05 Dec 2015
Frank Conroy Reading Room

Inside the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

*Originally published in MQR, October 9, 2015

Everyone knows the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is the most prestigious MFA Creative Writing program in the Whole Wide Universe (Editor: unverifiable fact), and the one that trashed Hannah Horvath’s story in Girls so bad she quit in just a few days.

Here are six more things you need to know about the Workshop in case you’re thinking of applying, or want to pretend you’re an alumnus at an agent meeting, or find yourself on Jeopardy! with the Daily Double in the category of “Graduate-Level Creative Writing Programs.”

1. Competition

“Students here resent each other and would take any opportunity to undercut another writer’s work”: It’s time to give this cliché a rest. Frank Conroy—bless his soul—is long gone. The days in which students fight for their reputations Hunger Games style—also gone. The only traces left of this “competition” are in the different ways people are funded: a few are on fellowship, some work for The Iowa Review, and the majority are teaching assistants. The amount of funding does vary, as far as I know, but in the grand scheme of things, not enough to break the vow of poverty that all graduate students must willingly take. At the end of the first year, one can apply for a Teaching-Writing Fellowship, a prestigious-sounding award that really just means, Hey, you get to help us read a ton of MFA applications in the dead of winter for a few additional bucks!Everyone is guaranteed at least the same amount (or more) based on their initial first-year funding. So while the uneven funding can still lead to some rivalry, it’s not unlike many other MFA programs that have fellowship and non-fellowship packages. Continue reading