M.F.A. program builds community of writers

The new Cornell College M.F.A. program is building a creative community of writers, and it’s all just beginning.

Cornell’s M.F.A in creative writing is a low-residency program, designed for writers who don’t want to disrupt their work or family lives while earning their master’s degree. With only the first residency of the program behind them, Faculty Director and poet Glenn Freeman says the small program is growing as students explore new possibilities. 

“My work as an administrator is similar to how I teach creative writing: my job is to nurture this new community and allow it to find its own voice, its own identity,” Freeman said. “I don’t know what shape this new community will take, and that’s a great pleasure to imagine the possibilities and do what I can to help them come into being.”

And it’s not too late to get involved. The program has a rolling application deadline, meaning students can join the program prior to any of the five residencies throughout the two-year program. The suggested deadline to join the program ahead of the July residency is April 1. Applications will be considered after April 1 but may be waitlisted. 

Andrea Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of The Iowa Writer’s House in Iowa City, Iowa, joined Cornell’s program for the first residency, which was held online due to the pandemic. 

“Choosing to get an M.F.A. is a big decision, especially at the mid-career point,” Wilson said. “I have had an essay collection in the works for some time and wanted to dedicate myself to that goal. I was looking for a degree program that would offer me the opportunities to work one on one with a mentor and allow me to experiment with nonfiction hybrid forms.”

Wilson has traveled the world telling the stories of those she has met. She’s also one of the editors of a three-volume anthology, “We the Interwoven,” which tells the story of bicultural Iowa through immigrant voices. 

She’s now sharing her many experiences and knowledge with her fellow Cornell M.F.A. writers as she continues through the low-residency program.

“It’s really great to have Andrea in the program,” Freeman said. “She comes to us with a wealth of professional experience in arts administration. “She’s dedicated herself to helping other writers find their voices, and now that she’s taking the next step with her own writing, it’s gratifying to be able to help her in her journey.”   

At this point in the program, all of the students are working with their mentors on their individualized projects as they prepare for the next residency, July 1–9. 

“Each instructor brings something unique to the table,” Wilson said. “Steven Dunn is my mentor this semester and his feedback on my work is helping me take my prose to new levels. I need to be pushed in the ways and directions he is encouraging me to explore. The program feels like a safe container for the artistic exploration I’ve always wanted to do.” 

Freeman says, even though the first residency was online, it was a whirlwind of creative activity and energy.

“Besides working with our core faculty, we had readings and seminars with poets Amaud Jamaul Johnson and Patrick Rosal, debut fiction writer Rachel Swearingen and essayists Tyrese Coleman, and Sejal Shah,” Freeman said. “Poet and essayist Sebastian Matthews gave a talk on hybrid genres that ended up becoming a theme for the residency: students started to see how their own writing might push boundaries.” 

Wilson and Freeman are looking forward to the next residency in July to continue to share their art. 

“I think the combination of getting a master’s and completing a manuscript is what makes this program exactly what I needed as the next step in my career,” Wilson said. 

Those interested in applying can request more information on the program’s webpage.

Residency Dates: 

  • July 1–9, 2021
  • Dec. 30, 2021–Jan. 7, 2022
  • July 1–9, 2022
  • Dec. 30, 2022–Jan. 7, 2023