Why VORTEXT is Better Than an MFA

By Hedgebrook Guest

Categories: Women's Voices,

The answer to how important a Master of Fine Arts degree is to becoming a fiction writer is, of course, not at all. The history of world literature is weighted heavily on the side of writers who put their masterpieces together without the benefit of two years of graduate school.” ~Ann Patchett, “The Getaway Car.”

For years I have agonized over whether or not I should get an MFA, but I could never bring myself to spend a ton of money or move to a new city in an attempt to earn a a real degree. On my blog, The MFA Project, I document the ways I now make up my own MFA—I am in a workshop that meets regularly, and I am constantly trying to read more widely. Since attending VORTEXT in 2015, the idea of a literary community is now a crucial part of this alternative to the MFA as well.

As Amy Wheeler said in her opening remarks, I knew that this year’s VORTEXT would be different—a unique gathering of women in this place and time that would never again be repeated. Some of my friends from last year were back, others weren’t. Naturally, new friendships were forged, over meals of delicious, healthy food by the talented Hedgebrook culinary team, and in workshops with our beloved teachers.

The beauty of Hedgebrook and VORTEXT is the strength and depth of the bonds formed during the conference. Conversations that began on the trail from Granny’s to Thomas Berry Hall or in the line at breakfast continue even after we have landed back in our home cities. For the past year, I have been cheering on writers I met at last year’s VORTEXT as their poems, essays and short stories were published in journals and magazines month after month. I have already done this for new writer friends I met this May, too. What a thrill!

The emotional support and sisterhood of VORTEXT is something I have never experienced anywhere else in the world. Without ever actually being in an MFA workshop, I can confidently say that no MFA program could offer this kind of camaraderie and sense of solidarity. But it’s more than that. VORTEXT, though only three days a year, has become an incredibly important tool in my life as a writer. I was floored by how much I could learn in a couple of hours in a workshop. Generative writing exercises I learned from Ruth Ozeki, Carole DeSanti, Hannah Tinti, Reiko Rizzuto, Kate Gray and Natalie Baszile have already proved to be invaluable. This is the kind of writing work I had not been doing on my own. I was shocked by some of what I wrote in those workshops—things I had never planned to write about. Things I realized I should dig into a little deeper as I work away on the early pages of my second novel.

In “The Getaway Car,” Ann Patchett cautions writers about summer programs, or at least the promises that are sold in some of them—the hopes that one might meet an agent or that a favorite writer will want to mentor you even when the program is over. But VORTEXT is not like other conferences and salons; for me, nothing will ever live up to the bar it has set. I don’t pretend that my teachers are offering anything more than what they did over those three days—which, by the way, was a helluva lot. They gave of themselves, sharing their fears, frustrations and struggles, and they gave us inspiration, motivation and practical tools that we can take back into our solitary lives at home. In this way, the VORTEXT teachers—and my fellow participants, and the Hedgebrook staff—have become something I had been searching for all this time. This community is now a part of my made-up MFA.

For that, and for the warm, encouraging and generous atmosphere in which to learn and stretch (i.e.: Get up on open mic and read from my novel—eek!), I thank you. All of you.

 

About the Author:

Rebecca WallworkRebecca Wallwork is a writer and content director based in Miami Beach. She is the author of the non-fiction book Hangin’ Tough (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) and recently completed her first novel.

You can learn more about Rebecca and her work on her website: rebeccawallwork.com

 

 

 

 


 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

 

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2 Comments

  • Mary Sojourner
    12:46 PM - 7 July, 2016

    Thank you for this elegantly simple and wise article. MFA-ese has a strangle hold on most literary magazines, but that is no reason to give in to the fantasy that an MFA will rocket a writer to fame and fortune (sorry about the cliche). The writing coming out of the programs is too often self-referential, ethnically biased, scattered and clearly the product of identi-kit workshopping. I dropped out of the U. of A. MFA program in 1988. Since then I’ve had two novels, two memoirs, two short story collections and one essay collection published by national presses. I admit I was lucky to start my serious writing in 1985, in a publishing world that valued story, characters and plot, but now in my teaching, I encourage my students to read Strunk and White – and write. ms

  • Rebecca Cleary
    5:59 PM - 7 July, 2016

    Thank you, Rebecca. You have encapsulated the VORTEXT experience beautifully, highlighting the magic and alchemy of what Hedgebrook does so well and what it so generously offers to those of us who are fortunate to be the beneficiaries.

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