Monday, December 29, 2008

A Mini MFA Program


A friend recently asked me about the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference, which is held every summer in Northern California. He wanted to know why it was useful to me. Was it the interaction with the other attendees or meeting agents and published authors or something else? I think I benefited from it due to several things.

After having recently graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing I realize now that attending Squaw (I was there in 2000 and 2001) was a bit like being in an intensive, mini-MFA program. I was able to devote an entire week to concentrating on my writing and learning about the business. I was with the same group of writers for the daily workshops, but the leader changed each day. It could be an agent, an editor, or a published author. One day I was lucky enough to have Janet Fitch (White Oleander, Paint it Black) as my workshop leader. This was my first exposure to a workshop setting, but some of my colleagues were more experienced and I learned from them as well. Being with the same students the whole week created a feeling of community as did the accommodations, which involved sharing a house with three other women.

When not in workshop we were able to take other classes and attend lectures about craft and the business of writing and getting published. Attendees were also paired up with a one-on-one appointment with an agent, author, or editor who had read their work. It was invaluable to get such personal feedback.

I think that for me, though, one of the most important things was the feeling of accomplishment I felt when I got accepted to the conference. This is not the type of conference where anyone can go and schmooze with editors and agents. You are admitted based on the quality and potential of your writing. I didn’t get in on the first try, so when I made it the following year, it was gratifying and boosted my self-confidence.

Although in my case I didn’t find an agent or editor (that came some years later), I know this has happened to some writers who attend Squaw. But my experience prepared me for my eventual entry into the publishing world as well as my MFA program and my overall journey as a writer. It was well worth doing and I highly recommend it.

2 comments:

beckylevine said...

Wendy, is this the same as/different from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers? I took workshops in college from one of the founders of that community--Oakley Hall, and they were wonderful, but I don't know if that's the conference or not.

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga said...

Thanks for your post, Becky. Yes, this is the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, which is what the conference is called. Yes, Oakley Hall was one of the founders and he passed away, if I remember correctly, sometime last year.