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June 30, 2009


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I think you've hit the program's value on the nose, but I also just like telling everyone that my degree is "terminal."

Laurel Saville

A wonderful synopsis of the value and limitations of the program. It's a great 'answer' for all those people who ask me what the value of an MFA is. Thanks! And thanks to Whit for posting the link.


i can't believe that i said something about the food. this perplexes me. maybe you wrote me before i started eating pie and fruit crumbles.


I was also going to mention Andrea's comment about the food- I had thought she always liked the food. We would look forward to hamburger and grilled cheese night. Oh and pasta night had wonderful garlic bread!

Also, the reason you have so many Bennington shirts and such is because it was always so unexpectedly fucking cold in June. I know it's why I own two Bennington sweatshirts. The coffee mug I bought to drink my wine out of though. And I can't find it. I loved that mug.

Lou Hullabaloo, Ph.D.

It doesn't matter how hard you strike, or even how accurately, but how often . . . .

Elizabeth Crane

Wow, Tod, this is really great, I was going to make several comments but there ended up being too many, and now I need to go take a nap.

bobo fett

hmmmm...i might have a slightly different take on your perspective but i understand the origin.


Excellent, excellent post.

Debby G

Thanks for the informative, honest post.

randy foye

i'm going to send this to my family and friends, who even after i show them my degree they call it poetry camp

Gay A

Now I understand what my nephew went through and why we thought he was MIA for 2 years. He is a changed person for it!

Weston Ochse

I felt many of the same things you did, especially when it came to critiques from students I felt weren't...you know..because I has been published, won awards, etc. But like you I forced myself to read them with an open mind and actually discovered some things about my writing that I didn't know. I graduated from the National University MFA program and was stunned at the amount of work. I had novels and several novellas contracted during the year and a half that I took the program, but forced myself to write straight literary fiction for all of my assignments. The result, I think, of stepping outside my genre comfort zone was the development and honing of literary style that was new and unique to me. For if nothing else than the terminal degree, the ability to concentrate on writing new and different was the best part; especially the screenwriting and creative non-fiction tracks. Thanks Tod.

Rebecca Walker

Fabulous post. About to begin low-res with five books published and two under contract and I'm still not sure I'm doing the right thing. But like you, I love teaching, and I'd like to teach in one place for a long time--to set down roots with my family and settle in to write a few books I can't seem to get to while juggling reviews, speaking gigs, pieces for the glossies, blogging. etc. The UCR program looks great, btw. I'd love to be a visiting artist and visit Miracle Manor on the weekend!

Anne Elliott

Thanks, Tod. This is thoughtful, frank, and helpful.


I suppose the true measure of a program, like the true measure of literary art, is whether or not one is changed from the experience. Well put.


Hi, Tod -I love this post and have come back to reread it a number of times as I consider possibly enrolling in a lo-res MFA in nonfiction. Though I too have a published book and countless reviews and features under my belt, I've spent the last couple of years working with a writing coach and just focusing on creative work. I've been humbled during this time by all the things I don't know. It seems to me this apprentice mentality ("beginners mind" for you Buddhists out there) is a good place to be when you enter the lo-res MFA. Anyway, this time around I focused on what you said about craft. Thanks! -Paul


Thank you - this post is very helpful.
:D Nina

Dale McSherry

Thank you all for your insight, I am still trying to sort out which is a good fit for me in regards to a MFA school as I treat patients here in Hawaii. Getting away for any type of residency is difficult but I want to become a better writer. I see where National University was ranked #1 regarding online schools and no residency with intensive program. Any recent feedback regarding this program? Mahalo

Susie Taylor

National University? You'd be better of not going to school at all than going to National University. It's like Devry.

Linda Michel

Thanks, Tod,
I found your post after having just chosen to go to Bennington for Fiction. I am fortunate to have had several very fine schools to chose from, but something about Bennington just felt right for me. I've got to say, now I am a bit freaked out. I've published exactly zero books, and most of my work out there in the world is CNF, and not all that creative. Am I going to be the only one there without any credentials? I have other grad degrees, but totally unrelated and not at all relevant to whether or not I can write.
I am also curious about your feelings about the decision to get your MFA, now that you have a bit of distance. Thanks much,

Tod Goldberg

You'll be fine, Linda. Most of the students -- the preponderance, I'd say -- are unpublished. As for the decision to get my MFA, well, I had to get it, there wasn't really an issue about it, because I was hired to direct an MFA program, so I'm of course happy that I did it. It's not for everyone and even those that it is for, not every school is right for them, either. You have to have a reason to get your MFA -- no one needs one, so you should have a good purpose behind it, an end goal. If you don't, if you're just there to have the experience, it's a lot of money to spend. So make sure you're working towards something you can publish and that you ask about whether or not your work is publishable.

Francesca de Onis-Tomlinson

Great post - I am halfway through my Bennington MFA in Fiction and I often say the end will be like getting kicked out of paradise. It is a place, I tell my very intelligent friends, where I have never met so many intelligent people in one place and the writing level is terrific. And yet it is not a place to be afraid - it is a place to grow. I too have had a wonderful experience with Lynne Sharon Schwartz, and Sheila Kohler, and Paul Yoon and Brett Anthony Johnston.
Will have one novella completed and moving back to a novel in progress so have gotten a lot of creative writing done and have profited enormously from wringing out the essay/annotations.
Did I mention the friends?
For winter term, bring ear plugs. There is some hellacious clattering of the pipes in the dorms!

Sarah Flowers

Finding this blog could not have come at a better time for me; I'm currently researching graduate degree programs and am looking at low res programs as an option. I was wondering how many credits are required at Bennington; a writing professor told me I need a 60-credit program to be able to teach college in a tenured position. Also, I'm interested in the Western Connecticut College low res program because they include publishing. I was wondering if you knew anything about their program or had any thoughts. Would Bennington be a good fit for someone interested in editing and publishing?

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