Playwriting for Beginners

More than once I’ve heard this comment about one (or more) of my short stories: “This would make a great play.” Maybe. Trouble is, I don’t have any training as a playwright.

So of course this morning’s “Playing Around” post on the MBToolbox caught my interest. All kinds of tips and suggestions for the aspiring playwright. Check it out.

(I’ll be offline for a few days–off to a conference. Check back next week!

Are you a writer in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania?

Attention, writers resident in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania. The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation’s Artists & Communities program “offers support to partnerships between visiting artists and non-profit organizations engaged in community-based projects.”

The partnerships must take place with organizations within the Foundation’s service area (which comprises Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia). Artists (defined as “choreographers, composers, poets, writers, filmmakers, media and visual artists”) receive support “in collaborative partnerships outside their home community with arts and/or community organizations. These projects serve to motivate and encourage people to examine issues of importance to them, thereby increasing appreciation of the role of the arts in community life. The projects must involve active participation by members of the host community.”

Eligible projects run between 1-6 months. Grants “will usually range between $5,000 and $20,000” and are administered by the host organization. Application deadline: December 2, 2005. See very extensive guidelines and information at the website.

Applying to (and Choosing) MFA Programs

I see a lot of posts on various sites/blogs about MFA programs. Frequently, people want to know how to evaluate programs, how to select programs to apply to and, ultimately, how to choose a program to attend.

As anyone who has read my Primer on Low-Residency MFA Programs already knows, I’m a big fan of figuring out one’s own goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc. and matching one’s individual experience and ambitions with a given program and its offerings. That’s a first step, anyway. And I’m also in favor of really getting to know the nuts-and-bolts of how a program is organized and run and matching that up with your own aforementioned goals, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Only you can really figure out what’s a “good match” for you.

So maybe it’s not such a big surprise that unlike some others, I’m far less enthusiastic about relying on what current/past students have to say about a program. First, what seems wonderful (or terrible) to one person is likely to look very different to someone else (again) depending on the past academic, professional, and personal experiences each person brings to the table and what his or her goals or expectations may be.

And again, particularly in larger programs with lots of faculty and students, each person’s experience is going to be quite different. Among past/current students you may very well find those who entered the program at the same time who never encountered each other in workshop, never worked with the same set of faculty, never worked with faculty outside their own genre (which may not be yours), and so forth. So depending on whom you happen to talk to (and you can pretty much count on any program administrator referring you to only the most satisfied students if you ask for references), you are going to get highly, highly tailored comments.

So how can you go about evaluating how a program is organized and run? How can you figure out if it’s a good match for you? Again, readers of the primer know that I recommend a range of things to think about. But there are other helpful guides, too.

One is the set of Hallmarks of a Successful Graduate Program in Creative Writing compiled by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). After you’ve read and digested this guide you can approach the information, advertising, and references offered by individual programs with a sense of some things to look for and analyze on your own. Or you can use the guide to develop questions more specific to your own situation/concerns when you communicate with any of the program’s representatives.

And another, which I’ve only discovered this week, may be particularly helpful to those considering the low-residency option. The Spalding University MFA program now offers a set of Questions to Ask When Seeking an MFA Program that I’m frankly happy to see in many respects complements my own advice in the primer. (You can click on each of the questions to read answers relating to the Spalding program’s own policies.)

So don’t just depend on what others have to say–especially people you’ve never met and may simply talk to on the phone or via e-mail because a program sent you to them. Take the time to do more (guided) reflection and research on your own.

Attention, Philadelphia Poets!

Guidelines and applications for the 2006 Pew Fellowships in the Arts are now available. This year fellowship applications are welcome in the fields of poetry, performance art, and sculpture and installation. Grants of $50,000 are awarded to selected applicants, who must be “verifiable Pennsylvania residents of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, or Philadelphia County for two years or longer immediately prior to the application deadline.” There is NO APPLICATION FEE INDICATED. Click here for more information and application forms.

Scott McLemee’s "Quarterly Report"

You may not yet know about Scott McLemee’s “Intellectual Affairs” column, which runs twice each week over at the Inside Higher Ed site. On Thursdays McLemee covers new books; on Tuesdays he offers, as he recently phrased it: “the usual smorgasbord: thumbnail accounts of scholarship, glosses on current events, interviews with academics and writers, personal essays, reading notes, and the occasional targeted spitball.”

Last week the column addressed “general-interest cultural quarterlies.” Practicing writers who target these journals will be especially interested in what McLemee has to say about The Virginia Quarterly Review, Sewanee Review, The Minnesota Review, Boston Review, and others.

Writing Houses has posted an interesting feature by Jessica Powers, on the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. Sounds like a great place!

In other “house” news, the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College (Maryland) is accepting applications for a Director. For more information, click here. Review of applications will begin October 24, 2005.