Brenda Cooper

My Stonecoast MFA

I recently completed a Masters in Fine Arts at Stonecoast.  A number of people asked me why, and others have whether or not it was worth it. So here’s my write-up, which might help mid-career authors who are considering an MFA.  First – a brief description. Stonecoast is a low-residency MFA through the University of Southern Maine. I went to Maine for ten days each a total of five times, and all of the other work was from home.  The cost was moderate  – my two-year MFA was around the cost of one year for our daughter at a private college.  So not cheap, but not six figures, either.  The program is fairly small and intimate, with about 70 students at a time, the staff is great, and there is a deep sense of community.  Most importantly for me, Stonecoast has a Popular Fiction track. Although I did not study much popular fiction (since I’m already well-published in that field), I wanted to go to a school that celebrated science fiction, fantasy, horror and other popular genres.  While I was looking a few years ago, popular fiction tracks were still quite rare. They may still be rare.

Some Stonecoast grads you might know include Mur Lafferty, Julie C. Day, Karen Bovenmyer, Sandra McDonald, and Bonnie Joe Stufflebeam. Some Stonecoast popular fiction professors include David Anthony Durham, Nancy Holder, Elizabeth Hand, Theodora Goss, and James Patrick Kelley.

So why did I go?  After all I was already published.  So here are my reasons:

  1. I wanted to learn to write better – so that I can create work that even more people read.
  2. I wanted to learn the language: my under-graduate degree is in business with an emphasis in technology.
  3. I wanted the certificate in case I want to teach at the University level as a retirement job.
  4. I wanted to learn more about social justice writing.
  5. I wanted to fall in love with words again.

I primarily studied poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction while I was there, although my thesis is popular fiction.

You will have to tell me how I did on number one – Wilders was written during my first year at Stonecoast and Keepers (previously titled Returners) was started during my thesis semester.  Things I write from here on out will show the full impact of Stonecoast on my writing.  How this plays out will really answer the question about whether or not it was worth the time. I figure it cost me a book and multiple short stories in output. If my writing is better, it was worth it.

I’d say I met all of my other goals.

In the category of unintended happiness, I think I learned more about multiple social justice topics.  I got to work with Martín Espada, who is one of best poets working right now and a huge advocate for the rights of the downtrodden, and with Debra Marquardt, who writes fabulous poetry and essays and is a deep environmentalist. She taught me a lot about environmental justice.

It all comes down to the people.  I worked with the brilliant and versatile  Nancy Holder on my thesis. I workshopped a ton of fabulous instructors. I liked the other students so much I cried when we all graduated and wouldn’t be coming back to Maine together again. The staff at Stonecoast is fabulous, and I felt very supported on my trip through the wayback machine to college (the last time I graduated from anything was over 30 years ago).

If anyone who is considering Stonecoast has any questions, please feel free to use the contact form on this page and ask away!