A Letter from Jen Howard, MFA Director:
Sometimes, I swing by my office on a Saturday – ostensibly because I need to print something but more honestly because my house feels too quiet – and when I do I’ll always find students here. They’re writing, or planning for Monday’s class, or gluing googly eyes to desk lamps, snapchatting cat pictures to each other. They have homes; it’s not as if they have to come in. But they like each other, they work together even when they’re not working. Their chatter helps me get my work done.
During the weekdays, the hall is even livelier. Jon Billman has commuted in fifteen miles on his snow bike, is drying his coat on the radiator. Austin Hummel has switched spots with one of his thesis students: She’s behind his desk and he’s in the rocking chair. I hope when Matt Frank comes to tell me about a “seductive” new essay he’s discovered for Passages North, he’s wearing his Bigfoot shirt, or,second-best, the one with the bloody robot with nun-chucks fighting a cowboy.
And down the hall, in English Department central, our chair – Ray Ventre – is surely fixing something with duct tape or finding ways to fund 18 student editors of Passages North on a trip to AWP or 27 (sincerely!) teaching assistants to Baltimore for the CEA conference. They’ll fly out of Marquette, Michigan, in the middle of a peninsula that sits right direct in most people’s blind spots. Sincerely, don’t tell too many people about this place; we like living in the middle of a secret.
All I’m saying is that it’s a nice crew here on the hall, and I feel lucky to get to watch our MFA students grow into writers and teachers, to be editors for each other. Students bring exciting projects with them to NMU, and we’re so proud of the work they leave here with. We try to let the program bend around student obsessions (sailboats, mining, cyborgs, VW busses, synchronicity, heartbreak, mothering), rather than expecting you to adopt our aesthetics. We celebrate student work at monthly readings, where the introductions are as fun as the readings themselves.
I keep a large orange couch in my office, and the student sitting on that couch right now calls our department “unnecessarily community based.” He’s kind of right. You’d think writing would be a solitary endeavor, and it is in most ways. But this hall is where we come to find each other. “Technically, we’re just coworkers and colleagues,” he continues. “We shouldn’t get along this well.”
Whatever it is that sets the tone – the long, snowy winters, the glimpses of Lake Superior you get from all over town, even on a tedious drive up to Target for Vitamin D, the glorious momentary summertimes we suspect we spend the rest of the year earning – the Upper Peninsula does something good to those of us who stick around. I don’t have to walk five minutes from my house to see a beaver dam, and as much as a writer is made by other people’s books and honest feedback from writers who are on your side, it’s the opportunity to experience awe (have you ever really checked out a beaver dam? could you build something like that with your teeth and no yardstick?) that I think makes Marquette, and Northern Michigan University, a lucky place to study and work.
Check out our site and our program. See what our students are up to. Heck, come visit.