I’m taking classes to fulfill the requirements for an MFA in Creative Writing at Minnesota State University–Mankato. For our class called “Research and Publication”, our professor assigned us to host a writer’s conference. A bit like having grade school kids choose, direct and star in their own school play. However, being older and more resourceful we said snarky things to each other about the silliness and futility of putting on an event and expecting others to attend. Then, due to the aforementioned resourcefulness, we succeeded in spite of ourselves.
When I arrived at the “More than Writing” Writer’s Conference my first thought was that I had no idea what times I had signed up for to help man the welcome desk at the conference. It was 12:40 p.m. and many of my classmates had already arrived. I had agreed to be on the Book Fair Committee and went to see the committee chairperson, Carey Feagan, to see what tables at the book fair might need staffing.
Carey said that the book fair was almost running itself. All of the exhibitors had their tables set up and only needed people to sit at their tables when they went to attend a workshop. Carey had set up a table with Kasey Pfab to represent the literary magazine they launched as a class project. I noticed that they didn’t have an e-mail sign-up sheet so I went to the library and made one. After printing out several copies of this and a handout with their submissions guidelines I returned to the book fair.
I helped with the GSEA Used Book Sale for about an hour. I helped people find and purchase books and, in one instance, helped carry them to the car. I picked out and purchased a few of my own after this.
At 2:30 p.m., there were three workshop sessions scheduled. I looked in to each of the conference rooms just as the sessions were beginning and counted the attendants. I counted a total of sixty-one participants in the three rooms. Before this, I had doubted that we were putting on a conference for anyone outside the MSU-M community. I recognized less than half of the faces I saw when doing my head count. And this count didn’t include over a dozen students and participants manning exhibitors’ tables, helping at the registration desk and the book sale.
It was apparent that our class had moved beyond simply meeting a class requirement. We were providing a service to the writing community of Southern Minnesota. This was also an opportunity for us and for future MFA students to gain experience in holding this conference in the future. We had created an event that provides MSU-M students with the chance to network with professionals in our field and to learn from working professionals what to expect when we complete our studies.
The session which was of the most value to me was the “Life After the MFA” session presented by Roger Hart, Gwen Hart and Becky Fjelland-Davis. I found out that there are several ways to come at the teaching profession. While all (as I recall) had earned their MFA degrees here at Minnesota State, Gwen had gone on to earn a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition. The three of them each emphasized that they were lucky if they were scheduled to teach one creative writing course for every three or four composition courses.
Each of the presenters then stressed the importance of being a good teacher in addition to the work they put into their own creative writing. Although this message has been presented by instructors in the MFA program it’s always helpful to hear that the message holds true for those who are making their living with their MFA degrees. Becky Fjelland-Davis went so far as to point out that while her writing is very important to her she often finds herself limited to no more than three hours of writing per week during a busy semester as a composition teacher.
The greatest lesson I learned from helping to put on the conference and attending it is that there is no substitute for being part of an event like this. If you miss the opportunity to attend a conference like this it’s impossible to know what other opportunities for networking and professional growth you will have passed by as a result.