Generally speaking, artists aren’t known for their salaries. As grad students pursuing fine arts degrees, we know this well. The proverbial image of a writer typing furiously into the night, bottle of fine whiskey close at hand, should perhaps be replaced by this: me, stunned by a humbling reflection of myself in the darkness of my zero-percent-battery computer screen, eyes baggy and brow furrowed, with a forkful of 99-cent tuna lunch making its way to my mouth.
The good news is, the MFA at FAU has many good funding opportunities for interested parties. Along with teaching assistantships and stipends, the Thomas Burnett Swann Summer Writing Fund is an opportunity for MFA candidates to pitch their summer writing plans for a chance at supporting cash.
As one of last summer’s Swann recipients, I, tuna girl, will now answer the following questions in the hope that you too can benefit from this (truly invaluable) opportunity:
Q: Why did you apply?
TG: $$$. I was yearning for certain writing opportunities but didn’t have the finances to pursue them.
Q: What was the application process like?
TG: Pretty straightforward. The first step was attending an informational meeting, where Dr. McKay outlined the application process. (This was announced by email in the spring, and took place on a Friday afternoon.) Next, we had several weeks to fill out an application form, and submit said form to Dr. McKay, along with a rough budget outline and a summary of our intended summer plans and how they would inform our writing.
Q: What would you have liked to know before applying?
TG: One helpful tip I did know before applying, thanks to a savvy older student, was that you can submit a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’ if your first plan may tentatively fail. In my case, my Plan A was to intern with a high-profile, NYC-based publishing house or literary journal (my applications were in but were pending); Plan B was a self-designed ‘Micro-Retreat’ in which I would spend 2-3 days at an Airbnb location in order to ‘get away’ and focus solely on my writing, and gain new story fodder from the new people and environment.
Q: Where did you go?
TG: Asheville, North Carolina, and the Florida Keys. (It’s not New York City, but I wouldn’t change a thing.) The internship in NYC fell through, so Plan B was the plan for me. I was able to stay in Asheville for two nights, and stretch a bit of my cash to Key West (I’d never been, and its resume of writer-residents was too good to pass up).
Q: How did the trip affect your writing?
TG: I definitely got what I asked for. One of my Airbnb hosts was so strange (I won’t say which), he’ll probably be muse-worthy for the rest of my life. Both places were eclectic and arts-supportive; in Asheville, I spent an entire morning writing on a back porch with mountain views, which later became a setting for a story. On that same porch, I spent one long, candlelit evening in a rocking chair and watched the bugs flirt with the flames. One tragic moth was engulfed entirely, and the moment brought Annie Dillard's “The Death of a Moth”, which I had recently read, into truer beauty than the first time I read it indoors. In Key West, I rode a scooter around the island to Hemingway’s house, enjoyed the beach once favored by Tennessee Williams, and revised another short story that is probably my best one this year.
Q: Why should other people apply for funding?
TG: So you can set intentions for your summer, your growth, and your writing, so you can get money, so you can use the latter to actually fulfill the former, and (thanks to Thomas Burnett) to invest in creating great art.
Natalie Rowland is a second-year MFA student who has upgraded from tuna to quinoa.