Master of Arts in Creative Writing Program Named to Top 10
This year, the University of Mississippi Creative Writing MFA program was ranked among CollegeMagazine.com’s top 10 MFA programs in the nation. Isabella Senzamici credited the size of the program, its notable alumni, and the various opportunities MFA students are given as merits in the program’s favor.
“At Ole Miss,” said the article, “students transform their passion for writing into a catalyst for social change. They teach community writing workshops, read at retirement homes and judge writing contests to help budding writers understand the value and impact of their words.”
Third-year poet and graduate student Molly Brown agreed that the value and impact of the written word are indeed known by her classmates, saying, “Students here are looking at the bigger picture for the literary world. They’re students who have a voice, who have something to say. The program is generous and generative and responsible.”
Matt Bondurant, a relatively new Assistant Professor in his second year with the program, said that the University of Mississippi is no stranger to praise for its literary merit. “The UM program has been on the map for a long time. When I was at Florida State 20 years ago, people knew about Ole Miss…It was always spoken about in very fond terms.” He went on to say that the program has grown in the last five to six years with the addition of Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, as well as even newer faculty.
“The program has only been gathering momentum, gathering steam in the last five years…I think the new hires are great. Of course, I’m one of them!”
Another new faculty member is Kiese Laymon, a native Mississippian who migrated back to his home state from Vassar, in Poughkeepsie, New York. Program director Derrick Harriell described Laymon as “a Southern jewel”. Harriell also said he was also pleased to have Melissa Ginsburg join the MFA program as full-time faculty, having previously been an instructor in the English department.
The English department was another factor that Harriell, Bondurant, and Brown were all quick to mention as a reason for the program’s growth and success.
“There’s a huge amount of respect that everyone has across the board for each other,” said Brown.
According to Harriell, “We couldn’t have the success we’ve had without the success and camaraderie with the English department at large.”
And success is found in abundance in the MFA program’s students. The program only admits eight new students each year, four poets and four fiction writers.
“My colleagues impress the hell out of me every day,” said Brown. “So many people are doing so much exciting work and working so hard…The thing that sets The University of Mississippi apart is the combination of serious ambition and a wonderful, warm community. When one of us has a success, there’s a sense that it’s a success for everybody.”
Harriell said that, over his time at the university, he’s only watched the students grow, “not necessarily in number, but in terms of diversity. I think sometimes we think in terms of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, but we’ve grown diverse in personalities, familial backgrounds and all kinds of different, colorful things that shape a person’s life…Writers feel like they can come here and not only write well but be themselves. It’s a safe space to express themselves creatively and personally.”
And support for writers comes not just from the MFA program and English department, but from Oxford as a city as well. Bondurant and Harriell both said that writers in Oxford are treated the way professional athletes are treated in other cities, in terms of respect and affection. Brown recalled a time when Jack Pendarvis walked into a bar on the Square after having just given a reading, and the whole bar broke into applause.
“Writers and writing are celebrated and appreciated,” said Bondurant. “You feel like you’re in a place that values what you do.”
Brown said, of her experience with the university overall, “I’ve had a phenomenal experience here, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to get my MFA. My first book is coming in the spring, and I wouldn’t have gotten it where it was and won a book prize without the faculty here.” Molly Brown’s book, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and will be published in 2017 by Persea Books.
Harriell expressed his appreciation for the recognition, specifically by CollegeMag, saying, “It’s a student-centered magazine, not the old guard naming the ‘top’ programs, but young people, whose voices I pay more attention to. These are the people who decide where they’re going to college and who are doing really interesting, passionate work.”
If precedent holds, it seems that more and more students will be doing their interesting, passionate work with the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.
By Katelyn Miller