Dean Mary Francois Rockcastle on the Hamline University MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults

Mary Francois Rockcastle is the Dean of the Graduate School of Liberal Studies at Hamline University in Minneapolis and the founding editor of Water~Stone Review, a national literary journal. She is also the author of the novel, Rainy Lake (Graywolf Press, 1994). Hamline University is launching a new MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

What is a low-residency master of fine arts program?

In a low-residency program, students and faculty come to campus twice a year (in January and July) for eleven days of intensive lectures, workshops, seminars, and readings devoted exclusively to writing for children and young adults. Students meet with their faculty advisors who help them develop individualized plans of study and provide mentoring and detailed manusrcipt critique by way of monthly correspondence.

What are the advantages of a low-residency program?

The low-residency model accommodates working adults and those who do not wish to or cannot relocate to attend college. The model allows students to design their own course of study and gives them the opportunity to work with a variety of distinguished writers and teachers. The one-on-one mentoring provides the kind of personalized attention rare in regular graduate programs and offers a learning experience specifically tailored to the works-in-progress of each student. The on-campus residencies provide intensive community interaction.

Congratulations on the launch of the new MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in Minneapolis! Could you tell us a bit about Hamline? Why did your administration decide that such a program would be a good fit for your university?

Hamline is Minnesota’s first university, founded in 1854. It is ranked first in Minnesota among comprehensive universities in U.S. News and World Report. It has a diverse and talented student body of nearly 4,400 students in its undergraduate college, graduate schools, and law school. The new program is an exciting extension of our MFA program in writing for adults. Graduates of the program are winning awards and publishing novels; books of poetry, short stories, and essays at an impressive rate. The new program will take advantage of the structures already in place and will expand the opportunities for writers. It also draws on Hamline’s reputation for academic excellence, for the personal attention shown to students, and for serving the needs of adult learners.

When you begin taking applications from students?

We are accepting applications now; the deadline for the January 2007 residency is August 1.

When will you host your first residency?

January 12-23, 2007

How will the program be structured–number of semesters, thesis requirements, etc.?

The usual time frame for earning the MFA degree is two years. Students enroll for a total of four semesters and five, on-campus residencies. In their first two semesters, students will work with their faculty advisors on creative writing and will be given pertinent lessons in the craft as well as an overview of the field of children’s and young adult literature in English. In the third semester, students must submit–in addition to their creative writing–a critical thesis of twenty or more pages on an aspect of children’s/young adult literature, or an aspect of craft or literary theory pertaining to the field. In the fourth semester, students must submit a creative thesis: a book-length manuscript of original work (e.g., poems, short stories, picture books, a novel–middle grade or young adult, or nonfiction).

What will your role be in the program?

I will provide the same oversight to the program that I do with our other two programs in the Graduate School of Liberal Studies (GLS)–the adult MFA in writing and our Master of Arts in Liberal Studies. I will work closely with the low-residency faculty to create a rigorous, exceptional program of study for students. I will ensure that we provide an effective administrative structure and a satisfying student and faculty life experience while on campus. And I will create partnerships and other connections with the local and regional children’s and young adult literature community.

What will take place during a typical residency?

Students gather for an intensive–and exhilarating–round of lectures, workshops, seminars, and readings led by faculty, visiting writers and illustrators, and guest editors/publishers. Students will attend a half-day session at the famed Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota in which they will be given an in-depth tour, a lecture by Karen Nelson-Hoyle, the collection curator, and a hands-on examination of select, original manuscripts.

Why would a children’s/YA writer want to pursue an MFA degree? What doors does one open, creatively and professionally?

Being able to study with a group of talented and experienced working writers will give students invaluable knowledge of the writing process, the craft of writing, and the business of publishing. Such a program also gives students a close-knit community of like-minded adults who serve as a support system long after students receive their degree. The residencies will introduce students to editors, publishers and others able to advise them on their manuscripts and future directions. Students who pursue this degree will have a far greater likelihood of publishing their work than students who work on their own.

Who will comprise the faculty of the program? What credentials are required?

The faculty are award-winning authors who are also seasoned, successful teachers. We currently have ten faculty: Marsha Wilson Chall, Carolyn Coman, Kate DiCamillo, Liza Ketchum (author interview), Ron Koertge (author interview), Alexandria LaFaye, Alison McGhee, Marsha Qualey, Phyllis Root (author interview), and Jane Resh Thomas. All faculty have published a minimum of four books in the field and all have experience teaching at the college or graduate level.

Could you describe the campus in Minneapolis?

Hamline’s beautifully landscaped campus is located in Saint Paul, the Minnesota state capitol. It is only a short drive from campus to the historic Saint Paul downtown which features the Fitzgerald Theater, home to Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion,” the Minnesota Children’s Museum, and the Minnesota History Center.

How much will the program cost to complete (per semester and in total)?

Tuition for each semester is $5,800. The total tuition cost is about $26,000. The cost is slightly higher than that of our adult MFA degree program, mostly due to the intensive, one-on-one mentoring provided by the low-residency model.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Creating an MFA in writing for children and young adults here at Hamline is a match made in heaven. The program is a logical extension of our MFA program, makes excellent use of university resources, and will join a dynamic literary and artistic community. It will also take advantage of resources provided by our Graduate School of Education. My hope is to take the best of what other low-residency programs offer in the teaching of creative writing and add to that an in-depth understanding of the field of children’s and young adult literature.

Cynsational Notes

Author Profile: Carolyn Coman from (2000).

Author Profile: Kate DiCamillo from (2003).

Ron Koertge’s Summer Reading List from (2003).

Who Wrote That? Featuring Alexandria LaFaye by Patricia M. Newman, published in California Kids! (April 2004). See also A. LaFaye Discovers Her Worth by Roxyanne Young from Smartwriters.

Alison McGhee from Pippin Properties.

Marsha Qualey from Adams Literary.

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Acceptance Speeches by Phyllis Root and Helen Oxenbury from The Horn Book. See also Phyllis Root from Minnesota Authors and Illustrators.

Jane Resh Thomas from See also Jane Resh Tomas from the Children’s Literature Network.

See the Children’s & YA Writers’ Reading List: Links: Education for more on graduate study in writing for children and young adults as well as other related learning opportunities.