A Student Perspective
Hi, I’m Jason Molesky, an M.F.A. student in fiction here at Ole Miss. So, you’re thinking of applying. Or you’ve already been accepted, and are deciding whether to join us in Oxford. (If so, congratulations! Welcome!) In either case, I take it that you’ve apprised yourself of our position in the national rankings. You’ve read the work of our faculty and alumni, seen their names on the prize lists and in the anthologies. You know that all of our students are fully funded for three years, and that our program is small and very selective, with 12-15 of us working in each genre (poetry and fiction). Perhaps you’re also aware of Oxford’s award-winning bookseller, Square Books, and have heard the lowdown on our kicking literary scene. (Though I have no solid figures to substantiate this claim, I’m confident that, per capita, there are more readings and book signings in Oxford than anywhere else in the nation.) This is a small town where writing actually matters. This is a small program with the resources to support our success as up-and-coming authors.
But all of that you already know, or could easily learn via the Web. What doesn’t show up in Wikipedia entries, Poets and Writers articles, or even in our M.F.A. student handbook, is the subjective experience of living and working here, of participating in the tradition we’re building around Bondurant Hall (and City Grocery, the bluesy bar where we usually meet after workshops). The best way to get a true feel for the program’s atmosphere is from the inside, through conversations with us, the students. We’re happy to talk with you personally; just contact the English department and they’ll set up a few emails or phone calls, or a campus visit. It’s been our experience, though, that many prospective students don’t take this step. I confess that I was too shy to do so, and chose Ole Miss — blindly hoping, sweating in the night — for the funding and the faculty. If I’d known more about students’ perspectives on the less immediately visible aspects of the program, it would have made my decision to come here a whole lot easier. With all respect to the many excellent M.F.A. programs in the country, we’re very fortunate in the talent and generosity that are fostered here, and I’m glad to spread the word.
Therefore, I’ve tried to provide on this website a rough approximation of a group discussion with current and recently graduated students, in which the questions you’re likely to have are addressed. To collect the material, I conducted separate audio interviews with seven of my collegial friends, asking them broad, open-ended questions about the M.F.A. community, Oxford, teaching, classes, faculty, workshop, etc. Most interviews took place on the balcony of Square Books or on the patio of High Point Coffee, but I spoke with Andrew over beers in his thriving, humongous, dung-reeking organic garden, where several other students were screwing around, weeding crops and the like. The conversations ranged from thirty minutes to an hour, and were a lot of fun, a lot of laughter, fairly free-form in structure. I encouraged honesty above all else. After I finished speaking with everyone, I transcribed the recordings, selected the most germane material, and curated it according to the seven topics you’ll find hyperlinked below. (In conjunction with the students who were interviewed, I edited the material only very lightly; our foremost concern was to retain the authenticity of the spoken dialogue.)
I hope you’ll find this material useful as you set about making your decisions. We all look forward to meeting some of you soon. Best of luck with your applications, and, as always, with your writing.
Thanks to all the students who participated in this project!