The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Vermont College MFA in writing for young readers: brave days


An MFA is a terminal degree (which sounds ominous but just means as high as a person can go academically) in the arts. So of course it’s tough. This low residency one has only 10 days for students and faculty to meet in person on campus and look at writing together, listen to faculty lectures, listen to graduate lectures, listen to graduate readings, sink deeply into the intricacies of our complicated craft.

So the schedule is packed. This time, with the biggest graduating class ever, it was extra packed.

The class named itself The Secret Gardeners. Perfect–given that my friends were teasing me and insisting that of course I would be working garden metaphors into my lecture.  I did that…and I admired the gardens of Montpelier as I walked around.

Mostly, though, I wanted to talk about fear.

Fear that we aren’t good enough.

Fear that there isn’t enough love to go around.

Fear that someone whose life-thead is tied to ours will be disappointed or disapproving.

Fear that leads to shame and pain and misery and sadness…and writing. Fear that also makes the writing life a vulnerable one. And VCMFA residencies will bring out any vulnerability and insecurity you’ve successfully hidden up until then.

But when we are willing to look at our own insecurities, when we can create characters who struggle with their insecurities, we speak to the whole world about courage, about not giving in to shame.

One of my students made me a memento after we worked together. I’d told her that my author friends and I name the terrible fear that leaps upon us as we write. We called it Fearnando.

We say, “Back, back Fearnando” sometimes as we sit down to write or think about our novels and creative works of nonfiction.

So she made me a pin that says, “Back, back, Fearnando.”

May we all battle our fears…and name our fears…and face down our fears…and sometimes win.

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