Some of you who read this blog know I have spent the past two years studying a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in St Paul, Minnesota. Well, this time is about to end. Tomorrow I graduate (no one has raced up to tell me my final thesis was rejected, so I guess it’s true!) It’s both a wonderful celebration and a sad time. A celebration of all the work I have done and the learning, the many, many lectures and workshops, and the massive amounts of writing, all of which have taught me something new.
It’s also sad because I am leaving behind a fabulous community of writers. I hope to see them again, but I live 20 hours flying time away – not counting stopovers – and that is going to make it difficult. Thank goodness for Facebook where my classmates and I have created our own special community, a place for support, encouragement and whining. There is always someone to hear you and say, “Me, too. Keep going.”
I have been asked many times by writers and others in Australia – why go all the way to Minneapolis to do a Masters? Quite simply, it’s because there is nothing like this in Australia. There is no specialisation in children’s and YA writing, there is no amazing faculty of experienced writers/teachers who give their students so much, there is no low residency format that allows you to both work at home, around your job and real life, and come together every six months for an intensive 11 days. We go home after each residency exhausted and exhilarated.
During each residency the students who have just finished their critical thesis (3rd semester) present a lecture on their topic. This time I’ve heard about silence in fiction, keeping 4th and 5th grade boys reading, ambiguous endings in YA fiction, hopeful endings and why we need them, and what a great beginning requires, among others. I’ve also heard my classmates read from their creative thesis work, which has been astounding in its quality and range. Everything from picture books to young adult novels, as you would expect, but I expect many of the works I’ve heard to be published. They really are that good!
All of us know (and gratefully acknowledge in our final thank-you speeches) that our advisors have helped us take our writing to soaring new heights. Having someone who really cares about your work, your processes, your struggles and your breakthroughs, is invaluable. It’s more than critiquing. It’s exploring, questioning, pushing, suggesting, demanding and, most of all, supporting.
In tangible terms, I graduate with two novels, a critical thesis on verse novels, part of a verse novel and nine picture books. In less tangible, but more important, terms, I leave with a renewed energy and commitment to my writing, a greater depth of knowledge, a much deeper understanding of the craft of writing, and a stronger, profounder approach to effective revision.
I thank Mary Rockcastle (who was the main reason I chose Hamline) and all the terrific staff, and my advisors: Marsha Qualey, Marsha Chall, Ron Koertge and Anne Ursu. Go out and buy their books and then you will want to go to Hamline, too. And I thank my classmates, the MadFACers – let’s all keep writing together. Then soon I’ll be able to go and buy your published books!