Los Angeles Convention Center | April 1, 2016

Episode 120: From MFA to JOB: Making a Living, Making a Difference

(Jen Benka, Kenny Kruse, Monica Prince, Kenyatta Rogers) While tenure-track teaching and publishing are often the dream of MFA candidates, the competition is increasingly competitive. The creative and nonprofit sectors hold alternative employment possibilities for writers while making a real difference for communities. This panel ignites the imagination around the journey to meaningful careers that allow MFA graduates to work within a community of writers and artists, cultivate and curate artistic experiences and opportunities, and make a living.

Published Date: June 1, 2016


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2016 A W P conference in Los Angeles. The recording features Jen Vanka, Kenny Cruz, Monica Prince, and Kenyatta Rogers. You will now hear Monica Prince provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:32):

Good afternoon everyone. How are we doing? Excellent. Okay. It's good to see you all. My name is Monica Prince. I'll be moderating this panel. Welcome to our discussion from M F A J O B, making a Living Making a Difference. This panel is part of a collection of writers in the school's panels during the conference. If you haven't seen it yet, come and check out the witts table in the book fair. Downstairs it's table 1 0 0 1, and there you can get free stuff like pens and journals and headphones. Yeah, you need some headphones for that ride back. It's going to be great at the table. You can learn about all the rest of our events the remainder of the weekend. We have one panel actually directly after this one titled A Writer's Guide to Political Advocacy. It's available right here if you need one, or you can come down to the booth afterwards and at the booth you can speak to Witts alliance members and they can tell you all the great things about writers in the schools, how to get involved with programs in your area, how to start one if there isn't one in your area, and what exactly it is we do as writers in the schools.

Speaker 2 (00:01:40):

While you're here in this panel, we'd appreciate it if you would tweet and post about it on social media using our hashtag WITTS alliance and let everyone know what they miss by not being here. So for the panel as writers, people expect us to become the next JK Rowling or Stephen King. We pursue scary liberal arts degrees to write sonnets, and then we show them to workshops that destroy us. You know what I'm talking about? But somehow we keep writing and eventually do what writers expect of all of us. So we gain credibility and we go get an N F A. Now that we get the M F A, what do we do with it? There are more options than starving to death starting with becoming a wits writer like me. Or you can find other avenues, which are lovely panelists are going to talk about today. Each panelist will discuss their unique response to the question, what do I do with an M F A? Aside from getting a tenure track position or writing?

Speaker 2 (00:02:42):

I'm going to introduce our panelists and then they're going to talk to you and then you're going to ask us questions. And for each question, for the purpose of our podcast being recorded, I'm going to repeat the question so that you can all hear it. So first up, we have Kenyata Rogers to my immediate right, Kenyata Rogers was a 2012, 2013 visiting poet in English at Columbia College Chicago where he also earned his M F A in creative writing and poetry. He's a Kave KA fellow and was twice nominated for both Pushkar and best of the Net Prizes. His work has been previously published or is forthcoming from Jubilot Vinyl, rhino Poetry, the Volta, and many others. He's an associate editor with Rhino Poetry and currently serves on the creative writing faculty at the Chicago High School for the Arts King Yata Rogers.

Speaker 3 (00:03:36):

Hello, can you hear me? Great. So I'm just going to talk about my trajectory and then talk about how I got there and how I feel about it. Let me make a really bad shameless plug. I'm not really shameless about it, but I work at an arts high school and since we're here talking about jobs, the high school I work at is hiring for six positions. I have flyers, and you can talk to me after this. So initially when I went for my M F A, I started thinking about it in 2003, so it's like 13 years ago, and I was a broadcasting major and I was writing poems on the side and I switched majors. And the main reason I switched majors was because one of the department heads in the department of English was like, you're always in these classes. I have no idea who you are. You should be over here. And I was like, that's great, but I don't want to teach high school. You see where this's going? I actually teach.

Speaker 3 (00:04:31):

I was like, I don't want to teach high school. And they're like, well, you can go for an M F A and you can teach at the college level. And I'm like, well, that's great. So this is 2003. So things have changed a lot since then. So I graduated college. I applied for the M F A and I started my M F A in 2007, and by then things were starting to change quite a bit drastically. And I came out in 2009. So when I came out of school I had zero jobs, none, zero and a lot of money. And so I said yes to just about anything that looked like it was teaching or involved writing in some type of way. And so even though I didn't have a lot of experience in many ways, I had a lot of these are things that I would do on my cover letter and in my resume and during these job interviews.

Speaker 3 (00:05:20):

And in some ways I feel like my background in English and in my M F A degree kind of helped me in, I mean, humanities degrees are degrees in bss, so they teach you ways to talk your ways into stuff. So I had a lot of that happening and I initially still wanted to go for the tenure track thing and I started out teaching adjuncting still in Chicago. So I taught at community colleges and I had three different things that I wanted to do. I wanted to get a tenure track job. I wanted to work with children in school programs or after school programs doing poetry or I wanted to work in prisons. I never worked in a prison, but I tried, but I did do before and afterschool programming. So I said yes to anything that remotely looked like a job or someone completely recommended, Hey, how about you go over here and do this thing?

Speaker 3 (00:06:05):

Did you go to that table at this job fair? You went to? I'm like, okay, I'm going to. And so I did all those things and I ended up working for an afterschool program. I adjuncted at three different community colleges in Chicago. This is the year when I had 10 90 nines. I just could not even really keep track of them all in W twos. It was kind of a trip and TurboTax couldn't understand it type of thing. So I had that scenario. And then I also did tutoring on the side. So I tutored English as well too. I'm at the college level, but sometime at the high school level. And I did that for a while and time went on and I got this job at Columbia, not by happenstance, but they were looking for a visiting writer. I went to school there and so I applied and I was surprised I got hired.

Speaker 3 (00:06:51):

So I was like, oh, great, I got hired so I can teach poetry classes now. I was trying to work them into the classes I was teaching. It was mostly composition. I taught a class called College Success, which the class title is pretty explanatory about what the class was about, how to read, how to study, how to show up on time, how to make a schedule, how to write, how to send emails, things like that. So I always kind of work those things into my classes. So I taught creative writing and then I kind of felt spoiled and I was like, now that I'm teaching these creative writing classes, this is really what I want to do. I applied to residencies of any type and kind. I got into Kahan, I'm like, you get rejected, but after a while you get in. But on the side though, I think the most important thing was I kept writing the poems.

Speaker 3 (00:07:34):

I think I found out, however, I was working things out, I was always going to, I made more money because I wrote rather than necessarily from the stuff I wrote. So I did the work, I sent the work out there, the work would get accepted. Sometimes it wouldn't. But I think still being active in it, people were encouraged like, okay, this guy's doing, he's at least writing, he's at least part of the thing that he said he's going to be doing with his M FFA degree. So I mean, sounds kind of weird, but I kind of actually helped. So when people would go, what are you doing? Are you published? I'm like, well, I mean kind of not really type of thing. I'm doing this thing. But I still think that showed I was engaged in it. So I had a job at Columbia and it was a one year thing that year ended. And so then I worked at a nonprofit, a literary nonprofit, and that was probably the worst job I've ever had in my life. I mean, honestly, it was like I had to drive very far. I had to drive a lot. I had to sit down and look at a computer screen. I had to deal with people's emotions in ways I didn't want to.

Speaker 3 (00:08:36):

And so then this high school thing came up and I was working at this job and I had some close friends of mine that knew I was completely miserable and they were like, Kenyata, you should apply for this high school. And I was like, when I first went my M FFA degree, I don't want to teach high school, hence why I went for the f a degree. And I've worked with high school kids before, but never as an everyday teacher in that capacity. So I got fired from my job actually, and I was like, well, now I kind of have to look for a job. And so I applied for this high school job and that was also another weird scenario in a case of I applied for the job to teach creative writing. So the high school Chicago high School for the Arts started a creative writing program.

Speaker 3 (00:09:22):

So I would just be teaching creative writing classes to high school kids that want to do creative writing types of things. So I was like, okay, at least they're creative writing kids. I got called for an interview and the thing was I got called to be a substitute because they already hired somebody for the job. I knew the guy in a really roundabout way and he ended up not having to be able to take the job because he had a scheduling conflict. He was also doing the adjuncting thing. And I got a phone call right before school started. We're on a substitute list. This guy couldn't take the job. I want you to come in for a teaching demonstration on the first day of school. So actually me substituting the first day of school was my teaching demonstration. I didn't know that until after the class ended.

Speaker 3 (00:10:07):

Let's have let's talk. And then I got the job offer. And I'll have to admit, it's probably one of the better jobs I've ever had. I get to work with high schoolers, freshmen, sophomores, some juniors, and we don't only have those many, the programs really, really new, but it's better my teaching, I think it's learning about classroom management and ways to engage people with writing because stuff to me makes sense. And I explained to someone else, and I had been teaching for a few years at the college level, but working with young people is completely different because they only can understand certain types of things. Their language is only so big, their capacity for taking in information is completely different. And so I had to completely rethink what I was doing in the classroom and the ways that I was doing it. And looking back now, some stuff that I did in the past, I'm like, that was really bad classroom stuff to do as a teacher, but I digress some.

Speaker 3 (00:11:02):

So I work at the high school and it's great. And so I to teach creative writing classes, the high school students, I have another job at the high school, a part-time job, but my other job there is I do academic support. So I work in the daytime also with English teachers in their classrooms. So I know all the kids in the high school, I know everybody, not just the creative writing students. And it's actually really, really good. You get the build these relationships, they tend to trust you in certain ways that adults don't. When you're teaching them, they look for you for advice in ways that when I was in grad school, I liked my instructors, but at the same time I was always like, I'm going to do my own thing, right? High school students completely different than that. They're a little bit more impressionable, but in the end I think it's still hard to keep writing.

Speaker 3 (00:11:43):

I still think that's the foundation of what I want to do or what I am. I'm still a writer. And so one way that I keep doing it is any assignments I gave the kids, I'll do them too. Sometimes stuff I completely make up on the spot, sometimes it's things that I've appropriated from other workshops or classes I've been in, and I'll take those things, make them for the high school kids and sometimes they want to see that type of thing. They're like, Hey, how about you do it too? And I'm like, okay, I guess So I guess I'll do it too, but it helps me keep engaged in the practice too. And then I have these breaks off summertime, wintertime, and those are the times when I can really look back and see what I'm working on. Also, I have a community of people that I'm always around.

Speaker 3 (00:12:21):

Sometimes you get in a rutt and you're like, ah, I don't want to write. I got to feed my cat. I got to put gas in the car and it's cold. I live in Chicago. It was cold. I don't want to go outside. That type of thing. So keeping a network of people around you that even if they're not explicitly saying you need to start writing, you feel kind of obligated to, right? Because everyone else around you is doing things and you're like, these people, I have them. I have people I can call, people that have really have prizes and things I can call them, but I'm like, I should do something too. So just having that is beneficial to me as a writer as well. It keeps me engaged in my practice, keeps me sending stuff out there in the world and it keeps me, I dunno, it keeps you feel like I'm doing something. Sometimes I'm not just writing, sometimes just reading. Sometimes read books, go to the events if your city has them. If they don't, sometimes I travel really far to go to a poetry event just because, Hey, this thing's happening and I need to go because I'm not doing nothing else today and I'm a writer, so I should be there.

Speaker 3 (00:13:21):

So yeah, so I think that's the last time I spiel about my travels. I mean, there's a lot more really weird and interesting things there, and that's where I ended up at. And I think it works out for me well in ways I never would've thought it would have. So if you've never taught high school before, I would recommend or are hesitant to doing, so I would recommend you change your perception of that. It actually works out really well and in surprising ways. And sometimes they'll say things about their own work or things that we're reading that are really inquisitive.

Speaker 3 (00:13:52):

And it makes me rethink the tenure track thing as well too, because I know people that have tenure track jobs that are miserable. They either, the department thing is weird. They had to move to some really, really obscure place in the US or in Canada. And yes, I'm willing to move anywhere, but I'll be totally honest, there's some places in the US I could not be comfortable living. I mean, being a person of color, how about you take this job in Alabama in some city? And I'm like, I don't know if I can do that. Or North Dakota. I'm like, I don't know if I can be safe there. And so it gives me that freedom to choose what I want to do, not having be dedicated to the tenure track type of thing. I still think in some ways I might would be interested in doing it. I mean, I like the thought that goes into college level classrooms, but I mean I still think I can get that on enrichment on my own in some ways. And I think I have enough resources to do those types of things

Speaker 4 (00:14:51):

Just by kicking up with the practice. Thanks.

Speaker 2 (00:15:02):

Thank you, Kenyata. Next we have Jen Benca. Jen Benca is the executive director of the Academy of American Poets. She worked previously as a managing director of Poets and writers and for 88 26 National, she's the author of pinco and a box of Longing with 50 drawers. Benca holds an M F A from the new school. Please welcome Jen Benca.

Speaker 5 (00:15:31):

Hi everyone. First off, happy national poetry months.

Speaker 5 (00:15:41):

Thank you for your support. I'll tell you a little bit about my path too, and then I'll get a little bit more nuts and boltsy, if you don't mind. Thank you, Monica, for having us all here. So I graduated a long time ago in the early nineties. My undergraduate degree is in journalism, and I was always interested in writing and social justice work. When I graduated, I worked for about a month at a newspaper back when there were such things. And I had to get up really, really early because I was a newbie. I had to start work at four o'clock in the morning and pull faxes. Does anyone remember what those were when they scrolled anyone?

Speaker 5 (00:16:31):

The culture of a newsroom wasn't for me. And so I pivoted and explored my other passion, which was social justice work, and I wound up getting a job in a homeless shelter. And I worked there for four years. And after that, moved into another nonprofit organization that was a working women's organization called Nine to Five that inspired the movie, that inspired the song. And I worked there for a long time. And while I was working at the women's organization, I was very involved in the local literary community. I was doing Poetry Slam, I was writing, I was hanging out at a wonderful literary center and eventually started volunteering there and got on the board there. So all nonprofit all day every day. And eventually there was a job. I was living in Milwaukee where I'm from, and a job at Poets and Writers opened up in New York City and I applied, and by some miracle got the job and moved to New York and worked there for eight years and then went back to get my M F A, which was something that I always had aspired to do.

Speaker 5 (00:17:48):

And as an older person with a full-time job, went to night school at the new school and earned my M F A and as an older person with a job in the literary sector, I had some meetups at my apartment in New York for some of the student, my fellow students in the program to talk about basically what we're talking about today. Where are you all going to go? What are you all going to do? And I posed the question and one of my classmates said, well, I'm going to write poems. And I said, right, and how are you going to pay your rent? And she said, well, I'm hopefully going to get my books published and how many poets are in the room? Okay, so our story is a little different than maybe the fiction writers and the creative nonfiction writers. But when she said, well, I'm going to get my books published, I'm going to royalties and advances, and I said, I'm so sorry tell you this, but poets can't really make a living getting books published. It doesn't really work that way except for maybe five poets in the United States of America who earn a living by selling their books, literally five,

Speaker 5 (00:19:26):

Five. And I said, again, I hate to break it to you, but I want you to be prepared and there are no royalties. Well, that's not true. I've got royalties for one of my books, and it was negative $2 and 50. I actually owed the publisher money and she just looked at me and she said, Jen, you're a dream crusher. So that's what I, I'm here for today. I'm here to crush your dreams. No, actually, well, yes, I'm here to crush your dreams, but I also really, really want to try to help you. How many of you are graduating in May and are going to be looking for a job?

Speaker 5 (00:20:18):

All right. Okay. And others maybe are just trying to figure out what else might be available to you as someone with an M F A. Well, it was interesting. After I got my job at the academy, I started getting a lot of emails from people who were asking me if I was hiring. And I have a really small team, and unfortunately I'm not, wasn't able to create new positions, take new people on. And I also started getting a lot of emails from people saying, Hey Jen, we're looking for someone. Do you know someone? Send along a name if you have resumes. And it was just this sort of informal information trade that was happening. And what I decided to do is try to formalize it a little bit and for the poets in the room, please know that@poets.org, which is the website that our organization runs every Wednesday we post jobs for poets and we also tweet them out every Wednesday.

Speaker 5 (00:21:20):

If you follow us on Twitter at poets org or a G every Wednesday, you'll see in your feed a couple great jobs that are for poets, and those jobs include positions. At universities, we do not tweet adjunct positions. We tweet really only full-time positions and nonprofit jobs. So check that out. While I've crushed your dreams and told you that you might not be able to make a living at least right away with your writing, there is some good news and that's that your skills are totally in demand in the for-profit and nonprofit sector and that there are a wide variety of jobs that you should be thinking about that your skills relate to. On the corporate side, which is not my area of expertise, so forgive me, but you might check out social media positions, communication positions, copywriting, jobs at tech startups and advertising agencies.

Speaker 5 (00:22:25):

These companies I know are regularly looking for excellent writers, savvy writers, creative writers. You can check out listings at Media Bistro. They have a great jobs list. You may have been to the job site. Indeed, that's also useful. Not always comprehensive. If you're looking for a job in the corporate world, really recommend that you go to company's websites and look at the postings on their websites. Oftentimes, they don't post them externally, they just post them on their site. And you should be following the companies that you want to work at on social media because they often tweet out jobs that they have open.

Speaker 5 (00:23:14):

So I've worked in the nonprofit sector now for 30 years, more in my wheelhouse, and there are a couple jobs that I would recommend that you also think about that you're probably qualified for grant writing positions. There aren't really classes, college classes you can take to qualify you to be a grant writer. It's really a skill that you learn on the job. And the way you get into it is by saying, look, I'm a strong writer. Let me see some of your other grant proposals. We're good. So look into grant writing. Again, communication specialists with which might mean social media positions, but also might mean writing organizations, newsletters, look into development, jobs development meaning fundraising. We're always looking for strong writers who can write fundraising, appeals, letters to donors, thank you letters, annual reports, and then program managers, individuals who can help publicize readings, write press releases, all of these things you're absolutely qualified to do.

Speaker 5 (00:24:28):

Here are a couple jobs that are open right now in the nonprofit sector and in the literary arts. The California Arts Council is looking for an associate arts grant administrator, someone who has knowledge of the California Arts Council and knows something about nonprofit administration and the cultural history and art activity in California. Gray Wolf, they're here at the book fair, is looking for an editorial assistant Heyday Books in Berkeley. Nonprofit publisher is looking for a director of development again to write grant proposals, write letters to donors, work with the executive director and the publisher to prepare for meetings with donors. A lot of times that's doing research and writing up biographies of donors that we might be meeting with to ask for contributions. 8 2 6 N Y C is opening a writer's room and they are looking for a full-time coordinator to be responsible for providing the educators and students that participate with ongoing support. Black Mountain Institute, an international literary center in Las Vegas, is looking for a full-time deputy director. Portland Parks and Recreation is looking for a full-time art culture and special events manager to bring together and oversee the programs and facilities that have a focus on arts culture and the activation of public spaces. Would you ever think about working for the parks department, but you could.

Speaker 5 (00:26:12):

Another good bit of news is that your M F A is absolutely going to make you more competitive for whatever job you're applying for. As I described, I worked in the nonprofit sector for a long time. I worked as the managing director of poets and writers. I went back to school, I got my graduate degree. I knew that I needed that graduate degree and that experience in order to become an executive director, which was my ultimate goal. I was never interested in teaching largely because I didn't want to move to a city or location that I didn't have a passion for or was interested in.

Speaker 5 (00:26:55):

So there's no way I would be in the job that I have today unless I had my M F A. Alright, just a few nuts and bolts tips for the job seekers and then I'm out of here for your resume. If you're not applying for a teaching position, do not send Avita, send a resume. Your resume should be one page. Don't include photographs, illustrations, and images. Not kidding, there's a cat on that resume. It is not happening. It's also not happening. If you have an M F A in creative writing and there is a typo anywhere, don't list your hobbies. I know that sometimes people recommend at the very bottom, it makes you more personal and gives people a sense of who you are. Exactly.

Speaker 5 (00:28:01):

We don't want to know what you collect. I kid you not. You just don't know what's going to trigger an employer in the wrong way. You might be really excellent at karaoke and karaoke every week, right? I hate karaoke. I don't want to work with you. You are going to be singing, you're going to be humming. You don't know where those buttons are. It's serious. You have literally maybe five seconds to make an impression. An employer's going to open your email. That letter has to be short, punchy, perfect. Your resume can't have anything that's going to throw a flag. You should include any relevant volunteer experience, wherever you can fill out you set of experience, even if it's not a paid job, that's fine. If you say, look, I just graduated. The last time I had a job was at Starbucks, but for this whole year, I've been volunteering with writers in the schools.

Speaker 5 (00:29:09):

Great. You got an interview. I want to hear from you for your cover letter, please write a customized letter for every job you apply for. Don't spray the same cover letter to every single job. It needs to be personalized. Don't tell stories. A cover letter is not a piece of short fiction. It's not your memoir. I've gotten a lot of cover letters from folks and it's the life story and it's not professional really, and it's not what I'm looking for. I want to know that you're going to be a good fit and someone who's hardworking and focused. And yes, I want to know that you're sparkly, which is the number one thing that I look for when I'm personally hiring.

Speaker 5 (00:29:59):

If I can see that someone has a good heart and is willing to learn, that's great. But the materials have to get you in the door. Keep your letter short to a few paragraphs and make a connection to the organization's mission or focused. And again, don't try to be funny except sometimes the tech startups like that. And if they invite that and say, tell us a funny story, tell us one goofy thing or wacky thing, then go for it. Do it. They want to see your creativity, but in general, keep it straight. All right, that's it. Good luck. Happy to talk more.

Speaker 2 (00:30:39):

Thank you, Jen, which does pay you. Just so you know. Finally, we have Kenny Cruz. Kenny Cruz holds an M F A and a Master's in Women's Studies from the University of Alabama and is currently studying in the Education, culture and Society program at the University of Utah for his PhD in Alabama. He taught with the Alabama Prison Arts and Education project and co-founded Tuscaloosa Writers in the schools. He's currently working to start similar programs in Salt Lake City. He has been a lambda emerging L G B T Q Voices Fellow in Fiction and is currently fighting not to have a nine to five job. Welcome Kenny Cruz.

Speaker 6 (00:31:23):

Thank you, Monica, for organizing this. So I just wanted to start with a quote from Paolo Frere, the Brazilian educator. He writes, education either functions as an instrument, which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity, or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. So I have never made a decision in my education based on what I thought would get me a job because I've never felt defined by the job that I have. So I started working in restaurants when I was 14 years old. I majored in women's studies in college. I took a few years off, thought I might get a PhD in women's studies at some point, and then decided to do an M F A in creative writing, which was kind of a hard decision for me to make because I had always been a lot of activism, been involved with Planned Parenthood and nonprofits and political campaigns.

Speaker 6 (00:32:30):

And I felt really selfish going to school to just spend time writing. And so it took me a long time to make that decision. And I got there and loved it in some ways in Alabama. And in some ways I felt like Tuscaloosa is a weird place as our many of the places that M F A programs are in, and I mean especially the fully funded ones, a lot of the fully funded ones are in the south and places like Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge. And so I had never been to the south before I got to Tuscaloosa, and I felt really isolated from community, which is something I hadn't experienced before. And so my first year in M F A school, I felt really trapped in this M F A bubble. And then I went to a W p, I don't remember which one it was either in Chicago or Boston.

Speaker 6 (00:33:21):

And I went to an A W P panel on starting a nonprofit, an arts nonprofit. And I was like, I'm going to do that. I'm going to do that right when I get home. So I got some friends together, and Tuscaloosa is one of the most segregated school districts in the country. Very, very wealthy in some parts. The University of Alabama is incredibly wealthy, very, very low income. And much of the city schools, it's really sad that there's this huge disparity. Central High School, which was featured in the Atlantic, they did a big article about resegregation in the south and they focused on the valedictorian at Central High School who wasn't going to go to college. And they talked about how this school is three blocks away from the university and most of the students there have never been to the university. So I really wanted to bridge that gap.

Speaker 6 (00:34:17):

And also, I know I'm from Utah, which is similar to Alabama in that there's no funding for education from the state. So there are virtually no arts programs in public schools in either of those states. And so I started meeting with administrators and teachers in the district and everyone was really, really supportive. And so we started a WIT program, which was really exciting and got to be involved in the community in a way that the M F A program didn't offer us before that. So that was a great experience. And I also started teaching with the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project, which was an amazing experience. It's my favorite thing I've ever done. I did it for a year and a half. It was really, really difficult and also really, really rewarding. And I learned a lot. I learned a lot about writing and reading and people, the students I worked with are incredibly generous with feedback with each other, with me and their writing and the time they commit to writing and reading.

Speaker 6 (00:35:25):

I kind of fell in love with education working in the prisons, but I also recognized the whole time I was there how problematic that work is in many ways with privilege, with race, with the whole prison system in Alabama, it's the most overpopulated prison system in the country. They're at 200% capacity. And so I felt that we might be contributing to the problem by filling this gap that the state should be offering by working for a nonprofit and offering education when really the state should be paying for education in prisons. And so I struggled with that a lot, but then at the end of the day, it's like, well, if we're not doing this work, no one's doing this work. And so for the students, it doesn't really matter. The politics behind it don't matter. So I had to negotiate that a lot. So when I finished grad school, I moved back to Utah and I started at the job I have now, which is serving and bartending in a brewery.

Speaker 6 (00:36:21):

And that's the job I had before grad school too. And I actually love that work because I'm in a PhD program, I write, so I spent a lot of time by myself writing and reading or with a small group of friends writing and reading. So working in the service industry, it's really fast paced, very social, really flexible. I can pick up extra shifts, drop shifts. I'm sure a lot of you have worked in the service industry as well. I also drive for a Lyft, so that's been interesting too. And I kind of think this is where when you're getting degrees like women's studies and creative writing, I don't think you can go into it with the poetry outlook of, I'm going to get advances and everything will be fine. But I struggled a lot working in the restaurant again, like, oh, I'm in exactly the same place I was before I went to grad school.

Speaker 6 (00:37:14):

People constantly asking me, why are you doing this? People talk down to you a lot. People think that because you work in the service industry, you're stupid. Whereas a ton of the people I work with have graduate degrees or dancers or artists or musicians. So fun working there. And at first I was thinking, okay, I'm back here, but I'll get to my career. This is just a place where I'm resting for a minute. And I think that's disingenuous to think that way. It's all part of my life and I can't compartmentalize it by what looks good on a resume or a CV and what doesn't. So yeah, now I am in this education program, this PhD that's all about social justice and I really came to that through my M F A program. I also, in the summers, I work for a organization. We take high school kids on community service trips around the world.

Speaker 6 (00:38:06):

So I worked on the Blackfeet Nation in Montana and in Ecuador and Cambodia, and this summer I'm going back to Burma again. So I think I've always just kind of done the things that I'm excited about and cobbled together the finances very badly, especially with, I have crippling student loan and health insurance and all that stuff, but it's okay because I'm writing and I'm doing the things that I really care about. And I think if I were to get that, people are constantly trying to get me to do that, I wouldn't feel like I was doing what mattered to me. And I think that's more important than anything else. So that's all I have. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:38:52):

Thank you. Kenny, we're going to take questions. I'm going to stand here so I can restate your questions so that you can hear everyone. So does anyone have any questions? You, hello?

Speaker 7 (00:39:04):

Actually, what kind of job experience as far as school,

Speaker 2 (00:39:12):

She asked what kind of job experience slash volunteer work to look for while you're still in your M F A program?

Speaker 5 (00:39:19):

It depends on where you are and where you want to end up. But some things that you could consider volunteering at a local library. If you live in a city where there's a publisher, a nonprofit publisher, you could volunteer to help out with them. Trust me, every single literary arts nonprofit organization around needs help. So libraries, literary arts organizations, publishers would probably be my top three.

Speaker 2 (00:39:53):


Speaker 7 (00:39:54):

I was wondering if you found that working jobs in the service industry, retail, things like that, if working jobs that you can leave at work and coming home and being able to, basically that situation helped you write more than you would if you were involved in a job that you couldn't leave at work.

Speaker 6 (00:40:15):

Definitely for me, it's when I left grad school and got back and started working in the brewery. It was such a relief that I had control over my time again when I was not at work.

Speaker 2 (00:40:30):

I'm also a server right now, and it's pretty much the only way that I get any writing done. I write at work, that's what I do when we're slow. I'm writing poems, so totally works. Yes. Alright.

Speaker 8 (00:40:42):

I was wondering if you guys could talk about any online work, copywriter, et cetera, positions or do that freelance

Speaker 2 (00:40:53):

Online work and freelance.

Speaker 3 (00:40:58):

I work on rhino poetry and most of the work that we do there is online. So I mean we do it in our own free time. And again, it's something that we don't get paid for. So it's like I'm doing it in my own time. But repeat the second part of the question.

Speaker 2 (00:41:12):

How do we get those jobs? Oh,

Speaker 3 (00:41:15):

I don't know if I have a response to that part. I think part of it for me was like I sent the journal poems and they really liked them and they were like, would you be interested in being an editor? Is how that worked for me. So for me it was just doing the work of sending my work out there in the world and the response came backwards. It was like, would you be interested in working on this thing with us as well too? So I mean that could be one thing too, just being active in your own practice, people might come find you.

Speaker 2 (00:41:38):

I also know that a lot of the journals that are on submittable, when you go to their submission pages, they also have job people who are like, will you read for us? Will you write book reviews for us? And so forth. Those are also listed on some of their submission pages. An

Speaker 9 (00:41:53):

Yes. Sort of on the heels of that, I'm wondering, would you recommend just getting in contact with, for instance, literary magazines or organizations that you're interested in, even if there's not a job open that you can see if you're an M F A student, you're like, I really want to work for whatever literary or I really want to work for, I dunno, whatever it might be. Would you recommend just contacting 'em and

Speaker 5 (00:42:20):

Yes, and back to the volunteer question, someone's walking around the conference or at least one person is with a tote bag that says, pay your interns for real, pay your interns. We pay our interns. So one I would say look for paid internship positions. There aren't necessarily a lot of them. I know that not all of us have the luxury of time when we're trying to pay our rent to be able to volunteer. But even if you do it a few times, it helps. And some online journals that are publishing poetry, for example, are labors of love. And if you reach out to some of those journals and say, Hey, I'm happy to help you however I can, that's a great experience to add to your resume. I think it's always a great idea to reach out to organizations that you're interested in on a regular basis, get some queries. And when students say, look, I have a week off, I'd love to come by and help. Great. It's a way to get in the door.

Speaker 9 (00:43:29):

I like what you said about in a service job you have trying write your mind is freed up. You can write,

Speaker 2 (00:43:36):

Okay, so there's two questions. The first question is, what other service industry jobs allow you to do that allow you to write in your free time? That gives you the flexibility? And the other question is, what happens to your imagination when you are writing, not your own writing, like copy editing and freelance posts and such? Okay, there you go for it.

Speaker 3 (00:43:57):

I have a friend of mine who he has an M F A in poetry and he was working writing video game stories. That's fascinating. Yeah, it was a really odd job. I thought he was writing stories for educational games and sometimes just video games in general. And for him he really liked it. It made him think about different ideas that he would never thought of beforehand. So he was like, I'm writing a story about, I don't know, something with mythology in it. And he was like, I never thought about it. And he had a research stuff for it and he started writing poems based off the stuff that he was finding out. He also used to write those. You ever click on something on a website and you get a popup that shows up to something completely irrelevant like cat litter or whatever. He used to write those things as well too. And so he had all this really weird knowledge about stuff. He had to research his information to write this really weird script about it. And so he would write poems based off of that stuff. So it gave him more ammo, I guess he would, was building his arsenal of things that he knew about and incorporating it to his actual work. So I think in some ways it could be beneficial, it could be good.

Speaker 6 (00:44:57):

I mean, I think the US economy is primarily service sector now. So restaurants, hotels, travel stuff, stores. I'm trying to think of anything else. I mean, I am like Monica, I write and read all the time at work when I have a break. And I think a nice thing about a restaurant is that my managers are just like, you're so strange. What are you doing? And then they never told me to stop.

Speaker 2 (00:45:26):

With the exception of holidays, I'm always writing and reading on my job because when they hired me, they hired me with the knowledge that I was a writer. That was in my interview, I explained, I was like, Hey, I'm probably going to go leave you and go get my PhD at some point, so you have to be cool with me always reading in the bus station when there's nothing happening. And because it's a small business, they were like, oh, well that's really nice. That's fine. So they were down for it. It's not all corporations operate that way. They'd rather me be reading a book than being on my phone. So it works out. But I think it depends on who you're working for because some corporations are not down. They want you to be walking the floor all the time and all that jazz. But I think it depends on the position you're

Speaker 3 (00:46:02):

In. I also used to work at a supermarket for a very, very long time. It was the same thing. If you're working in the daytime, you're just hanging out. And so I would write stuff and no one really seemed really odd by it, but I would get the time to work on my work at work.

Speaker 6 (00:46:18):

I also have a lot of friends who have done graveyard shifts, like taxi services or hospitals or nonprofits or any variety of things where they got to write and read a ton at night.

Speaker 5 (00:46:32):


Speaker 10 (00:46:34):

Do you have advice specific freelance opportunities to write for non opposed

Speaker 11 (00:46:41):


Speaker 5 (00:46:43):

I really think the best way to go about that is to market yourself to organizations that you want to help. I have over the past several years had people development people reach out to me, grant writers reach out to me, make a case for helping out, and I've oftentimes hired them. So I think the best thing to do is just really start marketing yourself.

Speaker 2 (00:47:12):

The two questions were how do you leverage your M F A when you're applying for a position and how do you start an nonprofit? Did we have a panel about that last year? We had one last year. Maybe we'll have no one next year. Okay, go ahead

Speaker 5 (00:47:24):

On how to leverage it. One, you should just know that by having a graduate degree on your resume, by having made that additional investment in your education, it will stand out to an employer. So just simply by having it on your resume, you're helping yourself, if you're, for example, applying for a copywriting job and an ad agency in your cover letter, you want to call out the fact that you have a graduate degree in creative writing, and that has strengthened your capacity to generate bubbly, sparkly popping copy. You want to call it out, flag it right up front, up top in that cover letter. So for every job that you're applying to find a way to add a sentence in the cover letter that makes the fact that you honed your writing skills that surfaces that in the letter.

Speaker 6 (00:48:25):

As far as starting a nonprofit, I had some friends who I knew would be interested in working with me and a professor, and so I met with each of them right when I got back from a W p and they were all on board. And then we started calling and emailing every writers in the schools program around the country. I spoke with Robin. We had tons of phone conversations, email conversations, getting advice, and most of the advice was they told us what they had done or how their program was started. But they said, really, there's no standardized way to start one of these programs. It depends on the particulars of where you're living. So we just started meeting with tons of administrators at the university and the school districts teachers, local business owners, and it took a lot of energy at first, but it was really, really fun.

Speaker 2 (00:49:19):

Also, if you do want to go talk to the Witt members at our booth at 10 0 1, they can actually tell you how to get more information about starting a nonprofit or specifically a witts organization in your area. Okay.

Speaker 12 (00:49:34):

My questions for Kenya, I was wondering what additional educational requirements you need to go through for teaching at a high school

Speaker 3 (00:49:41):

Level? So at the high school that I teach at none, I used to see did my M F A, and actually there's some instructors that teach it that just have their undergraduate degree, but my M F A definitely did help me with that. So it's the weird structure. Even though I work at a public school and it's a public arts high school, if you're teaching arts classes, you do not have to have a teaching certification at this institution. If I was going to teach an academic class there, like an academic English or math class or something, I would have to have my certification. So it all really varies. There are charter schools and then some of them you don't need to have your teaching certification either. So I would say check wherever you're looking to apply it, check their website for what you need to work at that particular place, because it all varies per school and per city as well too. So I'm not sure where you're based out of, but I know in Chicago, if you're working for c P s, you may or may not need your teaching certification. Yeah, but for where I'm at, I didn't need it for my job. No.

Speaker 2 (00:50:40):


Speaker 9 (00:50:41):

Okay. I just have a question about online presence and the way we present ourselves. I'm interested in creating a website of some kind before I graduate. I'm wondering what I should be highlighting on that. How do I marry my literary self with my professional self? What's

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