Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

Many peo­ple earn­ing master of fine arts de­grees in cre­ative writ­ing do so through low-res­i­dency pro­grams at col­leges and univer­si­ties in which stu­dents and fac­ulty con­verge on a cam­pus for a week or two each se­mes­ter for read­ings, lec­tures, pri­vate and group cri­tiques — and a lot of so­cial­iz­ing. Dur­ing the rest of the year, stu­dents work one-on-one, usu­ally on­line, with in­di­vid­ual fac­ulty-mem­ber writ­ers. For writ­ers who want to sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance their craft through fo­cused study, but who can’t give their lives over to tra­di­tional, full-time grad­u­ate school, this ap­proach is a per­fect blend of the mod­ern-day ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and old­fash­ioned epis­to­lary men­tor­ship. Santa Fe is home to such a pro­gram: The In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts es­tab­lished a low-res­i­dency MFA in cre­ative writ­ing in 2013. It’s now in its sec­ond year, and the first class of what’s af­fec­tion­ately known as the “low-rez” pro­gram will grad­u­ate in May 2015.

The spring 2015 se­mes­ter kicks off with IAIA’s Writ­ers Fes­ti­val on Satur­day, Jan. 3, and it con­tin­ues through Fri­day, Jan. 9, fea­tur­ing read­ings by award-win­ning po­ets and writ­ers along with stu­dent showcases, film screen­ings, and other pre­sen­ta­tions. All the evening read­ings and events, which are free of charge, are fol­lowed by ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sions and book sign­ings. IAIA has opened up th­ese read­ings to the Santa Fe com­mu­nity at large as a ser­vice to the city’s res­i­dents — who have a chance to find out more about the low-res­i­dency pro­gram and gain an un­der­stand­ing of the kinds of writ­ing stu­dents are do­ing there — and as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the stu­dents.

“When the stu­dents see how ar­dent Santa Feans are about lit­er­a­ture in gen­eral, and Na­tive Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture in par­tic­u­lar, it pro­vides a lift,” said Jon Davis, Santa Fe’s 2012 poet lau­re­ate, who has taught at IAIA since 1990 and di­rects the low-res­i­dency MFA pro­gram. “The stu­dents also get to see how ex­pe­ri­enced writ­ers like Sher­man Alexie, Joy Harjo, and Jess Wal­ter in­ter­act with an au­di­ence.” Be­cause the writ­ers get to know the stu­dents over the course of the week, they of­ten tease them in their in­tro­duc­tions, and the stu­dents tease back. “Last year, Sher­man Alexie called Chee Brossy ‘the Navajo Kafka,’ ” Davis said. “Those kinds of in­ter­ac­tions make the se­ries par­tic­u­larly fun.”

The fac­ulty writ­ers pre­sent­ing pub­lic read­ings at the fes­ti­val in­clude young emerg­ing writ­ers, such as Claire Vaye Watkins, one of the Na­tional Book Foun­da­tion’s “5 Un­der 35” hon­ored for fic­tion in 2012. In 2013, River­head Books pub­lished Battleborn, Watkins’ col­lec­tion of short sto­ries for which she re­ceived the Story Prize and the Dy­lan Thomas Prize. Bet­ter-known writ­ers in­clude James Thomas Stevens, au­thor of eight books of po­etry and the cre­ative-writ­ing chair at IAIA, and Linda Ho­gan, a 1990 Pulitzer Prize fi­nal­ist who has writ­ten nu­mer­ous works of po­etry, fic­tion, and es­says, in­clud­ing Round­ing the Hu­man Cor­ners and Mean Spirit.

“When I started the pro­gram, I wanted to have a majority-Na­tive fac­ulty, but also an eth­ni­cally di­verse group that was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lit­er­ary suc­cess on the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els,” Davis said. “I also wanted a group with­out large egos — writ­ers who

Sher­man Alexie (photo Chase Jarvis);

left, from top, Claire Vaye Watkins, Jess Wal­ter, Joy Harjo

Jen­nifer Levin The New Mex­i­can


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