Cassie PicCassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She graduated last May with her bachelor’s in English from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. She interns at the Oxford American and is fiction editor for Arkana.

Rachel Hoge: Hi Cassie, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on our MFA program. Our program offers exceptional opportunities in pedagogy and publishing, the latter of which you’ve taken full advantage of! Can you describe the professional advances you’ve had (and anticipate having) in the program, and how these opportunities might impact your future?  

Cassie Hayes: I think one of the best things about working with the Oxford American and our program’s literary journal, Arkana, has been learning skills that I can put on my résumé. I’ve learned how to use technology more effectively, how to work in a collaborative environment, and how to use my creativity in a professional setting. At this point those skills have given me a lot of confidence when applying to other internships—confidence not only that I might get the job but also that I’ll have the skills to contribute effectively if I do get the job. And although I’m not interested in pursuing teaching in the future, the pedagogy classes I’ve taken have also given me real-world skills to complement whatever skills I’m developing in my writing.

RH: As a first-year candidate, why did you decide to pursue your MFA? What did you find most appealing about our program?

CH: I decided to pursue an MFA because I slowly began to realize that artists of any kind, writers included, do not develop in a bubble off by themselves. You have to get into the writing community, the literary landscape, and learn from real writers—both professors and peers—about how to navigate that landscape.

I chose UCA because UCA offers the Oxford American graduate assistantship as well as other opportunities in publishing, and because it’s pretty affordable, even for someone not interested in teaching.

RH: How has the quality of your own writing been further developed and challenged by our program’s faculty and students?

CH: So far this program has encouraged the writing I was already doing while also pushing me to try new things. For instance, in my Forms and Theory of Fiction class last semester, we were challenged to experiment with metafiction and historical fiction—genres I really knew next to nothing about until I took that class. I really had to push myself to do the thinking and research for metafiction and historical fiction, and I think in the end I ended up with decent stories in those genres—stories that would not exist if I hadn’t been challenged in that class because I had never even thought I’d try those genres before. And all the students in this program are very talented, so although I don’t think we’re in competition or anything, you do feel the challenge to rise up and take risks to prove that you’re talented enough as a writer to be on the same team as them. So I think I’m more ready to take risks and experiment with my writing—and really challenge myself—thanks to the program’s faculty and students.

RH: In what ways has our MFA program transformed you as a writer, artist, or professional?

CH: I’ve definitely gained more confidence, which is important because confidence has allowed me to take risks in my writing/art that I probably never would have before. And as a professional I think I’m more ready to collaborate and contribute to the collaboration, whereas before I’d probably hang out in a corner somewhere and only contribute when forced.

RH: Why would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?

CH: Other than the affordability and the publishing and pedagogy opportunities that have already been talked about, I would recommend the program because of the atmosphere that’s caring and focused on building you up. All the professors are amazingly encouraging—which I think builds the confidence necessary to grow as a writer and professional and even I guess a person. The students are really encouraging, too—it feels like we’re all on the same team, that everybody is genuinely rooting for everybody else. UCA is an impressive university, too, in how much they care for students. I mean the library doesn’t make you pay fines for late books and there’s pie in the student center—what more could you ask for?

Stop by next Friday to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program. 

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