We are one of the country’s oldest writing programs, begun in 1949 by Andrew Lytle, later to edit The Sewanee Review. Among the writers who have taught here are John Ciardi, Harry Crews, James Dickey, Debora Greger, Amy Hempel, Donald Justice, Maxine Kumin, Padgett Powell, Nancy Reisman, Mary Robison, Josh Russell, Stephen Spender, Peter Taylor, and Sidney Wade. You may see our various rankings at Poets & Writers in their annual MFA Index. Rankings are funny—discredited when low, celebrated when high, volatile, whimsical, often inexplicable. We like our numbers—#1 in job placement (2013), #13 in something called “Four-year Fiction Survey,” and #6 in funding (2014)—but we prefer as a measure of a writing program what its graduates do. What ours do is here.
We seek students with an equal interest in writing and in reading literature. We don’t believe in any particular school of writing; we have no wish to foster or found one. Criticism in the writing workshop here attempts to fulfill the design of a poem or a story on its own terms. We aim to cultivate good writers. If we effect this bettering, we do so by admitting that the question “Can writing be taught?” is best answered, “Yes and no.” Certain aspects of it can be taught, others cannot.
A good writing program is never proscriptive. Rather it augments the counseling that obtains privately between writers. Flannery O’Connor, though skeptical about whether writing could be taught, called the poet and translator Robert Fitzgerald and his wife, Sally, with whom she worked closely, “my adopted kin,” Faulkner sought guidance from Sherwood Anderson, and Elizabeth Bishop looked to Marianne Moore as a literary mother. Ford Madox Ford’s sponsorship of Joseph Conrad, whom he helped to make the transition from his native Polish into English, gave rise to one of the most remarkable literary partnerships of the twentieth century.
At MFA@FLA, we believe in this kind of collaboration, both between students and teachers and within the close-knit community that our students forge. This is why we have no part-time or visiting faculty. That all seven of our faculty live in Gainesville, most within a few miles of the campus, allows us to establish relationships with our students that extend well beyond office hours and workshops.
Another unique aspect of our program is its international perspective. Although based in the United States, MFA@FLA regards its mission as the promotion of world literature in English. That of our seven faculty four were born outside the United States and are bilingual if not trilingual helps us to achieve this goal. Even those of us who are Americans by birth, however, see ourselves as citizens of the world. It is for this reason that, in our classes, you may find yourself reading more British and European writers, more African and Asian and Caribbean writers, more Indian and Australian writers, than American writers.
A good writing program also serves to connect its students to the world of publishing, something we work at informally and also through our annual Visiting Editors weekend. (Some of our students go on to work in publishing; graduates of our program have worked as editors at such magazines as Lucky Peach, New England Review, The New Yorker, Oxford American, and Prairie Schooner.) Often the students showing us workable potential are not the most accomplished writers in the applicant pool, and those who are most accomplished writers may not be so in ways that we can address. The students here are ambitious and modest. They offer their writing in a comfortable atmosphere of rigor and respect and learn the difficult art of salubrious critique of formative work. They learn from their fellows as much as from their teachers.
If the work that this faculty publishes appeals to you, we encourage you to apply. Each year, we receive about 500 applications from students around the world. We admit six applicants in each genre per year. At any one time, there are approximately thirty-six students in the program.