The best thing we do for fiction writers at MCW is leave them alone. There are classes and there are requirements, and we expect our students to take them seriously. But with full financial support—including summer money, and no teaching—the Michener Center offers young writers the kind of uninterrupted time they will probably never have again in their lives.
We are doctrine-free. We have realists on the faculty, we have experimentalists, and we have those who see no value in declaring themselves, but everyone makes it a point of honor to deal with student work on its own terms. What they all share is an intense commitment to teaching. It is not uncommon for a thesis supervisor to read a novel manuscript two or three times, even a fourth time after graduation, until it finally finds a publisher.
My peers on the faculty are first-rate: Elizabeth McCracken (The Giant’s House), Steve Harrigan (The Gates of the Alamo), Oscar Casares (Brownsville), Peter LaSalle (Hockey Sur Glace). A steady flow of distinguished semester-long visitors continue to enrich the stew – Denis Johnson, J.M. Coetzee, Cristina Garcia, Jim Crace, Antonya Nelson, Colm Toibin, Anthony Giardina, to name but a few.
But the most exciting thing that happens here is what happens in those long solo hours at the desk. We take care of our writers, but they will be pushed. They will revise and revise and revise. There will be days when they all think they’re geniuses and days when they do nothing but fret; both are needed. The roller-coaster ride of the first book can be a wild one, but there is also the consolation of Austin.
We’re a small program, only accepting five or six fiction writers per year, but the publication rate can’t be matched by any other program in the country. In a recent class, five of the six fiction writers published books within three years of graduation. Some of our recent graduates include Kevin Powers, the National Book Award nominee and 2013 PEN/Hemingway award winner for The Yellow Birds, Pulitzer Prize finalist Philipp Meyer (The Son, American Rust), Smith Henderson (Fourth of July Creek), Australian novelist Fiona McFarlane (The Night Guest), Brian Hart (The Bully of Order, Then Came the Evening), Sarah Cornwell (What I Had Before I Had You), and Mary Miller (The Last Days of California).
James Magnuson, Director MCW