Applying to the MFA: Known Knowns and the Importance of Place

If your application process is anything like mine, you’ll end up doing a lot of compatibility analysis (Figure 1). I’m only slightly dicking around. I didn’t actually crunch numbers like that, but the concept of compatibility was at the forefront of my mind when applying to creative writing programs—so was uglycrying and giving up on my current thesis when I started getting my rejections (Figure 2), so take all this cum grano salis. I’ve spent the past 2 years in a master’s program at Mizzou studying geography, and applying to a second round of graduate schools was no easier than the first.

Figure 1.

Chris Petruccelli Figure 1
That said, the best piece of advice I received when applying to geography programs was to apply to schools in cities I’d actually want to live in. I did not heed that advice on my first go around. To be clear, I love Mizzou, and my experience in the geography department has been amazing; however, take a gander at a map, find where Columbia, Missouri is and imagine having no car—only a bike. Word. That shit sucks. And even if I had a car, #whatever.

Having learned my lesson, applying to MFAs was equally dependent on the location of the program as the quality of the program itself. I knew I wouldn’t produce as much solid writing living anywhere in the Midwest compared to living and writing in places such as Fairbanks, AK or Nashville, TN. Hell, University of Alaska Fairbanks’s motto is “Naturally inspiring.” I dig that. Nashville has hot chicken—no further inspiration required. Ultimately, I knew I could probably live and write in three places: 1) Areas close to mountains/vast expanses of water; 2) Cities > 150,000 people; 3) Almost anywhere in the South.

Figure 2.

Chris Petruccelli Figure 2

But this isn’t about my lack of love for the Midwest, which in all honesty, is kind of cool. Another aspect driving me towards the MFA track is the fact that I no longer have any time for my creative writing. In the last several months, I’ve written one poem and that ain’t right. I love dendroecology, hiking up mountains and conducting challenging scientific research, but doing all that (as well as taking classes and fulfilling teaching assistant duties) in a span of two years and trying to write creatively has got me fried. Science and writing in tandem is possible, but in doing both, one is bound to take precedence while the other suffers. Right now, the writing must come first.

Picking up and moving to a far off place is difficult and expensive. But after living, studying and writing in Missouri, it’s foolish for me to not be where I want to be—a known knowns sort of thing. I’ll be moving to Fairbanks to work on an MFA at UAF after graduation after a quick stint back in Tennessee. I’m looking forward to holin’ up in a dry cabin after a day of skiing, hauling water from Fox Spring and finally sitting down at a desk to write as the aurora borealis does what it does in the sky.

Chris Petruccelli Chris Petruccelli‘s poetry can be found in Connotation Press, Rappahannock Review, RomComPom, and elsewhere. His chapbook Action at a Distance is available at etchingspress.org. In his free time Chris enjoys drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes with older women.

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