Dominican Low Residency Creative Writing MFA Blog

WRITING & COMMUNITY:
A 2019 Summer Residency Report

by Bogie Bougas (MFA student '19)

July 24, 2019

Many of us joined the MFA program to find our people, a community of writers. Happiness abounded with monthly workshops, summer and winter residencies, and a stream of online emails and posts constantly reminding us, “You are not alone. Keep writing.” With graduation, however, comes a deep dread. When we leave our MFA program we leave our community. Oh, what to do now?

Fortunately, our fearless leader, Joan Baranow, foresaw our angst and organized a “Writing and Community” panel during this year’s summer residency with former Marin County Poet Laureate Rebecca Foust, poet and activist Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, and non-fiction writer Julia Flynn Siler. Immediately, our guests confirmed that they too once felt that graduation dread. Yet, they reminded us that one purpose of an MFA program is to introduce students to the writing world outside of the University. Our intimate Dominican MFA writing panels followed by dinner with our guests, followed by readings, provide an opportunity for students to make connections with writers, editors, and publishers. I had to smile, recognizing the connections I’d made with poet Terry Lucas and fiction writer Nina Schuyler because of this program. Still, Julia admitted that, once you graduate, you have to get out there, you have to make community for yourself.

Marcelo builds his community by organizing events, which quickly introduces him to other writers, even allowing him to connect with some that, without the title of organizer, he may not have had the gumption to introduce himself to. Rebecca is a big fan of attending readings. She reminds us that readings don’t have to be about ourselves (meaning, we don’t have to read). Rather it’s about showing up, letting others see your face and know that you are there to support them. Julia met her current writing group through the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She also made friends with writers she admires simply by writing to them, introducing herself and expressing her admiration for their work. She was often surprised at how many wrote back and still correspond with her today.

Together, our guests assembled a list of ways to connect with our writing community outside of Dominican. At first, the list was daunting. How are we ever supposed to find time for writing if we are having to do all the community building?

But Rebecca reassured us. “You don’t have to do everything on the list.”

“No,” Marcella added. ”Just pick a few and stick to them.”

“That’s the key,” said Rebecca, “Pick a few and be consistent.”

Julia added. “You have a writing habit. Now form a community habit.”

Rebecca Foust also gave us a very important warning. Writers have a pretty good radar for selfishness. If you participate in community ONLY to further yourself, you will not get very far. Community is about sharing. That means listening, sharing your time with others, investing in other people’s dreams. Not just your own.

By the end of the panel, the whole room participated in the discussion and our time ended with one undeniable truth: we graduates are now a community, one that will grow with each graduating class. What a wonderful feeling to know that we are now the organizers of our own MFA graduate community and that while the dread is real, it is conquerable. We are not alone, and, if we choose, we never will be.

Below is a list of ways to access the greater writing community. Now, you light-filled, awe-inspired writers, pick a few and look for us Dominican MFA grads because we will be looking for you.

IN PERSON OPTIONS:
• Readings
• Open Mic
• Teaching - not just colleges. Try libraries, senior & community centers, book stores
• Organize an event in your area (no quicker way to discover your local talent)
• Local Writing Festivals & Book fairs
• Local Bookstore events
• Join your local branch of the California Writers Club (calwriters.org)
• If not from California, see what your state offers
• Low key local workshops held at local bookstores and art organizations
• High key workshops held through conventions
• Writing Retreats & Residencies (Julia says these are great for making lasting friends)
• Conferences, such as AWP, World Con, Napa Valley Writers Conference
• Participate in Marin’s “Lit Quake”
• Join writing consortiums, such as San Francisco’s “Writer’s Grotto”
• County Fairs

IN PERSON & REMOTE OPTIONS
• Join a book club
• Form/join a writing group
• Exchange manuscripts
• Mentor other writers - great way to reach other communities
• Volunteer to be a beta reader and beta editor for friend’s work

REMOTE OPTIONS
• Book Reviews
• Your own blog
• Contribute to other writer’s blogs
• Get Published - formal and self-publishing/journals & contests
• Twitter (like it or not, publishers look for your online presence. Make sure you are there)
• Follow Facebook & blogs of your favorite authors (often allow community comments)
• Follow your favorite authors
• Write to your favorite authors - don’t be afraid to ask questions
• Write back to readers & writers who write to you (Very Important!)
• Subscribe to trade journals, such as Poets & Writers • Enter contests

MOST IMPORTANTLY
• Keep business cards on hand to pass out
• Be ready (with phone or pen and paper) to take down other people’s info
• Follow up a few days later with a friendly, “Hi. It was nice to meet you at....”


2019 AWP Conference & Bookfair

by Bogie Bougas (MFA student '19)

May 3, 2019

Quick, Fun Facts:

AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Established 1967. First writers’ conference held in 1973

Writing can be a lonely activity, sitting at a desk, lost in your own thoughts. No wonder writers from around the country (and the world) left the comfort of their academic offices and writer nooks to descend upon AWP’s annual writers' conference this March in Portland, Oregon. For the fourth year, Dominican’s MFA in Creative Writing program joined the pilgrimage of 15,000 attendees and 800 exhibitors (a new AWP record) to host a table in the Bookfair Hall and tell the world about our wonderful program. What a difference four years makes! In the beginning, few knew of Dominican University. This year, however, our table was a consistent, lively outpost of networking, prospective students, and colleagues from other writing programs dropping by to congratulate us on our first graduating class. Catharine Clark-Sayles was on hand to autograph her poetry chapbook Brats along with this year’s Narrative/Poetic Medicine poetry competition winner, Judith Montgomery, for her book Mercy.

With over 550 events, readings and panels to attend, our four days were filled with talking to fellow poets and writers between events, learning about new places and new books, and reaffirming that, yes, writing is hard, finishing a project is hard, running a writing program is hard, getting published can be even harder, but the joy of writing and teaching itself is often its own reward and cannot be underestimated. This year’s panels seemed to take an extended look at the #MeToo movement but the program was full of more traditional panels as well, such as how to land an agent and how to work with an editor.

Of course, the highlight for most of us was the bookfair itself. This was our yearly chance to meet and chat with editors from such elite literary journals as The Paris Review (which was always jammed packed with visitors) and the enthusiastic student editors of university presses. We found plenty of niche journals, such as the Opossum quarterly, which publishes nothing but stories and poems about music (and comes with an audible CD of the year’s best stories read by the authors and professional readers).

All in all, our AWP adventure was a huge success. We broadened the writing community’s awareness of Dominican and its MFA program, met and caught up with some old friends and interesting strangers, learned some trade craft, and found new options for submitting work, an annual injection of reassurance that we are not, in fact, alone in our heads. We are part of giant community full of people eager to connect and build lasting relationships. Needless to say, we are all looking forward to AWP 2020.


Winter Residency 2019

by Bogie Bougas (MFA student '19)

March 11, 2019

Forget drop the mic. At Dominican’s MFA program, you know you’re cool when you drop the page. During this winter residency, we focused on reading our work out loud for an audience. Oh, what a scary prospect. Besides the obvious fear of stage fright, losing one’s place and looking foolish while fumbling to find it again remains every writer’s nightmare. So we inexperienced writers tend to lock our gaze onto the page, looking down like a security camera focused on the Queen’s jewels.

But guest speaker and Japanese eco-poet Ryoichi Wago showed us another way to think about reading: Don’t read your words. Perform them.

Wago gave us two readings: a traditional poetry reading behind the podium, talking into the mic and looking up now and then to make audience contact. The standard fare. However, for his second poem, “Mirai Kagura,”* about the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster, he stepped away from the podium and stood in front of us, raw, vulnerable, yet totally in control. He held a short stack of pages in one hand, leaving the other hand free for expression. Because he had partially memorized his poem, the paper became a participant in his reading instead of a crutch. When he finished reading a page, he dropped it. The page floated down, tilting left then right, sometimes doing a half spin, before sliding onto the floor and resting, looking up at the ceiling like a living snapshot of time. At first, the falling page was funny. When the second page fell, something in our hearts pinged and we knew we were witnessing the sublime.

Wago read his poem in his native Japanese with an English translation projected on the screen behind him. Initially, the translation was a distraction, but as his voice rose and fell, digging in and pulling out each emotional moment, his emotions told the story, not his words. By the end, looking at an exhausted Wago and the pile of pages on the floor, we realized that readers don’t come to hear words. They come to feel them.

Thus, Wago taught us an important lesson: come prepared with a piece you are familiar with and don’t worry about your words, because, in the end, the audience isn’t going to remember your exact words; rather, they are going to walk away with an impression of what you have created. No, we don’t have to be so dramatic as to actually drop the page to express this, but, in our hearts, we should be willing to. And this willingness is the secret to a great reading.

* To drive home the idea of words as impressions, there is no exact translation for Wago’s poem “Mirai Kagura.” Mirai means the future of the world to come. Using the two words in combination you get the impression of Sacred Dance for the Future or Dance for the Next World.

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