Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of Hamline University.
Do you write for children and/or young adults? Have you ever considered pursuing an MFA to further your craft? Or maybe you aren’t even interested in a degree, but you feel like you’ve hit your peak. Like your current writing community can’t push you any further, and you don’t know how to continue growing on your own.
In January of 2015, I graduated from Hamline University with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (henceforth to be lovingly referred to as the “MFAC”). Friends, I will never run out of good things to say about this program.
When I recently saw that the deadline for applications to the Winter Residency was quickly approaching, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sing Hamline’s praises and (hopefully) help a few more writers find their new home.
Look, I get it. An MFA program isn’t for everyone, and no, you don’t need a degree in writing to write well. But the Hamline MFAC isn’t your typical MFA program. It’s special.
Reasons to Love the Hamline MFAC
1. The faculty list
Let’s start with the obvious. The Hamline MFAC faculty list reads like the who’s-who of kidlit authors.
Interested in writing fantasy? Then perhaps you’d be interested in spending a semester working with Printz award winner Laura Ruby, author of Bone Gap (and in case you haven’t heard, she just landed herself a place on the National Book Award Short List).
Want to work on graphic novels? Check out Gene Luen Yang, the 2016-2017 Ambassador for Young People’s Literature who wrote American Born Chinese and Boxers and Saints.
Brandy Colbert (Pointe) and Nina LaCour (We Are Okay) are just a couple of the superstar young adult writers on Hamline’s staff. Or maybe you’d like to work on a middle grade novel with Newbery winner Meg Medina (Merci Suárez Changes Gears), or McKnight Fellowship recipient Anne Ursu (The Real Boy)?
I’ll be real honest with you, I’m not great with names. So when I realized that the professor I kept lovingly addressing as “Jacquie” was the Caldecott Medal winning author of Snowflake Bentley, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, I very nearly cried. How could I not have recognized the author of Snowflake Bentley?!
Listen, I’m only brushing the surface here with the Hamline MFAC staff list. Check out the list in full here and see for yourself just how incredible the faculty are, and then sit back and imagine yourself working one-on-one for an entire semester with any one of them.
Welcome to the Hamline experience.
2. The low-residency structure
The Hamline MFAC utilizes a low-residency structure. Every January and July, the students gather on Hamline’s campus for ten days of workshops, lectures, and intensives.
Those ten days will be some of the most exhausting, thrilling days of your life, and you will crave them like no other. For ten entire days, you are completely surrounded by writers while living, eating, and breathing writing.
The six months in between are spent working one-on-one with your assigned professor. Each month you will turn in a packet consisting of creative work (the meat of your packet) and critical essays.
Here’s where it gets exciting (I mean, if you weren’t already excited). Your professor will read through and respond to all of your creative work in a letter, mimicking the editorial process you might experience as a published author.
The difference here, of course, being that your professor is dedicated to your growth as a writer. So they are able to give you guidance customized to your needs as you continue through the semester.
Pretty nifty, right?
3. The community
There’s this strange thing that happens when you grow up and move out. “Home” starts to feel more like a concept and less like a location.
The home I share with my family has never quite had that enveloping sense of safety and belonging to it that my childhood home once carried, but when I return to my childhood home, I no longer quite seem to fit. Not in the same way.
When I return to Hamline, it feels like coming home.
The result of those ten day exhausting residencies is your classmates quickly become family. They are the people who get what it means to be a writer. They understand what you mean when your answer to “how’s the writing going” is “my floors are clean and my sink is empty.” And they never stop showing up.
The Hamline MFAC doesn’t graduate its students out of its family. Instead, it just keeps growing. Every incoming class is quickly welcomed into the fold, and the alumni are in constant contact.
The result of that great, big, ever growing writing family is one giant writer’s network. Suddenly you have genuine connections to people across the country involved in all aspects of the writing industry. You can’t put a price tag on that.
4. The dedication to inclusivity
The Hamline MFAC is not an ode to old white men.
Instead, the faculty has a diverse mix of gender, race, and sexuality. The required reading list pulls from modern, relevant literature that spans cultures, and the program offers multiple scholarships aimed specifically at growing the diversity of the student body.
The MFAC has embraced the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and dedicates time each residency to educating students on writing outside of their own experiences responsibly.
Residencies also sponsor “ally lunches” for LGBTQ+ writers and writers of color, as well as lunches exclusively for writers of color and LGBTQ+ writers so students can connect and find support.
5. The support team
How many programs have you encountered where the administrative staff are every bit as known and loved by the students as the faculty?
Mary Rockcastle, the current Creative Writing Program Director, along with all of the staff at Hamline’s Creative Writing House are just as much a part of the family as the students and faculty.
Let this be a standard by which you measure any graduate programs you may consider: At the Hamline MFAC, the students know the program’s administrative staff by name.
The MFAC students respect and appreciate the amazing dedication the staff has to the program, and they recognize the genuine excitement and love each of the staff has for the MFAC.
6. The alumni programming
The MFAC experience doesn’t end when you graduate.
Alumni are invited back each residency for Alumni Weekend. This weekend is packed full of presentations and workshops specifically curated for the MFAC’s alumni. They hear from agents and editors, do exclusive workshops with award winning authors, and even have the opportunity to give their own presentations.
If you choose the Hamline MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, your education will continue long after your graduation day.
How to Apply
Applications for the January 2020 residency are due October 20th. Visit the Hamline MFAC homepage for more information.