Dual Urban Sustainability MA and MFA Creative Writing Featured at AWP Panel
Antioch University’s MFA community attended the Association of Writers & Writing Program (AWP) conference in early March. AWP is comprised of 500 academic institutions and nonprofits as well as 40,000 members total. Steve Heller, Chair of the MFA in Creative Writing Department and Past President of the Board of Directors of AWP, moderated a panel entitled “What We Write About When We Write About Sustainability.” The panel featured Donald Strauss, Chair of AULA’s MA in Urban Sustainability, and Sharman Apt Russell, citizen scientist and MFA Affiliate Faculty. Other participants included Douglas Unger, Chair of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Irene Villar, Founder of Americas for Conservation & the Arts. Their panel focused on how creative writers can contribute to building a sustainable future for humanity on the planet we occupy.
Prominently featured on the panel was the Dual Urban Sustainability MA and MFA Creative Writing which provides students the opportunity to earn two Masters degrees—an MA in Urban Sustainability and an MFA in Creative Writing—in five semesters rather than seven.
A unique aspect of this panel is its origins: a seminar originally given to Antioch MFA students two years ago. “It was so rewarding, and the response was so positive, we knew we had to take it to the AWP conference,” Strauss explained. At a lunch meeting before the AWP panel, the group discussion resembled a “Five-way version of My Dinner with Andre”—so much so, Strauss said, “Most of the panel members abandoned their prepared remarks and mostly riffed off of each other’s ideas as if it were a piece of jazz.”
In addition to the topic of writing about sustainability, Strauss explained the uniqueness of Antioch’s dual degree program. “An aspiring writer with a strong interest in the future role of human communities and the biosphere can get a solid foundation in Urban Sustainability over the course of two semesters. Then they head out for the MFA program, where they write about what we call the ‘wicked problems’ that play out in poorly planned urban centers throughout the world.”
USMA/MFA graduates acquire a vast spectrum of knowledge in two unexpectedly compatible disciplines. “There are no programs out there that are anything like the dual USMA/MFA,” according to Strauss. “We take a much broader approach than other programs; we look at problems as systemic, so the solutions have to come from a systems thinking perspective.”
AWP serves as a professional advocate for individual creative writers, as well as for teachers and institutions that promote creative writing and literature. Each panel is comprised of published writers, many of whom also teach. AWP’s annual meeting constitutes the largest professional gathering of writers in the world: 12-14,000 attendants annually.