Apr 23, 2019

Collegian Graduate Series: Creative writing and throwing yourself into your dreams


Fresno State alumnae Liz Scheid’s “The Shape of Blue: Notes on Loss, Language, Motherhood & Fear” and Megan Bohigian’s “Sightlines” were put on display Thursday in the Alice Peters Auditorium during a reading held by The Fresno Poets’ Association. Khlarissa Agee / The Collegian

Fresno State’s Master’s of Fine Arts program in creative writing provides students with more than a degree.

As program director Dr. Tim Skeen said, the program doesn’t mold students: it allows students to mold themselves.

“We’ve set up the factory, and we’re the foreman, so to speak, in the factory,” Skeen said. “But in terms of who produces the steel, the workers produce the steel.

“It’s not the management that produces the steel.”

Skeen said the three-year graduate program accepts around 60 students each fall and 20 students in each of its three specialties: poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

“I think what’s driven home to me time and time again is that our students continue to write, and they take the writing very seriously,” Skeen said. “In our selection of students, we try to get those students whom we believe will continue to write and are committed to writing.”

Throughout their time in Fresno, Skeen said students choose a track catered to their focus. If students are interested in teaching, he said Fresno State’s program provides a variety of opportunities to do so, as well as providing graduate assistant and student-editorial positions.

Skeen said students looking into a master’s in creative writing should have a passion for their art.

“Anybody who comes to me and asks questions about the MFA program, about a ‘career,’ and, ‘I want a job like yours, I wanna be a professor,’ so on and so forth, I’m very circumspect with those students,” Skeen said. “The students that really excite me, and the students who I find attractive for our program are the students that come in and say, ‘God I just love this, I’ve been doing this, and I want to learn, I want to learn how to do this crazy art-and-craft thing called writing a little bit better. I want to be around people that are interested in improving in that way.’”

As it is, Skeen said the program has not failed to help shape a number of successful alumni, including James Tyner, Fresno’s first poet laureate, Sasha Pimentel Chacón, winner of the American Book Award in 2011, and successful fiction writer Daniel Chacón.

“A lot of people make careers out of creative writing,” Skeen said. “They get a career, they make a career out of creative writing; it’s still possible to do that.

“Of course the onus right now is very much against the liberal arts, you know, how you going to pay your student loans and etc.

“Students have to love it, I mean they have to love doing this to come in.”

Throughout the program, students put together a thesis, which Skeen said could be a number of things from a collection of works or short stories, to poems or a novel.

For their culminating experience, Skeen said students read their work at a public reading.

Skeen said the capstone public reading at the end of their three years isn’t the only opportunity students have to share their work.

As the director of The Fresno Poets’ Association, Skeen said the organization invites graduate students to participate in readings, the next of which will take place Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Alice Peters Auditorium, at Fresno State.

For students considering applying to Fresno State’s creative writing Master’s of Fine Arts program, Skeen said his best advice is to throw yourself into it, no matter what your major.

“We’ve had all kinds; we’ve had biology majors, math majors,” Skeen said. “It’s never too early to start.”

Students interested in applying for the program can visit http://www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/english/graduate/mfa/ or email Dr. Tim Skeen at tskeen@csufresno.edu.

The program is accepting applications for Fall 2014 until Feb. 28.

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