Kitchen Table MFA: An Alternative to the NYC/MFA Binary

This essay is part of the Kitchen Table MFA, a series that showcases writing communities through interviews and creative writing.

When I was finishing my undergrad degree in poetry and trying to figure out how to become a “real” writer, I saw one obvious path forward: get an MFA, then get a job teaching at a university. After all, every writer I knew was in a college classroom—either at the head of a workshop table, assigning writing exercises and weighing in on drafts, or in one of the student desks, passing out their photocopied pages and plotting how to get into the magazines, how to get a job that would put them at the front of the room. Writing, as I knew it, existed on college campuses.

Fortunately, I decided not to get an MFA right away, and when I moved to Houston to teach high- school English, a friend pointed me toward Inprint, a literary nonprofit, and their low-cost Teachers as Writers workshops. At Inprint I found a rich writing community outside a college campus. In the Inprint workshops I met serious, talented writers who were writing not because they’d get a grade, but because they loved the craft of it. That community sustained my writing practice through demanding years teaching at a high-intensity charter school. All week long, I was Ms. Reddy, grading vocabulary quizzes and teaching literary analysis and telling kids to tuck in their shirts and spit out their gum. But on Saturday mornings, I was a poet, and I sat at the long workshop table in the Inprint house alongside other writers, all of us writing for love and not for credit.

In the years since then, as I earned an MFA and had the chance to travel to give readings from my books, I’ve been encouraged to see that writing communities like these are the rule and not the exception. In nearly every community across the country, you can find writers meeting in libraries or coffee shops or independent bookstores. In some places, this work is supported by a literary nonprofit like Inprint, Madison’s Arts and Literature Laboratory, or Philadelphia’s Blue Stoop., While in others, it’s loosely connected to a university, sometimes through continuing studies or an outreach division. Rutgers-Camden’s Cooper Street Writing Workshops and the Drexel Writers Room are just two examples of this kind of university-supported programming. And in many cases, this work is truly independent, sustained by writers working together to build community. These organizations sometimes serve particular populations, as in Keri Bertino’s Writing Through Motherhood workshops; Warrior Writers, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that works with veterans; and Tintero Projects, a Houston-based reading and workshop series that aims to build to community for Latinx writers.

This series, which profiles four community writing organizations, demonstrates just a small portion of the excellent writing and supportive communities that exist around the country. It includes interviews with leaders of the organizations as well as writing done by community members. It’s my hope that this series will inspire you to find or build community in the spaces that matter to you. 

Click here to read the first interview in the series.

Nancy Reddy

Nancy Reddy is the author of Double Jinx (Milkweed Editions, 2015), a 2014 winner of the National Poetry Series, and Acadiana (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Gettysburg ReviewPleiadesBlackbirdColorado ReviewThe Iowa ReviewSmartish Pace, and elsewhere, and her essays have appeared most recently in Electric LiteratureThe Adroit Journal, and The Mothership. The recipient of a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, she teaches writing at Stockton University in southern New Jersey. She’s working on a narrative nonfiction book about the trap of natural motherhood.

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