A Q&A with Solstice Low-Residency MFA’s Founding Director

In this Q&A, we spoke with Meg Kearney, Founding Director, and Quintin Collins, Assistant Director, at Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program.

What exactly is a Master of Fine Arts degree, and why do I need one?

It’s the terminal degree necessary for those who wish to teach at the college level. Most of our students want to earn an MFA for three reasons: community, networking opportunities, and—this is the main one—to become the strongest writers they can be.

What concentrations do you offer?

Poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and writing for young people. We are also building a cohort to start our comics & graphic narratives concentration in summer/fall 2021.

What does “low-residency” mean, and what are the benefits of a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program?

It means you don’t need to move to Boston to earn your degree. Our students want to learn not only the craft of writing but also how to make writing and reading a regular practice alongside life’s other obligations. During our two-year program, students attend five 10-day residencies, then work 1:1 with a mentor each semester. By graduation, they have a craft foundation, an understanding of how to publish their work, and a supportive community of fellow writers, many of whom become lifelong friends.

What makes the Solstice MFA Program different from other low-residency programs out there?

Our community. You’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier, more supportive group. And from our founding in 2006, we’ve been dedicated to a diverse faculty of world-class writers who love to teach—in a setting intimate enough to have real conversations. We’ve found that intimacy exists even when our residencies are virtual because of COVID! Our Pedagogy Track also sets us apart. There’s more—writers should contact us to learn more.

Say more about how you encourage cross-genre work.

We certainly encourage students to take craft classes across genres during our residencies. Also, students may focus on a completely different genre in semester two than they did in semester one. Writers who have an MFA can check out our Post-Grad Programs to study in another genre.

You say you support diverse voices. How?

By featuring a diverse faculty. Solstice also offers Fellowships and our Writers Helping Writers Scholarships. Plus, our flexible schedule enables students to complete our program at a pace best suited to them.

What is a typical residency like/how is it structured?

Virtual or on-campus, the basic schedule is the same: students spend three hours a day in workshop. They fill the rest of the time with craft classes, elective sessions (including publishing-related events), and readings. By day seven, students receive mentor assignments and begin creating their semester plans.

Because of COVID-19, you held a virtual residency in July 2020. How did that go? Will you go virtual again this winter 2021?

We went virtual, and we waived our application fee because of the economic stress most are under. The virtual residency went smoothly; we were all surprised by how intimate Zoom can feel. We ensured that everyone felt comfortable with the technology. So yes, we’ll be virtual again this winter; it’s best for everyone’s health and safety.

How much contact do I have with my mentors?

Quite a lot. Often, they are your workshop leaders. When on campus, students and faculty typically share meals and attend readings and social events together. Students and mentors then exchange packets once a month. By the end of the semester, students have a treasure-trove of written feedback.

So students send five packets to their mentor during each semester—please say more about that?

Year one, packets are a combination of the students’ creative work plus short craft essays based on what they’re reading. During semester three, students write a critical thesis, also craft-based—or pedagogy based if the student is in our Pedagogy Track. In semester four, students complete their creative thesis—say, a full-length collection of poems or short stories or the first 130 to 150 polished pages of a novel or memoir.

That’s the second mention you’ve made of the Pedagogy Track. What is that, exactly?

The Pedagogy Track gives students training to teach at the college level—at no extra charge. As one of the few low-residency programs to offer this Track, Solstice gives its grads a leg up as they seek work in higher education.

How would you describe the typical Solstice MFA Program student?

They hail from 15 different states and beyond and range in age from 22 to 60-plus. Their backgrounds are as various as their geographic locations! But they all share a passion for the written word and seek a community that is friendly, open-minded, and supportive.

How do you support students financially?

Through Fellowships and our Writers Helping Writers Scholarships, which are need-based. And we keep our tuition and fees low—Solstice is quite competitive in that regard compared to most other low-residency MFA programs.

How do you support students academically?

Our community is purposely small; students get lots of individual attention. Workshops are kept to ten or fewer; our student-to-mentor ratio is 5:1. And we offer students myriad resources. Again, writers should contact us to learn more.

How do you support your alumni?

We love our alums, and they love us, too! We write them monthly, feature an alumni event at every residency, crow about them in our e-newsletter and on social media, and offer a “grad buddy” program to help see new alums through those first post-graduation months. Our alumni also organize a reading at every annual AWP conference.

You mentioned a post-grad program and a certificates—say a bit more?

People take advantage of our Post-Grad Semester when they’re working to complete a manuscript. Our Post-Grad Certificate enables writers to study for one year on a genre other than the one they concentrated on as students. Both are open to anyone with an MFA.

How do your alumni fare in the publishing and academic job market?

While a number of them are landing teaching jobs, 30 percent have published at least one book since graduation. That amazing statistic covers many genres: books of poetry, memoirs, short story collections, and novels for adults and for young people.

Is there anything new in the works that you’d like to mention?

We’re excited about the Writing Social Justice Track launching in 2021. It’s going to be like nothing else, and we can’t think of a more crucial time to offer this sort of programming.

To find out more, visit Solstice MFA’s site.

Contact: Meg Kearney, Founding Director & Quintin Collins, Assistant Director

Email: mfa@pmc.edu

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