A former US Navy Signalman, Énbarr Coleman graduated from University of Arkansas – Fort Smith with a B.A. in English and minor in Creative Writing, and he is now in his second year of the Arkansas MFA Writers Program. He enjoys studying languages, playing bagpipes, and chilling with his cats.
Rachel Hoge: Hi Énbarr, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on the Arkansas Writers Program. How has your understanding of writing craft, and the quality of your own writing, been further developed and challenged by our program?
Énbarr Coleman: While I did have a fairly strong grasp of craft when I came into this program, I’ve definitely been challenged me to go beyond what I’d done before, to think larger, and to test the limits of the rules that I’d dedicated my writing life to internalizing. This has been a solid ground for practice and experiment, for attempting ideas and techniques in a crowd of highly skilled and intelligent individuals who are capable of giving the sort of feedback I’ve needed. I have a bad habit of turning into a petulant and dismissive contrarian, but I have such respect for the students and professors here that I can’t behave that way. I’m forced to stand up, engage, and grow as an artist. It’s been a wonderful experience that I’ve fought tooth and nail.
RH: As a second year student, how have you applied the knowledge and experiences of last year into your second year? How do you hope this year will shape your third and final year in our program?
EC: It’s extremely easy to get overwhelmed in grad school, and more so, not make time to take care of yourself properly. I learned several tactics for dealing with time management during my first year, and I have to unknot myself occasionally and go back to what I learned before. In my second year, I feel that I’ve become far more focused in terms of what I want to study and where I want to spend my time. I already have plans for what I will do and be involved in through my final year.
RH: How will this degree be beneficial to you in reaching your post-grad goals?
EC: Even though I had a solid idea of where I wanted to go beyond grad school when I got here, this program and my professors have not only brought that idea into focus by giving me the tools, vocabulary, and understanding to make my way, but they’ve also broadened my understanding of what I can do beyond this program. I still remember talking with Dr. Stephanie Vanderslice about my interest in going to Germany to study and teach English, which lead into a discussion of Creative Writing in Germany which are still a fairly new concept. When Dr. Vanderslice pointed out that I could perhaps help establish a program over there, I initially just stared at her like she’d suggested I set up a holiday resort on the moon, but then I realized, “Wait. That’s what this degree is preparing me to do.” At that moment, all these doors opened before me.
RH: How has the faculty of our MFA program impacted you, professionally and artistically?
EC: The faculty has been *immensely* generous with their time and resources. Even as a grad student, I feel like a contributing part of a community and have been engaged as a colleague. I’ve been honestly encouraged, challenged, and been made to feel welcome within a larger community of academics. Artistically, they’ve pushed me to go beyond what I know and experiment. They haven’t done so in a frivolous or “art house” way, but in a genuine and practical way that is an authentic examination of the “rules,” of what I know and what I think I know, and to make me more fully aware of all the colors on my palette and how they can be utilized.
RH: Why would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?
EC: Of all the aspects of this program that I enjoy, the most valuable aspect for me is what initially attracted me to the program: the fact that grad students aren’t shunted down either a poetry or prose track. There’s a diversity of courses that are offered, and students are encouraged to work in different forms. In my opinion, stepping outside ourselves and our immediate interests by working in other forms of writing is a necessary challenge for anyone who is seriously committed to improving their craft and to a deeper understanding of what writing is, and what it can be. Even though I have no interest in working in film, taking a screenplay workshop as an undergrad was precisely what I needed to help me start to understand structure in storytelling. I knew how important it was to find a grad school that understood the value of stepping outside of the confines of comfort and tradition to study broadly.
Stop by next Friday to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program.