Four years ago, I was accepted by the University of Montana’s MFA fiction program. My wife and I liked Missoula, the campus, the outdoor possibilities, the family housing, and the writing faculty. The fiction/nonfiction program at Montana had a long, respected tradition. The whole situation was perfect for us.
But, inexplicably, the directors didn’t offer me a TA or GTF position when I was accepted. At first they said that I could teach intro to composition classes, then they changed their minds. This was strange to me because my teaching experience at that time – 8 years – was much more significant than my writing experience. I had very few publications but my teaching credentials were excellent. Yet they didn’t offer me a chance to teach, and thus I didn’t have enough money to attend. We spoke multiple times on the phone, and they encouraged me to join the program even without a graduate teaching position. They wanted me to work with them. They said it would all work out. And maybe it would have.
But I thought that working a low-wage job off campus, with no health insurance, wasn’t going to suffice, considering that I was married and had a small child, so I had to decline my offer of acceptance. The following is my rejection letter to the faculty of the University of Montana MFA program – cut and pasted from my email. Warning: I might not have been very mature back then.
Subject: My Decision
Weeks ago, I decided that I would attend Montana or no MFA
program at all. Unlike other top schools, I’ve heard only good
things about Montana. Nothing about it being overly competitive, too
large, too small, too incestuous. You, the faculty, are
spoken well of by current and former students. Workshops are productive
and writers get published. People leave your program
feeling that they were part of a community for two years, that they did
not go into that room alone.
And so I am sad to turn you down. I appreciate your acceptance,
your kind words, and the encouragement you have given
me. I still respect you deeply. I wish I could have studied fiction
and nonfiction with you. “My poverty, but not my will,
consents.” Shakespeare and I spoke recently about food stamps and the
WIC program. Our whole conversation was in iambic pentameter.
Life is good. I sent my memoir to New York last week, one of my
articles was purchased by Canada’s top climbing
magazine, and my three-year-old learned to spell her name. So life is
good. And I will keep writing.
If you get down your TA list that is NOT based on teaching
ability (I have impeccable teaching references), financial need
(my family received public assistance), or scholastic performance (I
earned a 4.0 during my first Master’s), then you are welcome
to contact me. I will be writing in my kitchen, in the mornings, before
Peter Brown Hoffmeister.