workshop, MFA grad student Carrie Bindschadler (L) teaching children in Tucson.via teleconference, that is specifically for writers of fanfiction. It is a twelve-week course and, from a pool of approximately 50 applicants, she chose ten participants from around the world. In the course,
the authors submitted to each workshop twice, once with fanfiction and once with original fiction.

“This is something I would like to continue even after the semester is over,” Weeks said. “I had way more interest than anticipated, and I’d like to extend the opportunity to others. It’s a lot of work and there’s no pay involved, but I love it and it’s fun and I get to read some really cool stories and talk about writing and fic [fanfiction] with people who have the same level of interest in it that I do.”


Second-year graduate student Carrie Bindschadler spent a summer teaching children in Tucson, Arizona, about creativity and writing in their desert environment. She taught two age groups, 5 through 9 and 10 through 13. Her lessons provided students with the opportunity to act out and write plays and create planets and make pop-up books about them, among many other things.

“One week I had all the kids pretend we were on a deserted desert island, role-playing and writing about our experiences on our island. We spent a lot of time running around outside in the desert trying to get rescued and fighting off giant radioactive killer rattlesnakes. These experiences gave me a lot of hope for the world, but also gave the kids time to pretend outside and it ultimately made their stories better, more infused with descriptive language and more grounded in place than they had been before.”


These projects brought about unexpected rewards for both Weeks and Bindschadler. They were able to bring flexibility and creativity into their own projects.

“I thought the workshop would be more in line with my personal goals as a writer and teacher. While literary theory interests me and I’m sure I would have enjoyed a seminar, I tend to work better and learn more in self-guided environments,” Weeks said.


Of the latest cohort of Creative Writing MFA students — those who began this fall — twenty percent have already expressed serious interest in this alternative option.

“I’m curious to see how many students do get interested,” Wagner said. “And, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that, once they hear about what other students are doing, more people want to do it.”

The pursuit of this alternative option would require students to develop a plan that produces work equivalent to what would be produced in the literary seminar, and at an equally challenging level. It is intended to offer students more freedom, should they desire it, in designing their coursework to support their artistic practice.

“I’m thrilled about the projects that have been done so far, and I think that they have been useful to the students thinking and helping them move forward as writers. It gives them a sense of agency,” Wagner explained. “They create their own project. They go through it — it’s kind of hard — but they come out at the other end saying, ‘I di

d that.'”

Creative writing faculty are in the early stages of developing relationships with community service providers such as Oxford’s Family Resource Ce

nter and local prisons. Faculty are hoping to build connections between Miami writers and the larger community and to offer MFA students additional opportunities to share the creative literacies they are learning.

Any Creative Writing MFA students interested in pursuing an alternative option should contact the Director of Creative Writing.