Frequently Asked Questions
The low-residency model offers a mentorship mode of learning that may be closer to the way writers studied craft prior to the advent of traditional MFA programs. Students benefit from incredibly small classes (three-five students in each class in the Ashland MFA Program). They benefit from the one-on-one attention of their faculty mentors and from online discussion with other students and faculty during online semesters. Each faculty mentor serves as a catalyst for an online discussion forum during fall and spring semesters and responds individually in writing to packets of students' creative work.
The low-residency model also makes it possible for students to function in their family and work lives, even as they commit fully to the writer’s life. The Ashland MFA’s body of current and past students includes doctors, lawyers, a psychologist, college professors, a college administrator, primary and secondary teachers, a social worker, business professionals, computer technicians, military officers, and students with a wide variety of other professional and non-professional work backgrounds. The range of work experience students bring to the program creates a fertile context for the exchange of ideas. Also, students in low-residency programs tend to be older than students in traditional MFA programs. The average student age in the Ashland MFA Program is 40. As they study and develop their craft as writers, older students tend to have a greater wealth of experience for ideas that might inform the writing of a book.
In short, students in low-residency MFA programs enjoy working with faculty as accomplished as faculty in traditional MFA programs, and they probably receive a great deal more individual attention. While tapping into the benefit of the low-residency mentorship model of study, low-residency MFA students do not need to relocate to enter a university, they do not need to quit their professions and they do not need to disrupt their partners and families.
Finally, the intensive residency experience is probably unlike anything found in a traditional MFA program. During intensive residencies, students in low-residence MFA programs live and breathe literature 12 hours per day. Our students take classes in the morning, attend craft seminars in the afternoon, readings at night, meet with visiting writers and editors, participate in individual conferences, attend thesis defense sessions, publishing seminars and share together two meals a day. Intensive residencies tend to recharge creative energies for all writers associated with the program, faculty and students alike.
The heart of the Ashland MFA Program is its truly supportive, diverse, and tight-knit literary community, which enables true vulnerability and risk in writing. The writers in this program comprise a family; as one alum said of residency: "this is like coming back to a family I actually like." And this literary community extends well beyond degree completion. Alumni, current students, faculty, staff, visiting writers and editors are all members of the extended Ashland community. We welcome all talented writers who love literature and believe in adding their voices to the contemporary literary landscape, and we believe adding to the rich diversity of that landscape is vital to all.
The Ashland MFA Program offers three genres—poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction—and celebrates the intersections between these genres. Though poetry students study in workshops with other poetry students, creative nonfiction students with other nonfiction writers, and fiction writers with other fiction writers, the influence of the three genres are always present in the program. During summer residencies, following morning workshops separated by genre, all students and faculty attend afternoon craft seminars and evening readings that celebrate all three genres, and often bring the three into dialogue with one another. How, for example, can musicality of language be imbued in any genre while also serving and enacting meaning itself? What is the role, for poets and nonfiction and fiction writers, of facts, research, and the accuracy of detail in interacting with the imagination to craft language into an embodiment of the radically real?
The Ashland MFA Program also offers a cross-genre option, for students who are in two genres. The exclusive two-genre focus distinguishes the Ashland MFA Program from other low-residency and traditional MFA programs.
The Ashland MFA Program is also one of the few low-residency programs to work on the single annual residency model. There are three two-week intensive residencies during the process of completing the two-year degree—one gateway residency, one mid-program residency (after the first year) and one exit (post-thesis) residency. Again, this format accommodates very well for students with regular work lives. Our students can devote each year a single two-week leave from work (or vacation time) to the single, annual Ashland MFA summer residency. This residency format also creates more of a full-immersion experience, as it is longer than the one-week residencies typically found in other low-residency MFA programs. In the Ashland Program, students sustain for a full two weeks a non-stop focus on their own writing and on the writing of others.
The Midwestern location—on the north-eastern edge of the Midwest—is yet another distinctive quality of the Ashland MFA Program. While our student body has a foundation in Ohio, there are students in the program from most regions of the United States. Our students currently come from 19 different states. We have drawn 43 percent of current and past students from Ohio and 57 percent from New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida, California, Texas, New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, North Carolina, Montana, Nevada, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Utah, Tennessee and Louisiana. Ashland MFA faculty mentors also come from many different states—Arizona, California, Florida, Washington, Colorado, and Wisconsin.
All Ashland faculty mentors have published books with respected presses, most faculty have won prestigious book awards, and many have published in multiple genres. Though we care about these sorts of professional accomplishments, we care even more about hiring deeply committed teachers. We look for faculty mentors who believe in students' work, in championing their growth, and in fostering a strong community within the classrooms. We look for faculty who care deeply for their students, while at the same time providing students with ample rigor that challenges them to become better and better writers and thinkers.
To understand the sensibilities of their mentors students should read books by the faculty. They should also work with as many faculty mentors as possible and only then choose a thesis advisor. Students benefit from being exposed to a range faculty mentors. After working with multiple faculty mentors, students will be better informed in choosing thesis advisors who might provide the most useful critical feedback during the thesis semester.
The Ashland MFA Program offers a publishing seminar during every intensive summer residency. We generally invite literary agents or senior editors of journals, independent literary presses or university presses to address the students and faculty in a 90-minute session. As part of the post-thesis residency, graduating students meet in hour-long sessions with prominent editors to receive additional advice and critical feedback on their theses.