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by Sarah Ingerson, Editorial Assistant, Three Rooms Press

Ellen Tremper

Ellen Tremper, Professor
Chair, Brooklyn College
Department of English

People only go into creative writing if they have a “mania for creative work.” At least, that’s how Ellen Tremper sees it. Otherwise, they’d probably be doing something more practical like accounting. As the Chairperson of CUNY Brooklyn’s English Department, Ellen Tremper has seen her fair share of maniacs.

The school houses one of the most affordable MFA programs in the country. While the school may not have numerous financing options, its affordable price tag makes it far from exclusionary. With a 9-credit course load per semester and just $385 per credit for New York State residents, the program is a steal for aspiring writers. Even at $785 per credit for non-residents and international students, it is still a bargain compared to the program’s pricier counterparts.If this low price tag still seems out of reach to some, there is a small chance of a scholarship through the school’s generous partnership with the Truman Capote Trust. The funds are limited though. So, try to find another way if you think this is the perfect fit for you.

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The program is markedly different from others. The MFA students are divided into three concentrations: playwriting, poetry, and fiction. There are approximately ten, twenty, and thirty students enrolled in each section respectively. The playwriting program is one of the most experimental in the region. Headed by Mac Wellman, the unofficial “father of downtown experimental theatre” according to Tremper, the program encourages its students to push boundaries. Its innovative teachings have enabled alumni to go on to quite successful careers in theatre.

The Poetry and Fiction programs are equally auspicious. The Fiction program houses some extremely impressive faculty including 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist Jonathan Dee and bestselling author Marian Thurm. The poetry program boasts such distinguished alumni as the prolific John Yau and the acclaimed author Sapphire, well known for her novel Push. All of Brooklyn’s programs are at the forefront of their fields.

However, unlike many other MFA programs, the CUNY Brooklyn curriculum is not designed to foster competition. It is designed to create a sense of community. It is a program geared towards students who want an opportunity to get non-judgemental feedback from supportive peers who are struggling with the same issues. It is not about encouraging competition. Students are not split apart by genre; they are encouraged to take electives with each other across mediums. Through the program’s Intergenre Reading Series, students are exposed to premier voices in every medium. There is no safety bubble of staying in one’s genre. Students collaborate and learn from one another.

Then, they use that knowledge to teach. Each MFA student is responsible for teaching an undergraduate courses. Those courses range from composition to core literature classes to electives like Children’s Literature. Each course is different, but the benefits are the same. Hands-on experience teaching in an undergraduate setting prepares them for life after their MFA. It prepares them for the academic job market.

According to Tremper, anyone interested in the program should bear in mind that the program receives some 500 to 700 applications every year. So, be sure to follow all directions on the site and send them your best work. And, if an MFA program still seems financially out of reach for you, Ellen Tremper offers this advice; read Middlemarch. It will teach you all you need to know about the psychological novel. According to Tremper, without George Eliot, there would be no Virginia Woolf. So, read it. For those who are thinking of applying, good luck!

For more information on the CUNY Brooklyn Creative Writing program, visit the website.

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