Liz Larson is hell-bent on completing her first year in the Arkansas Writers Program at the University of Central Arkansas. She’s lived in Conway on and off since disco. Liz is married to the Queen of Patience, Tammy and has three wicked smart children, Jolyon, Katie and Olivia. Her parents made her and she would like to thank them for that, maybe over adult beverages. There are many pets and friends she is beholden to for keeping the faith.
Rachel Hoge: Hi Liz, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on our MFA program. Our program provides a thorough introduction to teaching by offering pedagogy courses during the first year of graduate school. How have these courses—and the program in general—impacted your understanding of teaching college and creative writing?
Liz Larson: I’ve always believed that every person has a story (or seven) to tell. Everyone can be a writer. Now, that’s a big scary idea. Some educators in my past, (the devils with the red pen) surely did not believe this. Everyone can be a writer? Yes they can. But doesn’t that fly in the face of all we know about the trope of the mythic writer? The master alone in the garret, anointed as the chosen one who must suffer mightily for his great work? I’m afraid it does. What the MFA program has done is show me a structure, a framework where this “Everyone can be a writer” is possible.
My first semester was perilous, edgy. I’d been out of school for a few, cough, years. I was taking a full class load, working almost fulltime, and raising a family. When they told me one of my required classes was Composition Theory, I harbored unkind thoughts. What do I need that for? Why do I have to take a class in Composition Theory? I pouted for a couple of weeks and then, you know what? There, right there, in the class was the scaffolding to show me how to put my beliefs into practice. Lo and behold, yes everyone can write and here is how you shape a structured space to aid them in attaining the very thing you believed. Hallelujah chorus and thank you, Dr. Clark.
RH: As a first-year candidate, why did you decide to pursue your MFA? What did you find most appealing about our program?
LL: After several years of facilitating “The Fledglings”, a community-based writers’ workshop, I realized I was ready for a new path. With my children getting older, a space opened up where I am less Jolyon-Katie-Olivia’s mom and more Liz these days. (They still need me, of course. My ego needs that to be true.) Another thing that people of a certain age begin to think, “If not now, when?” Sort of a mash up of bucket list and heart’s desire?
I chose our MFA program because: good fortune and Dr. Stephanie Vanderslice’s encouragement. How often can you find a place under 5 miles from your front door that offers everything you want in a writing program? High caliber professors that come from a variety of backgrounds nationwide, incredibly reasonable class size, high expectations tempered with the tools to get you there, and a cohort that supports you and wants you to succeed.
RH: How has the quality of your own writing been further developed and challenged by our program’s faculty and students?
LL: Hmmmm… That’s a tough question. I have a squeamish streak when it comes to judging my own work. My writing is definitely challenged. It is improving. I am learning lessons about impulse control and unwieldy poetic practice. (I swear I am going to get this one day, Professor Longhorn.) When I think of my writing, the image of wearing snowshoes in a china shop comes to mind. But the faculty and students have been patient and aware that scaffolding is what I need.
RH: In what ways has our MFA program impacted you as a writer, artist, or professional?
LL: The tools, resources, and willingness to share knowledge are the strengths of this program. The gifts of being allowed to take risks, fall flat, fail your heart out, but still be regarded kindly are liberating. For example, I hadn’t submitted anything to a journal in years. I was afraid to blog. I didn’t know a thing about digital presentations or WordPress. All the lack of 21st century technology barely raised an eyebrow from Dr. Case. She patiently walked me through things the rest of my class exceled at. You know, they’re not laughing at me, so maybe I can do this thing after all.
RH: Why would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?
LL: See all of the above. The Arkansas Writers Program mentors and nurtures emerging writers. However, it does not spoon feed; you have to do the work. The program has space for new writers to incubate their skills in an environment that rewards curiosity and supports diverse voices. It encourages parallel learning with peers, jumping off the high dive, failing spectacularly and writing all the better for it.
Stop by next Friday to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program.