Joining the Faculty at VCFA

vcfabuildingAs some of you may know—or might have guessed—I’ve been thinking a lot about “success,” purpose, and happiness. I’ve been shifting the focus of my career to have my time not just be focused on me-me-me and promoting my books and writing as fast as I can just to have another book out in the world. I’ve realized I don’t want to be a full-time author. I don’t want to race to write as many books as I can to keep myself afloat—I want to choose carefully what I publish, and write only what speaks to me deeply in my heart. I want balance. To do something that feels more rewarding… My move to Algonquin was the first step. And in addition to that, through all my searching and attempts at reinvention, I discovered a real love for teaching. I realized this could be the answer. I’ve written about my shifting vision for career and success before here and here and here.

My active goal for quite some time has been to build up my c.v. and take on as many teaching opportunities as I could to gain experience and become a better teacher. So I taught courses online. I taught workshops and retreats in person. I joined the Your Novel Year program as a mentor and an online instructor. I taught a course at Columbia University this summer. I just co-taught a workshop at Highlights. And in November I’ll be teaching a workshop at the Writing Barn. I did all this with a solid goal in mind: to find a regular, more stable teaching position at a university.

I had my sights set on teaching in a low-residency MFA program.

I had my sights set on one particular program, in fact: the MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA).

For years, I’ve been watching VCFA from afar, admiring the program, its faculty, its graduates, and asking many questions about how the low-residency model works and specifics about the program. I got my own MFA years and years ago, in a full-time program, and have since found myself envying VCFA’s hold on its alumni. Writers clearly love this program. They go back for post-graduate semesters and to be graduate assistants. They talk about it with such passion. I went to a VCFA gathering at the Boston AWP conference (a friend of mine is a graduate and I tagged along) and was struck by the community that night, impressed by how the program bonds everyone together and seems to live on far from Vermont, even after graduation. I found myself wishing I’d been part of a community like that, but my own MFA had nothing of the sort. I’ve read books from graduates of VCFA and admired the range, and the skill, and the voices.

VCFA is doing something right, I’ve been thinking. Lucky students. Lucky faculty. 

So when I had more experience teaching and wanted to pursue a position at an MFA program, of course VCFA was the first to come to mind.

Well, my goal turned real sooner than I expected, and I am beyond thrilled to say:

logoI am joining the faculty of the low-res MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at VCFA starting with the January residency!

For those wondering, just to get this out of the way since I’ve been asked: No, this does not mean I’m moving to Vermont! (Too bad, right?) VCFA’s program involves two ten-day residencies per year, in January and July; for the rest of the time, as usual, unless something happens, I will be as usual in New York City.

If you find yourself interested in this wonderful program, and are seeking a flexible but rigorous MFA, apply! It looks like there are two deadlines per year: September 30 and March 15, depending on when you’d prefer to have your first residency.

I’m feeling like this is a new chapter for me. I’ve been wanting more solid ground and a place to teach more regularly, a way to balance my writing career that feels right, and I am very hopeful that VCFA will be that place for me long-term.

As for my other teaching, this means a few things: I won’t be able to continue on with the Your Novel Year program at the Piper Center in 2016, and I’m working with my last mentee there now. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’ve been honored to be a part of it. I also expect to be teaching fewer private workshops in 2016 while I get my bearings…

…though my YA Novel Workshop-Retreat at the Djerassi Program in March 2016 is still going strong, and you can apply to join me! Now accepting applications and getting a jump on reviewing them while I have time.

In 2016 I also will be stopping the private manuscript critiques and private mentoring I’ve enjoyed so much, at least for my first semester so I can focus my time on my VCFA students. However, if you are a former student of mine and we’ve already discussed something for 2016, you are welcome to contact me to see if we can make our schedules meld.

I don’t know all of what January will hold. I’m excited. Nervous. Thrilled. We’ll see how the first semester goes!

If you’re a VCFA student in the WCYA program, please feel free to say hello! I’ll see you on campus in January!

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For the Girl Who Needs to Hide Her Diary, For the Girl Who Doesn’t Think She’s Worth So Much

A truly amazing thing happened to me this year. The Walls Around Us was chosen as the first-year read at Salem College, a women’s college in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which meant that all incoming first-year students read my book over the summer (and wrote an essay on it!). So many young women, at the start of their college lives, reading my novel! And this week, I visited the campus and met with two classes of honors students and then, one evening, gave a lecture to the whole first-year class on campus, here, in this room:

salem_auditorium

When I was thinking of what I might say before a large group of young women, I was brought back to why this book was written, and why all my books are written… Why I write proudly and exclusively about girls, and why these stories are universal and just as worthy as the stories I remember reading all through school about men and more men and boys. I spoke about something that happened to me as a teenager that told me girls’ stories—that women writers—weren’t thought of as worthy… and why everything about my reading life and writing life is to prove that wrong.

I won’t recap the talk here, since in fact so much of it is infusing an essay I’m currently writing at the moment, and I look forward to sharing that with you in the future.

But I looked out at that room of young women, and I saw myself there. I remembered who I was (I’m still that girl—aren’t we always?).

I couldn’t fit the whole room in this photograph, but here is my first sight of the audience when I walked out onto the stage:

salem_audience

My talk touched on a lot of things—within the book, and within my life. I made a small mention of the book’s dedication, which was all connected.

This is the dedication of The Walls Around Us:

For the girl who needs to hide her diary

For the girl who doesn’t think she’s worth so much

Astute readers and/or those who know me very well might realize who this book is dedicated to… Someone specific, whose diary was found and exposed when she was a teenager, making her ashamed of her giant ambitions because who was she to have them? Someone so specific, who was told by multiple men in her life that she wasn’t worthy… That same girl stood on a stage on a college campus this week, giving a talk about her fourth published book. And the men who told her she wouldn’t, couldn’t, would never accomplish much? Look how small they are now.

Who dares to dedicate a book to herself? Someone who was told she’d never be able to publish a book at all.

me on stage

After my talk, there were questions (some of which I am shocked I even answered, as I don’t usually reveal the secrets in my books! don’t ever expect that to happen again!) and a book signing, and it was a wonderful thing to meet some of the students and sign the book to them and get the chance to chat with them.

A few of the students confessed to me that they wanted to be writers, too.

If any happen to have found my blog and are reading this post—specifically one aspiring writer in particular who didn’t know how she would ever be able to pursue her dream, I hope what I said was encouraging, and I am always here if you want to reach out. I mean it. You can email me.

A few of the students asked me to sign the book for them on the dedication page instead of the title page, as if they saw themselves in the dedication as I did.

As if the book was for them as much as it was for me—and I believe it is.

If you see yourself there, it’s yours, too.

Thank you so very much to Salem College for having me! What an incredible experience.

shoes

As I was traveling home, I was thinking of all the ways my life has shifted and surprised me this year. I never expected to have these opportunities or to even be this person—even though, yes, it’s what I dreamed of and it’s what I wanted. These were pipe dreams. And now, standing in the shoes shown here (gifted from a dear friend and now, clearly, my new lucky shoes!), it has somehow become my reality.

When I reached New York City, on the way home from the airport and stuck in traffic in Queens, I had a moment. I know I’ve turned onto a new path this year—one more focused on teaching; one more true to myself—but I also know I have a lot more to do, to say, to learn, to write, to become. There is more I want, there will always be more I want… that ambition I carried as a girl has only grown.

But it’s not daunting or debilitating, even if the new road I’m on is long.

I haven’t written in a true diary in years… not since I started this blog, so I guess this became my diary, my public record. I’m not hiding anymore. Look, no hands! Here I am, I’m here.