Saturday, January 22, 2011

VCFA 2011 Residency and Graduation

My last residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts was eventful and exciting.

Some highlights from residency:
-Being in the room with Rita Williams-Garcia when the Coretta Scott King award and the Newbery Honor for her novel, One Crazy Summer, were announced. She was super happy!



-The opening address by Katherine Paterson. Though she often visits campus during our residency, it was a delight to hear her speak.

-Visiting authors, Grace Lin and David Macaulay, gave insightful lectures and great readings. Plus, it was fun to visit with them during informal conversations.

-A great workshop with faculty members Franny Billingsley and Leda Schubert and ten other writers.

-Lectures from writers including Franny Billingsley (story--its energy and structure), Jane Kurtz (surprise and choosing to use or not use it in writing), M. T. Anderson (a course on literary theory), A. M. Jenkins (incredible lecture on creating emotion in both characters and plot), Tim Wynne-Jones (suspense in plotting our stories), Rita Williams-Garcia (writing sequels--I'm looking forward to her next book; she read us a few pages from it), Susan Fletcher (using repetition in novel writing), and Shelley Tanaka (international children's books).

-There were also many wonderful graduate lectures.
I gave my lecture on character roles and how they can be used in story. Many writers (both faculty and students) told me how helpful it was to them and that they will use the concepts I spoke about when they revise their novels.

-All the faculty, guest writers, and graduating students gave a reading. It is always fun to hear works in progress, and then read them a few years later. My reading went well. I read from three books: a picture book, a non-fiction book, and a chapter from the novel which I wrote during my time at VCFA. After my reading, a boy, who I would guess to be about 11 or 12 years old, came up to me and asked when my novel was being published, as he wants to read it. That was a wonderful compliment, and since my YA novel is an action packed thriller, he is definitely in the target audience.

-Graduation: We entered the chapel in College Hall to the sounds of a bagpipe (a VCFA tradition). I introduced the commencement speaker, Uma Krishnaswami, who gave a touching and motivational speech. As part of our graduation, each graduate was announced, and then six lines from his or her fiction (the creative thesis) was read. After this short reading, the graduate walked across the stage and was hooded (the MFA hood was placed over our heads), and then received the diploma. After this was repeated for each graduate, the university president said a few official words and conferred the Master of Fine Arts in Writing on the graduates.

The six lines from my novel, which my advisor, Martine Leavitt chose to be read at graduation, were great, and I was pleased with what she selected. It was a privilege to work with her during my last semester.

I would love to be able to bottle the energy and intensity of a residency. It has been described as a writing boot camp, and that is an accurate description. I can attest that attending Vermont College of Fine Arts was a wonderful, life-changing experience.

5 comments:

Anne M Leone said...

So very very happy for you, Sarah! What an incredible way to end your program.

edawn said...

This is sooooo exciting. I can't wait to hear all about this over a cup of cocoa.

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Thank you, Anne. My MFA program has been wonderful, and this is a great ending -- and a beginning to the next chapter of my writing life.
Edawn, I look forward to meeting with you in a cafe soon.

Elena Jarvis Jube said...

Wow, congratulations, Sarah! How exciting for you.

Janet Fox said...

Sarah - I'm so happy for everything for you!! I hope to see you again at VCFA. hugs...