What is the Heart of an MFA Program?

Posted April 15th, 2010

The Solstice Low-Residency MFA
in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College

by Kimberly Mitchell

Kimberly Mitchell

Kimberly Mitchell

I enrolled in the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College to sharpen my skills as a writer while earning my master’s degree. I didn’t realize I was stepping into a long lost circle of family, albeit a crazy one where we all inherited the same gene for writing. Community is the heart of the Solstice MFA Program.

The Solstice MFA Program fosters community in several different ways. The program opens its arms to writers from all walks of life. I immensely enjoyed meeting the other students and learning about their lives. Instead of encouraging competition, students value the relationships formed that result in lifetime friendships. When I’m having difficulty with my writing time, I know I can turn to those friends who journeyed through the program with me and rely on them to help me turn the page, or at least get words on it.

Cross-genre collaboration is another way the Solstice MFA Program instills this sense of community. Students are encouraged to attend lectures outside of their own genre. I took full advantage of this and enjoyed many teaching sessions on creative non-fiction, adult fiction and yes, even poetry. These sessions stretched me, but I walked away a more complete writer. When I began my critical thesis, I reached out to faculty outside of the children and young-adult genre to gain a fuller understanding of my subject. Without those prior relationships formed through cross genre community, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do so.

If community is the heart of the Solstice MFA Program, the student-mentor relationship is its soul. I worked with three very different mentors in my two years. As each semester drew to a close, I found it difficult to believe my next mentor could ever fill the shoes of my last, but each time the faculty more than exceeded my expectations. Each mentor challenged me in a different way, from paragraph syntax to focusing on my character’s motivations to making my sentences sing.

The student-mentor relationships are what I miss the most as a graduate of the Solstice MFA Program. Your mentor’s involvement in your life isn’t just about critiquing your work; they are teaching moments where great writers share their lives and hearts with you. Without the program’s emphasis on community, the depth of these relationships wouldn’t be possible.

As I reflect on my time in the Solstice MFA Program, I smile and feel a tug of sadness at the same time. Part of me would like to go back and spend another two years under the guidance of such amazing teachers and staff, but I know it is time to take all I learned and move forward in my life—a better writer, a deeper person—with an entire family of writers cheering alongside me.

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