I’m pleased to welcome author Laura Maylene Walter to Niche. I want to take this opportunity to thank her again for conducting an interview about her experiences at the MFA Program at Green State University.
Laura Maylene Walter is currently completing her MFA in fiction at Bowling Green State University. Her debut short story collection, Living Arrangements (BkMk Press), won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and a national gold IPPY. Her writing has appeared in The Sun, Poets & Writers, Smokelong Quarterly, Tampa Review, Portland Review, Fourteen Hills, American Literary Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Devine Fellowship and the Ohioana Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant. She was also a 2013 Tin House Writers Workshop Scholar and is the outgoing fiction editor of Mid-American Review. You can view more of her work at her website.
NICHE: It is good to start at the beginning. What was your journey to the MFA like? Why fiction, in particular, and what, at first, drew you to Bowling Green State University?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: I’ve long been a fiction writer, but I went into the workforce after college instead of immediately pursuing an MFA. In that decade after undergrad, I worked full-time in various communications and editorial jobs, but I still carved out a writing career on my own. I joined community writing groups, met other writers in my city, went to conferences like Bread Loaf, published stories and essays, and even published my debut short story collection. But I was worn down by working as an editor of a trade magazine all day and then squeezing in my creative writing at night and on the weekends, so when the timing was right, I applied to MFA programs.
I was attracted to Bowling Green State University’s MFA program because it’s fully funded, it has a longstanding reputation for excellence, it’s a studio program, it offers a reasonable teaching load with the chance to teach creative writing, and it houses the Mid-American Review. Its location was also a plus for me: at only about two hours from my home (and my husband and my cats) in Cleveland, I knew I could make the distance work for two years.
NICHE: How are workshops run?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: Workshop, which includes both the first- and second-year students in each respective genre, is held every semester during the two-year program. In addition to these main workshops, there are also two separate, semester-long classes – a techniques course for first-year students and an advanced workshop for second years – that offer smaller workshop settings and more specialized attention to students’ work. Lawrence Coates and Wendell Mayo, the main fiction faculty, are wonderful and have been so helpful both in a classroom setting and in one-on-one meetings. A visiting writer also teaches workshop one semester in each genre every other year, so there’s an opportunity to work with someone new. It’s a small program (five fiction writers and five poets are admitted each year), but its quality is top-notch.
NICHE: Tell us a little bit about the funding opportunities? Are all graduate students funded the same, and if so, how is through teaching assistantships, fellowships, or scholarships?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: All MFA students are equally funded with tuition remission and a yearly stipend of roughly $10,300. The teaching load is 1/1, 2/1, though there are some competitive course releases available in the second year. For some extra funding, there’s an opportunity for a Devine summer fellowship of about $2,400, awarded each year to two fiction writers and two poets. Fellowship recipients are chosen by authors outside the program who read and select manuscripts anonymously.
NICHE: What can you tell us about the visiting writers? Do graduate students get to interact with them at all?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: BGSU hosts multiple visiting writers throughout the year as part of the program’s regular reading series, and thanks to our small size, there are plenty of opportunities to interact one-on-one. We have an intimate Q&A session with each visiting writer, and students are also welcome to join him or her at dinner. Some visiting writers might come out to the bar after the reading, too. In addition, the annual Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing event brings more visiting writers to campus.
NICHE: How involved are the graduate students in producing the Mid-American Review?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: Very! All incoming MFA students are enrolled in a semester-long Mid-American Review (MAR) editing course, where they read submissions, assist with events, and more. Beyond that, there are plenty of additional opportunities for anyone passionate about the journal or literary publishing in general. I was the assistant fiction editor of Mid-American Review my first year in the program, the fiction editor my second year, and I was also the graduate assistant and co-coordinator for Winter Wheat in 2014. I also represented MAR on panels at writing conferences and manage the content on MAR’s recently launched blog. So there are lots of opportunities for anyone interested.
NICHE: Did you come into an MFA Program with any misconceptions? That is, what if anything, do you wish someone had told you before entering into an MFA Program?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: Because I came to the MFA after working full-time in a demanding editorial position, I think I viewed the MFA as a magical, two-year writing retreat. I imagined having hours and hours every day to write. In reality, it’s still a graduate program with its share of demands and stress. Teaching is of course a time commitment, and then there are assignments, coursework, and other responsibilities. I soon understood that the MFA wouldn’t be just two years sitting on a deck with my feet up and notebook in my lap. But in the end, I learned so much and wrote a book-length story collection for my thesis, so I got quite a lot done in those two years.
NICHE: Along same lines, do you believe that formal training has improved your writing?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: Definitely. While I entered the program with some experience and publications, I knew I needed to grow as a writer. I’m happy to say that happened during my time at BGSU. I wrote stories I never would have written had I not pursued the MFA. Taking the time to spend two years focused on my writing also gave me time to research areas I might not have otherwise.
NICHE: In terms of careers, do you know what percentage of graduates place in jobs or go on to publish books?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER: I don’t know percentages, but I can say that we’re all proud of Anthony Doerr, a past BGSU MFA graduate, for winning the Pulitzer this year for All the Light We Cannot See. Other grads with recent books include Matt Bell, Anne Valente, and Tessa Mellas, just to name a very few, and I know some recent graduates who have landed editorial, writing, and teaching positions.
NICHE: Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
LAURA MAYLENE WALTER There’s a beautiful cemetery on campus, you can easily find a cheap beer in town, and the university’s mascots are two giant falcons. What’s not to love?