My fantasy MFA.

When I first started writing plays, I considered graduate school. The consensus seemed to be that you had to get an MFA in order to be considered a serious playwright, or even to consider yourself one. I don’t think that anymore. But a few weeks ago, when I was walking from Santa Elena to Monteverde—a VERY arduous, windy walk—I amused myself by thinking of what my ideal MFA program would look like. Here’s what I came up with (and needless to say, tuition is paid for by a university program that values art and artists):


Fall Semester.

ART 120. Making a Map of the World. Jorge Luis Borges. With laboratory.

ENG 303. Nature Journaling. Annie Dillard. With monthly field trips.

ANTH 101. Introduction to Anthropology. Norman Rush. Includes 2 weeks in Botswana.

THST 400. How To Win a Bar Fight. Martin McDonagh. Practicum.

Spring Semester.

ENG 110. Integration of Profoundly Unlikely Elements. Haruki Murakami. Practicum.

DAN 306. Physicality. Pina Bausch. With laboratory.

LING 301. The Soul of a Language: Three Case Studies. J. R. R. Tolkien.

ENG 200. Pleasure in Literature. Laura Miller. 


ART 500. Theater and Culture in Kerala, India. Anuradha Sarang. (Malayalam immersion.)


Fall Semester.

HIST 204. Medieval Cosmogony. C. S. Lewis. 

THST 115. Revenge. Quentin Tarantino. Practicum.

PHYS 400. Fremen Calisthenics. Frank Herbert. Physical Education.

ART/MATH 304. The Topology of Blown Glass. Erik and Martin Demaine. With laboratory.

Spring Semester.

ART 422. Writing As Irreducibly Perfectly As I Do. Mary Renault. With laboratory.

CST 218. The Future. Kim Stanley Robinson.

ENG/MUS 303. Rhythm. Ursula K. Le Guin and Paul Simon. With drums.

ENG 316. Nonstandard Novel Structure: The Tendril, the Spiral. Arundhati Roy. 


ART 500. Cave Diving in Western Belize. Gonzalo Pleitez. (Spanish immersion.)


Fall Semester.

ENG 440. Writing the Other. Toni Morrison. 

HIST 410. Worldbuilding. J. R. R. Tolkien. With laboratory.

ART 301. How To Win A Staring Contest. Ursula K. Le Guin. Practicum.

PSYC 215. Writing On Motherfucking Deadline. J. K. Rowling. Practicum.

Spring Semester.

THST 480/490. Improvisation (Stephen Colbert) and Stand-Up (Jon Stewart). Practicum.

MUS 409. Album Birthing. Amanda Palmer. Practicum.

AST 101. Introduction to Astronomy. Carl Sagan. 

ENG 500. The Dark Arts. Donna Tartt. 


Six months at the table with David Milch.

Six weeks in the ashram with David Lynch.

Six months on set with Peter Jackson.

Six weeks in the studio with/at the feet of Meshell Ndegeocello.

…also, there’s no need for “independent study,” because it’s assumed that you’re writing all the time anyway. Every course requires at least one complete work, ready for publication or production or distribution, at semester’s end.

One more thing: somewhere in all of this, I go backpacking through Israel with Sarah Silverman reenacting famous scenes from the Bible and we film/tweet/blog the entire thing.

Can anyone put this together for me? Thanks.

10 Comments on “My fantasy MFA.”

  1. warspite says:

    This is just delightful. I would take this degree. I would in fact recommend this degree to everyone I know. In fact, I’m gonna do that right now

  2. Oh hell, I forgot Thomas Merton.

  3. Laura Miller says:

    This is fantastic! I assume you want Salon’s Laura Miller, not me, to teach ENG 200.

  4. Erin says:

    How beautiful is this
    Well i think you found your MFA program
    so go to a college and pitch it
    DO IT!!!

  5. Caitlin says:

    I’m a total stranger, and stumbled across this while looking for information on Gonzo, who we must have shared as a guide in Belize. This is absolutely fantastic. Not just the actual collection of people, but the lyrical course names you have invented to pair with them. Your writing makes me not hate art again. I really, really think I need to see one of your plays. Any chance you might put something on nearish Washington DC?

    • Hi Caitlin! I’m so glad you liked it—it was so much fun to make up. And I’m actually working on getting my plays produced in D.C.; there was a reading of NIGHTWORK staged there last fall. But in the meantime, I’d recommend seeing Taffety Punk—apparently they’re amazing, and I’ve been meaning to get up there to see one of their shows…

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