Residency – Day 1

Wednesday was Day 1, and one that (almost) all of us 1’s began in a constant state of Nervous, not quite sure what to expect.

There is a “common” novel (aka – all students have to read) assigned. This session’s novel was Hunger Games (January 2013’s is Fated by Alyson Noel). The first day of Residency usually starts with a discussion of the common novel for the first part of the morning, with a “breakout” session for the second half, which runs until lunch at noon.

The Discussion:
This is a “mixed” session – containing students from different levels within the program. Each session is led by different faculty members, and if this year’s experience is any indication, there’s likely to be a short Powerpoint presentation to ensure some continuity among the discussions. (As this was my first, though, I can’t really say for certain… ask me again mid-January.) The idea is to discuss craft/technique items, why the story works (or doesn’t?), (potential) source material, etc. As a hasty recap, the conversation was good. A few points were brought up that I had already looked up/became aware of, but it was also interesting to see, during the conversations, how writers focusing on different genres saw/focused on different elements in the text, or just straight up interpretted things differently.

The Break-Out:
“Class” specific sessions (I, think), which for “1’s” meant the official Orientation session. This is the “this is how the program works” conversation where aspects of the Handbook are discussed and the floor is opened for questions. Then we were sent to the IT offices down the hall from the classrooms to be issued our iPads.

Yes, you read that correctly – issued iPads. Any student enrolled full-time at Seton Hill is eligible for one (fine print: drop out or fail out within the first year, the device has to be returned to the school, otherwise it’s yours). I was expecting it to be an iPad 2, but it turns out we got a 3, which tickled me. It’s still only 16GB, though, which is a little irksome (story about why when I get to my Saturday recap).

The Afternoon:
There are four “academic” modules/sessions over the course of a Residency, and all 1’s and 2’s have a schedule predetermined. (2’s have three of the four sessions assigned, with the fourth as an “elective.” From Residency 3-6 students make their own schedule for sessions.) For 1’s, the first session is “Critiquing & Clarifying: How to Give Good Feeback in a Workshop.”

The idea behind opening with this module is to level the playing field, and provide some starting points for providing feedback during a workshop session. Not every student comes to the program with a heavy writing/workshopping background, and not every workshop/critique group operates the same way. For those never having been involved in writing groups/workshopping, this can be a useful discussion (there were several that, after class, mentioned how they felt they needed to expand on the comments they had written now that they had a better idea of what kinds of things to look for).

For those with a workshopping background, especially a heavy one? Find a way to suffer in silence. It’s a module that has to be completed to tick off a box towards graduation, and unless you come from a system of really brutal commenting – of the “your-writing-sucks-and-this-is-why-it-sucks-and-I-can’t-believe-we-had-to-read-this-much-suckitude-how-could-you-do-this-to-us” variety – there will probably not be much new for you here. Just remember, “What is the story about? What’s working, what’s not working as well…” and give references to the text as appropriate.

After the class sessions, it’s time for dinner, followed by students (6’s) doing Thesis readings. Students are required to go to at least two readings per Residency but encouraged to attend more. There are currently two possible formats, depending on the MFA candidate (Before becoming an MFA, the program was just an MA. If the student is returning to convert their MA to an MFA – “earning their F”, there’s a “panel” reading of 2-3 of these types of student. Everyone else gets an hour to themselves.) The readings are much like one would expect at either a con or a book store event: a little conversation about the project, read some pages, then field questions. All within the alotted hour.

Then, tired from the heat and heads still spinning with nerves, it was time to call it a night. Time to get ready for Day 2 – which included the first workshop session.

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