Open Mic Blog
SPOTLIGHT: Eliot Parker
|Posted on January 26, 2014 at 3:55 PM|
One Writer's MFA Journey.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer; however, I did not begin writing creatively until I was in college when I needed a break from the rigors of academic writing. After I graduated with my Master's Degree in English from Marshall University and began teaching full-time at Mountwest Community and Technical College in 2007, my creative writing was stifled by the requirements of class preparation, grading papers, office hours, and committee work. Yet, I renewed my passion for writing during summer breaks.
I had read about MFA programs in several writing magazines and even consulted with some classmates from my days at Marshall who had gone on to pursue an MFA at other colleges and universities throughout the country. For a while, I refused to even consider getting one since I had been out of school for too long and wondered if I could balance the responsibilities of work and being a student. In the Fall of 2010, I decided to apply to the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University http://creativewriting.eku.edu/ Not expecting to be accepted, I was thrilled when my portfolio of work was reviewed and I was offered a chance to attend.
As a student in the program, I was prepared academically as well as artistically for the field of fiction writing. I had a chance to study and analyze materials written by other writers in addition to polishing my own craft. Moreover, the winter and summer residency opportunities in Lexington, Kentucky, and Edinburgh, Scotland, gave me a chance to immerse myself in my writing and focus on craft. In addition to becoming familiar with two wonderful cities like Lexington and Edinburgh, I was able to workshop my writing with other classmates, visiting writers, and faculty. I met and was mentored by award-winning authors, including Jim Grimsley, Amanda Eyre Ward, Kristin Iversen, and others.
The low-residency program at ETSU helped me maintain my full-time job and work toward completing the degree. The experience helped me further realize my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I found my classes to be intellectually stimulating, and my classmates and professors created a classroom culture of openness and acceptance which allowed me the confidence to experiment with my writing and not be afraid of subjects and themes that had long been percolating in my subconscious. Many of my fellow classmates are also my best friends today.
The guidance and coaching I received during my two years at EKU have been invaluable to me as a writer. I still maintain relationships with those writers who mentored me, and the faculty at EKU make themselves available anytime I want to talk about writing or seek advice. I left the program a more confident and capable writer, reader, and learner. I was able to successfully balance teaching full-time with the rigors of the program which made me even stronger in areas of time management.
An MFA might not be a good fit for everyone, but if family obligations and full-time employment can't be avoided, then a low-residency program is a good option to consider. I’m glad that I set aside my doubts and concerns and made myself apply in 2010. Completing my MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) was one of the best experiences of my entire life.
Eliot Parker is the author of the novels The Prospect, Breakdown at Clear River (nominated for a Weatherford Award in Outstanding Fiction in 2012) and the upcoming novel Making Arrangements (Spring of 2014 from Sunstone Press). He currently teaches writing and literature at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington, West Virginia. Learn more about Eliot at his website www.eliotparker.com
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Your MFA program sounds wonderful. I bet Edinburgh was fun...It is so difficult to write fiction, isn't it? When I began, I thought "how hard can this be?" Twenty years (or so) later, when I cut open the creative vein, only a tiny droplet formed, but I have learned so much. I appreciate hearing about your journey as a writer--it's encouraging. Do Lulu, La-La, and Layla get featured in your work?
Chris Harris says...
Eliot: where you find inspriation for your writing?
Hi. Chris! I find inspiration for my writing from the people I meet and the stories I hear. Quite a bit of my short fiction is loosely based on stories I have heard other people tell. Sometimes, the characters I incorporate into my fiction also loosely are based on people that I actually know. I find the "true-to-life" fiction tends to be theme that appears in my fiction (that is, fiction that could really happen). I have found that true-to-life fiction often features elements that are more interesting that anything I can make up on my own.
Oops, you forgot something.